Bodice Rippers: A Dabbling Tale

In early February, we had an ice dam that caused a lot of water to flood into our house and we needed to spend thousands of dollars to repair our roof. Suddenly, my work slump became a lot more serious and I had to quickly get back into the game of earning money. I began applying for any job I saw, went on more interviews than I care to remember, and (woo hoo!) landed some great new clients.

Throughout this process, my friend kept suggesting I write bodice rippers to self publish and sell on Amazon. I laughed him off a few times, and then thought what the hell? And I wrote a filthy, horrible smut story, self published it on Amazon, and began obsessively reading about how to earn money selling erotica.

It turns out there is a whole world of erotica out there. Amazon supposedly sells 19,000 short stories per day, and my basic research so far shows me that most of it is really, truly awful. It turns out there is an art to working the search engines, an unknown algorithm authors need to beat to come up when potential readers type in key words. There’s an art to all of it.

Above all, it seems the people who earn a living selling erotica view it as a business. It is work. The writing of the short stories (which are about 7,500 words) is the easiest part, and writers need to churn out 2 per week to stay fresh in search engines. The harder part is making a cover, a title, and “blurb” text (the little bit people read about your story before deciding whether to click “buy”).

I published my first, awful piece of erotica on February 14. I have now published a total of 15 short stories, one “bundle,” and one novella. To date, I have earned just under $100 USD and a few cents here and there in currencies from around the world.

All the sources I had been reading suggested that nothing would truly take off for me until I published 30 things, because readers who like my story will want a nice, robust “back catalogue” when they click to buy more things.

This is going to be a bit of a ramble, so I’m going to get to the point right away and that is this: I don’t see myself doing this long term.

I am an objectively good writer with fancy publications and an MFA. I think my terrible smut stories are probably better than much of the terrible smut selling like hotcakes, but here are some things I haven’t done well yet:

–my covers are lousy. I didn’t pay for any images, so most of my cover pictures are carrots or honey dippers or water pipes. What sells? Muscular, male chests.

–my titles are wrong. I have given my short stories names that would sell better if they were full-length romance books. Since they are short stories, the titles need to be different, filthier. I’m considering retitling the stories and republishing to see what happens to my sales, but most likely I’m just going to move on.

It’s also very hard for me to sit with writing bodice rippers. I’m used to spending days pondering a sentence, and this is a ruthless industry that demands an unfathomable pace. Short erotica means very, very loose plot elements and no character development to speak of. I’ve often forgotten the name of my characters by the time I reach the end of a short story and have to go back through and check what I named them. Considering I spent months working on the 5-minute essay I read in Listen To Your Mother, you can imagine how it feels for me to write a bodice ripper in 3 hours.

This leads me to my novella. It’s 100 pages long, and it was agonizing. I don’t want to write novellas. I don’t want to write romance novellas. I didn’t want to have to care about why Girl loved Boy but couldn’t be with him, or create conflict, or resolve the conflict. I didn’t want to write dialogue.

I also don’t want to write short erotica right now. I’m grossed out by many of the sub-genres that sell well and have zero interest in writing about billionaires, which is the Hot Genre since the success of 50 Shades.

I don’t want to say that I’m done writing erotica forever, because I’ve got my pen name all set up and all my Amazon accounts ready to go. But I’m certainly on time-out from this experiment. I’m glad I gave it a go. I’m glad I connected with other smut writers. I was not able to finance my roof repair selling smut, but that’s ok.

What I’ll likely do is “bundle” my existing stories together and republish them in wee anthologies, which means I might get closer to my 30 Titles benchmark. Then I’ll ponder whether I want to continue ripping bodices and revisit once school starts.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 10th, 2017 at 3:56 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Bodice Rippers: A Dabbling Tale”

  1. Laura V Says:

    I have a few friends doing a sideline in erotica, including some who are now agented & have publishing contracts. The ones who are doing the best are working very hard and consistently, which makes sense.

    That said, no one is as genius at titles and covers as Chuck Tingle.

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