Tag Archives: publishing advice for erotica authors

Understanding the Smashwords Survey — Sex For Money, Post #20

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a Sex For Money post! The last one was in December 2016 — so it’s about time I got back into them!

I’ve been fairly dormant lately, at least online, because I’ve been working on getting my new publishing company kicked off and into high gear. Now that it’s underway and the bumps have been smoothed and the team is working together well, I’m finally able to start getting back into writing and blogging and publishing (my own stuff).

And I figure a necessary part of getting back into my role as a smut writer is to get back into these self-help posts. And the timing is pretty much perfect.

Late last week, Smashwords released their annual survey, which compiles massive amounts of data collected by Smashwords in relation to book sales. While, for most authors, Amazon is the powerhouse of sales and Smashwords is a distant second, this data is still useful. (On that note, though, I should point out that for many authors, myself included, Smashwords is a prime source of royalties. I make about 1.5-2 times more on Smashwords than on Amazon.)

The first reason this data is useful is that it shows you trends regarding what’s selling through Smashwords and their third party vendors. If you’re wondering what sells on Smashwords, you’ll find our answer here. The second reason this data is useful is that even if you’re a devoted Amazon fan, Amazon gives its publishers almost no data.

If you haven’t already, I’d strongly suggest taking a look at Smashwords’s annual survey and flipping through the slides. You might take something different from the data than I did.

Some of the data is likely useless. For example, they found that the bestselling books had longer titles. Does this mean you should come up with longer titles for your books? The problem is we don’t know if the better sales was because of the longer titles… or if it was more or less coincidental. If JK Rowling released a book through Smashwords, it would be a phenomenal bestseller, regardless of the length of title. We don’t know if the books were selling because of their titles or because of the author.

However, it could be that the longer titles were better for keyword searches. While I generally don’t like “keyword stuffing” — which is where you have something like Title of Book (gay erotica with lots of gangbangs and forbidden hook up discrete encounters tentacle sex BDSM) — a slightly longer title that catches search traffic is a good idea. One of my bestselling titles is Seduced By My Best Friend’s Dad. It’s also one of my longest titles. What drives sales? I doubt it’s the length of the title that is making sales. But I bet that because I have a more descriptive title, I’m catching search traffic, clicks, and sales. If I had gone with something artsy like Hotter Than The Campfire or simply Camping Trip, I wouldn’t get that search traffic — and even if I did get that search traffic, the titles are not sexy or appealing.

Smashwords found that bundles and box sets sell well. That’s something most authors in the industry have found. As soon as you have a number of related titles or a completed series, it’s to your benefit to create a box set or bundle and price it at a low price. It’s believed by many that those who buy individual ebooks are a different market than those who search out bundles and sales and deals — so by offering a cheap bundle, you’re not necessarily undercutting your sales, rather, you’re reaching a new market you weren’t reaching before.

Their findings on prices were interesting. $3.99 might be the new norm. I firmly believe (right now anyway) that short stories should still be $2.99. If you’re in a non-erotic genre and you’re reading this post, you might want to price a short story a little lower — it’s really in the erotic genres only that readers will spend $2.99 on a short story.

If you have something longer, then maybe $3.99 is the way to go. I generally price my novellas at $3.99.

On that note, the Romance Writers Association found a few years back that $6 was considered by readers to be an appropriate price for a romance novel ebook. So, I tend to price between $2.99 and $5.99, depending on the length. ($5.99 is a good price for a bundle.)

However, again, we don’t know if the surge of $3.99 books is because that price is somehow appealing… or if there were a number of appealing books that happened to be priced at $3.99.

The lack of clarity in the data can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s not like the staff at Smashwords necessarily know what’s causing these trends. They’re just crunching the numbers and presenting it to us. Even so, it’s far more helpful than what we get from Amazon.

Part of being an author in the erotic genres is simply going out there and trying your ideas and seeing if they work. Erotic authors and romance authors have been at the forefront of the ebook revolution and have led the industry into that new realm. If you do something that doesn’t quite work, that’s fine — dust yourself off and try something new. And if you find something that works well, then ride that wave until it runs out.

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Surviving the Pornpocalypse — Sex For Money Post #12

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance.  All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ.  It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there.  To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


The pornpocalypse, as it’s colloquially known, is real and it is here (yet again). The term pornpocalypse refers to when an ebook store gets in a snit about the smut that self-publishers are selling through their site — and in response, the site purges all offending titles, as well as purging a number of other titles that are not “offensive” but are still erotica (which is often deemed offensive in itself).

It famously happened — more than once — with Amazon, where the problematic titles as well as “innocent” erotica titles all were purged from their stores. And it’s happening again over on Kobo’s UK store. This time, WH Smith, which carries Kobo UK titles, got upset about incest and bestiality themes in some self-published erotica. Their response? They shut down their website until Kobo UK purged ALL self-published titles from the system. Yup, that’s right, ALL self-published titles, no matter the genre. It’s a bit of an overreaction, I think. You can read up about it here and here. Supposedly, a number of titles will make it back on to Kobo UK and WH Smith, but we’ll see how much gets back on there.

This is obviously a serious blow to erotica authors who write in these specific sub-genres. It can even have serious consequences for authors who write in general erotica categories, even if they’re not in this specific sub-genre. (I’ve long forgotten where I saw the article or posting, but in one of Amazon’s purges of incest and pseudo-incest, a number of people reported their non-incest erotica books being delisted because there was a familial term in the book’s blurb. For example, referencing a brother or father or mother — even if the character doesn’t have sex — was getting some people banned. So if the book was about a young guy fucking daddy’s best friend, that could get caught up in the sweeping bans.)

