Who am I? My name is Hazel, and eight years ago I threw in the towel as a perfectly respectable copywriter-cum-editor and decided to give professional erotica writing a turn. (No spoilers, but so far it seems to be working pretty well.) My inbox gets a steady stream of messages about the ins and outs -- so to speak -- of the pornwriting industry, or about life as a professional writer in general, so every year I try and do an AMA to help answer questions from people who are looking for a little advice about how to make it a career or how to make their own writing pop. (Or, you know, just anything. I'm so very lonely.)

I've got a few romance novels free to download for the rest of the year (Reckless, Smooth and the collection Love at Christmas, if you're in the mood for something a tad more festive), but whether you give them a try or not, I'm pretty much an open book. AMA!

My Proof.

Comments: 389 • Responses: 57  • Date: 

shaokim640 karma

Hello, thanks for the AMA.

As you sit down to write, the sweat hot and glistening on your smooth skin, do you sometimes encounter writer's block?


Portarossa589 karma

I have skin like a lizard. Scaly. Erotic.

But yeah... I think everyone does, especially on a story by story basis. I usually balance it by working on multiple projects at once (too many, you might say; I have at my current count twenty half-finished shorts and another six novels in various states of completion, ranging from 40,000 to 60,000 words), but the days when you sit down and none of them feel like an appealing prospect... yeah, they're rough days. Sometimes you just push through it and realise that what you come out with isn't as bad as you think it is, but other times you just have to go for a walk, watch a movie, read a crappy novel or otherwise give yourself permission to get out of your own head for a while. It sucks, but if there's one thing I've learned it's that being kind to yourself and recognising your limitations is never a bad thing.

brickmack152 karma

Some people are into lizard girls.

Especially robot lizard girls. Mmm, I want Roodaka to step on me.

Portarossa230 karma

robot lizard girls

Mechagodzilla? I hardly know 'er!

crunchynachoes26 karma

Just curious here, the word counts are throwing me. What sort of length are your works typically for short stories and longer, "novel" length works for word count? Thanks

Portarossa66 karma

For a short, I aim for between 6,000 and 8,000 words (sometimes running as far as 10,000, but anything more than that just feels like a waste). For an erotica novel, I aim for about 50,000 words. For a romance, I aim for somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 words. (You can definitely get away with less, but that's the point at which I've settled in allowing me to tell a full story without feeling like I'm leaving bits out.)

HHS2019305 karma

What are your favorite euphemisms for body parts that are not medical and not over the line?

Portarossa757 karma

My favourite is cunt overall, but that's not so much a euphemism and there aren't many lines it wouldn't be over, so...

I guess in terms of the slightly more PG ones, I enjoy 'his hardness' and 'her wetness'. (Although now I've typed them out, they do sound a bit like titles: 'Introducing Her Royal Wetness, the Duchess of Sploosh.') They're a bit kitsch, but they're relatively unobtrusive, and they incorporate that sense of arousal. If it's a hardness or a wetness, something's already going right.

Ishana92212 karma

How does the finance work in erotica? Do you write for comission, do you do orders? Are you like on a retainer for some site or just selling your own stories independently? As I understood, this is your main/only income, so I am really interested in how much you write or how many copies do you sell.

Portarossa315 karma

I write for Amazon KDP, which means I'm entirely self employed; I put up the book, they take a 30% cut, and the rest is mine. I've done commission work in the past, but it never made up a big chunk of my earnings.

Personally, although this is one of my novel-writing accounts (that just happened to take off on Reddit but less-so on Amazon), I've never been that good at making novels profitable. Especially for the last year, I've done most of my work in shorts, and I publish at least two every week over various pen names and in various niches.

bobby_page107 karma

Is 70% a big or a small cut for a writer compared to traditional publishing? What are the tradeoffs? Not just asking erotica-specific.

Portarossa230 karma

It's big compared to traditional publishing, but the tradeoff is that you have to do everything yourself: editing, formatting, marketing, cover design, the works.

intherorrim161 karma

Do you plan to ever write other genres?

I just want to say you write so well that I have followed your writing from inside reddit itself. Everything you write — even here, improvised and hastily — is a delight to read.

Erotica is not my favorite genre, but I wish you success. I will read some of it, if it’s yours. And if you ever write other genres (or an erotica/whatever mix) I will gladly read them too.

Portarossa177 karma

I do! In fact, I've been working on a literary fiction thing for a while now that I hope to go down the TradPub line with, if I ever finish the fuckin' thing.

Thanks for your support. I know romance/erotica isn't to everyone's taste, but it really does mean a lot :)

--Ty--157 karma

How do you discern between what is genuinely erotic, and what is cringey? I find that as soon as writing turns sexual or sensual, the sakes are higher than when writing about nearly any other topic. It becomes an incredibly fine balance between feeling real, and human, and intimate.... Or feeling like a frat boy describing his most recent lay.

Get it right and it strikes clean through to the hearts of people... Get it wrong, and it feels like a perverted, obsessed loser is writing about some anime waifu he fetishizes.

