We were excited to see a new author join Illicitjournal recently and immediately publish some great stories and also take advantage of the Author Profile links.
As a new member on Illicitjournal, once you publish your first story you get upgraded to Published Author status and can add a link to your Twitter profile, but after you publish ten stories you unlock Advanced Author status. Not only do you get a great new profile design, but you can also start to really unlock the promotional options illicitjournal.com can offer you including links to your Amazon, Smashwords and Patreon pages.
As an experienced veteran of publishing on Amazon we reached out and asked Jessica Ackles to share some pointers and advice for our readers who are starting out - learning from people who’ve already done it can really save you a lot of time, especially if you’re getting into self publishing which can be extremely fulfilling, but also a bit hard to navigate for a first timer.
As someone who’s published more than a dozen books on Amazon in both electronic and print format we can’t think of anyone better to ask than Jessica,
How long have you been writing for and where do you draw your inspiration from?
I have been writing on and off for most of my adult life, publishing a fantasy novel several years ago (that no one noticed.) My erotic writing started in 2020, but I only published one story until February 2021, where I started producing a lot more content.
My inspiration is usually based on my own fantasies and experiences - I write BDSM erotica, and I had quite a few crazy… adventures in my early 20s that serve as inspiration for some of the situations in my stories. I have not dabbled in BDSM in almost 10 years, however, instead focusing on self-bondage, which also plays a part in several of my books. That story about being shackled in the middle of the woods hiding in the bushes to avoid being seen by hikers? Not made up.
Illicitjournal Writing Tip: A secret fantasy can be a great source of inspiration for writing, but if you’re struggling, a lot of writers draw on past experiences to help them make progress. Reliving an event can be an easy way to start and finish a story; and this is often one of the biggest challenges for new authors - finishing a story to the end - remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect: practise makes perfect.
If you’re just starting out as a writer then go aim for quantity not necessarily quality.
What was your first published book on Amazon and what motivated you to publish it?
My first book, and so far my only novel, was “Damsel in Distress for Hire”, which came out in March of 2020. It was motivated by boredom, to be honest, since the first lockdown hit around that time (I had worked from home for a few weeks beforehand). In the book, the main character Claire finds herself in increasingly extreme situations, most of which are variations on my own experiences, including being used as decoration for a BDSM-themed party and being kept ‘prisoner’ by a complete stranger for a week… Ah, youth.
Yeah we’ve seen a lot of people taking up the craft during Covid - one of the few benefits of a pandemic is people are now needing to find things to do at home.
Was it difficult to publish your first book? How long did it take and did you get any help?
Not at all. Say what you will about Amazon and their monopolistic regime, but they do make publishing very easy. I googled a few pointers, but I did not ask anyone for help at the time. I have edited things like covers and parts of the content a few times since (especially the keywords), but on the whole, it went smoothly the first time.
Illicitjournal Writing Tip: We’ll be sharing guides over time but the process to publish on Amazon and other platforms changes frequently - google is always the best place to start for the most up to date guides but if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to authors on Twitter or other platforms.
If you could go back in time and do it again, would you do anything differently?
I would spend more time learning about Amazon keywords - they make a big difference. My blurb was also lackluster (I still struggle with those). I have since bought access to Publisher Rocket (formerly KDP Rocket) to help with keyword searches, and it has taught me a lot - I would probably buy access to that service right away if I was to do it all again.
Illicitjournal Writing Tip: This is a really (really) good tip from Jessica. Best selling content needs to be found organically and people need to decide if they want to read your story. Illicitjournal.com provides authors with dedicated space for a story blurb and uses this for sorting as well as searching.
It’s even more important on Amazon though because unlike illicitjournal, Amazon search only uses your story blurb and keywords (not the book content) to build its search results. Make your blurb punchy, clever and intriguing. Savvy readers know that a good blurb is usually the difference between a book they’ll pay for and one they won’t take a risk on.
On the subject of books - ISBN numbers can be really hard to come to terms with for beginners - do you use free or paid numbers and where do you get them from?
Amazon gives you a free ISBN number when you publish a paperback through them - and you are free to use that ISBN on other sites, like Smashwords. So it has been easy for me.
Cover art makes a huge difference to how well a book sells. Your cover art is really great. Where do you get your images from and who does your formatting?
Some cover images, like the ones used on the cover of the “Jessica’s Self-bondage Adventures” series and my non-fiction guide to metal bondage, are my own. Otherwise, I have agreements with a few bondage photographers who let me use their images - you can get far by asking nicely.
I do all the formatting myself - apart from the aforementioned Publisher Rocket, I have not spent any money on publishing my books. I use Canva (a free web app) to make the covers and Pixlr (an online photo editor) for any photo editing.
