If you’re here searching for information on how to write erotica, then you’ve probably heard about how incredibly lucrative it is to write short smut. The internet is full of people claiming to earn tens of thousands of dollars every month writing erotica, all from the comfort of their own home.
The problem is most of those claims are either old or shall we say, exaggerated.
Don’t get me wrong, there is money to made in erotica. And it’s unbelievably easy to make money writing erotica – even if you have almost no talent at all. The problem is the earnings ceiling is very low. If you wanted to earn anything close to a full-time income from writing erotica, you’d probably have to publish at least one short story (7-10,000 words) a day and do everything else right.
Needless to say, that’s a grueling pace to keep up for any length of time. But if you want a steady side hustle, writing erotica may be right for you.
How Much Can You Earn Writing Erotica?
Now that I’ve lowered your expectations on the income front a little bit, let’s talk about how much money you can make writing short smut.
When I first started out writing erotica, I had just lost my job due to illness and barely had enough money to eat. Desperate, I stumbled across a video featuring an author talking about how he had made a fortune writing erotica.
With nothing to lose – and no experience writing – I decided to dip my toes into the steamy waters of erotica. After a few early stumbles, writing erotica practically became a license to print money. And while I had few sales, I was making a fortune from Amazon’s KDP Unlimited. For those of you unfamiliar with KDP Unlimited, a person can sign up through Amazon for a monthly fee and read as many eBooks enrolled in the program as they want.
And things went well for me for a while until Amazon dropped a bombshell – they were changing the system.
When the program was first put into place, Amazon paid authors enrolled in KDP Unlimited a flat fee, so if someone read a certain percent of a book, the author would get paid as if the person had read the entire book. Needless to say, this favored short erotica, as a 3,000-word smutty story would earn the same amount as a 500,000-word epic fantasy novel.
Most of the wild claims of ‘earning 30,000 dollars a month’ come from this era, but those impressive earnings are long gone. After a few years, Amazon replaced the Amazon Unlimited with a new system, where the authors were paid by the number of pages read instead of a flat fee. Almost overnight, the majority of erotica authors saw their income fall from thousands of dollars a month to mere hundreds. I saw my income drop from a high of almost $5,000 a month, to about $200 a month. To put it bluntly – it hurt.
But it’s not all bad news. With the current system in place, a new author should still be able to earn around 100 dollars per short story without too much trouble. And that number should only go up with time as you build an audience and a mailing list. Plus, short stories can then be bundled, which can often bring in hundreds more.
So, while the money isn’t as good as it used to be, after a few months of work, you should still be able to earn a respectable side income. And if you put more work into it, you might even be able to earn something close to a full-time income.
How to Get Started
First things first, if you want to get started with writing erotica, then you need to do research. Now’s not a bad time to head over to Amazon and pick up a KDP unlimited subscription to read as much erotica as you can for a flat fee. I can’t stress enough how important it is to read what you’re going to write. Readers have expectations and if you don’t meet them, you’re not going to succeed.
When I first started, I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t bother to do any research. I wrote what I wanted to write – wonderful, flowery historical short romances. Every single story bombed. Hard. Even after all these years, those original stories have barely made more than a few cents.
After several very painful failures, I regrouped and finally started doing research. Erotica is a very niche product, and generally speaking, the weirder it is, the better it does. While a medieval short romance story sounded great in my mind, a steamy novel about a girl’s naughty tryst with a lusty unicorn did infinitely better.
Find a niche and stick with it.
Then you need to make sure your story isn’t too short. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to start with overly short stories. While it varies by niche, stories between 8,000-12,000 words always seem to do the best. Shorter stories seem to have less staying power than longer works and often lead to people complaining in the comments – or even returning the book. I would recommend never writing a story less than 5,000 words long, as Amazon may consider it to be ‘low quality’.
How to Edit a Story
Once you manage to finish writing your first erotica story, there’s still a lot of work to be done. First, you need to edit the story. While erotica readers are pretty forgiving, if your story is riddled with spelling mistakes, formatting errors, and other glaring problems, you’re going to get a lot of one-star reviews. And low reviews are often a death sentence for a short story.
After many years of writing smut, I developed a streamlined method for editing stories. First, use a spellchecker. I wish I didn’t have to say that, but it still seems the majority of erotica authors don’t know this feature exists. After I’ve corrected all the spelling errors, I then use the ‘Read Aloud’ tool. This is invaluable, as I catch most of the errors I’ve previously missed here. Finally, I like to use Grammarly, which usually catches the last few mistakes.
All together, this should take no more than a few hours, as you don’t want to take too long with this step. The name of the game in erotica is volume and taking too long in the editing process can really reduce your earnings.