I personally have no idea how to NOT come across cringey when writing about someone, even when I'm not talking about anything sexual! I'll write in a journal about some friend I miss, and when I read through it again and my descriptions of the person, I think "my God, I'm unhinged."

Portarossa241 karma

Read your work aloud. That's the single best way of seeing how well it flows, and you can see that so many authors don't bother to do it -- especially when it comes to dialogue. Talk to yourself while you're making dinner. Talk to yourself in the mirror. Sweet-talk your partner, and listen to what you're actually saying, and see what they respond to.

Good writing -- in all genres, not just smut -- is intimate, and you can't really have intimacy without honesty. Getting it to feel real is the key. That internally-consistent sense of verisimilitude is what you're after. I wish there was a shortcut to it, and if there was a shortcut to it I'm not so pompous to think that I'd be the one to discover it. You just give things a try, keep the bits that work and discard the bits that don't. Eventually, if you're lucky, you start to find that there are more and more bits that work and fewer and fewer bits that make you want to gnaw your own hands off so you never pick up a pen again.

sumelar83 karma

What do you think of Mr. Garrison's attempt at writing erotica, and his assertion that women readers only care about the parts with the penis?

And so people don't just dismiss it as a troll question, I am actually asking about how you feel about the way your profession can be portrayed in the media.

Portarossa112 karma

I don't know much about South Park -- save for the fact that Bigger, Longer & Uncut is one of the greatest musicals of our time -- so I can't really comment on that one specifically. (That said, some of the examples in the Wiki are... well, they're bad, but I wouldn't necessarily say they're the worst erotica I've ever seen, with some of it being up for sale. There's some real dreck out there.)

And yeah, the profession can be kind of a joke sometimes... but honestly, it's writing about fucking for money; it's a pretty lighthearted gig, and so I'm mostly OK with it. The best representation of it I've ever seen is in You're the Worst. The idea of balancing literary fiction with writing erotica is a big plot point, and it hit painfully close to home at some points.

BlueCurtainsRedWalls79 karma

How did you start, like what made you get into this? And any advice for anyone wanting to get into writing, either same subject or otherwise?

Portarossa141 karma

I was freelancing as a copywriter and hated every last second of it. The idea of writing things that no one was ever actually going to read was just frustrating beyond belief, and then I saw an interview with someone who wrote smut for a living. I figured I might as well give it a go, and... well, that was really all there was to it. It was a bit of a rocky start as I learned what the hell I was doing, but in about six months I was supporting myself from it, and I've never looked back.

The best advice I can give is to treat it like a job. Writing as a hobby is fine -- admirable, even -- but treating it like a job means studying up on what's going on in your niche, constantly trying to improve your own work... and, yes, actually writing, often and consistently and with an aim to finishing projects. No one wants to read the first third of a novel without an ending, no matter how great it is.

IrieSunshine62 karma

Hi, this is really cool! How did you begin getting paid for this type of writing? Did you do a decent amount of it for free (i.e. blogging and the like) before you began making money from it? I have some experience with web content writing so am somewhat familiar with the general online writing world, but would love your take on how to begin a writing career!

Portarossa151 karma

It sounds dumb, but the barrier to entry is so low with online publishing that it's really as simple as 'Just doing it'. There are some caveats to that -- it's not always easy to find your niche; it helps if you've got a decent cover design and you know how to format a book; it's a numbers game, so you're going to do better if you churn out content regularly -- but ultimately there's a thirsty marketplace and no one's ever gone broke from giving people what they want.

If you're interested in writing -- smut specifically, but any indie publishing -- then my advice is to use your free Kindle Unlimited month, download as many of the top sellers in your preferred genre's indie section, and then try to dissect them to see what is profitable and what isn't. It's a hard grind at times, and it can be frustrating until it works... but honestly, people want to read good content, and if you can provide it then the biggest issue is getting noticed.

Good luck out there.

prepnready233 karma

That begs the question - have you read Playboy/girl just for the articles?

Portarossa78 karma

Less the articles, but Playboy used to publish a lot of interesting fiction. I know Stephen King had a lot of good work in there, so I could definitely see myself enjoying it if I lived in a time before the internet made nudity pretty much as free as tap water.

(Although it's not quite the same thing, Gloria Steinem's pieces about spending time as a Playboy bunny are a fascinating read if you can get hold of them.)

IrieSunshine14 karma

That’s awesome advice, thank you so much for your response. Picking the niche is the hardest part for me.

Portarossa25 karma

Honestly? Try a couple. Setting up new pen names is easy. If it's something you want to give a shot, be prepared to fuck up a couple of times along the way.

Worst thing that happens is that you waste a few thousand words of erotica while you find your feet. (As Beckett didn't really put it: Fail better.)

Starmark_11557 karma

To be the Dominator or the Dominated?

Portarossa196 karma

That is the question.

Ramlet, coming soon to a theatre near you.

ChristophColombo108 karma

Ay, there's the rub...

Portarossa57 karma

... damn it, that's good.

Closetoperfect54 karma

Do you keep it a secret amongst friends or family?

