The safety of fiction

My foray into writing taboo erotica.

Last week, I started an experiment: I want to see if I can make enough money through writing erotica to sustain our current situation as it is without making drastic changes (like getting a day job. The horror).

I’ve started publishing my stories a year and some months ago, but I’m not exactly raking in the cash. There has been an upswing, yes, and I start seeing things move into a positive direction, but I’m still leagues away from the pair of shoes I gave myself as a first tiny goal (which I then had to replace with new glasses, because boy, my eyesight is the worst).

Writing is my passion, the love of my life, and if I could do it for free, I would. But fact is, if I want to keep writing like I do – more or less full-time – then I have to earn some money with it, otherwise this is not a sustainable life.

Now, I’m not exactly big on marketing, and I’m all but mute on Twitter (or, let’s be honest, this blog). So I can’t tell you if things would be looking different if I’d be better at marketing, wrote more blog posts, or if I would write in another genre which at least makes for easier marketing. But what can I say, I love the sex, and I love writing it.

Erotica is a fast-moving market however, and I’ve always been at least dimly aware that the secret to earning money in self publishing is a sizeable back log. Sure, quality in your writing doesn’t hurt, but I’ve made the experience that there’s a reader for every story – You just have to find them.

But even knowing this secret, I’ve had a hard time putting new stories out. Sure, part of my problem with writing and publishing fast is due to chronic illnesses and debilitating depression (You can take my alliteration out of my cold, dead hands). The bigger part probably is that I’m a perfectionist and carry my stories around in my head for far too long, before I sit down to actually write them.

So, this experiment I mentioned above started for two reasons: a financial tight spot, and the need to free up some creativity without caring too much for the output.

Cue me reading more books about writing and publishing. I’ve read “Publishing Erotica: How to make your first $1000” by Amy Cooper (no longer on Amazon) a while ago, and now I picked up “The six-figure erotica author” by Jade K. Scott. Both books agree that the key to success is a steady, quick output, paired with writing to market and finding the right keywords on Amazon. Quantity trumps quality.

The latter book points out niches within the genre that sell exceptionally well; all of them lie way out of my comfort zone. I write primarily BDSM erotica, yes, and I have some kinks that aren’t really mainstream (remember my post about humiliation?), but most of them are still far away from what makes taboo erotica. So far, I haven’t really looked at the sea of taboo kink out there.

Well, I missed quite a bit.

The fact that most of these niches are out of my comfort zone (and make me outright uncomfortable in almost all cases)  might explain why I had no idea about the vast range of erotic fiction available out there.

But here’s the thing: once I find something that makes me uncomfortable or squicks me even, and I start thinking about it? I want to write it.

Fiction is a wonderful thing. It offers us the opportunity to explore things we would never go near in real life, and that’s particularly true for erotica. Erotic fiction is a safe space for the mind, where we can examine the things that produce a reaction in our body and soul, be it good or bad.

I, for example, have a strong fascination with dubious consent in fiction, sometimes even non con. I have rape fantasies. Do I condone rape? Absolutely not.

Do I write it? Well, that depends. Consent is incredibly important for me. I don’t want to write accidental abuse. But if it’s framed as the devastating, soul-shattering thing it is, and not glorified or romanticized? Yeah, I’ve written that. But only for myself till now.

Reading or writing a rape fantasy produces a curious reaction in my body: increased heart rate, sweaty palms, a humming nausea at the pit of my stomach, the sense of being unable to breathe. It’s anxiety, but not exclusively. There’s also the part of my mind that wants to understand, to examine and dissect.

(If you want to hear rape fantasies and their validity explained way better than I ever could, listen to Jaclyn Friedman’s podcast Unscrewed: Feminists with rape fantasies).

Enter: Fiction.

Okay, I could always just stay in my head. The mind is a landscape that belongs solely to oneself.  However, I think through writing. It helps me to connect the dots and see beyond the surface.

Taboo erotica plays an important role in that as well. Of course, not everyone is going to read a pseudo-incest story to examine some inner disposition. And they don’t have to. Reading taboo fiction for the sole reason of getting off is just as valid, and writing it to get off or make money is valid, too. But taboo erotica (ANY erotica) offers avenues for the mind to explore something in the safe space of our minds. And that’s great.

Especially in a time like this, with sexism and misogyny as all-pervading themes in everything, from culture to politics to media, writing and offering stories about sex and the erotic is more important than ever. It offers avenues to explore the mind, it frees from shame, and it paints so important counter images to those offered from a culture that silences the other in favor of their own agenda.

(I could go off on a tangent here about why the flourish of self publishing and the internet is so important in taking back our stories and return to a model of storytelling that’s far more democratic and similar to past oral traditions, but I will save this for another time).

What has this to do with my experiment? Well, I’ve been writing stories out of my comfort zone, exploring things like pseudo-incest, dub con and tentacle porn lately. I’ve created a second pen name for erotica of that kind.

Last week, I published two stories: One as Jo Henny Wolf, and one under my new pen name. The first, “Bound to Come“, fits the mold of my other stories: Three consenting adults having a damn good time together, pursuing pleasure through bondage, submission, and quite a bit of rough pain.

The second one is a story of pseudo incest between a step daughter and a step father, something that usually brings me to the very brink of what I can stomach. Writing it though changed my perception – I had a blast exploring the possibilities of this taboo kink. And guess which of the stories I published last week sells better.

Somehow, writing “back to the basics wham bam erotica” (as my dear friend called it) freed up my creativity. I didn’t worry about right or wrong, and even less about perfection. Suddenly, the words came rushing from my fingers onto the page, and in one sleepless night, I wrote a story of roughly 6000 words.

I should so have done this sooner.

And publishing wham bam erotica, meaning quick and dirty short stories between 3 to 8K, takes a huge deal of pressure off; I’ve been worrying about publishing too slow and too little ever since I started.

With this experiment, I’m going to find out if I can make a modest income from erotic short fiction. At the same time, I’m having more freedom to concentrate on stories that I feel need and deserve more attention and time, with the pressure of publishing quickly taken off. Win win.

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