Raising the Dead: Your Story Doesn’t Suck… Necessarily

by | February 11, 2019 | General | 10 comments

So, you self-published a sex story. Wrote it yourself, edited it, slapped on a cover and uploaded it to the mighty Zon (that’s what those in the know call the big-boy of ebook publishing; get with the program, ‘kay?). Congratulations! And I mean that. It’s an achievement. You know how I know? Because it’s hard, and goddam it feels good (situation normal for us erotica folk). But I digress. Back to your sex story…

Then what happened?

You: It died.


Or it sold a few copies and then died.

Or you ran a free promo, moved a few copies, then it died.

Or you dropped a wad of cash on a paid promo, moved a nifty fifty or so copies but didn’t cover costs, then it died.


Sense a pattern?

These are all symptoms of the same thing—a book that can’t find its market. Sounds simple, right? Oh, I wish. There’s a whole tree of possible causes—nay, a forest—and if you have the time and energy, we can work through them. It’s a valuable exercise, because the only thing worse than pouring your heart into a book that tanks, is backing it up with a second.

In this and my next few Editing Corner blogs, we’ll look though a few of the reasons for stories tanking on Amazon, and techniques for breathing some new life into them.

Your story sucks

Whoa, whoa, don’t get your dander up, partner. It’s just a heading. And let’s face it, I was only saying what you were thinking, am I right?

It seems logical. Stephen King writes awesome books, and he sells them by the truckload. You sell no books at all, so therefore… (see the heading above—I don’t want to have to say it).

But it’s not true. Or at best, it’s not necessarily true.

Have you ever bought a crap book? Or loaned one from the library? Of course you have—we all have. How could that happen? It looked a lot like books you enjoy. The title sounded interesting—the kind of genre you often read. The blurb made it sound like the kind of rollicking tale that would promise hours of quiet reading bliss. The signs were all there, and like a trusting soul, you bought it. It just didn’t live up to it’s potential.

It was a crap book with good marketing.

Just because your book doesn’t sell, that doesn’t make it a bad book, because bad books still sell. If it sells and gets universally terrible reviews, or if it sells and then readers seek refunds, or they seek out your web page to tell exactly how shit it is, then you might have enough evidence to say it’s a bad book.

No sales just means bad marketing, not bad writing. Don’t get me wrong, your book might be a steaming dog turd, but you can’t draw that conclusion from a lack of sales.

The Holy Trinity of Self-Publishing

There are many things you can do improve sales, but doubling them won’t help if your current number is zero. Every single ebook sale is a three stage process.

  1. A reader needs to find your book.
  2. A reader needs to be interested enough to click your book.
  3. A reader needs to be enticed to buy your book.

Find…click…buy. Three steps. Would it surprise you to learn that apart from the manuscript itself, there are three key elements to marketing that you must nail in order to sell a single copy?

Those three things are Title, Cover, Blurb. They all matter. Miss one and you miss the sale.

The Importance of Being Searchable

A reader must be able to find your book. There are so many books out there; how do they find yours? In the first 30 days after publishing, your title will appear in the New Releases lists under whatever category you chose. Job done, right? But what happens after the first 30 days? Short of paid advertising, there are two organic ways readers will find your book:

  1. Also-Boughts: Several readers bought both your book as well as Attack of the Space Virgins. Good news – whenever anyone opens the Amazon page for Attack of the Space Virgins, they’ll probably get a little ad half-way down for your book. Free advertising! Awesome, right? Yes, but it only works if you already have sales, and readers still need to find Space Virgins (which might have tanked just as bad as yours), so it’s a chicken-egg scenario.
  2. Search Terms: When a reader types a query into the Amazon search bar (eg. “sci-fi virgin sex story”), Amazon will look for matching titles in its catalog, promoting the best matches to the top of the list. If you get your search terms right, this is how readers find your book. Or put more plainly: if you get your search terms wrong, this is why people can’t find your book.

Hung Alien Jocks Drill Astro-Cheerleaders

Amazon’s search algorithm is not published, but there are some known facts:

  • The Title is searched, along with the Sub-title and the Series Name. So, Attack of the Space Virgins: A Sci-Fi College Romance (Book 3 of The Mars Sluts Chronicles), is all fair game for searches.
  • The Keywords are searched. Amazon KDP allows you to list up to seven 50-character keywords that describe your ebook. Each keyword can contain many component words, and although you don’t need exact matches, the better the match, the higher you will appear in search results.
  • The Blurb is not searched, nor are the reviews. Don’t bother stuffing your blurb with keywords, it’s only there for your reader to read – more on blurbs at another time.
  • Popular, high-ranked books and new releases will appear higher in search results.

So, title (and keywords) are important. Why don’t we just title our books with keywords?

“Hung Alien Jocks Drill Astro-Cheerleaders” (A sci-fi college erom novel)

Nice. Subtle.

There’s art to subtlety in an ebook title, but—and this is important in erotica—it’s easy to be too subtle. If you’re writing stroke erotica, then it’s not a great leap of logic to surmise your target audience is horny and impatient. You’re going to find that kind of person pretty forgiving when it comes to dumbed-down book titles.

