Welcome to my world! In episode three I’ll be talking about short-shorts, the pros & cons and taking a look at the new trends. Plus I will be giving away one ebook copy of The Worst Best Luck
WHO WRITES SHORT SHORTS?
WE WRITE SHORT SHORTS!
Okay, maybe I’m dating myself with that reference (Google “Nair Short Shorts” and watch the classic 1970s commercial), but it’s a good question. Recently Amazon has seen a wave of “short-short” stories, some good, some not so good, some terrible – and some of the terrible ones are terrible on purpose.
So why is it that suddenly we’re seeing all these 15 page stories, some of which are priced as high as $2.99? Well, let’s get into the Wayback Machine a bit and look at the semi-recent history of “e-erotica.”
Not so many years ago (namely, two) you could write a hot erotic short story, somewhere around 10-12,000 words, with some plot and a lot of sex. A lot! And you could sell it for $2.99, easy. People would lap it up like cream. I wrote my “Sam’s Reluctant Submission,” “Luke’s Brutal Abduction” and “Colum’s Viking Captivity” stories at that time. Each of them was a self-contained story (yes, with actual plot), in which I made sure to insert “three sexin’s” – that is, three sexual scenes, even if some of them were voyeurism, fantasy, or dreams. So by the end of 12k words, you felt you’d got your money’s worth.
Well, then one bluenose in Arkansas brought Amazon to their knees and they started “adult filtering” erotica, but that’s another story. The result was that people who’d been willing to pay $3 for a hot short story couldn’t find them on Amazon as easily as they had before. Amazon didn’t ban them, they just craftily “hid” them behind an adult filter you couldn’t choose to turn on or off.
It wasn’t all Amazon’s fault, though. Any gold rush brings carpetbaggers. After a few articles on Reddit made it apparent that there was gold in them thar smut hills, a wave of amateurs rode in, releasing crappily written titles, many of which were thinly plagiarized versions of current successful ones, right down to the plot setups like a broken down car and the resulting sexual hijinks. This diluted the market, making it harder for readers to find quality content.
Thus ended the golden age for smut writers! Until now…
Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program is the reason that erotica stories are back with a bang. Which is in some ways a good thing, since it lets writers who are really good at writing short, intense sexual scenarios back into the business.
Full disclosure: I’m one of them! I’m making the kind of money on my “Kyle’s New Stepbrother” series that I could only dream of only a few months ago, mostly because of the KU program. These are short, intense, sexually charged stories that run about 4,000 words. I price them at .99, which is the very lowest price Amazon will let us charge. But the real money isn’t in sales – it’s in borrows.
See, Amazon is agnostic about book lengths when it comes to paying writers for “borrows.” If I can get KU subscribers to check out a copy of “Kyle’s New Stepbrother,” I get the borrow rate for that month, which is around $1.40, in a good month (they change it every month but it’s around there). If they buy it, I’m getting 35% royalty, or .35.
But…If I write a 100,000 word novel, and someone borrows it…I also get $1.40. So there’s a lot of incentive in the system to write 5% as many words for 100% as much money. The KU system as it’s set up now puts a certain number of millions in the pot for the month, and divides it evenly between all borrows.
KU has also given new life to my old backlist, the Sam/Derek and Colum/Viggo stories that were pretty much dead letters after the “adult filter.” Now that they’re in KU, I’m getting paid for them again through the borrow system. Which, yeah, is pretty nice.
I recently wrote a blog post about “Why Kindle Unlimited is Great for Authors…For Now.” And it’s still true. But I gotta say, I can hear a distant rumbling among readers and writers about those who are gaming the system. And there are a few ways that’s happening.
Of course, there are the short-shorts. Some of which are hot sexy bursts of hot sexin’ but…some of which are just flagrant attempts to plug into the KU cash machine.
