Literotica is a free story site focusing on erotic content. You'll find it all there: the good, the bad and the ugly. You'll also find thousands of readers who are more than willing to offer feedback--hit a hot category on a good day and you'll pull in 30,000 reads over the first twenty four hours. In other words, if you want to build a following, the potential for exposure is too good to miss.
Sites like Literotica have a bad reputation in some publishing circles. Yes, much of the content is badly written. Yes, some more dubious sexual preferences are dealt with (although all characters are required to be over eighteen--unlike Stories Online, a similar outfit--and it's nothing you won't find in a literary novel these days). Yes, you can get people who make disparaging comments as well as positive ones. It's a lot like the self-publishing marketplace in all of these ways, but just like self-pub, it can both produce success stories and act as a fabulous supporting platform for traditionally published authors.
In September 2010, Elliot Kay--or bashfullyshameless, as he is known on Literotica--began posting a novel he called Angels, Demons and Alex, an urban fantasy with its fair share of smutty succubi. Despite being a newcomer, he soon had a following of thousands and one of the highest rankings on the site. When he decided to self-publish the novel in May, he was apprehensive--but less than a week after its release, the retitled Good Intentions peaked at 77 on the Amazon Contemporary Fantasy charts, sitting pretty between authors such as Charlaine Harris and George RR Martin. Sales are going up and down, but this is an awesome result for a debut author whose only promotional effort was through Literotica. It's also worth noting that his starting price is $3.47; not the free or $0.99 price bracket that many debut self-publishers swear by for shifting units.
"So far, my only real marketing has been in contacting my Literotica readers, posting a note on my author page, and in sending emails to various personal friends," says Kay. "I work in a fairly conservative field, so I have to stick with my pen name and I have to be a bit picky about how I handle promoting myself as an author." And the most exciting thing about all of this? "I'm selling to people in Germany! And the UK. I can’t express enough how awesome it is to know that people in the UK have bought something that I wrote. There is a lot of truth to the stereotype that Americans feel anyone with a British accent is clearly better-educated and more literate." (Of course, as a Brit, I can confirm that we are more literate. Ahem). Anyone who wants to chat to Kay about his writing and self-publishing experiences can mail him at email@example.com.
This article wouldn't be complete without mentioning Selena Kitt. She founded publishing company eXcessica with several other Literotica writers to sell boundary-pushing erotica, and has since made a fortune. Other successes include JazCullen, an urban fantasy author (noticing a theme here?) who pulls hundreds of comments in with each chapter she posts--and she isn't alone. Check out Literotica's top lists for many others with the same kind of following.
My own experience with the site has been positive. Not only have I earned money (yes, real money) from the regular contests, but I've networked with some awesome writers (check out Kenny Wright for top notch erotica, people!) and like-minded souls. I found thousands of betas for the novel that I was posting as I wrote (not something I'd do now, but as a beginner? Great way to hone your craft). Roughly 10% of my blog traffic comes from Literotica; this increases greatly every time I put up a story, and I'll certainly be posting more as my release date approaches.
Top Five Tips for Using Literotica As A Platform
1) Read around. Look at the Top Lists and Feedback Portal for popular stories, and make sure you pitch your work correctly. The time it takes to build a readership varies, but it will be quicker if you post in a popular category such as Erotic Couplings, NonHuman (vampires etc) and Gay Male (for m/m authors). Categories like Romance, BDSM and Sci-Fi/Fantasy have a smaller but very robust following.
2) Post regularly. I recommend short-ish chapters of a longer work or short stories with series potential. Readers there can be demanding, and will expect you to finish what you start. Don't disappoint them, and there's no reason why they won't start paying for your stuff; when you're established, you can post shorter original works to act as teasers for your catalogue. (Do not post sample chapters of longer works. They will be deleted).
3) Polish your work. Use the volunteer editor system by all means. Plenty of writers who wouldn't get a publishing contract* do very well on Literotica, and it's not because they're writing about screwing their granny(!)--it's just the way the market works. This, however, is no excuse to produce sub-standard stories. It can be easy to get caught up in praise, so listen to your critics, and aim for a green "E" symbol--the mark bestowed by the moderators for an exceptional Editor's Choice. It will increase your hits and earn you respect. If you stop trying to better yourself then your writing will go stale, and eventually, so will your following.
4) Enter contests. They gain more viewers and your entry will publicise your other works. You can also win up to $150 every time. (I also find the deadlines a great motivator. Like many writers, I procrastinate with gusto and barely have time as it is).
5) Engage your audience. Have a blog/website ready, a Twitter account, encourage people to email you...yes, you're going to get the odd filthy come-on mail, but you can just hit the "delete" button. Plenty of people on there really do just want to tell you how fantabulous your work is. You can add your website links to your profile and feedback can be sent through a form, so no need to publish your email address.
I wouldn't have finished my first two novels without Literotica; I've already gone on to sell the first. I wouldn't have met other brilliant writers, crit partners or readers. I also wouldn't have known what an em-dash was (a reader pointed it out to me. Oh, the shame). In short: if you're writing romance or erotica, you'd be hard pushed to find exposure better than this. Yeah, it's a bit seedy in places, but come on...you write this stuff too!
Update: I've since published Beautiful Mess, originally a Literotica contest winner. It's been sitting pretty in the Amazon erotica top ten since Christmas (and while it's free, trust me when I say it's still a job to get to that place in the free chart!).
*This sounds like I'm saying most Lit writers are rubbish. Admittedly, the site has its share of bad-but-popular authors, but this isn't always the case. For instance, Elliot Kay's novel came in at almost 200,000 words and he didn't want to split it--the average debut novel is just 90,000 in length. New authors just don't get contracts for books that large; they're too costly to produce. Then there's subject matter to consider, niche markets...the list is endless.