Written erotica has been on a steady rise since (somewhat baffling) success of E.L James’ 50 Shades of Grey series back in 2012. While I’m personally not a fan of the series (or the writing), I will give credit where credit is due: these books changed the world, in some small way.
BDSM, erotica, porn, and exploration of female sexuality haven’t been quite the same since. While many in the BDSM community will argue that there was a bit of “damage control” that had to be done after the release of the books (as they aren’t that great in explaining what a healthy BDSM relationship really looks like) - suddenly BDSM was the talk of the town.
Along with Mr. Grey themed sex toys flying off sex toy store shelves, we saw a rapid demand for more written erotica. And so, there was (and still is) higher demand for erotica writers than ever before.
While you may not be able to make the reported $150 million that E.L James is reportedly worth after the success of her naughty series, writing erotica is something that you could definitely launch yourself into if you have a way with words and the dedication to go the distance.
Yes, you can - and it’s far easier than you think! While it’s not without its drawbacks and is going to take some hard work and dedication, there are plenty of people who make a side income from selling written erotica online.
Do you want to know how to become an erotica writer?
Being honest with yourself about why you go into an endeavor is the best way to get results. If you find yourself interested in writing as a career, side-career, or hobby, then you are going to want to take things a bit slower, really develop a name for yourself (or a pen-name for yourself), an audience, etc.
However, if you’re looking for a simple side hustle or a way to make extra cash, then you can take a different approach: contact online publications for casual writing positions or one-offs, or apply for ghostwriting jobs.
Once you’ve figured out your motivation for writing erotica, you can figure out your first steps into the online writing community.
There are a few things you should know about getting started in the world of erotica writing. From major decisions that impact every other decision to smaller nuances that will set you apart from the erotica-writing pack - let’s talk about what it means to get started in the world of erotica.
This is one of the very decisions you’re going to have to make and it will likely impact every other decision you have. Choosing to write under a pen-name is very common, especially in the erotica world. Many people don’t want their “real lives” entangled or associated with the dirty little things they write online. With careers, family, kids, a lack of privacy...there are many reasons why someone would choose to write erotica under a pen-name.
If you’re interested in really building a brand around your writing, you can do this through a unique and creative pen-name - which makes the process of choosing one really exciting and fun.
If you’re feeling bold and don’t mind associating your real-life identity with what you write, you can use your own name. Give this decision a lot of thought - because once you start publishing (especially under your real name), it can be very hard to become known as something else or unlink yourself to your written works.
While you’re researching ways to break into the writing scene, you should set aside some time to hone your craft. Writing is an art, after all, and practice makes perfect. The best way to become a good writer is to write.
While you’re writing, you want to stay true to your own style, of course - but you might want to dive into some writing tips, too.
This MasterClass article explains how to write enticing, definitive story arcs (with examples).
This Writer’s Edit article is a self-help class in how to write dialogue that flows naturally.
Finding examples like this, being open to always learning the tips and tricks of the writing trade, and constantly developing your style and technique is going to set you apart from the countless other writers out there trying to do the same thing.
You may not realize this, but erotica has a bunch of subcategories. Historical, mystery, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi...there are a lot of different ways you could go with your erotica story. While well-written smut is key to making it as an erotica writer (obviously), people want to be pulled into the story. People want to care about the characters before they get pulled into a steamy sex scene.
Many writers are going to naturally lean to one specific genre, even if it’s not entirely a conscious choice they are making. As an erotica writer myself, I found that most of my stories were developing as more narrative, present-day, realistic settings.
Do some writing, and then do some searching - what niche and genre do you find your writing suits?
Being a writer takes dedication, hard work, and a lot of confidence (even if it’s the fake-it-’til-you-make-it kind). There are many writers out there trying to accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish and even though the internet is a big place with room for lots of sexy stories, you’ve going to need a little extra to stand out against the crowd.
One of the early things you should do if you’re interested in becoming any kind of writer (even just on the side) is to build a portfolio. Having a body of work that you can show off to prospective audiences and people who may be interested in working with you allows your work to do the promo for you while you get busy writing your first best-seller.