One of the latest trends in short-shorts is what I’d call “absurdist erotica.” It all started with a handful of erotic stories like “Taken by the T-Rex,” in which a woman is ravished by yes, a dinosaur, and no, it wasn’t a joke. But it was exactly the kind of thing that aggregator sites like Buzzfeed love to make hay out of, and the author of this story, and its companion pieces like “Taken by the Pterodactyl,” made a nice chunk of change in a short amount of time.
Then came the carpetbaggers. Suddenly everyone on the Internet was writing ridiculous shorts. “A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced me Gay,” by Hunter Fox, or “Pounded by the Gay Unicorn Football Squad.” These stories were priced at $2.99, but are also in the KU program. Are these guys getting $2.99 for these stories? I imagine so, from the usual Internet “you gotta see this” referrals. Do you remember “pet rocks?” People paid good money for a rock in a box, because it was a gag gift. You weren’t paying for the rock, you were paying for the joke. And of course they’re getting borrowbux too, because it costs nothing for anyone who subscribes to KU to get in on the joke.
At this point, the joke is just about over – even writers like “Chuck Tingle” surely have to admit they’ve swallowed their own tail when they get to the point of writing stories with titles like “Pounded in the Butt by my Own Butt.” All the same, “Butt” is still ranked 32,000 in the store, so it’s probably moved a few hundred copies.
Now, some novel writers are understandably breaking their books down into five or so parts and calling it a “serial.” (No, I won’t link or name names.) It’s their reaction to the simple math that’s giving, well, stories like mine a bigger piece of the pie than they’re getting for a novel. Readers are grumbling, because not everyone is a KU subscriber, and they’ve now got to make five purchases to read a whole novel. But for a lot of novel writers who’ve gone “all in” with Amazon and KU, it’s their only financial defence.
So…are short shorts just a giant scam? Just a way for schemers to take money out of the mouths of virtuous novelists?
It depends. Of course I’m going to say no, because I’ve profited mightily from my little stepfuckers.
But. Just because a book is long, doesn’t make it good, and just because a story’s short, doesn’t make it crap. The challenge I’ve set myself is to do something that’s worth either the .99 cover price, or the borrow bux, in about 4000 words. I’m hardly going to compare myself to O. Henry or Shirley Jackson, but the fact is, yes, you can write a terrific story in few words. You can set up characters, establish a scene, put in some hot sexin’, and maybe even throw an emotional overtone or two into the mix. Hell, now that I have them traveling Europe, I’m even doing research for them! (I found that a one minute funicular ride in Bern offers a world of possibilities…)
And quality will out, too – you can hit and run with a story about being forced by a unicorn or whatever, but you’re not going to have a long tail, so to speak, on that unicorn. People will see it, roll their eyes, write it up on Buzzfeed or whatever, and then you’re done. It’s like the Simpson’s “Monorail” episode – a quick and dirty way to scoop up some money and run.
I think I’ve got the creative as well as financial formula down on these shorts. I’ve got 32 ratings averaging 4.5 stars on the first of my step stories, and they still sell because, well, they’re good!
But I also know that their most profitable days as stand alone stories are numbered. Google has had to revise their algorithm many, many times, to keep up with people who game the system, to get their web page to the top of search results, or get their AdSense ads to pay the most money. If the majority of participants in a system feel the game is rigged, the rules have to change.
I can’t imagine that Amazon will continue to pay $1.40 for a borrowed 4k story, and $1.40 for a borrowed 100k novel. When they change the rules on that, well, goodbye to Chuck Tingle and Friends! But I’ll still be here.
Until then, I’m going to keep doing these shorts, and doing them as well as I can. I should have punched out Nick and Kyle #7 by now, and be cashin’ the check, but that episode will be the last one for a while, and I want to get it right. I have fans who are invested in these dudes, and phoning it in is not an option. Yeah, some people are always going to buy words by the yard and feel like that’s the best marker of value, but honestly – think about a short, intense, dirty story that really turns you on…who else on this planet is going to help you get your rocks off for only .99?
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT SHORT-SHORTS?
I’d love to hear your comments below!
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