Marketing and Selling a Self-Published Erotic Novel by Jeanne Ainslie


A Country GirlYou’ve written your book, and now it’s time to find a publisher. If you can’t interest an agent in your novel or non-fiction book, which is the most likely scenario in today’s competitive market, what next? In my case, my best selling erotic novel, A Country Girl, was out of print, and with the demise of Blue Moon and other publishers, my only option was to self-publish. But before you commit to a print-on-demand publisher, compare packages and contracts. Stay away from the extra services—that’s where they make their money. You can write your own press release and build an email list that is specific to your target audience by researching the web. All the information you’ll need is there—it is basic and costs you nothing.

What is your marketing plan? I began with no knowledge of marketing. However, I did have a website for my book. A website gives credibility to your book and you can show your writer’s skills with a synopsis, biography, and an excerpt from a chapter. Offer the rest of the chapter as a free PDF to the reader who sends an email request. Then you can capture email addresses and further entice the reader to buy your book. Although, to date, I have not had a single request for a free chapter, in spite of many visitors to my website. If you are selling your book on your website, don’t discount to compete with bookstores.

Do your homework. Who is your audience? How are you unique? What is your niche, or selling point? Maximize your target audience. When you target a specific market, you can build a list of readers who are potential buyers of your next book. You want to develop and maintain a close relationship with your readers.

Know and target your audience. Sell the benefit of your book. A given for non-fiction and fiction is accurate research (life experience for fiction), organization, quality of writing, attention to detail, and editing. If your book is a niche market, research that market. I checked sex-oriented magazines, websites, sex therapists, tradeshows, sex shops, and bookstores. Send a press release. Ask if they review books. Magazine and specialty websites (in my case erotica) usually have a book section. If you can afford it, do selective print ads, or online.

What are your options? This will depend on how much time and money is available. What marketing is cost effective? Look at the different methods you have to reach your audience and what is the cost? You can target your audience in print, on the internet, and in person. Print and the internet are complimentary. Explore the no cost options first. Your goal is to do more for less money.

No cost options

  • Give away books as promotion; enter contests; write erotic stories, articles, anything to get your author bio and website out there.
  • Keep an online presence by writing articles, blogs, and newsletters. and are examples from the Article Directory Lists, also referred to as Article Banks.
  • Review books on Amazon.
  • Find book reviewers—online or print (copy of book to reviewer).
  • Keep up-to-date on writers’ groups, authors online, and news groups.
  • Consider listing your book on In order for a book to show up on their site, it must be stocked at one of their stores.
  • Contact bookstores, book clubs, and affiliates.
  • Subscribe to free newsletters for writers and independent publishers.
  • Do book signings locally, or when you travel.
  • Give interviews.

When you write articles, write on your book’s subject. Have a hook, a selling idea. Think of the title of your article as a headline. How are you different? What is in the news now? Time your marketing. Take advantage of any news events or special occasions, for example, Valentine’s Day or the month of August, which is Romance Awareness Month.

The goal is to get the attention of your reader, who on reading your compelling, well-written article will go to your website to learn more about your book and you. Promote year-round. Sell your story, not your book.

If you’re not a blogger, how many blogger friends do you have? I started a blog, made three entries and realized that a blog was not my most effective marketing tool. Capitalize on the success of your bloggers friends (always work with the experts). See if they will review your book.

Although blogging and writing a newsletter are too time intensive for me, specialty blogs such as authors at Amazon, or Eric Maisel’s Creativity Central blog access a receptive audience and are in my opinion worth the effort.

In Person

  • Book launches, writers’ conferences, tradeshows, and bookstores
  • Bookstore signings and readings
  • Workshops
  • Talk at your local writing club
  • Radio and TV (local and national)

Marketing in person at book signings, writers’ groups, and speaking engagements is rewarding because you meet potential readers. These personal appearances can represent a huge percentage of the total sales of a book.

Being there in person definitely makes a difference. Show up is a networking golden rule. But when you can’t be there in person, your book can travel for you, for example, to trade shows like BEA [BookExpo America]. Follow-up your contacts with an email, and then keep in touch as the occasion presents itself. Be generous—I can’t stress this enough. If you come across good information that would be of interest to your new contact, email them. You are building a relationship. You share a common purpose of selling your product.

