In my post So What, Exactly, Is My Genre? I described the primary characteristic of my writing as dark eroticism: mostly rape and/or extreme power imbalance fantasies. Pretty much everything I write and everything I want to write is dark erotica or fantasy/paranormal fiction with strong dark erotic elements. I also mentioned the many struggles with writing this type of fiction. In order of personal difficulty, here they are.
My Main Issues with Writing Dark Erotic Fiction Are:
- I “can’t” share my writing with friends and family
- It ostracizes me from the writing community
- It’s heavily censored and very hard to sell
- If you try to get around censorship by being vague or euphemistic, you risk pissing readers off or being unable to market your work
I’ll go through each issue one by one and explore how I intend to tackle each.
I Can’t Share My Writing
I’m quite proud of my writing. I think it’s pretty good. I’m especially proud every time I finish something. Hell, I’m even proud of my ridiculous self-made covers. And while I don’t entirely hold back from sharing my writing wins with my very close family, I mostly don’t tell them about the details. They don’t know my pen name. Only one of my very cool sisters and her husband know what I write. None of my closest friends back home know my pen name.
Sometimes I wish I could write something and actually share it with my friends and family. It helps motivate me. It’s also nice to have people to bounce ideas off of. But the last thing I want to do is harm anyone with content that most people find off-putting, to put it mildly. I’m probably more afraid of being judged by the people I love most as deviant and disgusting.
So how do I plan to tackle this issue?
- Make some like-minded writer friends: When I moved to Prague, I joined a writers’ group, and when I said I don’t share my fiction because it’s really dark, one of the members immediately asked if it was essentially dark erotica. I was kind of thrown, but greatly relieved. I became much more comfortable being honest with the rest of the group about what I wrote. Most of them didn’t read it, but they were all supportive. But my main point is that other people exist in person and online who write what I write. I can cultivate a group of writers and feel much less alone.
- Be a little more vulnerable: I also think certain people in my life would be much cooler about accepting what I write than I fear. Most of my close friends have expressed support for dark romance and taboo erotica. They more or less know what I write by my constant allusions and hint-dropping now. Sure, most of them probably wouldn’t read it, but I have at least one friend who’s been bugging me to let her read something.
So yeah. In a nutshell, if I allow myself to be more vulnerable and take the initiative to form a community, I can find people to share my writing with.
I Can’t Play With the Other Writers
This problem comes in two flavors: An inability to participate in writer-related activities that would help me with my craft, networking, and other non-monetary benefits, and an inability to participate in collective projects like anthologies or contests.
I really enjoy the outside pressure that comes from being part of a group project. It helps me write. It also motivates me to write better fiction. Not to mention the benefit of meeting new writers who write similar content and getting exposure to new readers. Potentially getting paid on top of that is a nice bonus.
But just about every anthology, literary magazine, university program, and writing workshop out there doesn’t allow dark erotic fiction.
How I plan to tackle this issue:
- Try to focus more on my cultivated group and solo projects: Having a writing group that accepts and even loves what I write should really help here.
- Focus on the few who do allow this content: Some small publishers and writers of erotic horror, dark erotica, dark romance, etc. certainly do put out anthologies. I’m pretty steeped in these communities, so I see them quite often. The more I network with like-minded writers, the more opportunities I’ll see.
- Look for programs that don’t involve feedback: Not every writing program involves someone reading your work. There are accountability programs and events like NaNoWriMo that anyone can join.
- Make my own stuff: I don’t have to wait around for others to start things. I and my writing colleagues can do our own thing. This would legitimately be fun for me when I get the time for it.
- Consider these programs for related projects: Sometimes I don’t want to write something expressly erotic. Sometimes it’s more literary and transgressive. When I do have a story to tell that doesn’t fit my usual dark erotic mold or I want to experiment with a different genre, I can save those projects for outside fun.
- Be a little more vulnerable: Hmm, I’m noticing a pattern. Often, I just assume people wouldn’t be okay with my content. I wrote some pretty dark stuff in high school and university and it was pretty much universally praised. Transgressive fiction is certainly a thing. Of course, many people will absolutely balk or not allow dark erotic fiction, but I can’t know for sure unless I ask.
This approach boils down to making my own group of fellow deviants and supporters and not dwelling so much on the many admittedly awesome programs that don’t allow what I write.
