... or, Holla @ Ya Boi for the Straight Dope on Story Sites!I'm pretty sure the proverbial kids stopped saying "holla at yr boi" a while ago, but whatevs, as the kids surely also no longer say. The point is I come to you today, dear readers, bearing delicious listicles. Or a delicious listicle. I saw this listicle in my mind's eye and it was good. If it goes right, I will gratefully accept showers of praise, and if it goes horribly wrong I would like you all to know that It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.
As part of my recent Pocket Rocket project, I found myself shopping around for various erotic story portals at which to promote some of the component stories. In the course of doing so I noticed a little something. There were lots of reviews of this kind of site from a reader's point of view, but finding out how it was to interact with them as an author was something else again. So I thought I would offer up the benefits of my experience.
Starting out with a disclaimer: I am not in the least little bit pretending my experience is comprehensive. Where possible I have tried to benefit from the insights of other authors and for as long as this here listicle is up, I will continue trying to do so. If there are story sites I've missed, I urge folks to hit me up here, on Twitter or by e-mail so that I can update. I have the sites in a rough ranking, but the whole idea of "ranking" something this complicated is mostly tongue-in-cheek, so don't take that aspect too terribly seriously.
This is a beginning, and as the Princess Irulan once said, a beginning is a very delicate time. I'll try to do it justice. And whatever I say here, to the proprietors of these sites in general and the non-profit / non-commercial sites in particular, I would just like to say that I know keeping these resources live and dealing with the fractious, opinionated communities they attract isn't easy. Bless you all for what you do.
The main focus of this piece is the non-commercial sites. I deal with commercial sites like Amazon and Smashwords in #10-12. Right now the most detailed reviews are of the three sites I know the most about, in the top three spots.
#1. Literotica.Literotica has been around since the late Nineties. It's the site I personally am most familiar with, so this will be the most extensive of these reviews. Generally speaking its hallmarks are a wide breadth of content categories, with Incest/Taboo stories being particularly popular, and a large well-established audience.
|Action shot of a typical Literotica author in her natural habitat.|
THE SHORT VERSION
Biggest Pros: Huge readership / authorship; experienced editing; solid if dated interfaceViewership & Profile: There is a huge diversity of story types, authors and readers represented, so much so that you can find almost any kind and quality of story with a little digging; with the exception that it has hard prohibitions against under-18 content and bestiality, and a few more fluid and context-dependent preferences for content in other genres. FAQs can be found on the site or the forums to answer most of the basic questions.
Biggest Cons: Community is a mixed bag and sometimes toxic; story posting process can be a bit slow; functionality of some site features can be uneven
Biggest Cons: Community is a mixed bag and sometimes toxic; story posting process can be a bit slow; functionality of some site features can be uneven
THE LONG VERSION
Viewership is sizeable. Even in relatively low-traffic categories a well-written story can generally hope to see views in the thousands, in higher-traffic categories this can rise into the tens or even hundreds of thousands. On the downside, this means Lit has a high enough profile that stories on the site have sometimes been targeted for piracy and reprinted, unauthorized, on other sites -- sometimes even on Amazon. There doesn't seem to be much the site in its current form can really do about this; authors are on their own. Mercifully this seems still to be a fairly rare occurrence.
Submitting Stories: The story submissions process is straightforward and reliably works just the way it's advertised on the tin. Technically it's more than a bit dated and posting a story--or composing it for compatibility with the site's story editor--can be a bit labour-intensive, but you'll rarely run into story rejections for weird or frivolous reasons or find yourself kneecapped by some rule or technical limitation that comes out of the blue.
It generally takes about three or four business days for a story to be posted. Some people find this agonisingly slow, but since there is basically one person running the story editing and posting process I personally don't have any complaints about the wait. Once you've posted a story the site's analytics are minimal but reasonably useful; stories come with an optional reader voting system that can attract trolling, but that also has some protection by a "sweep" system that eliminates gratuitous or suspicious patterns of low-voting.
Other Site Features: For a site that is essentially run by two people and a clutch of volunteers, Literotica is notably ambitious and the reach of its various features -- it hosts an Android app, an erotica-related news feed, a chat, cams and a VOD service, audio stories, its own personals, a volunteer editors program and a battery of regular contests -- can sometimes appear to exceed the staff's grasp. Technical updates and changes to the site happen at a glacial pace... but they do happen, and Lit is less of a time capsule than some other sites of its kind.
Search tools on the site are robust in some ways and oddly limited in others: for some reason searching by author can be particularly difficult, as I've found out when trying to look up fellow authors from the Forums who don't link their work directly, so keep this in mind.
