How to Write and Sell Erotic Fiction
Following the success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, why not see if you too are up for the task of writing erotic fiction? While coming up with enough material for a trilogy might seem daunting, you could always cut your teeth on short stories, for which there are many publishers. This is what happened with me. A couple of years ago Mslexia, the excellent magazine for women writers, did a piece on Xcite Books, a British publisher of erotic fiction who were actively looking for short story submissions, and for the fun of it I decided to give it a go. I’d already written several novels, some of which were published when chick lit was all the rage, but had since been on the receiving end of more rejection slips than I care to remember. So I wrote a few stories and found to my amazement, that not only did the ideas flow, but the majority were accepted for publication.
This is by no means the definitive guide to writing erotic fiction, but more a few pointers I’ve learnt from my own experience:
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You need to create real people with genuine needs, problems and desires, and not just people who are getting together to have sex. Take time to set the scene – is s/he lonely? Has s/he recently broken up with someone? Has s/he fancied their opposite number for a while now? What does s/he stand to gain from the liaison? Is s/he all that they seem? You need to (ahem) flesh out your characters for erotic fiction as much for the regular kind – give us someone we can relate to or who interests us.
This goes hand-to-hand with compelling characters – they need to sound real and viable and alive. Do they get on straight away, or is their relationship more fiery? Admittedly you’re not writing War and Peace here but your characters still need to communicate effectively and individually or else the reader won’t connect with them. Think out loud, if that doesn’t sound contradictory. How are they talking? What personality traits can you incorporate in the language your characters use?
You can’t be shy with your sexual terminology. In my first short story Arousal (Big and Beautiful anthology, Xcite Books), my heroine was a middle-aged wife who’s just been dumped by her husband, and who rediscovers her sexuality by posing naked for an artist. In one line I referred to her sexual partner’s ‘willy’ – a harmless British term for the penis, because that’s how I thought my character would refer to it. But no, my editor changed it to c*ck. Thus I learnt the, er, hard way: euphemisms don’t cut it!
Ultimately it’s hard to write about sex because – well, let’s face it, we all have certain physical limitations – there’s only so much one can do, if you know what I mean. This might explain why there are so many fantasy and BDSM stories out there, as this broadens one’s sexual horizons, so to speak. As for me, I’m more of a vanilla writer, focusing on relatively straightforward sex involving consenting heterosexuals, lesbians and threesomes. I also enjoy exploring the psychology behind sex – why are they doing it, what are they trying to gain, is there an ulterior motive, apart from the obvious physical one? In my story Holiday Showmance (Brief Encounters, Mischief) my heroine Vicky feels threatened by a Swedish divorcee who clearly fancies her boyfriend, Stuart. Vicky decides that attack is the best form of defence, and so instigates a threesome, while making sure she stays in control. By making her opponent dependent on her for her pleasure, she’s not only putting her in her place, but she’s also winning Stuart’s lusty admiration.
Another thing to consider is what kind of sex are you describing? Is this romantic, or a one night stand? Is it illicit or daring, for example taking part in a public place? Or is it sensual, building up over a long period of time, between two people who might just be falling in-love and are likely to stay together? Each style of sex requires a different approach.
Can you use Metaphors?
A woman columnist in a British newspaper wrote, somewhat dismissively, that you won’t ever find metaphors in erotic fiction. I beg to differ, and enjoy creating metaphors depending on the circumstances of the sexual act. For example, in my story Personal Shopper (Wanton Women, Xcite Books) a woman buying clothes for a lavish weekend party winds up having sex with the female personal shopper advising her. The lush silks and cashmeres provide a metaphor for their genitalia as they make love on the swish shop floor. Likewise, in my Primmie Darling series (available exclusively on Kindle) when my heroine has sex with a Russian oligarch in a stuck lift, I’ve used electric charges and energy as a metaphor for their climaxes.
Likewise the backdrop you choose can offer plenty of scope. In The Warmth of His Touch (Foreign Affairs, Xcite Books), Belinda goes on a skiing weekend with her new boyfriend, whom she finds too serious and is preparing to dump afterwards. When they discover the boiler’s broken and the chalet freezing, it’s the warmth of his body that wins her over. The snow and cold provide plenty of metaphors for her own melting, like an ice sculpture.
A Good Story
If you take out all the sex, you must still be left with a good story, something that’s fun, or thought-provoking, or has a twist. A good story cannot just be about two or more people getting together to have sex – although of course such stories do get published if they’re really well written. Think about how you want your reader to feel by the end of it – you want them to feel as satisfied as your characters (nudge, nudge), but you also want them to wonder what might happen next in your characters’ lives.