How to Create the Perfect Cover
While I don’t have any numbers to back it up, I suspect that at least 90% of people choose erotica based solely on the cover. I’ve seen far too many bestsellers with an amazing cover and atrocious writing inside to think anything else.
Whatever you do, don’t use Amazon’s cover creator. At the very least, download a free copy of GIMP and learn to use it properly. Or even better, get a subscription to Adobe Photoshop, and download a few decent fonts. While it’s a bit expensive upfront, a novel with a professional-looking cover will sell far better than one with an amateur cover.
And please, don’t use free stock photos. Far too many people have gotten into legal trouble for using supposedly ‘free stock photos’. If you use a site like Depositphotos, stock photos can be affordable, and they often have sales during the year making it even more affordable.
If you need inspiration on what type of cover to create, look at other stories in your niche and try to do something similar. While I would never advocate copying another author’s cover, it can often help to see what other successful authors are doing and then emulating their style.
How to Publish
When you’ve finally finished writing, editing, and crafting the perfect cover, it’s time to publish. But where do you publish?
Right now, there are only a few major players in the game. Amazon is the 500-pound gorilla in the room, and somewhere between 67%-80% of eBooks are sold on Amazon. The other major book retailers are Smashwords, Applebooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Google Playbooks.
It’s important to note that if you put your book on Amazon and enroll it in Kindle Unlimited, then you have to keep your book exclusive to Amazon while it’s enrolled. Also, Amazon doesn’t allow many of the same ‘taboo’ niches that the other retailers do, though many, such as Barnes and Noble, have severely cracked down on taboo subjects in recent years.
Smashwords is generally the best place to publish if you’re writing the more extreme stuff – since much of it will get you banned from Amazon – and as an added bonus, Smashwords will distribute your book to most online retailers (excluding Amazon), making it easier to publish wide.
How to Promote a Short Story
Unlike many other genres, erotica doesn’t require much in the way of promotion (and many sites won’t let you advertise erotica). While most erotica will sell on its own, it’s still a good idea to do some basic promotion.
I usually recommend creating an author website to start with, as this will give you a place to post new stories, updates, and a link to your mailing list. But make sure you sign up with a hosting company that allows adult content. I recommend Hostgator, as it’s a good combination of price and performance and is easy to set up for a beginner.
Also, a mailing list is a must in erotica, and Mailchimp allows you to create a mailing list for free. But be warned – they don’t like smut on their site. It’s always best to keep things as tame as possible on Mailchimp and any e-mails you may send out.
Beyond that, it’s good to have a twitter account to post new stories or repost old stories you’d like to get some traction with.
But even if you manage your social media perfectly, the majority of your sales will still come from organic traffic on the publishing websites. Still, every little bit helps, and I always see a small spike in sales after posting new works to my author site and twitter account.
While erotica will probably never make you rich, it’s a great side income with a low barrier to entry. Anyone can easily make at least a thousand dollars a month writing erotica, and it’s nice reliable income. I would recommend erotica for anyone looking for a side hustle that only takes a few hours a week, but if you’re looking for fulltime income, there are probably better options out there to pursue.
I am very serious about giving this a try. Thank you for all of the information, I really appreciate it.
James Baird says
It’s definitely a fun and interesting way to make some money. Hopefully it goes well for you if you try it.
Hi James–thanks for the info here. How long should an erotica story be?
James Baird says
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The length really depends on the niche. If you’re going with a romance type niche, then it’s best to go novella length (12,000-30,000 words). But if you’re going for more of a kink niche then usually around 8,000 words is the sweet spot. Though some of the really specific niches are fine with as low as 5,000 words. A good idea is to look at the niche you want to write and see what the average page length of the top selling books are. An average page on kindle is around 250 words.
Hi, thank you for all the info! I’m not sure if this is an odd question or common sense but do you save any of your earnings for taxes? I have a regular day job but do I need to report my earnings? Thanks!
I already have a particular subgenre of erotica that I want to write that I know I’ll be okay with. Which is going to be shifter romance/erotica and or crypto romance/erotica. So my question is how many short stories would I have to write a month to achieve somewhere between $1,500 to $2,000 a month?
James Baird says
It really all depends on the niche unfortunately. I write in one niche that I can get a thousands dollars from a single short story, but others where I’m lucky to get one to two hundred. And I’ve dabbled in your niche, but short stories don’t tend to do too well. However, novellas and novels are still very popular, so I would recommend trying to write at least a novella which should land you a fair bit of money.
Thank you so much, such a lot of information and great advice. I’m just researching, I have several stories from mild to hard core. I’ve also got work across sexualities and preferences. My question: is it wise to publish across these genres in one place/under one name? Or should I keep the genres separate? Any advice is much appreciated.