The Guide to Getting Your Erotica Published

The Guide to Getting Your Erotica Published
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Over the last 15 years, I’ve edited over 60 erotica anthologies featuring over 600 authors. I’ve read thousands of stories, and wanted to share some of the elements I look for in the ones I accept. Right now I’m editing three anthologies for Cleis Press, and welcome submissions, especially by writers I haven’t worked with before! (Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 6 is open to authors who are women, gender nonconforming, genderqueer and/or nonbinary, while my bondage erotica and women’s orgasm anthologies are open to all authors.)

The most important advice I can give you is to read and follow the guidelines. With every anthology I’ve edited, I’ve received submissions that don’t meet the guidelines, regarding word count, subject matter or in other ways that automatically disqualify them. I also highly recommend reading or listening to some of the stories I’ve previously published. This will give you an idea of what I’m looking for, although I’m always seeking the next story that will totally blow my mind.

Beyond those basics, here are five elements I look for when selecting stories:

Surprise 

By surprise, I don’t necessarily mean a shocking plot twist, but something about the story that surprises me as a reader. That could be an unusual take on a theme, such as a story I published in my anthology The Mile High Club: Plane Sex Stories, about someone who walks on the wings of planes. Or it could simply be a way of telling the story or plotline I never could have anticipated. Maybe it’s a futuristic scenario with inventive sci fi elements, or a type of sex toy I’ve never heard of, or simply a tender moment or description that stops me in my tracks. My biggest job as an anthology editor is to keep readers engaged for 20 to 25 stories, even when all the stories touch on the same theme. So any time an author can surprise me, I’m always intrigued.

Memorable Characters

At its heart, erotica is about people, and I look for stories with characters who are vivid and memorable, who make me want to know more about them, who I could imagine reading a whole book about. I want characters with distinct personalities and points of view, whose sexual journey is only part of their story. These characters don’t have to be ones I’d want to be friends with or likeable, but they should feel real.

Diversity

Providing diverse perspectives to readers is one of my biggest jobs as an anthology editor, lest readers feel like they are reading a version of the same story over and over. I aim to publish collections that offer diversity regarding race, age, sexual orientation, gender, religion, setting, personality types, sexual experience and sex acts (see below for more on that), as well as writing style. I am especially seeking ownvoices stories, though marginalized authors should not feel restricted to only writing ownvoices stories. I want to showcase as wide a range of desires as I can.

Real Life Elements

While many, if not most, people read erotica to escape, as do I, I also have a deep appreciation for erotic stories that reflect the realities of life, that feel true to readers’ lived experiences. I want to offer readers both elaborate fantasies and stories that allow them to see themselves within my pages. I want to acknowledge that hot sex in reality isn’t an isolated act that only takes place when everything else about our life lines up perfectly. I want to publish stories that explore hopes, fears, emotional struggles, mental health, physical health, divorce, workplace drama, and other aspects of life that are familiar to many.

Some of the Best Women’s Erotica of the Year stories I’m most proud to have published feature characters using sexuality as a way to help them heal and move forward in a challenging world. These included “Infused Leather” by Dr. J., about a woman with a leather fetish who’s worked to move past the abuse she experienced as a child, in Volume 3, as well as “Her Invisible Prison” by Jocelyn Dex in Volume 4, a deeply moving about a woman with agoraphobia whose lover helps her take literal steps out of her house. While lovers are integral parts of these characters’ healing, neither are stories about a woman being weak or needing rescue. They are about human connection, and how the intimacy of a lover who cares about a character’s mind as well as body can have a powerful impact. I welcome stories that don’t shy away from the reality of our often dark world, where sexism, racism, ageism, ableism and other systems of oppression are confronted through the lens of these characters. While all stories I publish must be solidly erotic, I know that doesn’t preclude them from offering powerful antidotes to the hatefulness of the world.

Sexual Variety

While I don’t expect the sex acts in erotica to necessarily be ones I’ve never heard of, I try to offer as wide a range of sexual acts and approaches as I can. This can include varied sexual positions, locations, sex toys, settings, and number of people involved (I rarely receive masturbation stories but I am definitely open to them). I welcome stories that bring new insights into sexuality, desire, and sexual fantasy. Echoing what I said earlier, my biggest job is offering readers variety among the stories contained in each book, and that especially goes for the sex within erotica. So anything authors can do to add variety, sexual tension and nuance is useful. Give me the kind of scorching-hot sex that (there’s that word again) surprises me and will make readers eagerly turn pages, then not be able to stop thinking about the sex they’ve just read about. Sex can happen in the beginning, middle or end of a story—or in all three!

I’m also just as interested in the mental side of sex as the physical, and look for stories that don’t just show me what characters are doing, but why. I want to know how the sex in the story impacts this character, how it fits (or doesn’t fit) into their previous experience. What’s sex like for a virgin? What’s sex like for a woman who’s had hundreds of partners? What’s erotic for a sex worker when they’re not working? How has sex and desire changed for your character at 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 than it was when they were younger?

