Hi! We’re All Writing Porn Over Here: Confessions of the Secret Author.

YA careers are ephemeral, so what're ya gonna do?

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Hi. I’m your “secret author.” I’ve tried to think of a better name, like “The Jackal” or something, but for now I’ll just stick with “secret author.” I’ve written several YA books for a variety of publishers (big and small) over the last decade. I thought I’d put in an occasional column here about what’s going on in the industry. I’m not here to bash people. Even most authors whose books I hate are lovely people in person, and the publishers who drive me up the wall are just existing with the realities of the market. And the reality isn’t always pretty.

Now and then, someone who doles out writing advice will say, “Don’t follow trends. Start them.” Like most of the writing advice you get online, it’s a bunch of crap. You can’t start a trend just by writing a really good book – it has to be just the right book at just the right time, and there’s no way to predict that sort of thing. No one can read the tea leaves of society and culture that well.

For an author, when a trend takes over, your options can be limited. In 2009, if you weren’t writing about paranormal creatures or dystopia, you were probably doomed. The pink-covered romantic comedies nearly went extinct, and even non-paranormal titles that had sold for six figures to big publishers in 2007 were slipped out quietly to die. If you were famous already and had a built-in audience, you could still try to write contemporary or fantasy or what have you, but you were probably facing lower sales than you’d had before.

Following the trend wasn’t a great long-term option, either. Signing up for a paranormal/dystopia series was almost like a deal with the devil – lots of people got HUGE contracts for them, and then their first book was a best-seller, with multi-city tours, movie deals, and everything. But if you’re known for a series, it’s hard to do anything after that series is over and have anyone care. This goes double if you came in as a part of a huge trend. Will anyone want to read anything by you once your series AND your trend is over?

You can compound all of this with the fact that YA careers, like any careers where you’re selling yourself to teenagers, are not generally built to last. Many, if not most, of the fans you build up with your first couple of books will think they’ve outgrown you in a couple of years, and the next crop of kids to grow beyond middle grade books might want an author of their own, not the person their big sister or parents read. A small handful of authors remain popular, and a larger handful maintain enough name recognition that libraries, at least, still buy their books, and they can make a decent living on the lecture and school visit circuit, even after readers at large have stopped buying their books.  Or you can change your name and do a packaged project or something (I know people whose first book came out five years ago who on their third name already).

Most, though – even most of the great ones – just fade away.  There are tons of fantastic books that sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the 70s and 80s, but that no one remembers now. Once I met one of my favorite authors from the 80s at a conference of librarians. She was HUGE then (or at least way, way, WAY bigger than I am now). No one else there seemed to know who she was. Even the ones who were librarians in the 80s.

There are some paranormal writers who are shocked – SHOCKED – that their publishers are offering less money for their new projects, and not sending them on huge solo tours, etc. Some. Some come up with all kinds of conspiracy theories for why their cookie-cutter debut didn’t win the Pulitzer.  Most of them, though, knew exactly what they were doing. Behind closed doors, many were really quite cheerful and open about the fact that they’d jumped on the Twilight bandwagon, and some of them were even quite happy to tell you how carefully they’d identified the trends, tropes, and formulas to follow.

But now those trends are over.  People are burned out on vampires and dystopia is just about done. If there’s a formula at all, it’s to have a movie made about your book, I guess. Or be John Green (trying to explain that phenomena is a whole other article).

The trends will come back, though. Sooner or later, someone will have just the right book at just the right time, and there’ll be a new bandwagon to jump on.

And in the mean time, just about every other author I talk to is doing the same thing: writing porn.

I don’t mean “new adult” erotica.  I mean kindle porn. 6k words of really bad writing (which, in kindle porn world, counts as a novel), published under names that they generally don’t divulge, even to friends.

I don’t think much of anyone’s really getting rich off of these things (yes, I’ve seen those viral articles saying otherwise, but you should never believe anything you read in a viral article).  However, many authors-turned-pornographers tell me that their 6k word porn books are outselling their self-published sequels to their trad-published YA novels.

And you can write one before lunch! You never have to drive yourself nuts with the finer points of a plot! It doesn’t matter if you re-use characters or ideas over and over! You never have to worry about reviews, or Goodreads, or what they’ll say about you in the blogosphere! You don’t even CARE if it gets a 1 star average, because you’ll never check and it only took you a few hours to begin with.  Most of the stuff that makes writing hard, or emotionally draining, just goes away when you’re writing kindle porn. And, once again, it tends to sell better than some literary YA piece that took you a year or two. You don’t even have to mess around with self promotion. They pretty much sell themselves, and the money can help pay for their literary YA projects whose entire target audience is awards committees.

In fact, it can be a fun exercise. You think of the most outlandish erotic premise you can, then find a way to make it work, at least long enough to sustain interest for twenty pages or so.

Seriously. You have no idea how many of your favorite (and least favorite) authors from five years ago are writing porn now. Many of us are still publishing traditionally as well, but for most of us it’s a slow, laborious process that ends with your books coming out to the sound of one hand clapping – all you can do is hope that your book just happens to be the right book at the right time.  Until then, there’ll always be porn.

2 COMMENTS

  1. So, I wrote something YA and it has no other genre, I guess it fits in with bullying and suicide, but I don’t want to meet young people. I already feel as though I meet more young people than I want to just by taking my kids to their activities. Anyway, even though I heard it was decent I’ll probably never edit it because the only thing less appealing than the idea of meeting young people is meeting more moms who, for whatever reason, also read these books, because I have to listen to them sometimes and it’s like being trapped in the women’s bathroom at a concert when I really have to go (high pitched, meaningless and nary a raunchy bit).
    Anyway, then I tried to write the opposite, by writing a thing about a guy who realizes that his semen makes women explode. They are just unrecognizable after the fuck.
    I actually did put the time into it, but golly it reads a lot like porn, probably because when I wrote it I wanted the attention of a self-proclaimed pervert and I was watching lots of porn and thinking about him. That and I hate frigid women because they seem to be the bulk of the fairer population and then people think I am one. It blocks my game (yes I am a terrible person, I’m okay with it).
    Getting to the point, I accidentally wrote a porn, it’s too long and has little holes in the plot, just as porn should. My question being this: how do I get my porn out there? Does it cost a lot? It’s really too long, do I cut it into sections? Is there anybody out there?

  2. I’m curious to know, have you ever been found out because of your writing style? Anyone you know? I worry that my YA readers might stumble on one of my erotic short stories and think that the descriptive words and styles are similar. Some adults read YA fiction, after all. This is the only thing stopping me from trying a side career as a smut writer.

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