These are all great options. If graphic design isn’t your thing, you can also look on sites like FIverr.com and pay someone. Illicitjournal has a few twitter followers who are cover artists - let us know if you’d like to tweet at them.
So Jessica, based on your experience - What's the best and worst thing about publishing a book on Amazon?
The best thing is that it is so easy and gives you access to a huge group of potential buyers. Both of these things are also the worst part - it means that everybody can do it, and does it. There is a lot of competition, and it is hard to get noticed. It is hard for your 3000 word short story priced at $2.99 to compete with “150 Taboo MMF gangbang short stories” at the same price. Sure, 148 of those stories might be shit, but people do like a bargain.
Yeah we’re going to publish a lot of content on this part of authoring in time. Do you publish anywhere else?
I briefly tried Smashwords, but I found that you need to market a lot more to get sales there than on Amazon, so I decided to focus on Amazon for now. I might return to Smashwords at a later time.
How long does it typically take you to write a book and how do you know when it's ready to publish?
It depends on how full my schedule is (I have a pretty demanding job - and a social life). I can go a full month without getting any writing done sometimes, but if I have the time, I can write a 3-5k word short story in a day, and a 10-15k novella in 3-4 days. Some stories take longer, depending on the complexity. “Jessica’s Self-bondage Adventures”, which are 95% biographical, are the easiest to write, while storylines like “Slave to Faith” took a lot longer.
I find that a story is ready to publish when I have read it twice without getting annoyed with it… It also helps if it turns me on, of course! But my editing process is generally quite short.
Lucky for some - some staff writers here like Nom and Evie J can take weeks to write a few pages…
Evie J also needs to do a lot of spell checking for Nom... but there are some places where you can buy and sell that service too - You’re using Patreon - what's your experience there like so far?
Well, that is an interesting question! I don’t use Patreon the same way most writers do - my Patreon does contain a few story samples, and I plan to occasionally put up stories for free there, but it is mainly an outlet for my two fetishes - wristwatches and metal bondage. It has daily picture updates, and the occasional video, of me in shackles, handcuffs, etc. while also wearing watches. Since I spend a fair bit of time in shackles and handcuffs anyway (I do most of my writing while restrained), I figured I might as well take some pictures. The watch fetish might be a small niché, but the subscriber pool is growing at a decent pace, even though it has only been online for a month. If nothing else, I enjoy the interactions with my Patrons.
I hope, of course, that some Patrons will buy my books as well, and that my books can lead some to join my Patreon. In a way, both endeavors function as outlets for my kinkier side.
Illicitjournal Writing Tip: A lot of authors tend to be creative in other ways than just writing, which is why we offer author profile links to etsy, fiverr and patreon where creative types can promote other neat things they do.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get to your level?
First, I want to assure any reader that despite having released more than twenty stories on Amazon, I am nowhere close to making a decent paycheck (though I do alright compared to many). But I would tell them to write. Write a lot. Don’t be afraid to publish your stories - you can always take them down later if you find that they are not up to par with your later releases. It is important to build a back catalogue fast - don’t sit on that one short story for months, wondering if it is good enough. Get it out there - and accept that not everyone will like it. That first one-star review hurts (so does the second and third), but there is no accounting for taste; erotica is a tough genre. Some will say that your sex scenes are too mild, too short, others will say they are too detailed, not enough left to the imagination. Be open to constructive criticism, but stick to what you want to write. I write stories I want to read myself, even though I know there could be more money to make in the more… eccentric corners of the erotica genre.
And don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Twitter has an active community of erotica writers - there is a lot to learn there.
But again, I think the most important thing is to write and keep writing. Yes, marketing can be important, but it is also horribly boring. I would wait with that part until you have a lot of stories out there.
This is brilliant advice and echoes our own entirely. Especially about finishing (punny… Ed) and acknowledging feedback but not letting it lock you up or prevent you from writing. Practice makes perfect and the more you practice the better you will get.
Some critical feedback can also be immensely beneficial and it’s give and take. Feedback that adds value is really helpful and you should accept commentary that identifies reasonable faults like excessive grammar and spelling errors (Nom…Ed) or suggestions like building out characters and their motivations more.
Comments like “i didn’t like this because it wasn’t what I was interested in” should simply be ignored. Someone not liking your style of writing doesn't make it wrong or bad, it means that the person doing the review wasn't your target audience. Remember the importance of a good synopsis, tags and blurbs wherever publishing to help people understand what your work is about.
This was the first of our Author Interviews and was fun to put together. Learning from other authors is one of the best ways you can get your writing to where you want too. You should follow Jessica Ackles on Twitter and check out Jessica Ackles IllicitJournal Author Profile. You can also see all of Jessica Ackles’ published stories on Amazon; and check out Patreon for something unique.