July 21, 2015

Are We There Yet?

I started by calling this post "The Golden Age of Porn." But then I thought that might be misleading. (Of course, someone will write to me to tell me yet again that I'm doing the titles wrong. I should be incorporating SEO terms, and so on. But that's fodder for a different post, tentatively titled: Rebel Rule Breaker: A Guide from a Total Social Media Failure.)

This past weekend, I was searching through articles online and in paper files, trying to find something I've lost. This happens to me periodically. I have a memory of a piece, and I do my best to excavate, only to come up with sixteen things I'd forgotten about and not the one thing I was looking for.

What I noticed in my quest—well, noticed is wrong. What I realized in my quest is that there really hasn't been a Golden Age of Porn. At least, not during my writing span. I've been published in the industry for twenty-five years (oh, dear lord, yes), and I've scrambled and scraped and submitted and other s- words the whole way through.

I'd bounce up (10,000 copies of one novel sold!) and then down ($750 advance for a novel that never was published). Up again! (A quick $2,000 freelance gig.) Then down. (A lot of time gone to waste when the contract was untenable.)

But for authors, I guess the most important part is the market. When I started, the market was tiny. I've covered this before, but there were really only a handful of places where you might place a story or sell a novel. Aside from a few big names—nobody was making much of a living. (I'm happy to be corrected if you have other information. I can say none of my writing cohorts were.)

When ebooks first hit, we started trying to sell PDFs and then Kindles. We were slow but thrilled with the ability to control our words.

Now, there's smut everywhere. Look, right there next to you in the sidebar! Smut! It's easier to find—yes. It's cheaper than it should be—yes. (More on this concept soon.) Is the era worse for authors than before? No. I don't think so. Are authors making a living? Well, no. But that's the point of this post. I didn't know any who were before. I'm sure they existed, but at my level—I have always worked multiple jobs to pay the bills.

The difference? For me—the main difference is that I no longer have to scrape. (I don't mean to get by. I'm doing that.) I mean, I don't have to grovel. I don't have to bend over. I will not stab myself in the back.

My world is smut—erotica is the love of my life. But I have the feeling this is the current status quo for every niche. Mystery, fiction, sci-fi. With the advent of ebooks, the virtual shelf space is unlimited. It stretches in all directions.

And I have to think that's a good thing. There has always been competition. In the past, the publishers stood in front of the gates and let only a minuscule portion of writers through. Now, the gates are open. Wide open. There's room for everyone. You. Me. Her.

So have we reached the Golden Age? I don't think so. But maybe we're close.


P.S. For more on this topic, please check out Cyndy Aleo's post: True Confessions of a Not-Rich Writer.


Cora Zane said...

I saw your posts on twitter the other day, and I was hoping you'd do a blog post covering this topic. If I had to exist on my earnings right now, I'd be better off rattling a tin can. Still, I keep writing. I do know a couple of people who are making ridiculous money at smut writing, but they are few and far between...and they release books on a scale that I just can't keep up with. Eight novellas in a month? I just can't write that fast! I bought a couple of books to try to uncover some of their writerly secrets, and it all points to writing series books and being prolific...which I am not. Prolific, that is. (I think the book I bought was called Naughty Ink?)

Anyway, I do think this is a great time to be a smut writer, because there are more places to publish and distribute than ever before. However, erotica is still a genre that faces more challenges than other genres. We face more censorship with covers, more targeted algorithms that hide our work from readers. We are told what words we can and can't use in titles. There are a lot of things like this that present challenges when trying to sell a book. And that is not even touching on the issue of shelf competition.

I think what has stopped erotica from having a modern "golden age" (some would argue that pulp porn novels had their heyday in the 60-80s) is that it's incredibly difficult to reach out to our target readership. The majority of regular erotica readers like to remain anonymous. They tend to have fetishes of choice and read in bulk, rather than across a broad spectrum of fetishes. And, they tend to NOT want to engage with anyone when it comes to discussion of what they're reading. This includes leaving reviews for the books they've read and love.

I've noticed with my self-pubbed stories that the erotica pieces sell far better than my romances and horror stories combined, but they rarely ever get reviews. When they do, they are always anonymous. Other genres, particularly romance and YA, depend on a more open author-reader relationship to drive sales. Those readers leave reviews everywhere. They tell their authors what they like and don't like at every turn - FB pages, twitter, blogs, etc. The word of mouth is off the charts. Our readership doesn't interact with us (or each other) in the same way, and that makes it more diffult for us to receive feedback for what's working and what isn't. For erotica writers, it's like we have to sit in the dark and wait for an anonymous lover to find us, then we can only hope what we have to offer is what they've been looking for all along.

Lola said...

Thank you for writing this. I think that you're right on a number of levels - writers control their words, much more content and availability to read it out there, fewer gate-keepers and greater democratization. Of course, writers still must "scrape" to get by financially, but the internet has given us something in lieu of payment - not just the ability to reach literally thousands of readers, but the ability for the readers to communicate with us, the writers, and tell us how much they appreciate our writing. Priceless. Yours, H.H.