What I learned in my marketing was that personal contact, whether in person, email, or on the phone was the most effective. From the 100s of press releases that I sent out to a carefully crafted list of potential markets, the only replies I received were from a few friends. Yet a phone call to some of the same markets elicited an interest and a request for information. I followed up by emailing my press release and a positive review. Any unsolicited information is usually ignored. Don’t waste your time. Make contact first.

Niche market
Many avenues are closed to the erotic writer. Thus, the sex writer must tap the sex market. Although sex on the internet is a billion dollar business, the market for erotic writing is limited, seen as a bad child, or not marketable in the mainstream print book world. On the internet, writing can’t compete with video, resulting in a specialized audience who love to read. So we are back to the readers and the bookstore and not the mainstream seller. This wasn’t a problem in the Victorian era, or when Grove, Blue Moon, and Olympia Press were viable, but when they disappeared, so did the publishing potential for the erotic writer.

Praise the internet! Although this is a very bad time for new authors with publishers, who are usually inaccessible, and agents looking at the bottom line—dollars—the internet has suddenly levelled the playing field. Even the publishers are concerned and are joining the new technology.

What lies ahead is an innovative potential for marketing your book. You can compete when you are working with the curious, browsing masses if you are creative, intelligent, and have a compelling message. The internet has revolutionized the media and how we receive information.

Viral marketing
Since erotica is niche marketing, how do I access my market? Online. Call it target viral marketing. This is an effective, no-cost way of creating your media list. Viral marketing (word of mouth) on the internet is a marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message. Viral marketing depends on an active and engaged audience and is enhanced by social networks, blogs, and You Tube videos. Email your friends and colleagues, and they will email their social networks if they are supporters. The outcome is immediate. Affiliate programs, free articles, and news releases are also examples of viral marketing. A news release or article can be picked up in the 100s of 1000s and reach a vast audience.

Publishers Lunch
Publishers Lunch is an excellent resource for the publishing industry. Subscribe to their free daily newsletter. I had never heard of Publishers Lunch until an agent at a writers’ conference mentioned it as a daily essential read. Since then, they have been my continuing source of up-to-date information. From an ad in Publishers Lunch, I learned about Steve Harrison and his free teleseminars. Although Steve was pitching programs that I could never afford, I reasoned that he had to give some information to encourage subscribers. And I was right. I learned valuable strategies that were repeated in different programs. It’s up to you to do your homework, to listen to everyone, and ask questions because no one will tell you how to do it. You have to discover the way yourself. And it is a process of discovery. You will pursue a lot of dead ends. For me, it was the e-book. I was convinced that was the way to go. So I took out many library books, bought others, read them all, made copious notes, and then decided that this wasn’t for me. No money with e-book publishers, since the retail price is too low. If you’re going to do an e-book, do it yourself from your website.

Reviews are vital. Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Midwest Book Review are a few. The Midwest Book Review gives priority consideration to small publishers and self-published books. ForeWord magazine reviews books from independent publishers, PODs, and e-Books. Only about 5% are selected.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Book Reviews don’t review print-on-demand books or previously published books; however, Kirkus Discoveries will review your book for $400, and yes, they do review erotica. For free reviews, I searched the internet. Four erotica websites responded to my request for a review.

Book reviews are good value. Use your reviews as promotion on your website and at bookstores. Create links from a good review to your own website. Even if the review is neutral or negative, you can usually find some positive quotes to use for your publicity.

Cost options

  • Advertising (print and online)
  • Teleseminars, joint ventures
  • Writers’ conferences and workshops (rent space, flyers, and advertising)
  • Book fairs and the regional tradeshows—BookExpo America (BEA), Combined BookExpo (CBE)
  • Sex tradeshows (for example, the Taboo show in Vancouver, BC)
  • Swingers’ conventions
  • Your book as a collectible signed by the author on eBay and Amazon

For the fifth consecutive year, BookExpo America (BEA) is joining with New York based Combined BookExpo (CBE) to create the New Title Showcase. The cost per title is $265, considerably less than any POD publisher offers. Travel expenses are part of the book and trade fair cost. In the case of the book fairs, you can save travel costs by sending your book. If you live in New York City, attend the annual Independent and Small Press Book Fair in Manhattan—admission is free.

