I didn't get into erotic writing for the money. If I did, I'm pretty sure I'd judge myself as unsuccessful.
I wrote my first erotic novella as an exercise in writing. Prior to that, I'd been writing science fiction and was neck-deep in my Masters and needed a creative break -- so I took to writing about sex. While that first novella was published by a small house, I wasn't entirely satisfied with it, so I wrote another. It was better, but still not perfect, so I wrote a handful of short stories.
With each writing project, I could see my skill level increasing. My primary goal at that time was to get better at what I was doing -- so in that way, I was successful.
I participate in some erotica forums and in one of them, the authors write often about how they're achieving four digit sales ($1,000+) per month. Here I was with twelve titles out and making maybe $15 per month. So my next challenge was to increase my sales numbers.
I read all the posts where people claimed to be making more than a thousand a month. They were writing short stories of about 5K to 10K words, pumping out roughly one story per day. Yes, one story per day. It was clearly marketed as a money-maker -- hot keywords were used in titles and subtitles, the metadata keywords were stuffed with hot phrases, and everything was priced at $2.99. Also, at the time, Kindle Unlimited was still paying authors about $1.35 per book read (this was before the half a cent per page change they implemented), and this was a big factor in the high income levels. Since the change in how KU works, there have been fewer people claiming to make four-digits, but it still happens.
I decided to give it a try. I didn't hope to achieve the four-digit income that others claimed to have, but I wanted to achieve higher sales. (You'll notice I keep saying they "claim" to have reaced those figures. I think there's a fair bit of ego involved in these posts and so I find some of the claims dubious -- but I do believe some of them do actually achieve those numbers.)
However, I didn't want to taint this main Cameron D. James pen name -- so I started a new one. This new name (which will remain unnamed in this post) writes short stories in the 5-10K range and does all the same things as those high-selling authors. The only aspect I can't match is the output -- I can't do daily. For a while, I did weekly. Sales didn't skyrocket, but they did pick up quite a bit for the new pen name.
The BIGGEST change as a result of this experiment wasn't the higher sales and it wasn't the establishment of a new pen name. It was learning how to approach writing as a bit more of a job than an art. Yes, there's still an art aspect to it and I have to love what I'm writing, or else it's clear I'm just writing for money. But now I've got the ability to sit down and plan out dozens of story ideas and then start writing them.
Writing a story used to take months, from inspiration to writing to editing to publishing. Now, if I have a good solid stretch of creative energy, I can have all that done in less than a week.
In the time since I started this second pen name, I started a third pen name that had the same approach as the second one (short stories, highly targeted, intended for high sales) but went in a different direction (very taboo and fetish oriented).
And with this change in how I write, I've been able to return to my old love of science fiction. I've written a first draft of my sci-fi novel (which will be eventually released under a different name) and have plans for some semi-paranormal-semi-historical thrillers that I hope to write in the coming years.
(With all this other stuff going on, this is why I haven't published anything under the name Cameron D. James for a while. I'm still picking away at a project, but it's a novella and I can only devote a few days to it every two weeks or so.)
For me, this is success. I'm able to take something I love doing -- writing -- and am able to go crazy with it. No longer am I tied up in one small project that takes months, to the exclusion of every other project. I make some money -- it's not a lot, but it's way more than I used to make on writing, and it is a nice bonus every month. And with self-publishing, there's no longer the endless cycle of submitting to publishers over and over. I can put together the book exactly as I want it and then put it up for sale.
In my writing group, I've been dubbed the group's Nora Roberts. (Roberts is a highly-prolific romance and mystery writer who publishes pretty much non-stop. When I used to work in a bookstore, we had several shelves full of just her stuff.) The rest of my writing group takes writing much more like an art, working on one project slowly until it's perfect. That kind of approach is great for them as it works for them. That never really worked for me, though -- I would always get frustrated that it was taking so long. With my personal change in work habits, I still have the same professionalism and desire for perfection that I always had, but I realize that I can work at a much faster pace -- and this will make me happier, more productive, and more successful. For me, success isn't about money, success is about doing what you want, how you want.
Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Seduced by My Best Friend’s Dad
(co-written with Sandra Claire). He lives in Canada, is always crushing
on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about
Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.