This is, by far, my biggest struggle with writing what I write. Every single book marketplace bans dark erotica and dark erotic fiction except Smashwords. And Smashwords places a few aggravating limits that makes it hard for me, as someone who enjoys telling stories with involved plots, to actually tell them. I can’t include serious violence in any erotica I write.
Getting a book banned from Smashwords for “snuff” was the event that made me give up on writing dark erotica for a while. The snuff in question was having my protagonist slash the throat of her attacker. I loved the symbolism. It was a badass empowering scene. It was not snuff.
I had to put aside a lot of other story ideas that also contained violence and I just felt so creatively stifled.
In addition, there’s pretty much no place you can market noncon or rape fantasy erotica. There’s no euphemistic subgenre name or phrase you can use to get around censors (I envy the hell out of dark romance writers).
I find the rampant censorship of rape fantasy erotic fiction the hardest to overcome.
But here are some ideas I have for overcoming it:
- Sell Direct: This isn’t a perfect solution. Payment gateways almost universally ban dark erotica as well. PayPal, I’m told, will usually not catch you at it, but it’s also against their terms of service, so it’s a risk. But it’s certainly better than Smashwords, alone.
- Focus on organic marketing: Since I can’t take out ads and it’s very hard to use direct keywords that readers search to find my kind of fiction, I figure I’ll market the hell out of my website and build my mailing list. That mainly means publishing great stories on Smashwords often and directing readers to my website and mailing list. It also means building up my blog with lots of content dark erotica readers actually want.
- Network with other dark erotica writers: I haven’t seen this done much, and I think it’s a shame. I especially want to band together with writers of more upmarket and literary dark erotic fiction. Maybe do newsletter swaps, read and review their work on social media, rating websites, and my blog.
- Look into small presses and influencers: I’d also love to form close relationships with the occasional small press that publishes dark erotic content. To my surprise, they’re out there. There’s also at least one book reviewer, Puss n’ Books, who focuses completely on dark erotic fiction.
- Skim from the dark romance reader pool: Dark romance is wildly popular, and boy do the readers love noncon and dubcon. I know a fair amount of them would read my novellas and novels even if they aren’t romances in the strictest sense of the word. I’d even write a few dark romances to lure them in and introduce them to my non-romance fiction.
- Hang out in transgressive fiction and erotic horror spaces: These subgenres and their readers tend to be more open to dubcon, noncon, breeding, and similar kinks. I might gain some exposure by contributing to their anthologies, being a good literary citizen, and making connections with their fans.
- Possibly target CNC groups: Since consensual nonconsent often stems from rape fantasies that you just play out in real life instead of in fiction, I assume I’d get some interest in my work by exploring these spaces. Maybe.
- Don’t categorize certain works as erotica: Honestly, some of my ideas may be erotic, but they’re not erotica. If I have a dark epic fantasy series whose primary purpose isn’t to titillate, I think it’s fair to call it fantasy and not erotica. I can mention that it has explicit sex scenes and warn for certain acts.
- Expand to some non-banned erotica: I might experiment with some dubcon, reluctant consent, breeding, and free use. The first two aren’t allowed on Amazon, but they might be allowed on other platforms. I’m not sure how much I’ll enjoy the latter two without some element of reluctance or nonconsent, but I’ll explore.
- Experiment with advertising free content: I’m not sure what I’d actually put out for free, but there are tons of sites for readers looking for noncon and the like. Some of it is fanfiction-focused like Archive of Our Own. Some are original fiction-focused like Literotica and certain subreddits.
- Focus on social media platforms where dark erotic content thrives: Platforms like Tumblr have a lot of potential for building a following. There are tons of tags for every kink and dynamic imaginable.
- Just embrace the risk of being banned: This is hard for an anxious chronic rule-follower like me, but I believe in the worth of what I’m writing and that readers should be able to read it. So if I have to sneak around a bit, then so be it. I think when you write what I write, you have to break some rules or just accept nonexistence.
Okay, so that’s a lot. I want to spend some time exploring all of these ideas, but the horses I’m betting on are selling direct, building my mailing list via signups from my Smashwords book backmatter, networking with other authors who write what I write, and taking more risks when it comes to being banned.
Other than that, I need to keep reading good dark erotic fiction and, occasionally, reading content about dark erotic fiction. This keeps me going when things get tough and I want to quit.
In about a year, I hope to create a review post going over what worked, what didn’t, and what I want to try next. For now, I hope this post can give other dark erotica writers ideas for how to thrive while writing in a taboo genre.