This is a website designed for bloggers, journalists, and writers to build portfolios that are beautiful and simple. “Add your best work, customize your page, and then share your online portfolio with the world.”
While online portfolio platforms like Clippings.me are designed for writers everywhere, you can also start your own website to promote your work as a writer. This is a popular path, as there is far more customizable options for you to really brand yourself as the writer you are and show your style to potential readers and partners.
To create a writing portfolio, I personally would suggest going with either Wix or WordPress. In my 5 years of writing, I’ve switched back and forth between the two of these platforms. I found WordPress was a great place to keep my blog running - a place where I can post my ramblings on and let people see the “behind-the-scenes” of my life. While many people do create portfolios with WordPress, I think the ease-of-use with Wix (for portfolios and web-stores) is unparalleled.
LinkedIN is a very strange place for me. My activity on the platform is a bit more sporadic as it likely should be because it’s such a great resource for connecting with other writers or potential partners and brands you’d like to work with.
Uploading a portfolio on this platform is as simple as drafting a post in the platform itself or uploading word documents. Think of this as an online resume - you want to keep this place up-to-date and looking fresh/clean so people can really see your work shine.
A big part about breaking onto any writing scene (especially erotica) is to brand yourself as something unique. This doesn’t have to be a one-of-a-kind thing. After all, there are only so many kinds of erotica. But branding yourself and giving a name to the type of erotica you produce can give readers an idea of what to expect from you.
This is a great way to gain a following on social media (we’ll talk more about that later) and to also let other brands or companies who may want to work with you know what kind of writing they can expect from you.
Networking is another important puzzle piece. While you signed up to become a writer, not a salesman, every freelance side hustle needs a bit of salesmanship to get your name (and writing) noticed by both readers and potential collaboration partners alike.
Twitter is a place you’ll want to be if you’re selling written erotica. The writing community on Twitter is quite active and the erotica community can be very supportive, often hosting “writer’s lifts” where they share and promote each other’s work.
Some common hashtags to use if you’re promoting erotica you’ve written on Twitter (2020) are:
As I said before, LinkedIN is a place where you can connect with readers and potential collaborators alike. You can post to your feed similar to Facebook. I would suggest using this feature often enough that you’re relevant in the timeline of the people you follow. You can post links to your published works or if you’re writing a book, you can use this platform to promote it.
Facebook, I believe to be a bit tricky for writers, particularly for writers who discuss things that could be deemed “sensitive”. I once had an article about the health benefits of masturbation be banned (and subsequently get people who shared it suspended from the platform for 24 hours) because the photo that accompanied the post was a man with his pants unbuckled. No nudity - just the suggestion of nudity.
While I’ve heard good things about creating business pages on this platform, I choose myself to promote my erotica writing on other platforms like Twitter, where it seems to be a bit more acceptable to share suggestive content.
If you’ve created a website or portfolio to keep readers updated on your writings and publications, consider a weekly or monthly newsletter. Having readers (friends, family members, potential collaborators) sign up for a newsletter campaign from your website will keep your network up to date with the things you’re publishing and can count as a solid reader-base for when you want to level up your writing.
Jumping into the erotica scene may involve some research. And by “research”, I mean reading sexy stories and seeing how you feel about the writing style used. When it comes to erotic writing, there are a few things you can do (or not do) that can make or break your stories...
While I know there are only so many ways to write certain sentences, try your best to avoid cliches that are found in every other erotica story. Instead of talking about “sliding his dick inside her”, you could say something like “he teased her entrance with his tip” - this adds something unique and interesting to the writing that will surely catch (and hold) your reader’s attention.
This is a mental note I need to make for myself as well - cut down on the metaphor use! Sometimes it can just be “a yearning sensation” instead of “a yearning sensation that bursts through her like an insatiable hunger…”
While metaphors can be beautifully used, they are commonly over-used in erotica writing and added where they aren’t needed.
This could be the golden rule of erotica writing: if it sounds cheesy, it is and you should try to find a work-around. Finding new ways to twist the same words can be a very useful skill in the writing world, especially when you’re writing erotica where there can be a lot of repetition.