Portarossa128 karma

Oh, 100%. Writing romance not so much -- although my family know I do that, I still don't tell my family what my pen name; my work isn't quite fade-to-black enough for me to be comfortable with my gran reading a description of two people absolutely going to town on each other -- but I don't tell them I write any outright filth.

Same with my friends. They know what I do and some of them have read it, but I try to vet new people before I let them know the details. It's not so much a sense of shame, but people do look at you a little differently, you know?

roxykell51 karma

Are you able to appreciate others writing without thinking about it mechanically? Like when an actor sees a movie- they understand all the behind the scenes. In that sort of same strain, have you felt your work affects your perceptions of your romantic/sexual partners? Sorry if that’s all too personal!!!!

Portarossa157 karma

Good question!

So I think that's true of any writer, but for me it mostly comes out when I read crime fiction. There's a lot of trying to see exactly how the textual clues are laid out. (So there are in-universe clues, like a description of the killer or whatever, and then there are out-of-universe clues, like a scene featuring a female killer being written in a way that specifically avoids using any pronouns, or the introduction of a character just often enough to make them viable as a killer without making it obvious.) Once you start seeing the mechanism behind any sort of writing, it can be kind of hard to un-see it and just enjoy the story for what it is. (Although I will say that it makes those books that really do just sweep you away extra special.)

I'll also add that since I've been writing porn, my dirty talk is off the hook. Sometimes it's hard to stay in the moment because I'm using job-skills, but at the same time my partners seem to enjoy it, and I'm a big believer that a lot of sex is at least a little bit performative anyway. I don't know it's changed my perceptions of them, exactly, but it's made me a lot more confident in expressing myself in situations that used to make me very nervous.

Transferrable skills, yo.

PocoChanel50 karma

Have you met Chuck Tingle?

Portarossa131 karma

I choose to believe that Chuck Tingle is more of an idea than a mortal man. You know, like the Easter Bunny.

PocoChanel52 karma

There's a little Tingle inside all of us.

Portarossa95 karma

A perfectly averagely-sized Tingle, thank you very much.

pollanchor47 karma

How do you explain your job to: your grandma, a new potential partner and someone who doesn’t understand and is judgemental?

Portarossa148 karma

1) I don't. My grandmother thinks I write purely romance novels, and she's cool with that.

2) I don't for a little while. Too early on and you tend to attract people who are looking for a fetish dispenser or who just want you to dirty talk to them all the time. (Or, memorably, one guy who I made the mistake of telling before our first date, who put his hand gently on mine, looked deep into my eyes, and asked in all sincerity, 'Who hurt you?' -- as though I lacked all agency and wasn't just writing about sex because I enjoy writing about sex.) I usually stick with the 'I write romance novels' answer, but keep my pen name and the fact that I write smut to myself until I know they're not going to be an ass about it.

3) I don't. Fuck 'em.

AlecsThorne47 karma

How do you market yourself? I tried writing erotica a few years ago, wrote two short stories and published them on Amazon, but I had no idea how to market myself. Couldn't really go on my Facebook page asking my whole 200 online friends (including friends and family) to go read that because it was written by me (used a pen-name obviously).

Portarossa58 karma

It sounds dumb, but the best marketing is the next book, especially if you're writing shorts.

It's good to have Facebook and other social media outreach; it's good to have a mailing list; it's good to be part of book communities with other likeminded authors. It's better to have a massive back catalogue for people to look through and buy. Ultimately, short smut is a numbers game, and the best thing you can do to up your odds -- alongside things like 'having a high quality product' and 'having a consistent theme' -- is having a shitload of books up for sale.

AlecsThorne22 karma

I get what you mean, but would potential readers really find them without proper marketing? (Obviously with marketing is better). Let's say I write 50-100 shorts, but don't really do anything else cause I'm clueless. Aren't the odd of someone just stumbling over my works really slim?

Portarossa64 karma

So what you need to do is make sure you're writing in a specific (but not too specific) niche. Let's say, as a random example, you write cuckold fetish porn; that's about the right level of specificity. ('BDSM' is too generic, but 'lesbian watersports' is probably a bit too niche; you want something where you can make a name for yourself, but not something that has too few readers.)

You write every book under that pen named aimed at the cuckold market. You put them all in an un-numbered series, and you just keep on churning them out. Before too long, if you've got a decent cover design and your blurbs are good enough, you're going to get recognised. The marketplace just isn't that big.

It's better to have fifty books in a niche than it is to have two. It's better still to have a hundred. If you have them in an un-numbered series, when someone buys one, they'll be directed to all the others -- and if they liked what they just read, they might drop some cash on two or three or ten more. They can't do that if you only have two books, because a) you're harder to stumble across in the first place, and b) even if they think you're the best thing ever, you've got nothing else for them to buy.

SequesteredStraights23 karma

This is remarkably similar to the process of getting homebrew DnD books purchased on DMs Guild, if you have a huge catalog of similar content on your profile, even if a lot of it is ‘pay what you want’, when the right person finds it, they buy all of it

It’s amazing how much your advice applies to DnD content actually

Portarossa27 karma

I also play a lot of D&D (shoutout to /r/dndnext), and the crossover between 'writing, editing and otherwise producing fiction' and 'writing, editing, and otherwise producing D&D content' is significant. Lot of the same skills. Lot of the same pitfalls.