Forums & Community: The good news is that there are some very fine people to be found on the Literotica Forums. The bad news is that on the other hand the site also suffers from a legacy of (I would argue) over-commitment to Nineties-era pieties about "free speech," which functionally means it can be a great place for creative flaming but also that some astonishingly toxic people and behaviours have been tolerated over long spans of time, to the detriment of real community building.
For example, the forums allow alts and are often infested by the atmosphere of suspicion natural to forums that allow alts. There is a great deal of bitterness, paranoia and conspiracy theory, albeit from a small but vocal minority of authors, that surrounds the regular contests with cash prizes (which admittedly could be better-handled, but what I'm talking about goes far beyond mere critique). Certain boards are heavily infested by creepy people or unlovely and violent political rhetoric. Episodes of deep vindictiveness (including doxing) have happened before, so wariness of sharing personal information is a necessity.
When I first started posting stories at Literotica, the most moderation that existed on the Forums was the "ignore" button and a minimal, not-always-enforced commitment to removing outright advocacy of crimes. They were even vocally proud of this as part of their "free speech" mandate. The site is taking steps toward more stringency (baby steps, but they're still steps) and the site owners and volunteer moderators are generally level-headed and of high quality when they do intervene, so it isn't all bad by any means and I've certainly encountered some great people through Literotica. Still, the experience is highly variable, so come prepared with a thick skin.
#2. SOL (StoriesOnline).StoriesOnline has been around at least as long as Literotica, maybe longer... or looks like it has. (I'll get to that.) It isn't anywhere near as well known which is something of a pity, as the site hosts some good authors and some genuinely nifty features. It also, however, hosts some kinds of content that I'm not personally keen on and that moreover one might be wary of being associated with in any way as an author, even just by having work on the same site.
THE SHORT VERSIONBiggest Pros: Good editing & posting process; some interesting story management tools; admirable no-frills focus on the basic mission
|An SOL author's Canadian girlfriend -|
THE LONG VERSIONViewership & Profile: SOL gives the impression of having considerably less traffic than Literotica. You're doing well at a few thousand downloads and if one looks at even the site's perma-linked "all time classic" stories, entries cracking a hundred thousand downloads or more or rare no matter how long they've been posted. On the other hand, "smaller than Literotica" is by no means the same thing as "small," and my freebie posted at SOL has already considerably outstripped the download total of freebies posted at Smashwords, so there you go.
Stories can be publicly voted on using a ten-point rating scale, which to my mind is a good idea as it allows for more nuanced reader judgement than a five-star scale. SOL seems to have anti-trolling "sweeps" measures of some kind in its voting system similar to Literotica's. Authors can promote their work on the site's main page with blog posts and updates.
Content Warning: Biggest reservation about posting here is that SOL hosts a "teens" category that includes under-18 stories. This was a big source of hesitation for me in interacting with the site; such material, even just in fictional text format, is a serious legal grey area in my country and moreover is a limit for me as erotic material goes. Fortunately that material is far from a major part of the site's identity or content, so I decided to go ahead with it... but you as a writer might make a different call, so be aware.
Submitting & Managing Stories: It's possible to compose a story in Word or OpenOffice, export it to HTML, submit it to SOL and have it published with a minimum of fuss the same day. (There are other, more granular options available if you're into them and guides on how to use them.) Stories will be broken into multiple chapters if they exceed a certain length, so it's up to authors to format them accordingly if they care where the page breaks are and it's possible for minor formatting glitches to occur if you're using an exported HTML document. Still, all in all, this is as efficient and low-impact a process--which is as respectful as possible of author's formatting parameters--as I've ever encountered at an online story portal.
You can heavily customise story categories and tags in the story submission process using a standardised form that exhibits some redundancy but also covers most contingencies. SOL also has an interesting suite of story management tools for once your story is posted. You get a vote histogram on your story management page, authors can assign stories both to series and to "universes" which makes for interesting ways to sort and categorise content, and the site allows for marginally customised author "homepages" that lay out your stories and "universes" efficiently. You're given more than a single line with which to introduce your story to potential readers, which is handy, and there are tools available as part of "premium" content on the site--and even the ability to hide stories behind a paywall if you choose--of which I haven't even scratched the surface. It would be technically possible to use this as a commercial portal if you were sufficiently in the know.
Weighing against the appeal of these tools: SOL's look is, uh... quaint. "Clunky" and "outdated" might be more accurate descriptions. Information is often displayed or broken out between pages in counter-intuitive and puzzling ways, or uneven about updating from one page to another, and overall the site has a very minimal, no-frills look which is fine for non-commercial stories but which would make me hesitant about using it for more commercial purposes.
Forums & Community: To date, some lurking on SOL's forums has disclosed that they seem much slower in traffic, narrower in focus and considerably less prone to drama than some forums elsewhere. That's just an impression on relatively short acquaintance, though. I can't comment in much more detail.