With those tips in mind, I look forward to reading your submissions for any or all of these anthologies!

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DISCUSSION

11 thoughts on “The Guide to Getting Your Erotica Published”

  1. David Bingham

    I am in the process of writing an erotic novel and I think it’s good. I don’t want to show it to anyone because the plotline could be stolen. How do I protect my novel? Can I copyright it chapter by chapter? Maybe it’s just hubris on my part and the story is immature trash. Considering the time I am putting into this story that would be good to know. Would it be possible to get the first chapter edited and evaluated? I am only on the third chapter but I have notes for the entire story, although the story is getting better and better as I write it. I am making quite a lot of changes and often those changes surprise me. The story seems to be writing itself. Thank you for your time and help.

  2. Hi Rachel,
    I am your rabbi’s sister-in-law. I am seeking advice in regard to marketing my first erotic novel in a three part series. My story, A Surrender to Seduction, is a cross between 365 DNI and 50 Shades. It will be more controversial because it does contain a rape scene in addition to Stockholm Syndrome. It has been reviewed by an agent who liked it but doesn’t take on this type of genre. I know this is a difficult political climate to release this type of twisted human interest story. I have also read that it you self publish and fail to market your book properly, it will be dead in the water within a month of its release. I am seeking advise for how to proceed. Can you refer me to someone who would market the book or someone who would consider reviewing it?

    I have already had it professionally edited. I think you would enjoy the story based on the complexity and development of the characters, their interactions-both sexual and emotional, and a surprising plot twist. Thank you for any assistance you can give me.

    Sincerely, Kim

    I

  3. Hi Rachel.
    I have recently completed my first Adult Novel which follows the first years of a love affair between a teenage boy and teenage girl, both of them within the legal age boundaries for having sex. Unfortunately all does not run smoothly for the two of them so they decide to run away together leaving their parents, friends jobs to live in another part of the country and it is during this period of their lives that they have a child and get married and it is during this period of their relation She discovers she is a Nymphomaniac who enjoys having sex with men of all ages and he finds out he enjoys watching her doing it. The first part of this story follows their lives together from their teens through to the thirties. There is a second story in the process of being completed which will cover the years and troubles from their thirties/forties until the present time.
    Book 1 “WE DID IT OUR WAY” 66800 words over 20 chapters involves Sexual/Erotic scences from the start and sex of some sort is included in every chapter with other men and women including a chapter where they start up their own Massage business for men and women.
    This is my first attempt at publishing.

  4. Hi Rachel,
    I’m currently working on a collection of erotica . My short stories are largely based on my own experiences, but I also have some fiction.
    I want to eventually self publish but would like some advice on the steps I should follow.
    I’m totally clueless at this juncture.
    I would appreciate any advice you may have.
    Thank you,
    Maggie

  5. Tina M Tomlinson

    Being a “mature” open minded woman with considerable sexual experience, I’ve been writing my fantasies for many years. I’ve worked on several books over the years, but have always kept them solely to myself. I’ve reached a point of wanting to share them with others, but don’t know where to start. Can you point me in the right direction to get my stories read and critiqued? I’d appreciate any assistance.
    Regards,
    Tina

  6. Hello, Rachel.
    I just have read your article and I would like to know more about having my adult, romance, love stories put into print & publish? I think that I can provide for a unique experience being mature Afro-American and widely well traveled. I have material for both story story and novel lengths. But I am not sure about the proper writing format? Can material be submitted digitally or does it need to be text printed on paper?
    Any help that you can provide would be greatly appreciated
    Jay M.

  7. Hi Rachel, I am currently working on a short story which I’m having lots of positive feedback on like this ‘The stark contrast, yet combination of all the elements…
    The cold clinical, the unexpected, the domination and control, the perverse, the horny, the compulsive, the compelling…
    Drawing you in…its brilliant’. How could I forward it to you for your opinion and possible publication.

  8. Hi Rachel! I’ve been wanting to write and publish erotica for 30 years. I’m finally doing it. I write what I call “warm up” stories to use fantasy to enhance stimulation. It would be great if I could submit one or two for your review. How does this work?

    Thank you,
    Chloe Summers

    1. Ondrae Edwards

      I have been thinking of writing from a male point of view with erotic short stories happening over time BASED on my life stemming from a young man in the military and the ensuing years after getting out. To include fantasies based on bi-sexual encounters while being remarried.
      I would like to know how to go about doing this, mainly because I have had college professors advise me of publishing essays I wrote in detail about events of my childhood that seemed to be very entertaining. Now I would like to see how to get involved withe erotica.(Nothing pertaining to my childhood)
      Thank you very much!!
      Ondrae Edwards

  9. Victoria Smith-

    I want to become an erotica writer. and I want to publish under a different name because my other career may suggest a conflict of intrest. So how do i change my name without anyone knowing my true identity? Victoria Smith-

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