The only thing that's stopping me going down the DM's Guild line is that I want to have one hobby that I don't try and monetise.


What is the lewdest sentence you’ve written?

Portarossa124 karma

And last but not least, there is the ache: a different sort of ache than she left the house with last night, but an ache nonetheless. She winces as she sits up in bed, feeling the fresh tenderness of her cunt with every movement. How long had it been since she was fucked like that? How long since she was fucked at all?

I don't know it's my porniest sentence, but I do get a weirdly voyeuristic feeling from it that I don't get from a lot of my other writing, and that feels pretty lewd to me.

Ergheis40 karma

What's your favorite lewd descriptor word? Adverb, adjective, noun, doesn't matter

Portarossa61 karma

Cunt. Firstly, it's a short, sharp shock of a word, and there's a genre-wide tendency towards purple prose at times; anything that pulls away from that is a bonus.

Secondly, I like the sense of reclamation that comes along with it. It's been so often used as an insult or as a way of degrading something quite wonderful, and so it's nice to give it some positive use.

swanbearpig40 karma

Do you have "rules" for what you write?

Portarossa103 karma

The best advice I never got when starting out was to make sure that all of your smut in a single pen name is pretty much the same: same fetish or kink, same level of depravity, that sort of thing. That still gives you a fair amount of wiggleroom, but it means that you have a sort of self-imposed set of rules about what your stories should and shouldn't involve. (You want to give the audience what they want, and you want to give it to them consistently without making it feel stale. It can be a hard line to walk sometimes.)

So aside from the rules that Amazon sets out regarding what you can and can't include -- which are positively labyrinthine -- you kind of come up with your own set of rules that makes sure you're playing to the base consistently. Everyone has books that bomb every now and then, but (as mercenary as it sounds), writing to formula does help to keep them to a minimum once you've figured out what your readers are looking for.

FencingDuke39 karma

I'm curious about the labyrinthine rules from Amazon: what things do they allow/not allow that you found surprising or annoying?

Portarossa150 karma

The one that got me most was their rules on hypnosis and mind control; it's considered non-consent, even if you make it obliquely consensual, so they don't play with that at all.

Other than that, the rules on what you can and can't fuck sometimes feel very arbitrary. It's been a few years since I looked into it, because none of these are in my niches, but as far as I remember this is roughly how it went:

  • You can fuck a vampire, but not a zombie, even though they're both (un)dead; necrophilia is frowned upon, but apparently only conditionally.

  • You can fuck a werewolf, but only when he's in human form -- and any description of animalistic body parts (such as 'knotting') is right out.

  • You can fuck a Bigfoot (because they're not an animal), and you can fuck a dinosaur (because even though they ARE an animal, they're extinct), so your Bigfoot/Velociraptor (literal) slash fic is probably fair game.

The wardens over at the Amazon Dungeon are as likely to let stuff through as they are to err on the side of caution, but it's hard to negotiate with them. They're not exactly invested in all the reasons why your book almost but doesn't quite break the rules, so it's often safer just to avoid the touchier subject entirely, even if you know there's money there.

harpejjist41 karma

So where DO you go to publish hypnotized zombies fucking bears? Or whatever. Asking for a friend. :-)

Portarossa94 karma

I've got a guy. Do you not have a guy?

You should get a guy.

Logboard9 karma

I was curious about this and went and searched and found plenty of hypnosis/mind control stories along with other borderline non-consensual/dubious consensual stories. Have those just not been found by the filters yet? Is there somewhere that Amazon publishes their content guidelines for KDP?

Portarossa29 karma

So there are a few things at play here:

1) It's an imperfect system, and some stuff is going to slip through. There are so many books being put online on a daily basis that even the absolute no-no topics will have some up, until someone complains.

2) Edge cases are dealt with by people, and so if you appeal it, you might get someone who's feeling generous or who just doesn't care and it might go through.

3) If you get too many books pulled, however, you can have your whole account taken down. (It's rare, but it happens.) A lot of people who do it professionally decide it's not worth the risk of losing everything just to skirt the line, so they police themselves even more harshly than Amazon does. (It also sucks if you write a bunch of stories in a niche and then the rules change around you.)

ArizonaZia31 karma

What kind of lifestyle does this afford? Is it work as you can kind of thing?

Portarossa98 karma

I do OK. I'm not buying a yacht any time soon, but I never have to worry about covering my expenses.

It's also quite handy in that you can work as much as you want -- and the more you work, the more you get back. (Often more than you put in; publish twice as often and you'll probably earn more than twice as much money, because you're going to increase your visibility and draw in even more readers to your back catalogue.)

I know some erotica writers who hit six, seven, eight thousand words every day, and they make bank... but for me it's a tradeoff between burning out and being able to work on my own projects. It took about six months before it became my full-time income, and about another year before it became a comfortable full-time income, but I know that I could have pushed harder and earned more during that time if I'd wanted to.

HJBoeve27 karma

Do you encounter hurdles like repetition often? I can imagine that in eight years of writing, most ideas would already be put to paper. How do you keep things fresh and new/exciting?