But this post is about surviving the pornpocalypse, not how devastating and non-sensical it can be. The plain and simple truth is that these websites are privately owned and they can sell what they choose. If they don’t want to sell books about dogs that save lives, then they don’t have to. If they don’t want to sell pseudo-incest, then they don’t have to. It’s not a violation of free speech, no matter how you frame it.

There are two keys to surviving a pornpocalypse:

  1. Have a wide platform.
  2. Research appropriate venues.

Let’s go in each point in depth.

Have a wide platform.

If an author publishes only on Amazon, and Amazon sweeps through their erotica offerings and bans a bunch of titles, that devastates the author’s one and only income source.

This is less of a problem than it used to be, I think. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program used to offer very attractive royalties for borrows in turn for exclusivity. By being exclusive and publishing only on Amazon, your title can be enrolled in Kindle Select / Kindle Unlimited, where Unlimited subscribers can read your book for free as part of their monthly subscription payment. In turn, the author would get a flat royalty fee, usually about $1.35.

A few months ago, Amazon changed from a flat per-book royalty to a per-page royalty. Suddenly, the payment dropped to about half a cent per page, meaning a borrow of an erotic short would earn a handful of cents rather than the $1.35 it used to. (And it seems like it might go even lower than half a cent.) Kindle Unlimited is a lot less attractive than it used to be for the self-published author, and a lot of erotica authors have now branched out and are publishing on multiple sites.

Here’s where I publish: Amazon, All Romance eBooks, Google Play, Excitica, and Smashwords (which distributes to, among others, Kobo and Barnes and Noble).

On a Reddit post I read about one of the recent pornpocalypses, titles were affected primarily on Kobo and to a lesser extent on Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Say I were to hit a bad luck streak and I got my title banned from all three of those. Well, while Amazon is one of my major income sources, it’s not my only one — I do fairly well on Google Play and Excitica, and quite well on All Romance eBooks. My income on those titles would dip but they would not die.

But a “wide platform” can be taken in another sense — sub-genres. Let’s say an author exclusively writes pseudo-incest and that’s the sub-genre going through a pornpocalypse (as it often is). A series of bans could absolutely devastate the author’s income. But if pseudo-incest is only one part of the writer’s platform and they also write contemporary erotica, BDSM, breathplay, and other things, then it would only be one part of the platform that suffers, and not the entire thing.

Research Appropriate Venues.

There’s no denying that Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble are important sites to be on given their market presence and easy name recognition. However, these are also the sites that are most prone to the pornpocalypse. So, yes, get on them as they’ll likely be your bread and butter, but don’t depend on them.

Besides, if you’re writing a questionable niche — like pseudo-incest or even actual incest — avid readers will know where to find the books they want. The casual Amazon reader who wants to try a pseudo-incest book just once is not the same as a dedicated fan who exclusively reads that niche. Pseudo-incest fans will know which sites cater to their interests and start shopping there. Amazon is truly not the be-all end-all for erotica authors.

Here are some other more appropriate venues (that I’ve personally tried) that won’t be so quick to ban you:

Smashwords — While they distribute to Kobo and Barnes and Noble, which can both suffer pornpocalypses, Smashwords itself does not pornpocalypse its books. And you can publish some pretty questionable stuff on there. They have the usual rules: no underage, no animals, and (if I recall) they’re a bit iffy on piss and scat.

All Romance eBooks — This site is a little cleaner, so it’s better for contemporary and BDSM erotica rather than the more fringe things. However, since it’s a romance and erotica webstore, they, too, don’t suffer from pornpocalypses.

Google Play — Google Play can be frustrating to publish on and they have an automatic discount on your pricing that can mess up your Amazon sales due to price matching. However, once you figure it all out and you price higher (so the discounted price matches the regular price on other sites), it can be a good source of sales. From my understanding, Google Play has not gone through a pornpocalypse. However, it’s important to note that Google Play is not open to new publishers at the moment.

Excitica — This website is run by erotica author Selena Kitt. You can be guaranteed that this place will not suffer from a pornpocalypse. I’ve found sales to be surprisingly good on this site and I’m quite happy with my experience there.

And here are a few sites I have no experience with (and thus can’t personally recommend) that might be what you need:

Lot’s Cave — This place seems to cater to pseudo-incest and actual incest. If you write these niches, then this is the site for you.

A1 Adult eBooks — This site seems to thrive on a variety of niches that wouldn’t last long on Amazon. This site does have odd formatting requirements and has a mandatory discount on new releases that could mess up Amazon’s price matching. However, this may be what you need if you see your niche well-represented here.

CarnalBooks — This site isn’t up yet. However, it looks professional and they are open to everything except underage. (Even though I don’t write in risky niches, I am keeping my eye on CarnalBooks and may sell my stories here once the site is live. I find their professionalism appealing.)

However, it’s important to note that these smaller independent websites sometimes come and go. A month ago there was a promising new one that I was setting up an account on, and it disappeared within a week… which also implies that authors should always be on the lookout for new venues, as they can appear out of nowhere and might perform surprisingly well for you.  My greatest success for sales was through a short-lived e-store attached to a gay men’s nudist magazine, giving me sales I have never seen from any other vendor — but unfortunately, both the store and the magazine are now gone.

There’s no denying that a pornpocalypse is bad news — it could be devastating for some authors, especially those who specialize in “riskier” niches. But a pornpocalypse doesn’t need to be a career killer — it can be managed and its impact can be lessened.

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