Print advertising
Great cost for the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books, and the consensus is that it takes at least three print ads to make a sale. This is not for the self-published author marketing one book. Take advantage of any free ads such as those offered by some writers’ groups for their members. If you do choose to advertise, your advertising may be more effective after reviews or an author tour.

Online advertising is the same story. However, I chose two online ads and one print ad for my erotic novel—a 250 clicks Google ad with Xlibris (US$201), an online ad (AU$100) for one year at Adult Resources US that included a free review, and a print ad (CD$64) in The Writers’ Union of Canada newsletter distributed by subscription to individuals and libraries.

The Google ad was wildly successful. Although I paid for 250 clicks, the clicks were overflowing, and Xlibris was not able to stop them in time. According to my Marketing Services Representative, “The keywords are highly relevant and the topic was very hot.” Instead of 250 clicks, my ad clicked 391 before it was stopped! However, whether clicks translated to sales, I have no way of knowing.

The e-book would be my last resource, only if all else fails. Xlibris used to offer an e-book option, but no longer, since e-books didn’t sell, particularly fiction. Non-fiction sells more in all media.

Publication date as a marketing tool is big with e-book authors who are selling their book as a marketing tool for their workshops, newsletters, and coaching. Their e-book and many free bonuses are what lure the web browser to buy the big price tickets of conventions, workshops, and coaching. This model works for non-fiction, but not fiction, and certainly not for the erotic novel. After all, I’m not going to give away free dildos or a discount on my non-existent workshop “Discovering the G-spot.”

I returned to my previous success, the print book, and became convinced that if I could get my book on the bookstore shelves, the browsing reader would buy, as they had done before, over 64,000 times. But I would use the internet for marketing, not print media, which is too expensive for its questionable return.

Call the booksellers and ask to speak to the manager. Make a short dynamic pitch. Give the bookstore manager a compelling reason to order your book. Timely, newsworthy, unique perspective, anything that says your book is different. This is where your telephone pitch must be smooth, short, to the point, and conversational to keep the manager listening.

Mention that you have a returnability policy through one of the distributors such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor. This is an essential cost, and one ad-on from your POD publisher that you must have, since without the option to return unsold copies, bookstores will not stock your self-published book. Orders will be placed only by customer request, or you can place your book in bookstores on consignment. This is a no-money proposition, since the 60/40 split (author/bookseller) results in $2 less than what I paid for my book, including shipping. It works as a teaser—if your book sells, then the bookseller will order additional copies. Build the demand and the bookstores will order.

The returnability policy is the only essential add-on in my opinion—all the rest you can do for less money and greater flexibility. And if you are a good writer, your marketing materials will be better written. If the manager shows an interest, ask for his or her email so that you can send your press release and any good reviews.

Make friends with your local book store manager. Your success depends on the relationships you build with people who can facilitate bringing your book to the market. In my experience, phone calls to managers of independent and chain booksellers have been overwhelmingly positive. In a short time, I received over 60 orders and as many “we’ll look into it.” All the managers were friendly, even those not ordering.

Bookstores have been my most direct and satisfactory marketing tool. I talk to real people who say yes, or no that they will order my book for their store. Bookstores are better than book fairs and conventions or any other single sale. Your book on the shelf when sold will be reordered. Help the stores (independents and chains) to sell your book. Arrange book signings locally.

What about subsidiary rights such as book clubs, audio, and foreign rights? Foreign trade sales beware—not going there after reading how one can end up having no control of your book in a foreign country. No way to track sales, and in fact once you send them your files, you may never hear from them again. Never sign a contract for foreign sales without a literary agent or lawyer to review the contract.

Responses vary. I had no response from book clubs, including those specializing in erotica. I had an immediate response from Brilliant Audio. However, they do not publish erotica on audio, and even if they did, the cost was prohibitive.

Write your own promotional materials. Press release, sell sheet, press kit, synopsis for website, pitch to bookstore managers, articles, presentation to writers’ groups, sample interview questions for radio and TV. Be prepared.

Although necessary, press releases aren’t the best way to advertise since the media is looking for a great story, hook, or sound bite. You need to know how to work with the media—how to promote ideas. Why would they be interested in you and your book?