#3. Lush Stories.In some ways Lush Stories feels almost like a site that was created by someone trying to carry out a mission similar to Literotica's, but to eliminate many of the frustrations that site encountered in its evolution. I don't know whether that's true or not, but certainly the site's founder Nicola has created a very slick, attractive and interesting story portal with a lot of laudable features. It's a site that I like in many ways... and really want to like in others.
THE SHORT VERSIONBiggest Pros: Attractive and easy-to-use interface; well-conceived site management and policies; large and active community
Biggest Cons: Variable quality in story moderation, submission process and back-end tools; may not be the best outlet for writers of longer stories
THE LONG VERSIONViewership & Profile: Lush Stories advertises its vital stats right up front. And it's an encouraging sign of the scale of audience that one can log on at virtually any time and find north of a few thousand readers browsing the site.
|This how Lush the stories get. "Lush AF," as the kids would|
say if they were allowed to read this content.
As at other sites, reader voting is enabled here (or can be), but Lush Stories is even more aware of the potential misuse of such voting systems and manages its story voting aggressively--or at least reserves the right to do so. Users entering more than three "low votes" on stories in a row apparently, in theory, have to justify their activity to a moderator or have their voting privileges locked. I'm not sure of the outcomes here -- it seems this could be open to gaming, or possibly bias story voting to the higher ranges of the scoring system and make "high scores" relatively meaningless -- but it's an approach that could conceivably work with the right implementation, and I admire at least the commitment to interfering with nuisance vote-trolling, which can be a real problem.
Authors can customise a profile that, happily, can include linking to and promoting off-site blogs and commercial work on sites like Amazon and Smashwords. (Literotica is considerably more restrictive about this, a philosophy that seems outdated to me.) Author blogs don't seem to appear anywhere other than one's own profile and are probably of limited usefulness.
Submitting Stories: This is where I have the most reservations about Lush Stories at present. It seems like LS should have a more efficient story editing and posting process than other sites -- it isn't just one person vetting the stories, but a moderating team who presumably are meant to be working in concert to provide more speed and efficacy and better quality control than you might find at story sites elsewhere.
However, the results can apparently be a wee bit of a crap-shoot on Lush Stories. Matthew Vett once described frustration with a process that could last several hours involving story moderators who ranged from the acute to the acutely clueless. But the range of possible experiences are wider than this.
For example, when I submitted a story to LS, I was informed that it was too long and needed to be broken up into parts (done), and subsequently that the back-end tool that purports to allow one to paste formatting from a Word document actually renders content all but unreadable if you try to then break up that text from one edit window to another in LS*** (???), that the story contained a tag that one can't use on LS (fair enough)... and finally I was asked, because the story contained short sections of script-style interaction, whether it was a play because "we don't publish plays."
That last question was surprisingly clueless, since the answer would have had to be pretty glaringly obvious just from the shape of the text, but that wasn't what made me throw up my hands at that point. Rather, it was that eliciting this extremely basic, at-a-glance series of questions and corrections, none of which had yet touched the actual content of the story, took a total of seven days from the point of submission. I'm forgiving of delays, but not that forgiving.
I may well have caught LS' moderating team at an extraordinarily bad time; it can't all be like this for them to have gotten forty-two thousand stories posted. So I'm willing to try again. At some point. Maybe not, like, right away, though.
(*** Shout-out to LS moderator Ruthie who helped diagnose this problem more precisely in comments. Not that it's any less confusing why this should be happening.)
The site submission policies and overall procedure tends to favour stories of 10,000 words or less, so that's a further thing to think about when submitting if you typically write longer than that.
Other Site Features: Apparently LS members swear by the site's chat rooms, which I haven't had a chance to sample (I'm not really a chat person). There are grades of membership ranging from bronze up to gold of which it was unclear to me what they meant; I'm told by Ruthie that apparently being a Gold member gives your stories a promotional boost and gives you access to added editing attention from the site, so that's interesting. Not sure how I feel about that.
LS conducts story contests with cash prizes which seem solidly-conceived: they include word limits to ensure apples-to-apples comparisons between stories, the winners are determined by a group of curators rather than pure reader votes, one entry is allowed per writer, drama and conspiracy theories about contest outcomes are strictly prohibited and so on. It really is a model of how contests should be run, at least on paper.
Forums & Community: As with SOL I've only been a lurker on LS' forums, but they seem reasonably positive spaces relatively free of toxicity or at least of the extremes thereof. I've seen LS members talk about the genuine sense of community there; I can't comment on that in much depth, it may be a valid claim or just a question of perspective.
#4 - 6. Hentai Foundry, NovelTrove & Nifty.These are sites that I haven't had a chance to use directly as either my stories don't fit their editorial mission, or I didn't know they posted stories while I was doing my shop-around.
|This naughty librarian is here included|
because of reasons.