Belinda’s rules for title and keywords:

  • Catchy, subtle, cute – it’s all fine, but keep that shit to the top-level title only.
  • For erotica, add a sub-title that includes your top search term. If it’s a Menage book, get Menage in the title or sub-title. BDSM? Vampire Romance? Alpha Billionaire? Tentacles? Whatever the big-ticket kink, get it in the sub-title.
  • Mention the main kink in the sub-title in a way that unequivocally promises what you deliver. Eg. “Cheering the Mighty Ducks: A Sharing Romance” leaves too much to the imagination. “Cheering the Mighty Ducks: Shared by the Whole Team” is kinda unequivocal. It leaves gangbang readers in no doubt it will scratch their itch.
  • Do your research on Amazon’s Erotica Dungeon. There are an unpublished list of naughty words (like gangbang) that will get your title excluded from search results. This is called being “dungeoned”, and it makes it very hard to sell erotica.
  • For keywords, read successful books and web forums that address the same kink as your ebook. Find word combinations that speak to that kink—word combinations that will light a fire in your reader’s loins. Sex. Fuck. Dick. Tits. Pussy. Nobody will search on these terms—at least, not in isolation. They’re just not exciting. Spanking my boss’s wife. Fucking Daddy’s Best Friend. Feminized by Pirates. People search on this shit because it gets them off.
  • Reserve some of you keywords for Amazon’s Browse Categories. Some readers browse or filter by genre and category, so getting in the right ones can make your book more discoverable.

Are we Selling Yet?

If you’ve taken your dead or dying erotica and applied these principles, sexing up the title, spicing up the keywords, should you expect to instantly start selling more books?

You already knew the answer to that, and it’s “not necessarily”. Making your book discoverable is just the first step in the journey. Hopefully, now, you’re in a reader’s search results. Next time, we’ll talk about turning that into a click, and then turning the click into a purchase.

Belinda LaPage

Belinda LaPage lives and works in Sydney, Australia. Writing is a labour of love for her, but the life of a tortured artist is not, so for now it is simply a part time affair, and a pathway to affording more of the wrong shoes. She enjoys the Sydney beaches, time with friends, and spending lunch time in a café sneakily writing erotica in the midst of strangers.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    No wonder my books sell so poorly, LOL.

    I get Selena’s Excite Spice newsletter and I have to say, I cringe at the explicit titles. They just sound so tacky… Sigh.

    However, your notion of using a sub-title to signal the main kink is a great one. IF your book has one main kink. Mine lately have tended to be free-for-alls. Do you think it’s more important to focus?

    • Belinda LaPage

      Yes, kink-focussed books are important in Erotica. Readers still mostly want to get off, and most of them have a specific itch that needs scratching. I’ll get to this in part 3 when we talk about blurbs.

      I mentioned 2 ways for your book to be found organically – search, and also-bought. There is a third, being a top author. If you get so popular that your fans outnumber your new readers, you can publish whatever you damn well please and it’ll be discoverable. I call it the Selena-Effect 🙂

  2. Darnell

    Thank you very much for providing a guide.

    • Belinda LaPage

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for reading

  3. larry archer

    I believe a good cover is essential and should be simple and catch the eye. Keep in mind that when potential readers look at covers, they are seeing a string of postage stamp size images that are returned by the search. So you need to look at your cover from across the room to see if it grabs you.

    Once they have clicked on your postage stamp, the cover’s job is over.

    Another thing is searching for your book as the typical perv does and see if your book pops up. That’s usually a sobering experience when you discover your pride and joy shows up on page 99 of search returns. While it doesn’t help much beyond telling you that you need to change your submission.

    A friend of ours writes bodice rippers and is reasonably successful at it. Her publisher told her to put more sex in the story so figuratively on the last page the hero basically tears the heroine’s clothes off and rapes her. She’s always a virgin and always climaxes instantly. Which tells me two things (1) they must have a strange sex life at home and (2) your story must feed your audience. I believe that when you write erotica, you should actually write erotica as that’s what the reader is looking for when they search erotica and not Gone With The Wind.

    • Belinda LaPage

      Thanks Larry. Yes, I’ll get to covers next time.

  4. Delores Swallows

    Great post, Belinda.

    If you’d written this a couple of months ago, you wouldn’t have had to be so patient teaching a dumb-nuts like me the basics 🙂

    The importance of keywords was something that I did not appreciate, and seeing what you did with the keywords for Twisted Sheets was an eye-opener for me.

    Looking forward to your future posts on this subject.


    • Belinda LaPage

      Thanks Del. I’m still learning every day, too.

  5. tig

    Can’t wait for the articles on covers and blurbs! Blurbs are a mysterious thing; it’s always easier to write others’ than it is to write your own. But that’s an observation for another day.

    I know where to come for keyword genius for the one day in the far future I actually get something else published! I don’t think my titles, series or subtitles are ever going to hit gold in searches (too subtle), but you’ve given me ideas to find ways of getting my books to come up through other routes. Thank you :”>

    • Belinda LaPage

      Thanks Tig. I look forward to the distant future of bawdy keyword selection for your magnum opus.

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