Another way is to be newsworthy, which means to be unique. I had such an opportunity. I wanted to display my erotic novel at the trade fair of one of the largest writers’ conventions in North America. When I inquired if my erotic novel would be acceptable (never thinking that it wouldn’t), I was informed by the trade fair organizer who had no objection to my book that the school board, who sponsored the convention, does not sell erotica, and my book would have closed the fair. What a scandal! I would have become instantly notorious, resulting in enormous public attention, controversy, and sales!

All this research, in person and on the internet, builds your email list. These are the people that you will be sending your press release to. Your press release should give the book cover, book summary, author bio, publisher, ISBN, price, publication date, and your contact (website). For your friends, i.e., those receptive to erotica, just give your website where they’ll find all that information anyway.

What about lists? POD publishers encourage the author to purchase lists, but according to David Cole, author of The Complete Guide to Book Marketing, they are best avoided since the response rate is too small to make money. Search the web and build your list. From my search, I discovered the Erotica Readers & Writers Association, Babeland,,, and dozens of other sites from magazines to blogs, newsletters, luxury fashion boutiques, and sex stores. Look into affiliates, although you would need a lot of traffic to make any money.

You don’t need an expensive marketing package such as offered by the self-publishers. Any comparison study will show that you can reach the same audience at a fraction of the cost. You can have your novel represented at the tradeshows, place print ads, and send out press releases without breaking the bank.

Always remind yourself of your goal. Obviously, to sell your novel! This means all possible effort. Back to networking rule number one—show up! Show up to launches, writers’ conferences, tradeshows, and bookstores. Show up on the net by writing articles at top article directories, such as, ezine, selfgrowth, and any erotica/romance friendly websites.

You are in charge! Like it or not, it’s all up to you. Be prepared to work tirelessly, and never give up. Consider marketing as an ongoing information process. It is not a one shot. Your book is always in print and you are always marketing. Always ask yourself how do I connect with my reader? And be prepared to have a lot of good ideas that go nowhere. As David Cole says in The Complete Guide to Book Marketing, “you need to think through a strategy that maximizes exposure to your target audience.”

Do whatever works for you, and when you find what works, keep doing it. Fact is that with all your marketing efforts, you might sell a few hundred or maybe a few thousand books. If you market your book at writers’ conventions, book signings or workshops, you can expect a steady, small return. You never know where this marketing will take you, but have fun with it, learn new things, and you might just be surprised and get lucky.

Have my efforts been worthwhile? Absolutely! Without these efforts, there would be no sales of my self-published book. To date, I’ve sold 90 copies over four months as a result of my marketing efforts (phone calls to bookstores, Google ad, website, press release, and articles). My calls to bookstores were during a two-month period. Since I have hundreds of bookstores (chains and independents) in the US and Canada to call—my monthly long distance rate is $17 for unlimited time, any time—I anticipate more sales and reorders.

I will be signing books in Vancouver, Seattle, Boston, New York City, and Orleans MA on Cape Cod. Also, I will be attending the Seattle Erotic Art Festival (my novel will be in their bookstore) and visiting the Museum of Sex bookstore in New York City.

Success! We all dream that our books will sell and be read. Maybe we’ll be lucky because luck does play a part in success. But let us remember why we are writers and to continue in the pursuit of our craft no matter what the outcome. And that means giving the time and care to seeing that our book finds readers. Marketing is a necessary part of the creative process unless one sees writing as self-indulgence and not as communication. Marketing gives voice to the written word. Never cease promoting your book. In my marketing, I’ve pursued many dead ends, or better said, non-responses, but I’ve also had many “hits.” One example is how after many refusals and persistent negotiating on my part, my book was finally entered into the data base of a large bookstore chain. This meant that local bookstores could order my book for a book signing instead of on consignment at a loss to me.

What is a winning strategy? Have a well-researched marketing plan and stick to it. Be serious about it, but be prepared for blocks, dead ends, and frustration. Believe in your book and yourself; think creatively, and never give up!


Jeanne Ainslie
March 2009

“Marketing and Selling a Self-Published Erotic Novel” © 2009 Jeanne Ainslie. All rights reserved.

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