NovelTrove is a really interesting site which I'm looking forward to exploring more as a reader. I'm unlikely to publish there in the foreseeable future ("reluctance" is a common theme in my work and is a no-go for them), but the site certainly looks great and I've already discovered interesting content there, among which are blogger Bacchus' dives into story sites like Literotica and Lush Stories. So, writers out there who know more about it than I, I would love to hear from you and be able to flesh out this impression.
Nifty specializes in LGBTQ+ content. Since none of my writing falls purely within that milieu and since I rarely read purely within it either, I really don't know much about it beyond that it exists and that I've heard good things about it. Uh, hello readers and writers at Nifty! Would love to hear from you, too.
#7 - 9. BDSM Library, The Mind Control Story Archive & ASSTR (Alt.Sex.Stories Text Repository).These are sites previously familiar to me where I either couldn't or wouldn't post.
In the case of the venerable BDSM Library, which has been hosting BDSM stories for as long as any of the other erotic sites out there and has a justifiably loyal following, it was a case of couldn't. For some reason its story submission form was simply broken and would not accept any version of the file. Apparently this is an ongoing glitch they're still working on. I may one day go back to try again because I do like the site and it would be nifty to finally have a story up there.
The Erotic Mind Control Story Archive is, in terms of the quality of some of the stories hosted there, simply one of the best erotic story sites with that specific focus, period. Some of the hottest stories I've read pretty much anywhere are on the EMCSA and some of my current writing falls within the theme, so I quite like the idea of having a story there. Unfortunately it can be difficult for readers to find content and the estimable Simon bar Sinister requires submissions in tagged text format, which is kind of a huge pain and pretty hard to justify going through in 2017, so this had to be a case of wouldn't.
ASSTR is another wouldn't. I can't go through this article without mentioning it, because it's one of the great holdovers from the free-wheeling age of Usenet (a.k.a. the internet before the Web) and has its own storied place in the pantheon of erotic literature sites. However, it is hellishly hard to navigate and owing to the total lack of filtering, there is no way around a certain really uncomfortable fact: it is almost impossible to go to the site at any point and not find a bunch of pedo content on the main page or in the Author "Spotlights." If SOL's "teens" category gave me pause, ASSTR is just a hard no for that reason. (In fact I won't even link to it here, although I'll note that NovelTrove's Bacchus, apparently made of sterner stuff than I, has given them a review.)
#10-12. Amazon, Smashwords & Nook: The Commercial Sites.
Amazon of course needs no introduction. The most common narrative you'll hear about it from self-publishing and indie authors is that it's mostly worth publishing e-books there for the sheer scale of the audience it attracts; but that on the other hand Amazon has done a great deal to make itself an increasingly hostile venue for publishers and writers... especially for erotic titles. As the estimable Brixton Atwood puts it:
"Their censorship practices consist of hiding adult content from anyone that would want to find it, including adult readers. Infractions include my cover design where a female has lowered the strap of her shirt from her shoulder to the middle of her arm. In other words, they highly discourage erotic books and their methods for identifying them are vague, irrational, wildly inconsistent...bureaucracy at its worst."
While specific experiences may vary, this kind of frustration is common, especially the complaint that dealing with Amazon's bureaucracy is like dealing with the staff at Franz Kafka International Airport. I know that Uruk Press' recent Sex and Sorcery collection was affected by that obsession with hiding erotica covers from the public, for instance (despite the cover in question being no racier than what can find on some mainstream fiction covers). So... author beware.
As for Smashwords: they appear to be a lot more consistent and less censorious in their attitude toward erotic content, from what I can see in my own involvement with them and reports from other authors. They also have some nifty site tools, in particular the MeatGrindr app which adapts a document into multiple e-book formats.
The downsides? The audience just isn't as large as Amazon -- in fact, depending on what you're writing, posting a freebie here may actually drew fewer eyeballs than you'd get on one of the free erotic story portals -- and to take full advantage of it you really need to be listed on their Premium Catalogue.
And therein really lies the rub.
If you're trying to get Premium Catalogue-ready using a document format from within the last ten decade, you will quickly discover the limits of the MeatGrindr, which apparently was not designed with .docx files in mind (!!!) (how long have .docx files been around, now?) and requires an arcane work-around for Table of Contents scripts because it can't deal with anything resembling current protocols from MS Office or similar software. Getting listed on the Premium Catalogue can thus become something of an odyssey.
Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, apparently have their own commercial e-book portal at "NOOK Press." I don't know anyone who publishes directly there, so I'd love to hear from authors with experiences to contribute.
Allow Me To Play You Out.
"Paperback Writer" is the irresistible choice here, obviously.
Happy reading and writing! See you all next time.