Why I Came Clean About Writing Porn

About two years ago, I started writing erotic novels under the pseudonym of Charlene McSuede. Then I decided to tell everyone.
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Essa Alroc
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About two years ago, I started writing erotic novels under the pseudonym of Charlene McSuede. Then I decided to tell everyone.

About two years ago, I started writing erotic novels under the pseudonym of Charlene McSuede. Just to make things clear, these are not your run of the mill Harlequin Romance type books with a few steamy, but relatively vanilla scenes. These books are hardcore bondage and spanking fiction and for a long time, they were my dirty little secret.

Hard at work

Hard at work

My first book in the genre started as more of an experiment than anything else. See, I’d done the self-publishing thing before. I started off my first mystery series self-publishing. While it received some positive reviews, it never really sold. I assumed my erotica would wind up going the same way.

So one night, after a few too many glasses of wine, and far too many lonely nights, I started my first book. It was a short book, about 40,000 words and I kept it concealed like a government official hiding the Manhattan project. I only worked on it late at night, when no one was awake. I kept it hidden under the most boring file name I could think of on my computer, “Health Insurance Handbook."  I told no one about it.

If the CIA ever has a need for porn writers, I’m their girl.

Another night, after even more wine, I finally put the book for sale online, after thoroughly reviewing Amazon’s pen name policy. I was pretty sure I’d die of humiliation if it was ever connected to my real name.

Then, I waited. Well, I didn’t so much wait as I hid from my computer, sure there’d be an angry email from my conservative Catholic grandmother with the accusatory subject line “I know what you wrote and so does Jesus!”

Instead, when I signed back into my account, I saw I had sold more books under that one pen name, in less than a week, than I’d sold of all of my mystery novels ever. I’d even hit bestseller status in a few categories.

So I wrote another one…and another one. I kept going until I had written five books in the genre in under a year. The whole time, I never told a soul. I bought my own covers and self-edited them because I was too ashamed of them to admit I’d written them. I seriously considered getting a publisher, but I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to handle someone critiquing my work.

Sales continued to come in and soon, I was making more on my erotica work than I was my freelancing work. That amazed me. I never advertised the books. I didn’t even know how people were finding them. I pretty much did the opposite of what most self-publishers should do. I didn’t have a social media presence. I didn’t have a blog. I just had five dirty books that were selling like hotcakes.

But it was hard to enjoy the success, because I was too afraid of getting found out. It was a bit of a conundrum. I was proud of the sales, but ashamed of the subject matter. 

Then, one night, after a particularly good month, I went out with my friends and decided to splurge on an expensive bottle of wine for the table. My friend Leah’s* suspicions were aroused.

“Ok, are you dealing drugs?” This was asked in one of those “I’m joking, but not really…” tones.

“Why? Are you looking?” I tend to deflect with humor.

“No, I’m just wondering where all this money is coming from. You told me you lost two clients this month, but you don’t seem any worse off for it.”

I had told her that. What I hadn’t told her was that I dropped the clients, two extremely demanding technical manual clients, so I would have time to write more porn. 

“I found other work.” I finally answered.

“Doing what?” Leah’s suspicions were on high alert because I was being so cagey. We’re extremely close, like periods on the same schedule close, and I’d never lied to her about anything before. I was seriously considering telling her I was a drug dealer, just to get the uncomfortable conversation over with.

Instead, I took a hefty slug of wine and spat the truth out in a rush. “Porn. I’m writing porn.”

“Really?” Leah didn’t react with disgusted shock, the way I expected. “What kind?”

If I could have crawled under the table, I probably would have, but they tend to frown on that in high end establishments. “Spanking and bondage.”

“Oh my God!” There was that disgusted shock I was waiting for. Then, Leah did something that surprised me. She pulled out her iPhone and opened her eBook app. “I wonder if I’ve read any of your books?”

Sure enough, she had one of my books in her extensive erotica library. Knowing that she read the same stuff that I wrote, and liked it, made the embarrassment melt away and suddenly, all that remained was pride. After being a successful erotica author for a year, I finally got to actually enjoy my success.

I decided right then that was what I was going to do. The flood gates opened and I started telling everyone. I told my family, I told my friends. I even told my grandmother…who had no idea what an eBook was.

All the time, I wondered what I was so ashamed of. After all, we’re a nation that’s now willing to discuss 50 Shades of Grey in book clubs. We’re open about what we read and why we read it, even if the material is racy.

But authors aren’t so open about writing it. If you take a look at any erotica author’s page on any book sellers site, you’ll probably notice a common theme. Very few of the people writing these books actually put an author photo on them. Despite that fact that women are willing to admit they read them, very few women are willing to admit they write them.

That’s a shame, because there’s a lot of talent out there. Well-written erotica isn’t just page after page of graphic sex scenes. It has a story and characters you care about. In the sci-fi and fantasy realms, it can involve some complex world building, which is a task in and of itself. While we may write great books, we’re often written off as trash peddlers writing spank fodder for bored housewives.

I realized that by hiding what I was writing, I was playing right into that stereotype. I was acting like there was something to be ashamed of in my writing, when a writer should only be ashamed of one thing; bad writing.

Of course, there was some backlash from coming clean. A few of my regular readers sent me backhanded compliments like “You’re such a good writer. Why stoop to writing erotica?”

To them I say, I write what I like.

I have friends who worry that my dark subject matter is deeply rooted in some serious daddy issues. To them I say I write what I like…and never mention my father and sex in the same sentence again.

I have random guys who email and suggest meeting up to reenact some of the scenes in my books.

To them I say nothing. That’s a whole new level of creepy I have no intention of responding to.

Hiding my writing was holding back my success. Now, I’m working with a publisher on my newest book, which I’m hoping will be the start of a successful series. I don’t flinch when my editor sends me critiques. I react the same way I would if I was getting normal feedback on a "normal" book.

I’m not ashamed of what I write anymore. I’m proud of it and I own it. I get to live a life that most writers don’t. I work for myself and I pay my bills on my writing. Most of all, I write what I like.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.