Of course, in erotica, sex scenes are important. They’re the highlight, right? But here’s the thing: in order for something to be highlighted, there needs to be a lowlight. There needs to be other content in your writing - storylines that make the characters relatable, desirable, and attractive to the reader.
Even when you’re writing short stories, the details you put into the content that comes before and after the steamy sex scenes are important for building your writing to be something great.
Write what you know. This is one of my favorite sayings because it’s been one of the most helpful things in my writing experience. This doesn’t mean you can’t have sexy witches, erotic vampires, or completely fabricated events in your stories, though. You can draw on your experiences, your feelings, your desires, and your thoughts in order to set the mood for whatever content you’re writing.
Writing erotica can be quite different than writing a research article or some listicle you’d find on Cosmo. You need to be in the right headspace to come up with genuinely sexy, naturally-flowing content. The first thing you should do is get your ideas out, whether this is recording voice notes to yourself detailing the rough outline of the story, or going back to trusty pen and paper notes.
Then, get into the spirit, whatever that means for you. Feeling sexy and confident is a great way to ensure you’re writing good erotica. You could pour yourself a glass of wine, but on some nice music or simply sequester yourself away in your bedroom with your laptop - whatever gets you into the right headspace.
Doms like Mr. Grey and submissives like Ms. Steele have been done to death at this point. Find inspiration from the kind of stories you like to read and then let your imagination take you to all new heights.
It’s worth spending the time and energy to write a story that your readers won’t have read countless times before, even if it means spending a little longer on each story or project than you would have hoped.
This is so very important: find unique ways to write the same drab everyone else is writing. As I said before, there are indeed only so many ways to write about a man entering a woman - but with a few resources you can spice those words up to be classy, unique and sexy. Your readers will really appreciate this!
If you’re interested in writing erotic novels or short stories and self-publishing them through a service like Amazon (which we’ll talk more about at the end of this article), it’s well worth it to pay for editing services. You can find inexpensive editors through platforms like Fiverr, so they don’t have to cost you a fortune. It’s always a good idea to have someone else double-check your work before publishing.
If you’re working on an erotic novel or collection of erotic stories, consider finding a few trusted friends to read over your finished works before pushing it out to the public. “Beta readers” can help you see things that you’ve missed and give you an idea of how popular your works will be when published.
You can also do this if you’re writing for an online publication or magazine, too. It never hurts to have someone double-check your work.
Whatever it is you’re working on in the erotica world - try to be consistent. Staying relevant in any writing genre is important if you want to make a name for yourself. If you’re simply enjoying erotica writing as a sexy side hustle, consider partnering up with a company with a consistent schedule (perhaps one erotic story per week) so you know what to expect in terms of payment.
Sex sells, this is true - but with the sheer amount of erotica content out there, you’re going to have to stick out. Aside from great writing and networking, you should also be an engaging force in the writing community and/or the erotica community (or both). This means engaging on social media as much as you can, supporting other writers, leaving reviews for books you’ve read, etc. All of these things can help you in the future when it comes time to promote your next work in progress.
When it comes to erotica, there are quite a few words or phrases that you’ll want to remember. Much of the time, when you publish your stories, you want to have a description and keywords that tell your reader (and Google) what the story is about. To do this, you want to brand your content as descriptively as possible.
For example, my erotica collection has a story that’s about a night-in-the-life of a high-class female escort. To score this story so my readers know what it’s about, I would write tags like “F/M, F/A, BDSM, Degradation, Public Sex.” While you may not understand what some of those tags mean, I’ll explain more below. However, it’s really important to add keywords or a brief description to your story. This way, your readers know what they are getting into before they start reading.
I’ve compiled a little list here to get you started:
You can also consider adding tags for specific sexual kinks and fetishes that play out in your story (such as degradation, public sex, infidelity, etc). When it comes to erotica descriptions, the more clear you are about what’s in the story, the more your reader will want to start reading!
