Introduction: This writeup is a combination of a couple of articles written by editor/author Mary Anne Mohanraj (I've consolidated and added information here and there) and is noded with her permission.


If you're new to writing pornography or erotica, the first place to start is with Valerie Kelly's 1986 book How to Write Erotica. While out of date, the book does give a lot of invaluable information on both style (soft-core vs. hard-core, with examples of the same passage written in varying levels), and markets (letters, short stories, video blurbs, video scripts, etc.). Do not trust the market listings at the back -- they are sadly almost entirely wrong.

Other good titles are Susie Bright's How to Write a Dirty Story : Reading, Writing & Publishing Erotica and Lars Eighner's Elements of Arousal: How to Write and Sell Gay Men's Erotica. Of Bright's book, Publishers Weekly said "(Bright's) producing a work on writing erotica is akin to Stephen King or Patricia Cornwell writing about their craft.". Of Eighner's book, a reader commented: "Wonderful book; not just for erotica, not just for gay writers. He's expanded it to include information on other disciplines. He puts you through lots of logical thought exercises and includes a long section on how to format your manuscript for publication. A very good all-around book."

The second thing to do is to define your terms. Erotica and pornography are words that seem to have very fluid meanings -- use them as you like, but I'll give you my definitions.

Written Porn -- sex stories
Written Erotica -- sex stories with plot, characters, and style

Porn may or may not have plot, characters, or style -- erotica must. And as a general rule, the writing quality standards are much higher for markets which bill themselves as erotica.

Erotica publishers (generally for anthologies) tend to be very nice, discreet, pay little or nothing, and often turn out very professsional-looking publications that I, at least, am proud to have my name on. If you're writing in another field, I wouldn't worry about using a pen name -- it shouldn't conflict except in children's literature. If you do want to write in both children's lit and erotica, then you should probably choose which (if either) you'd like to bear your real name, and make up something you can live with for the other. Don't be too surprised if some years down the road you decide to reveal that the two are one and the same person -- that seems to happen a lot, as writers get older and more stable/secure in their field and themselves. Anne Rice (A.N. Raquelaire, Anne Rampling) is a prime example.

Pornography publishers are also very discreet. Most even hold their magazine under another name entirely -- for example, Puritan Magazines sends their checks under Index Publishing, and Sizzle website sends its checks from Starnet, and Good Vibrations sends its material under the Open Enterprises logo. All the hard-core porn editors I've talked to have been courteous and obliging -- they've also been willing to send sample copies encased in a brown paper envelope. The main differences between writing for them and writing for erotica editors are that:

  1. they pay about 10 times better,
  2. they expect professionalism -- get them what they ask for on time (erotica editors would like this as well, but don't seem to expect it as much),
  3. they expect you to write to order ("take out some of that plot and characterization and put in some more sex scenes and I'll buy it").

I don't put my name on the porn. I consider it like technical writing -- something I write to make money, not something I'd put on a literary resume. It's a lot more entertaining than tech writing, though. Porn is much faster to crank out (I can write a $100 letter in 15 minutes), there are many more markets for it, and it pays better. So decide what you want to write (I do both), and keep that in mind when looking at market listings.

You can find current market information at http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/GuidelineFrames.htm. and http://www.mamohanraj.com/Writing/porn.html. You can also go pick up some magazines and start writing the editors, asking them for their writers' guidelines. You can even call some of them, and ask if they're currently using outside writers. Another avenue -- one I haven't explored fully but which might be very profitable -- would be e-mailing various porn websites and asking them if they are interested in using your work.

(Noder's note: be very careful with out-and-out porn sites, e.g. the ones that spawn a zillion popup windows and such. A lot of these places are run by scam artists; if they abuse the visitor, they're likely to abuse you. Use your best judgement; if you fundamentally don't like the site and wouldn't want your stuff there even under an assumed name, don't contact them. Look for sites that are run by genuine professionals and which bear "seals of approval" from other metadirectories. Jane's Guide at http://www.janesguide.com and Femmerotic at http://www.femmerotic.com are good places to start your search. Take the usual browser precautions of surfing with javascript and Active-X and cookies turned off before you venture into the jungle of x-rated sites. And good firewall software wouldn't hurt.)

The easiest place to start is probably with letters. Most porn magazines, even the ones that don't publish fiction, have a little letters section. Those letters are invariably written by writers, not readers, and generally pay from $25-$150/letter (highly variable). If you're interested in writing some of these, contact the editor in question, request guidelines, and go to it. Standard submission guidelines (SASE, double-spaced, 12-pt Courier, etc.) generally apply, though these editors are generally more lax about such things. If you can afford it, get a copy of the magazine and read it. Tailor your letter to the market. "Hot Family Letters" will want something very different from "Playgirl", and you'll sell much better if you keep that in mind.

Some mags take fiction -- a few take long fiction. I sold a 9,000 word story to an editor for $1,000. That's about the best the writing market has to offer, as far as I know, and you generally have to work with the editor for a little while before they're willing to contract for something that big. As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the magazine, the more they're likely to pay their writers. And don't be afraid to push a little -- I recently got the editors of CyberPorn to double what they were paying me, simply by asking.

You don't need an agent for any short fiction. If you write a novel, then find a publisher who wants to buy it, then go get yourself an agent. That applies in pretty much any fiction genre. There are very few publishers of novel-length erotica and porn. Masquerade and England's Virgin Publishing spring to mind.

One caution: Aside from the obvious concerns about the social stigma attached to erotica/pornography, there appears to be one more problem that needs to be addressed. Several other writers I know who have written a lot of porn mentioned that once you start churning out porn, it's difficult to stop -- and difficult to write anything else. The money is a lot better than in most other writing genres, but if you have literary aspirations, writing porn may affect your other writing. I don't know how strong an effect this is, so it's really up to you whether you want to risk it.

A further caution: Some places (both erotica and porn) take months to pay. Check the market listings and talk to them about it. Occasionally you'll find one that is unscrupulous and doesn't pay you at all -- by all means let market list maintainers know if you run into problems so they can alert other writers.


TheDeadGuy reports: "On porn websites, I would advise writers to be very wary. Some are highly unscrupulous. I have a friend who writes erotica and "dumbs it down" for porn, and she has had bad experiences with pornsites. She sold to one site, then got no response from them. Her story showed up on another site; when she contacted them, her story disappeared without response."

Lucy-S responds: Yes, unfortunately this can happen. I generally don't submit to a market unless I've found it on Mary Anne's or the ERA's lists (URLs are listed above). If you do get burned by a site, spread the news far and wide so others won't fall into the same trap. To notify people of nonpaying/fraudulent sites (or to ask about a site's rep before you submit) try relevant lists and boards like the ERA's Smutter's Lounge at http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/SLounge.htm.

Networking is crucial for any writer, regardless of genre. Not only will you find out about viable markets that don't make it to the general lists, you'll be more likely to find out about places you shouldn't submit to.

Remember if there's no contract/payment, there's no sale, and if there's no sale, your rights are still intact and you can sell the story elsewhere. If there is a contract and you don't get paid, seek legal advice.

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