Can you be sexy and funny?
I like to think so. Some erotica is a bit po-faced but I firmly believe there is room for humour in a sexy story. Aren’t most of us attracted to those who make us laugh? What’s stopping your characters from having a bit of verbal fun with each other before all the physical fun? Your comedy has to stop once the sex starts, of course, but there’s no reason why you can’t combine an amusing situation or background with your protagonists’ sex lives. How do they meet – are there comical circumstances involved? Are they at odds with each other for some reason? Are they sending out mixed signals? Are they down on their romantic luck when they meet, and if so, what’s the story?
Let’s face it, much sex is really pretty comical, and the language of sex even more so. Be careful not to overdo it, though – as you’ve probably noticed from this hub, a little innuendo goes a long way!
Now the publishing part. There are lots of erotic publishing houses out there, both in the US and UK and no doubt the world over, particularly given the success of Fifty Shades. Most give clear guidelines as to what they’re looking for, but as a rough guide the requirements are:
Novels (and trilogies) from 80,000 words each onwards
Novellas of around 15-20,000 words
Short stories of no fewer than 4,000 words per story.
These numbers are all approximate, however – do check each publisher’s submission guidelines for details.
Look for Anthologies
With anthologies, publishers tend to release one new collection a month, and themes might include holiday sex, sex in the workplace, alfresco sex, larger ladies, age gap sex, hotel sex, historical sex, futuristic sex, vampires, lesbians – the list goes on. Have a look at what publishers are looking for and get your thinking-cap on. You can try to come up with an unusual take on the theme, rather than going for the obvious, but I often find it’s your first idea – the one you really want to write – that works best.
For the anthology Sex in the City (House of Erotica) about urban passion, I knew straight away that I wanted to write about a London roof garden, and immediately started thinking about an uptight but successful career woman and a ruggedly handsome gardener, whose earth-smeared hands play havoc with her designer clothing. It was an idea I was passionate about – and this is what counts. Your passion will transcribe to your story, and that’s what will get your work noticed.
More hubs by Viva:
- Erotic Writing - Finding Your Plot
Writing erotica should be much more than: “two (or more) consenting adults meet, have sex, the end”. Enrich your writing with believable characters and interesting storylines – here are some ideas how.
- Who Was Aphrodite?
An introduction into the life of Greek goddess Aphrodite, her lovers, her reputation and her children.
- David and Victoria Beckham – Are They For Real?
A look at this global media power couple, and the man behind them.
- Boris Johnson: An Unlikely Sex Symbol
The life and loves of Boris Johnson, Britain's most popular politician.
- Great Political Sex Scandals: The Profumo Affair
An overview of the famous British scandal, The Profumo Affair, inspiration behind the popular 1989 film Scandal.
- Who Was Casanova?
The man behind the name - just who was Casanova and how did he earn his womanising reputation?
The Writing Process
If you’re anything like me, unless you’ve got your perfect story opener, that neat sentence that draws the reader in and sets up the premise, you struggle with your idea, slump into a mild depression and question whether you’ve really got any writing talent at all. This of course is nonsense. Just get writing, and tell yourself this is your imperfect second paragraph. The first will come – an idea will form as you explore and develop your storyline. Don’t let this hiccup bother you, just get writing, knowing that you’re going to rewrite it all eventually anyway.
Once you’ve got your idea, you can probably bash out a story of around 4,000 words in a few hours. This is your rough first draft. Here’s where many writers fail – they think that’s the job done. My advice is to leave your story alone for a couple of days and then revisit it with fresh eyes, and allow a few days of editing and polishing. When I say days, I mean a couple of hours each day, followed by little breaks. You’ll be surprised at the number of typos and/or jarring sentences that suddenly leap out at you after a break, not to mention all the refinements you can make, turning an OK sentence into a memorable one.
If you have a problem – walk it off. I’ve taken to enjoying a daily walk, and I can’t tell you the amount of solutions that have flown into my mind when I was least expecting them. Dump your mobile phone and let your mind wander – stuff will come, I promise.
You’re not likely to make the money of EL James. (God knows, I haven’t!) But you’ll probably have fun, get your creative juices flowing, and, if you’re anything like me, end up finding sex in everything!!
Enjoy and good luck!
Viva Jones' novel, The Summer of Aphrodite, is published by House of Erotica Books. Her ongoing series, The Sexual Misadventures of Primmie Darling, a racy political satire, is available on Kindle Direct.
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