Now that we’ve covered what it takes to actually write good erotica and how to build your brand up so you have a following of people who care about your stories, let’s talk about where to actually publish your work (and how to get paid for doing so).
Why choose self-publishing over a publishing service? Well, for one, you don’t have to pitch (and wait for approval) from some big publisher - you can do this on your time (and quickly, if you want to), which means you get paid faster.
I like to think of publishing agencies as a long-term game. It can take months (or even years) to get a publishing agency on board with one of your stories and then after that, you’re working on their timeline and not your own. With self-publishing, while you do have to do the research and work yourself, you are in total control.
The Writing Cooperative has a great article which compares self-publishing to publishing through an agency.
While you may think Amazon is just for self-published novels, there are plenty of shorter stories (some as little as 5000 words) available for purchase in the Kindle Store. Just take a look at some of these erotica titles.
Self-publishing short erotic stories on Amazon is much easier than you think with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and can be a great opportunity if you’re not having any luck finding platforms to sell your stories to.
The idea of writing an ebook can seem daunting but in today’s world, it’s easier than ever. An option, if you’re having trouble selling your erotic stories, is to compile them into a collection and self-publish through an online book retailer like Amazon (Kindle), Smashwords, Apple (iBooks), Barnes and Noble (book) or Kobo. All of these places are very user-friendly to upload a manuscript and start selling.
With most of these services, you can make up to 70% royalties with each copy of your book that’s sold/downloaded. If you’re looking for a way to sell across multiple platforms, Draft2Digital makes it very easy for your works to become available on multiple outlets.
Some magazines and online publications pay writers for erotica submissions. You may have to do some digging, but it’s well worth it to be published in some well-known places.
The price range you’ll get for these types of submissions may not be as high as you’d like (because lots of publications have a way of exploiting writers even if it’s unintentional), the benefits may outweigh the cons when it comes to working for a smaller fee.
While I’m an advocate for not working for free (or for “exposure”, as many companies may try to twist it), I think there is something to be said about having your name attached to a big brand if it means taking a little less money than you’d like. Of course, you have to decide how much your time and energy is worth and where you can afford to take a little less.
An important thing to note here is that each publication will have their own guidelines and submission policies. I highly suggest following these to the letter and not rushing this process.
Here is a list of online publications where you could potentially sell or promote your erotic writings:
While we’re on the topic of budgets and finances, let’s talk about writing rates.
How much should you charge for your erotica story?
How much do you charge per word to write erotica?
Setting your rates or agreeing to terms with a publication that wants to collaborate with you or purchase one of your stories can be tricky - but here are some tips on how to navigate and get the best rates.
While there are plenty of publications and magazines just looking to get cheap content to boost their ranks, there are plenty of companies that care about their writers and pride themselves on offering fair rates for stories or articles they buy from their writers. Being flexible with your rates is good, but knowing your worth is important, too.
I’ve stood on this hill for a long time and I think I may just die here: working for exposure isn’t great. In fact, I’d argue that it’s bad. Perhaps not for you - if you get a large brand to promote your work you may be getting more clicks to your portfolio and more interest in your work.
However, the more people who do this, the more writers who work for exposure (essentially selling their writing services for free), the more companies will think this is the norm and the less likely writers are to be fairly compensated.
Of course, you have to decide what’s best for you, but it’s something to keep in mind.
I’ve spent hours and hours researching what a freelance writer should charge, how much per word or per hour, how much per story I should sell my erotic content for and I’ve come away with this simple truth: there is no right answer.
How much you charge depends on so many different factors (including your experience, where you’re selling your stories, etc). However, there is a way you can gauge how much your experience and time are worth...
Taking your experience into factor is a big part of setting your rates as a writer and one of the best things to do is some research into what other writers are charging. If you have any writing friends, you can always ask them, but I found this to be a helpful (and quite up-to-date) resource when trying to set rates.
The takeaway? You can do this!
Anyone can be an erotica writer with a bit of dedication, hard work, and a keen eye for what makes good stories great ones. Diving into the world of erotica writing may seem a bit daunting but there are plenty of resources (like this one) to help you along the way.