Portarossa78 karma

So that's the fun thing about romance: it's not really a genre where you need to keep things fresh and exciting. I mean, there are definitely books that run on original high concepts -- 'What if there was a school for wizards?', or 'What if there was a bigass shark terrorising a coastal town?' -- but realistically, romance readers aren't looking for that. They want relatable characters that they want to spend time with, and who they can root for in getting together somewhere between sixty and ninety thousand words in the future.

There's a lot of space to tell fun stories there, and there are DEFINITELY high-concept romance novels (This Is How You Lose the Time War and The Time Traveller's Wife spring to mind) but it's equally OK to fall back into the warm hug of a boy-meets girl -- or, increasingly, boy-meets-boy and girl-meets-girl -- story and just do a good job within those familiar confines.

DaBi5cu1t26 karma

Would you like any of your work turned into a film?

Portarossa73 karma

I'll allow anyone to have any of my stories as a Dollar Baby if they promise to do it entirely with puppets.

secretfiri26 karma

I have a problem in which I was trained (long story) to not write, have you ever had a fear of picking up a pen/open a word document to start writing to the point it gets overwhelming?

Portarossa65 karma

Yes, especially with my non-porn stuff. There's often the feeling that the story I want to write is bigger than me, you know? That someone else would do it better, and I'm only going to fuck it up.

It's normal. It sucks. The only thing you can do is write anyway, and give yourself permission to be bad. It almost invariably turns out to not be as bad as you think it is, and even if it is that bad, once you've got something down you can start honing it. Some people get their book on their first draft, and others take three (or four, or five, or eight, or... you know). However long it takes, it's better than a blank page.

Fear is the mind-killer. Good luck out there.

hussle7723 karma

Do you become aroused while writing? IF so, does it help you write better?

Portarossa75 karma

Not often, if I'm honest. Ultimately it's a job, and if you spend as much time thinking about metrics and blurbs and audience retention as you do about tits and ass it kind of strips the magic from it.

That said, occasionally I'll read back something I wrote months or years earlier, and I'll have a moment of Oof, that works better than I remember. That's always a good feeling, but sometimes you need a bit of distance from it.

rubixd23 karma

Have you ever written anything that has gotten you into trouble?

Trouble being a very broad word, of course.

Portarossa62 karma

Back in the before times, I used to do a lot of my writing in my local library. On more than one occasion I've sat back from a particularly in-depth scene to find someone looking at my screen over my shoulder.

I've never had anything come of it, but there's that panic that one day I'm going to turn around and find the entirety of Year Three asking their teacher what a clitoris is, and then I'm going to end up on some kind of list. (Or at the very least, banned from the stacks forever.)

Enoma-2722 karma

Thanks for the AMA, your answers are really insightful and interesting.

I just have one minor question: why did you choose the pen name Portarossa? I mean being Italian I understand it's the translation of your surname, but why in Italian of all languages?

Portarossa45 karma

Well, it's not my surname; 'Redgate' is a pen name. (I picked it out of a phonebook, which felt like a suitably old-school way of doing things.)

Ma l'ho scelto perché parlo un po' d'Italiano. Ho studiato Italiano per un anno all'università. (Mi dispiace. Era tanto tempo fa :p) Plus, you know, I just thought it sounded good. It's a wonderfully flowy language, and when I'd picked the pen name I wanted something that was related to it but also something more personal than just HazelRedgateWrites or whatever. I love writing, but I've got other interests outside of it, and translating something meaningful into a different language is a good way to get a unique-ish username, I've found.

It worked fine until I tried to get Portarossa.com and found that it's the website for a Portuguese restaurant. Word to the wise, boys and girls: if you're setting up an online identity as part of your business, make sure you can get the domain name first.

harpejjist11 karma

Maybe they would be interested in a promotional tie-in? ;-)

Portarossa79 karma

'Come for the clam, stay for the clam.'

sonofaresiii21 karma

How much time do you spend researching your OOTL posts? What's your process like for that? Do you only tackle questions you already have a very solid understanding of, or things you think you can get a good handle on, or what?

Portarossa40 karma

So I've actually cut back on a lot of the OOTL stuff recently, largely because they required so much research. It wasn't at all uncommon for me to be working on responses for six to eight hours, most of which was spent researching as I wrote. As far as the process went, it was really my way of putting some semblance to my own thoughts, if that makes sense; if I could explain stuff to other people, I could wrap my mind around how fucking weird the world felt).

Normally I have a vague understanding of what's going on and the things I'll need to touch on to give the broader picture, but occasionally I'll start a piece thinking it's going to be a quick one and then it turns out to be an absolute rabbithole. (Two examples of that is the Vallow kidnapping -- and later, as it sadly turned out, murders -- and Michael Bloomberg hiring meme factories during the primaries.) In both cases I was researching basically from nothing on the fly; in the latter case, my first comment was something along the lines of 'This is probably nothing, but...', and I ended up having to eat some serious crow when it turned out that truth was stranger than fiction.

