by Will Viharo
Erotica is one of the most lucrative markets for an indie writer, since the sexy subject matter is the main reason fans of the genre buy these books. The author’s name is practically incidental.
But the author’s reputation always matters. Especially to the author. Or at least it should…
Sex sells. That’s no secret. It’s been exploited to sell everything from soap to soup for at least a century. It can be subtle or it can be sensational. It depends on the product. And its intended consumer base.
When an author decides to get down ‘n’ dirty in his or her fictional work, the line between “provocative” and “pornographic” can sometimes seem almost invisible. But it’s definitely there.
Cross it at your own commercial risk.
Penthouse Is Not Very Cosmopolitan
While slinky lingerie ads and hunky male underwear models are common sights on magazine stands, more explicit material is often tucked behind the counter, available by request only.
Some may wonder why this puritanical paradigm exists, especially since it seems somewhat hypocritical if you consider the fact the same approach is being employed for the sake of making a buck.
What matters is the context, as well as the level of, shall we say, “exposure.”
The same fuzzy logic applies to books. In many states, books with nudity on the cover can’t even be legally displayed in a public place where families might shop (which is one reason most books of this type are sold online). What is stimulating to some is offensive to others.
It is impossible to judge in advance what your potential audience might find objectionable, since individual sensibilities regarding morality range according to many different factors, from religion to politics to personal history.
A true artist doesn’t restrict his or her creativity to suit fickle and fluid mainstream tastes especially when it comes to taboo topics. However, a career-minded professional writer may want to carefully consider the content of their books, especially when it comes to how they’re being marketed.
Do as I say, not as I do...
I admit that I write lurid pulp, filled with surrealistic scenes of wanton sensuality. But I don’t pitch my novels as straight-up “erotica” since there are also elements of gruesome horror, nightmarish noir, social satire and other “icky” ingredients in the mix, besides the rather gratuitous debauchery.
I don’t want to mislead readers by suggesting my books are anything like Fifty Shades of Gray, which is relatively tame by comparison to my more male-oriented material, but neither is my work nearly as shamelessly salacious as the many, many Bigfoot sex novellas flooding the market.
Books featuring sex with monsters, mythical beasts like unicorns and mermaids, and of course supernatural beings like vampire and zombies are rampant in the marketplace, and unless you want to churn out your own contributions to these bestselling sub-genres under a nom de plum, or put an original spin on the formula (which can be risky), it’s best to avoid the temptation to write this stuff.
Unless of course making money is your only objective, and you want your authorial reputation to be associated with mass market Erotica. Nothing wrong with that. But you need to make up your mind about your ultimate agenda before you even start writing, much less promoting your own tall tales of torrid affairs.
And remember, there is a huge difference between Erotica and its even more popular sister, Romance. Know your market, and you'll know your audience.
Pulp and Noir, which are my chosen fields, aren’t particularly popular compared to either Romance or Erotica, because they’re aimed mainly at a male audience, and frankly, women buy and read more books than men. Even sexy ones. So sexy books with a female heroine at its center, preferably told from her perspective, are your best bet if you want to break in then break out as a successful writer. It helps if you’re also a woman, but smart men have managed to pull this gender-bending trick off as well.
Objectively Speaking, Sex Is Always Subjective
Generally speaking, male sexual fantasies are more often deemed as demeaning to women than erotic fantasies expressed creatively from a female point of view, no matter how chauvinistic Bigfoot himself might be. Even when male authors make their lead heroines dominant over the males, they’re often in the context of rape-and-revenge novels, like Greg Barth’s excellent psychological action thriller Selena and its sequels, or they’re cold-blooded criminals in the classic “Bonnie and Clyde” mold.
Most women can't relate to either of those archetypes.
This type of storyline might fly with fans of grindhouse cinema, but again, once you throw violence into the pot, you’re turning off a substantial portion of the dwindling audiences left for any type of literature these days.
Crime fiction is still perhaps the most appealing genre for new writers, sort of the literary equivalent of "garage rock," and it’s also one of the most lucrative fields - but for whatever reason, perhaps due to misconception of its meaning, the subgenre designated as “noir” (the distinction remaining rather ambiguous) is not especially popular in the mainstream marketplace, and neither is another personal favorite, “grindhouse” fiction, which often combines elements of extreme horror with brutal sexuality.
You will be severely narrowing your potential appeal once you cross that border, even if you’re following your own morose muse. And I am speaking from experience. If you actually read the bestselling books dealing with romances between female humans and inhuman males, you’ll notice one common thread: lots of sex, little or no violence.
No Pride In Prejudice
The bottom line: most people of any genre or persuasion don’t read fiction, if they read at all. If you really, really, really want to make money writing fiction, you will have to research your target audience (after choosing one that actually exists), and then determine if those demographics will be receptive to your work. You may have to tailor it to fit the fashionable trends of your chosen genre, which may mean artistic compromise. Whichever path you choose, just be true to yourself, and you can't go "wrong."
Personally, I just can’t write books I wouldn’t read myself. But many authors can. And I'm sure they make a lot more money than I do.
But are they proud of their work? I have no idea. But I’m sure they’re proud of the fact they can pay their bills utilizing their craft, which itself is pretty sexy.
Do you write erotica, “grindhouse,” or other types of risqué literature, and if so, how’s that going for you?
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO