Many say Cum For Bigfoot by Virginia Wade is the origin text (or at least the pacemaker) for the relatively new subgenre of "monster erotica." The story is a rags-to-riches self-publishing tale like any other. Wade is a stay-at-home mother who was hit with an idea for a book. She wrote it, went through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program, and waited. At first, nothing happened: Wade made $5 in the first month.
But then, Cum For Bigfoot—in which "an ape-like creature kidnaps a group of young women with the purpose of procreating with them"—found its audience.
The ebook, now titled Moan For Bigfoot (more on that later), sold more than 100,000 copies in 2012 alone, earning Wade $30,000 a month at her peak. She replicated her success with sequels (there are 16 Moan For Bigfoot books in total), similar concepts (Taken By Pirates, Seduced By The Dark Lord) and translations (her mother did the German translation, Komm Für Bigfoot). In short, Wade fully propagated the subgenre, variably called "monster erotica," "monster porn," "cryptozoological erotica," and "erotic horror."
The titles tend to be straightforward and self-evident: Goblins Love Ass, Mounted By A Minotaur, Taken By The T-Rex, The Ape Men Cumeth, Fertilized In Space (properly classified as "implantation, bondage, pregnancy, erotica"), and Sex With My Husband's Anatomically Correct Robot.
Of course, the books vary in quality and appeal. I spoke to one anonymous reader about what he looks for in his next read. "Doing research and making the monster somewhat believable is a plus," he said. "Sensual yet HOT erotica. Not just smut. Proper grammar and editing is a must… Lovable characters are also a must. Even the villains." In other words, monster erotica fans want what you'd want from any novel.
Like any subgenre title, monster erotica helped label what was already out there as well as guide future writers with a legacy to build on.
"I definitely find [the genre] useful. That was something I had to learn early on because in my non-erotica writing life I've always wanted to write without that much concern for boundaries or classifications," said Ellie Saxx, author of Sweet & Forbidden, Back Door Bargain, and Pegged To Order. "I never thought of targeting a particular subset of readers. An early story like 'The Man Who Came Too Much' [released in February of 2012] represents a writer with no understanding of how to focus a commercial work; it fits in no particular space and never sold."
After Wade's hit, producing prolific monster erotic proved very profitable for many authors; it still does, to a point, today. "There's this figure going around that says almost a third of authors make less than $500. I think if you were to single out the erotica writing community, you'd find that number goes way up," said Dalia Daudelin, author of Sex with the Beast, Booty Call Of Cthulhu, The Demon's Slave, and many other titles. "I know more than a handful of authors that are looking at making at least half a million this year. By next year I hope to be joining them."
But times were even better back in late 2012 and early 2013. The stuff was flying off the shelves—hypothetically, as nearly all monster erotica titles are sold as ebooks. But then came the backlash—or as Kobo COO Michael Tamblyn put it, "EroticaGate." While there's a wide variety of vulgarity in monster erotica, some stories do feature rape, incest, bestiality, and underage sex. After media outrage in late 2013, retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble systematically removed offending titles. In doing so, they also pulled less offensive ebooks, likeCum For Bigfoot. (Wade changed the title to Moan For Bigfoot, and was eventually allowed to sell again.)
The problem endemic to the banning of any book is that vulgarity can be subjective. Amazon's policy was murky: "What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect."
"Censorship easily becomes a slippery slope," said Amanda Hocking, a writer of self-published paranormal romances who's found great commercial success with more than two million dollars in sales. "One man's taboo is another man's norm, and which one of those is allowed to decide what is taboo and what is norm? Who gets to choose what is appropriate, and what isn't?"
Despite the profits these books bring, it's usually not worth it for retailers to offend their broader audience. But one retailer refused to fold, even when they received pushback, long before "EroticaGate." Smashwords, the publishing and distribution platform, has a democratized approach to the process and refused be fearful of backlash. In February of 2012, PayPal announced they would cease doing business with the e-bookstore if they continued to purvey "erotic fiction that contains bestiality, rape, and incest." To say Smashwords relies on PayPal is an understatement, and the publisher found itself as vulnerable as the vocalized few.
"Once they gave us their initial ultimatum, I scrambled to engage them in high-level discussions about their concerns," said Mark Coker, the Founder of Smashwords. "I felt that they were treading down a slippery path that would jeopardize not just the careers of professional erotica authors, but the careers of all authors. I didn't think a payment processor should have the power to censor content and remove the payment processing infrastructure upon which all indie ebooks depend."
PayPal had its own worries, and was feeling pressure from the credit card companies and issuing banks. If PayPal violated its agreements with these companies, it could lose the ability to process credit card payments.
"PayPal had used their fear to steamroll individual erotica authors previously because as single individuals, they had no voice," said Coker. "But when they took on Smashwords, suddenly they heard the voice of tens of thousands of authors and their readers. They kicked open the hornet's nest."
And so, through a multi-pronged strategy—featuring direct engagement with PayPal, a partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and strong press outreach—Coker fought back, and eventually prevailed with a truce in March of 2012. Though, he'll readily point out, Smashwords doesn't allow anything and everything on their shelves.
"Certain types of content are 100% off limits. We don't accept erotica with underage characters," he said. "We don't accept pornography, which by my definition are books that contain nude images with the purpose to titillate. By my definition, erotic literature is erotic literature, not pornography."
Today, it appears censorship is as stable as it's going to be. But the consensus seems to be that the gold rush is over.
"Based on what I was seeing at the height of my Lion God series, I'd guess that it probably has peaked by now," said Saxx. "I mean, the Virginia Wade's Cum for Bigfoot series had already blown up and drifted away by then… However, the popularity of all of these genres and subgenres seems to run in cycles."
Daudelin agrees. "Porn never dies, it just goes through phases," she said. "By 2025, we'll have seen new genres come and go and, eventually, monsters will make a comeback as well. Like fashion, porn has fads."
In a publishing landscape where many hold their noses up to anything without the proper literary whiff, it's easy to dismiss erotica—let alone that involving alien anal probes or Minotaur cunnilingus. And monster erotica is, admittedly, incomparable to any National Book Award finalist. For one, it gives its readers real, tangible pleasure.
"I have a lot of stories that have brought a lot of women to orgasm," said Daudelin. "We're not such a prude world as we used to be, but it's nice to know that I can help women enjoy their fantasies in a safe and consensual way."
To be fair, how many times has Philip Roth brought you to orgasm?