AKAManaging20 karma

I'm not sure if this is a question that you can answer, as it's mainly related to the gay erotica scene, but perhaps you're familiar enough with what I'm about to ask that you might have some kind of information to share. It's been very frustrating for me when I read certain MM Books.

Are the target audience of female written M/M books mostly female readers?

I've noticed that a lot of the time, those type of romance books don't actually get labeled as gay, but M/M. It also seems like the vast majority of those books involve extremely stereotypical gendered dynamics--lots of fretting about what it means to be a man who likes to bottom, plus some top-masculine/bottom-feminine stuff.

Also the ones written by women often have, let's say questionable understandings of the mechanics of gay sex and unrealistic behavior; the number of those books that include rimming is very, very small/non-existent. I can't actually remember one that even touches that. Rarely do they even mention lube.

To give you an example of unrealistic behavior: In one comic I read, when the two love interests were finally ready to have "their first time" with each other -- I kid you not, they sat down next to each other and googled "how to have gay sex," clothes on, seemingly uninterested.

Not to say that female writers can't write beautiful gay romance novels, in fact The Charioteer and The Song of Achilles are my two favorite books in that genre.

Portarossa50 karma

So there are a couple of things to consider here, especially with online publishing and smut. First and foremost, you can't always assume that the gender of the name on the cover is the gender of the author; in the same way that having male authors often adopt a female pen name to appeal to 'mainstream' erotica writers, female erotica writers are often happy to stick a male pen name on the cover in order to appeal to people who like gay male stories.

Secondly... yeah, there's a lot of pandering to the straight female market. Unfortunately, that's a side-effect of a lot of writing designed to titillate (and of porn in general, for the same reason). You're not necessarily interested in thinking about the societal implications of it, or whether you're buying into preconceived notions of gender identity. Sometimes -- especially on the pornier side -- you just want to read about two hot dudes doin' it. That's... not great, when you sit back and think about it, but I can't deny that I've been in that kind of mood myself, and sometimes you just want to turn off your brain and ogle a little bit. (Romance often falls prey to this sort of mindset, because a lot of the time it's designed as escapist fiction that relies on you being willing to overlook a lot of the more troubling aspects; just look at Fifty Shades of Grey.)

Thirdly, there's a lot of bad sex writing out there, because good sex writing is very rarely encouraged. (I mean, where's the Good Sex in Fiction Award, right?) It's like anything, and it requires effort to get right -- but the market (and the readership) often allows for a 'good enough' approach that lets authors gloss over it. (You're exactly right when you talk about the whole 'how to have gay sex' thing. It's... a lot.)

Good quality gay male (and lesbian, and non-exploitative trans) romance is in short supply, but thankfully I think we're seeing more and more good stuff rise up as the market realises that you actually can market a book that deals with these things in a realistic and less cringy way. I'm not sure it's exclusive to female authors, but as female authors make up the majority of romance novels... yeah, there's definitely a ways to go.

rubixd20 karma

How do you write a topic to turn people on if said topic is not arousing to you?

…Or if you find it distasteful, disgusting, or even completely repulsive?

Portarossa46 karma

The short answer is, I don't; there are lots of kinks I don't touch because I either I don't want to spend time playing in that sandbox, or because I don't think I could do it justice.

That said, I do write in some kinks that I don't personally share, but you soon learn what works and what doesn't for any given audience. After that, it's all basically the same. I mean, even when I'm writing in a kink that I do have, I'm not writing for my own pleasure. It's a job, and I so try to keep a little bit of distance there regardless. (In some ways it's easier, because I don't risk ruining something I genuinely love. What they say about turning your passions into your job and ruining them forever does have some truth to it.)

Jikate18 karma

I’ve thought a lot about doing part tine short story writing before, and I joke a lot about smut writing part time as a side income. Is it really as easy as just sit down and like..do it? There’s no suggested writing classes or thing’s to know first? I get wild ambien dreams and always want to them into short stories, but they are often somehow sexual so smut seems perfect.

Portarossa38 karma

I mean, ultimately you're selling a product, and so you owe it to your readers to make it the best product possible. If your writing isn't up to scratch -- if it's riddled with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes -- your audience will get annoyed with you, so if it's not something you're confident with, it might be worth studying up. (If, for example, you missed that the plural of thing is things, not thing's.)

But you also don't need to be Hemingway. If you're dedicated and you want to learn and you're comfortable hammering books out, you can get away with being a competent, workmanlike author rather than a Pulitzer Prize-winner. If you can get people off reliably, without pissing them off along the way, you'll probably be fine. Just treat it like a craft, and recognise that even though in some ways it's just smut, it's still something that requires work and effort.

herbandspiceforlife17 karma

What is your favorite piece you’ve written ?

Portarossa28 karma

I've got some stuff that I've written under my real name that I enjoy, but under this pen name, I keep coming back to this. I don't know it's necessarily good erotica in the sense of it being arousing, but I think that sex-adjacent writing is often overlooked, and I'm kind of proud of the vibe in that one.

Scaler2417 karma

Have you ever listened to My Dad Wrote a Porno? If so, what did you think?

