Before I start going into the nuts and bolts of erotica-based income, I’m going to tell you my story – not (only) because I’m a raging egomaniac, but because the path I’ve gone down means I’m relatively out of the loop, and I think it’s only fair to let you know that before I start doling out advice.
I’ve been reading erotica since I was 15, and started writing it for fun and posting it online when I was 24 – I’m not the world’s greatest writer, but the standard of quality for free online smut is fairly low, and so I quickly built myself a bit of a fanbase. I started taking commissions (for which I woefully undercharged) but I never planned it to be anything but a hobby until June 2012 when I quit my job and was trying to find a way to live creatively.
SJ (my girlfriend at the time) found an AMA from someone who was making a few thousand dollars a month, with tips on how to get started. (Basically what I’m writing now!) The market was pretty different back then, but the fundamentals are the same. There was a link to a forum where everyone discussed it – I spent about a week or two reading through the collective wisdom of everyone involved, and then launched into it, writing new stories + taking my old stories and extending the sex scenes, paying SJ to make covers for me and publishing a bunch of stuff.
For the next year, I kept on publishing. I used to keep super detailed stats, so here is my exact income for my first 18 months of publishing erotica. In brackets are how many books I had published, followed by how many of them were bundles (collections of books rather than original content):
July 2012: $93.21 (7)
August 2012: $471.51 (14, 2)
September 2012: $493.90 (24, 4)
October 2012: $932.32 (31, 4)
November 2012: $1,479.07 (34, 5)
December 2012: $2,459.51 (48, 13)
January 2013: $3,234.78 (52, 14)
February 2013: $1,839.90 (57, 16)
March 2013: $4,308.40 (65, 16)
April 2013: $2,759.16 (70, 16)
May 2013: $3,011.06 (82, 16)
June 2013: $2,903.02 (91, 16)
July 2013: $5,711.41 (100, 19) –I remembered this being a $7k month. It was not!–
August 2013: $4,732.35 (115, 28)
September 2013: $3,002.24
November 2013: $1,391.18
December 2013: $1,133.83
So what happened in September 2013? Amazon started banning my books.
Heads-up: this is where it firmly enters TMI territory. See, I make the vast, vast majority of my money from incest erotica. Specifically, brother/sister incest mind control erotica. I’m the world’s best brother/sister incest mind control erotica writer, which is weird, but it’s also sort of fun to be the best in the world at something.
My family know about this and they don’t care, but it’s something I’ve never announced on facebook before (for obvious reasons). I have zero interest in real life sisters, mind control OR incest, but for some reason it’s the kink that works for me and – as a result – it’s what sells best for me*.
*I’m actually lucky in that regard. Some people find that their best writing is in a kink that they have NO interest in. That’s when it truly becomes a job – they have to spend each and every day writing about gay cowboys, despite being straight and more of a pirate guy.
Amazon are extremely reactive, and so when the religious right found out about people making a bunch of money from incest erotica, they kicked up a fuss and Amazon (with no warning) started banning incest from appearing in their stores.
Emphasis on APPEARING. You can still publish – and read – the exact same books on Amazon, but you can no longer mention incest or family members anywhere on the cover, in the blurb, or anywhere like that*.
*as a result, little hinty keywords have appeared – “taboo” is the biggest one, or “man of the house” meaning father/daughter stuff.
I spent a few months scared to upload anything (if Amazon have to tell you twice, they permanently and irrevocably ban your account) until the money from my $5.7k month ran out, and I started rewriting blurbs and re-titling books. “Brainwashing my Sister” became “Brainwashing the Cheerleader”. “Blowing My Big Brother” became “My First Blow-job”.
I’ll go into all this in more detail in future parts, but Amazon is one of a few different marketplaces. It’s by far the biggest, but it’s also the most fickle. My sales income was pretty low in 2014, and I learned to live on less money (and started taking more commissions to make up the difference):
Jan 2014: $1,328.26
Feb 2014: $1,282.22
Mar 2014: $1,382.70
Apr 2014: $1,889.48
May 2014: $1,319.88
(I stopped keeping track at this point, so I genuinely can’t give you any numbers from here.)
By August 2014, I had my entire catalogue back up…at which point, Amazon decided that mind control wasn’t okay, and took my catalogue down again.
So that was fun.
Now, I could have switched gears and stopped writing brother/sister mind control. And a more sensible man would have done that (my friend who makes $100-200k/month did). But I had gotten pretty used to:
a) Writing what I wanted to write (NOTE: Do not count on this! If you want to make a living from this, you gotta write what sells)
b) The regular feedback/fan-mail/commissions I get from posting my stuff online for free, which I was continuing to do the entire time I was selling my work on Amazon. I have received exactly one piece of fan-mail for my sold books, and close to a thousand pieces of fanmail for my stuff that’s online for free.
People who buy your stuff on Amazon are a whole different audience to those who read it online for free. (as a rule, the first category are mostly women while the second category are mostly men. Men don’t pay for erotica, women don’t pay for porn.)
And so to make up the difference, I started a Patreon (like an ongoing kickstarter, or an online tip jar) which you can find here.
Like I said, I had a fan-base, and I thought I might get a couple of hundred dollars from them each month in exchange for some little perks and rewards. To my surprise, after 6 months it’s hit $800/month and continued to grow. Add that to my fairly regular $1200 from Amazon/Barnes and Noble, and the extra thousand I get from Smashwords every three months (more on payment schedules in a future update) and I make a bit over $2k/month US, which is more than enough for me to live on (especially since I still take commissions, which I charge through the nose for).
So while I’m more than happy to talk everyone through the path of online publishing, I wanted you all to know mine is a VERY unusual tale. Firstly, I put almost no effort into Amazon, which is indisputably where the big, big bucks are. (the $363k month I talked about last time was from someone who exclusively publishes on Amazon, which is probably I’d recommend you do as well. Do as I say, not as I do.)
Secondly, I make my money off crowdfunding, which no one else in written erotica does (especially since Kickstarter doesn’t allow it). Thirdly, the majority of my writing is available online for free (now that you know the taboo topic and fairly dark nature of what I write, I’ll happily point you to it) and fourthly, I’m both stubborn and lazy, so I haven’t turned my writing to more profitable pastures.
TOMORROW: The stuff you really want to hear: how to get started! (spoiler: the first step is to read some successful erotica. Again, not mine. Mine is not successful, I just happen to write a particular niche quite well. Try the Amazon Top Hundred )
Any questions before we continue?
One thought on “HOW TO MAKE A LIVING FROM SMUT: Part 0!”
I have a niche too…yes taboo for sure. I just lost my job. Writing smut is something I actually do well. How do you get commissions off of the free stuff? Where do I post it. I read ur article but honestly Im looking for income like now at the same time. Any first directions…go here..lol… are appreciated.