Day 6

Why erotica writers are upset with Amazon

Is Amazon giving short story writers a raw deal? Amazon has changed how it pays royalties to self-publishing authors who make their titles available through Kindle's borrowing platforms. Erotica writer Lexie Syrah explains how the changes affect her bottom line.
Amazon is changing how it pays royalties to self-publishing authors on Kindle's sharing platforms. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

Amazon has announced changes to how it pays self-publishing authors. The changes apply to books that users borrow through Kindle Unlimited and Kindle's Lending Library. Instead of paying authors a flat rate when someone borrows one of their books, it will now only pay authors based on the number of pages actually read -- a rate as little as $0.006 per page. 

This has some authors up in arms -- especially those who write short stories, cookbooks, children's books, and erotica. They say the change disproportionately affects their shorter-length works and that they can no longer make a living wage with the new pay structure. We talk to erotica writer Lexie Syrah, who has pulled all eight of her titles off of Kindle Unlimited and is calling on other authors to do the same.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Why it is that you and other erotica writers are upset about Amazon's move?

The main reason is the fact that they're only paying us half of a penny per page read. They're forcing us, if we remain on their system, to pad our erotica with trash pages because we cannot afford to not do that on the pay scale that they have given us.

Your books are quite short. Why is that?

I went into writing shorts because that's what the people are asking for. People read erotica for a variety of reasons, but most people read erotica because they want to feel excited. They want to have a fantasy. And so they don't want to read 200 pages about the colour of a bed or the setting of a bedroom. They want the down and dirty. And they want it right now.

[Readers] don't want to read 200 pages about the colour of a bed... They want the down and dirty.-Erotica writer Lexie Syrah

People out there may have a certain perception of what a writer of erotica might be like. Can you tell me how your life might compare to that image?

I'm quite normal. I have children and an amazing husband. Me and my husband do however share an S&M bond. We do enjoy that in our own personal lives, but outside of that I'm very normal. I get up in the morning, I cook my kids breakfast, I make my husband breakfast, I take the dogs out, I go pay my bills, go to the grocery store, come home. Me and the kids go to the pool or we go to the park a lot and when I'm not writing I pretty much just hang out with my family.

Does your family know what you do for a living?

Of course, my husband knows. Now I have two young children and then two older children. They're over ten and I have explained to them that I write erotica stories and when they asked me "What does that mean?" I say, "They're stories that involve grown-ups having sexual relationships." And of course the oldest, he's a boy, says, "Well, do I get to read that Mom?" Of course I say, "No! I'm not going to let you watch an R-rated movie. I'm not going to let you read a book that's rated R either." Now my little ones, I explained to them that I write books that are only for grown-ups.

A book title, a book with a cover… they have a particular appearance. A Kindle is a pretty neutral piece of equipment. How have [e-readers] changed how successful writers of erotica are?

Yes, somebody could be riding along in the train with you and all you see is the e-reader. So you don't have to worry about feeling condemned for the things that make you happy. You don't have to worry about it taking up space in your house. You don't have to worry about trying to hide it from your children. I mean it makes it more discreet, it makes it easier. 

I figured out that it would take 10,000 downloads per month just for me to make $8 an hour.-Erotica writerLexieSyrah

So give us a sense of the financial hit that you are taking because of the changes that Kindle has made when it comes to the lending service.

Last month I made roughly $1800, which for most small families they can make that into something. I have friends that also write in shorts, they made $10,000 before this happened and they're looking at closer to around $500 for a month of their work.

So what is your new amount likely to be?

It is under $100 so far since the beginning of July.  I did rough math, now it is a very rough math, I figured out that it would take 10,000 downloads per month just for me to make $8 an hour. I couldn't possibly write that much. And when you think about all the other small books: all the cookbooks, the children's books, small art books, self-help books. All of these would be considered short reads

So you've taken all of your publications then off of Kindle Unlimited. Where do you go from here, what are your other options for making a living?

Well, I still sell my books on Amazon. That is in no way associated with Kindle Unlimited. But I am really starting to utilize a site that I found called Smashwords. Honestly, I wish I would have found Smashwords far before I ever found Kindle Unlimited. They make it very easy as somebody trying to self-publish. They have a How-To manual that really does just state everything you need to know to be able to format your book.

As I understand it, Amazon's rules when it comes to Kindle Unlimited prevent you from publishing on other forums at the same time. Is that right?

Yes, their exclusivity policy has always been atrocious. I didn't really understand how bad it was because when I first started looking into self-publishing I initially went to Amazon because Amazon was a name that I knew. My husband actually tried to tell me, "No you need to look around. You need to see if these are the rules that are everywhere."

My biggest problem with Amazon's Kindle Unlimited is that they are hurting their consumers. All the people out there that are paying for Kindle Unlimited are going to be hurt by this and they have no clue. They're paying the $10 a month, but what are they getting? Content that they've already seen? Content that they don't want to see?

Could you not argue that the new system that Amazon is implementing when it comes to the Kindle Unlimited might actually be more fair? Because it rewards those writers who keep readers reading and gives them more of an incentive?

I'm not saying that people with very large books that are good, that keep them reading.. I mean that's a great thing, that's awesome for them.

But it's not that I can't keep my readers reading or that any of the other short story erotica writers aren't keeping their readers reading. It's the fact that their books are only supposed to be so many words long. I currently have 17 books. It doesn't take that long for any individual person to get through that many erotica stories.

So what is your advice for someone who is maybe trying to break into writing erotica today?

It's a lot of time. A lot of people think that writing erotica is simply you sit down, you write your story, and you hit publish. And it is absolutely not that. That is honestly what I thought in the  beginning when I wrote my first short story. When you're finished your book you have to have it edited, then you have to either design your own artwork for your cover or you have to pay somebody and find an artist that you like to do your cover work, and then you have to find a platform to publish on.

It sounds like what you're suggesting is that people don't just think about the creativity, but that they focus on the business part of this job as well?

As an independent author that is your job. When you look at traditionally published authors they're getting far less than half a cent per page read. But the reason that they're getting less is because they have to pay their publicist, they have to pay editors, they have to pay all of these people. But when you go into the world of self-publishing you have to do it all yourself . And that's why you absolutely have to make more than half a cent per page.

We asked for an interview with an Amazon representative, but no one was available.