Portarossa9 karma

I haven't. I'm told it's good, but it's never really appealed to me. I'm not really much of a podcast-listener in general (MBMBAM aside; I'm still laughing at this and this months down the line).

mahimahee16 karma

I haven't had read your work yet, but you've given me no excuse. Thanks for the AMA!

In the kindest of terms, I'm very uneducated. I do have a real love of writing, and a slight knack for it, but I haven't the foggiest idea of how to determine if my loved ones are being the kind humans they are, and humouring me.

Do you have any tips on how to determine how remarkably, or unremarkably, my work is?

Portarossa34 karma

Firstly, don't beat yourself up. Your education level doesn't mean a damn thing as long as you know the basic rules of grammar and you can tell a story. Let your work speak for itself.

As for whether your work does speak for itself, there are a couple of things you can try:

  • Posting on feedback forums -- although keep in mind that, when you do, the people giving you feedback aren't always qualified to give you a definitive answer. It's good to scout a range of opinions, but don't take any of it as gospel.

  • Compare your writing to other people's. This is usually frowned upon, but an exercise I try sometimes is to pick a book I enjoy and try to find the flaws in it. Is the dialogue weak? Is the pacing shody? Does the author us certain phrases that rankle you? When you've got that in mind, start trying to figure out how you'd fix it. (Physically type your version out a page at a time, if you like.) Once you get into the habit of applying your critical eye to other people's work, apply it to your own and see what you can change or improve.

  • Ignore it and keep going until your story is finished. Once it's done, put it in a drawer and come back to it later and see what you think about it -- but in the meantime, keep on writing. You'll get better as you go, and when you do come back to that first book, you'll either want to burn the thing for its childishness or realise that, actually, there's a lot in there you actually quite like. (Or, more likely, both.)

Either way, writing is a skill, and like any skill the only way to get better is by doing it. Good luck.

Chicquaye15 karma

Thanks for the AMA!

Have you ever read/watched something that you've thought would make a better product as erotica?

Bonus point: Do you ever base your fictional characters on real life acquaintances or friends? (I have to know)

Portarossa50 karma

On the whole, no... but there were definitely parts of the interplay between Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC's Sherlock that made me think that Steven Moffat would have made absolute bank as a smutwriter.

You don't write scenes like that unless you've imagined them fuckin'.

F91314 karma

One "shocking" thing professionals reveal about the "traditional" (as in pictures/videos) porn industry is the smell. It seems very logic once one thinks about it, but nobody does when... consuming the product. Is there any such "shocking reveal" about the production of erotica?

Portarossa19 karma

I've been thinking about this for six hours because I absolutely love this question, but honestly I can't really come up with anything. I think most people are aware of the fact that it's not really a sexy profession, and I think they can probably put the pieces together on how much of writing takes place in pyjamas and powered by caffeine.

I think most people would probably be surprised by how much is obscured by pen names: both in terms of men writing as women and women writing as men, and in terms of the same person using different pen names in different niches. If your tastes in porn are wide and varied, the odds are at least plausible that you've read multiple stories by the same author using different pen names without even realising it. Other than that, though, I'm not sure I've really got much to offer you about the behind-the-scenes.

NothingToSeeHere20113 karma

Do you read other eroticas for fun, and if you do, do you find yourself assessing how they wrote certain phrases?

Portarossa14 karma

I tend not to, in the way I imagine someone who works at Subway probably doesn't eat a ton of sandwiches outside of work, but I definitely do it for other genres.

'How would I write this better?' is one of the most useful writing exercises I ever learned, so I think it's good practice for when it comes for spotting shitty habits in your own work.

Corka13 karma

If someone were to try and get into writing smut, is it a good strategy for them to go for an incredibly ridiculous title and premise (like Taken by the T-Rex) to get those wtf shares on social media and joke buys?

Portarossa22 karma

OK, so I'd argue that those aren't really erotica; they're halfway between the humour and erotica markets. Sure, you can do it, but it's a different skillset -- both in terms of marketing and in terms of writing the damn things. That said, I can't deny that there's at least some money in it, but I'm always reluctant to lump the two things in together.

With that in mind, though, I will say that I have one pen name where I write stories that are fully erotica with no humour, but I deliberately use the least subtle titles possible -- and I find that it massively helps in terms of sales. I don't know that it would work for every kink, but in that particular niche I've found that the sledgehammer approach is pretty helpful.

jahmoke11 karma

what is one or two of your favorite books of all time?

Portarossa22 karma

This Is How You Lose the Time War and The Time Traveller's Wife are two of the best romance novels I've ever read, and in both cases it made me furious to know I'd never write anything so damn pretty. I highly recommend both.

secretsquirrelsspy8 karma

Do you think subreddits like R/Stupidslutclub is a place for fictional erotica writing or actual stories? I believe subreddits like this are places for individuals to practice fictional erotica writing.

Portarossa15 karma

I think it's a bit of both, honestly. Any recollection of an event like that is going to have some embellishment, because we're not journalists; the goal isn't to inform but to arouse, and that's fine. Whether they're practicing the art of writing or the art of writing fiction, I think the goal of 'getting your writing out there' is a laudable one.

