Writing erotica is a hard way to make a living

If you ever wanted to know how to make money writing erotica, it turns out to be moderately lucrative, but the market is weirdly distorted by Amazon.

The things I learned:

  • It’s really hard work for a meager living.

    Johnson himself has been writing erotica for four years, publishing over a thousand stories under more than 50 pen names. He puts in ten-hour days; if he really pushes himself, he can write two 4,000-word short stories or a 10,000-word novella in a day.

  • Amazon has arbitrary rules for what they’ll publish. Incest isn’t allowed, for instance, so there are stories about step-siblings fooling around. And why all the dinosaur stories?

    Despite what you may have read about dinosaur erotica, Johnson says there’s not actually much of a market out there for authors like Chuck Tingle (moderately famous for absurdist classics like “My Ass is Haunted by the Gay Unicorn Colonel,” “Slammed in the Butthole by My Concept of Linear Time,” and the newly Hugo-nominated “Space Raptor Butt Invasion.”) Johnson says there is indeed such a thing as dinosaur porn—apparently a genre created to evade Amazon’s ban on bestiality, which only applies to living species—but it doesn’t have a lot of readers.

    So fictional extinct animals are fair game, but fictional living species are off-limits?

  • Amazon has a near-monopoly.

    Apple and Barnes & Noble do sell some independently published e-books, but the AuthorEarnings site owner estimates that 85 percent of e-book sales—in all genres, not just erotica—come from Amazon. The company has cornered the market partly by requiring authors to sell exclusively through it if they want to be included in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s Netflix-style subscription service.

  • Authors are at the mercy of Amazon’s arbitrary decisions. They can change the rules for payments, as well as limiting what content can be sold.

    Skyes said it seems like online sellers are willing to profit from erotica but not to stand behind authors when they get complaints about stories they find unsavory. “Retailers are happy to throw erotica writers under the bus by claiming to have not known what content was being uploaded to their storefronts,” Skyes said. “I never know if the next insane email I wake up to is going to be the one that means yesterday was my last day of writing for a living.”

  • I guess unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of gender discrimination if you’re writing books about sex.

    Incidentally, Cooper is a guy writing under a female pen name, something that’s extremely common since female readers seem mostly disinclined to buy writing published under a male name.

  • Explicit erotica is for a narrow niche market — the real money is in less-explicit romance novels.

    Romance has a much larger readership than erotica, and with Amazon’s new pay structure, Enne said, it’s far easier to make good money in the genre, particularly if you’ve already built up an audience. “Erotica is now the baby step to romance,” she said.

At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that becoming a biologist through years of training, negotiating a dicey job market, and putting in 10 hour days 6-7 days a week wasn’t actually as stupid a decision as I thought. Especially since Amazon wouldn’t have let me publish my freaky stories of Architeuthis clutch mates getting wild with each other.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Laurell K. Hamilton has cornered the market for undead porn.
    And I do not count the auhor of the True Blood/ Southern Vampire series. That is in the “romance” genre.

  2. cartomancer says

    Now come on PZ, you’ve solved your own problem – just change it to step clutch-mates and make them some extinct pleistocene ancestor of modern Architeuthis. Duh!

  3. =8)-DX says

    USAians only have yourself to blame for Amazon. Restrictions of exclusivity ruled out the Kindle as an ereader for my SO, similar to the iphone and the horrible itunes. Stop mass supporting those companies with anticonsumer business practices!

  4. dianne says

    So, tentacle porn between a hypothetical sentient seamonster and a human is out, then? Is it beastiality when approximately 30% of the story is taken up with a description of how mutual consent was assured?

  5. dianne says

    What about bilingual time travel steam punk younger male/older female pairing chick lit? Is there a market for that?

  6. microraptor says

    dianne @5:

    Only if the seamonster is an existent species. You want to make it between a human and a humanoid cephalopod, you’re fine.

  7. dianne says

    Not humanoid. Sentient but the intelligence evolved completely separately from humans and the bodies are totally different. Except where they aren’t. (Hey, it’s fantasy.)

  8. cmutter says

    Also interesting is the reason for such specific fetishes: they generate very loyal customers (anyone who shops for Amazon erotica and has that fetish will buy all your stuff)

  9. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    This reading of “Slammed in the Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination” had me in tears.

  10. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Re: romance novels. I met a guy that wrote romance novels under a female psuedonym. He and his wife were together on the same cruise as us. The writer was a complete asshole (to his wife). Makes me wonder about all those unrealistic ‘romance’ stories about how the guys treat the women badly but that’s what the women ‘want’, that are really written by assholes like that to justify their existence.