I think where some of them go wrong is being so out-there that it breaks immersion and takes you out of the arousal, which is the number one pitfall of bad smutwriting. That said, if a story pushes the right beats to keep me riled up, I'm not spending too much time worrying about whether it's 100% accurate or not. I'm perfectly happy to bask in the constructed fantasy until I've got mine :p

HHS20195 karma

I'm a big fan of Kathi Barton. What do you think of her works?

Portarossa19 karma

I can't say I've ever read her, but she certainly seems prolific and even if the content isn't to my taste I can respect the hustle; putting out that much material is no mean feat.

If I give her a try, what's your recommendation?

diffluere5 karma

Not sure if you're still answering but I've always wanted to ask a writer about how they plan out their plots, character development, scenery etc. I'm an interior designer and in our field we do a lot of diagramming, mood boards, sketching. All tools we use to pull an idea from its murky beginnings in the ether and shape it into something that can be built in our world.

Do you use any type of diagrams? For example do you storyboard the actions of your characters in some way to be sure that you remember their body positions? How much planning is done in advance vs. just writing and seeing where it flows?

Portarossa8 karma

I usually let myself freeform-jazz it for about one-fifth to one-third of the book. That gives me enough time to lay down plot points that I think I'll use later, even if I'm not sure how yet.

By the time I get to about a third of the way through, I expect to have a pretty good idea of how to pull together all the threads into a cohesive ending, and then I can start to pay off a lot of the things I put in earlier. If I go much further than a third of the way through without a definite ending in mind, the whole thing starts to feel a bit nebulous and waffling, which either means I end up dissatisfied, or I have to spend a lot longer on the second draft cutting and rearranging and tightening things up.

Im_a_pretzel3 karma

Do you have a favorite sub-genre/niche as a writer? And what is your most popular one to write?

Portarossa4 karma

I don't do a great deal of it, but I've always found crossdressers and sissification fans to be among the most polite and enthusiastic readers. The actual writing of it is roughly the same as writing any other topic, but the community feels nicer than a lot of online communities built around sexualities. (At least, from my perspective as both an outsider and an only-occasional visitor; I wouldn't know if there's a dark heart beating beneath its frilly pink surface.)

My most popular by far was hypnosis stuff, back in the day, but Amazon cracked down on it and so I had to pull it all. It just stopped being worth the risk of getting my entire account blacklisted.

Periachi3 karma

What do you think turns on people the most when it comes to smut?

Portarossa11 karma

It sounds a bit glib, but honestly it's 'whatever their fetish is, written well in a way that shows care and attention'. In my experience, pretty much everyone has a kink that they're a little bit embarrassed by, and so finding a writer who's willing to go out of their way to actually put the effort in and provide a quality product will tick a lot of boxes for most people. It doesn't need to be a literary masterpiece, but a bit of care goes a long way to helping people get off.

Ginestra73 karma

Why "Portarossa" as a nickname?

Portarossa7 karma

I needed a pen name and I picked 'Redgate' out of a dictionary. (Hazel is my actual name, but I wanted something else as a surname for my writing work.)

Red gate, porta rossa... I'm the only person who's remotely entertained by it, but that's the logic behind it.

wordjedi-1 karma

Marginalized groups and power differentials are quite important now. How do you avoid differences in power within an erotic context? If there's one thing we've learned it's that consent is not a panacea to avoid abuse, especially in heterosexual encounters.

Portarossa9 karma

So there are two answers to this, and both of them are true to varying degrees.

Firstly -- and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this -- I don't always. A lot of the time, the power differential is the fantasy, and we've got to recognise that things that are sometimes a little sketchy in fiction are not the same as things that are downright abusive in real life. That does raise some questions about the impact of fiction on setting the tone of discourse -- the literary Overton window, if you will -- but ultimately I think that we do need to recognise at least in part that the art we consume and create (if 'art' isn't too grandiose a term) is not necessarily a reflection of our own values. (I mean, I fuckin' love a grisly crime novel, but I wouldn't react the same way to an actual murder.)

Secondly, I'm less concerned about avoiding power differentials and more about promoting healthy sexual encounters. I don't think that a power differential is inherently unhealthy -- although there are definitely examples that are, and plenty of them -- but I'm in a position to make it clear that the dynamics are happy and consenting and free of coercion. (You say that 'consent is not a panacea to avoid abuse', but I'm struggling to think of a situation where uncoerced, willing consent between two of-age partners who are of sound mind and body wouldn't be exactly such a panacea. If one of them is rich or one of them is thirty years older than the other or one of them is the other's boss, as long as they give free and uncoerced consent, I don't personally have a problem with it. We must be careful to avoid getting to the point where protecting the -- usually female -- party isn't just stripping her of her agency and forcing her to take on the role of 'victim' even when she has every right to be a full willing participant.) Especially in my longer and more romantic work, where there's a little more room to breathe, I do like to make sure that a lot of the more toxic traditional trappings of romance novels are either called out or absent altogether. People can talk about problems like adults and come to a solution together, and that -- I hope, at least -- cuts down on a lot of the negative aspects that often feature in the genre.