Jun 042010


It’s an email I receive often from new ebook authors: “What can I do to improve my book’s sales?”

I, as a publisher, do what I can. We try to give books covers we have reason to think will help them sell. And sometimes titles we think have a similar quality. We also send out copies for review to various book review sites on the web. We take “cover ads” and banner ads and bookmark ads on many of those same sites. And we get writers the occasional blog or chatroom tour. Other than that, and the occasional promotional activity, there isn’t much more publisher’s can do.

The truth is that for the past several decades research reported in Publisher’s Weekly and other journals has consistently shown that a publisher’s promotional efforts and advertising don’t sell books, ebooks or print. Advertisements in the New York Times Review of Books, People, or wherever, don’t play any significant role in influencing someone’s decision about whether or not to buy a particular book.

So why do the big publishers spend so much money on full-page ads in various publications? According to the late Richard F. X. O’Connor, former marketing director for Doubleday’s book publishing division and for Walden books, the more successful progenitor of today’s Border’s chain, the big publishers take out big splashy ads to make their top-selling writers feel important and to show everyone that the publisher is successful enough to afford such ads.

So what does sell books? And here we are talking about all kinds of books, ebooks, paperbacks, and hard covers, be they mystery, romance, historical novel, presidential biography, self-help, or even erotica. One thing, O’Connor says, sells books and one thing only. Word of mouth!

Yes, word of mouth. Or, to put it another way, reader excitement. Readers are special people. There aren’t a lot of them, and they tend to hang out with each other so they have someone to talk about books with. They even tend to congregate with people who like to read the same type of books they do. Science fiction readers often have friends who also read science fiction. The same can be said for romance readers, who are often heard discussing the newest book by the bestselling romance author of the time.

So when a reader of contemporary fantasy, say, really likes an author or book so much, she or he can barely contain his or her excitement and has to tell someone else about it, so they tell other readers of contemporary fantasy. If those readers like it, they tell other readers of contemporary fantasy, and the word spreads very rapidly by mouth. Hence, word of mouth.

The same thing happens today on the internet, only much faster with Facebook, Twitter, blogs. I call this “word of web.” If someone is wowed by a book or author, they Twitter it, blog it, email it, and maybe Google group it; and if a sufficient number of other people read it and like it, the lucky author’s reputation and sales are on the way up.

So, when it comes to selling books, the object is not so much to merely expose the title or idea of a book to readers, many publisher’s are advertising or promoting many books, and a reader’s disposable income for book purchases is limited. What decides which books they are willing to invest their limited book budget in is an enthusiastic recommendation or mention by another reader of similar ilk. So when it comes to selling books, the focus should be on developing ways to generate reader enthusiasm for an author’s work.

While some readers can work up some enthusiasm for publishers, they never-the-less respond a lot more warmly and enthusiastically to authors than they do to publishing companies. That’s a no brainer.

So, in the internet era, a larger share of the burden of winning readers over falls on the author. Or, to look at it another way, today the internet provides incredibly powerful tools that allow an author anywhere in the world to have an unprecedented influence on the marketing and reader reception of their own books. And, more, via all the social networking tools, the author essentially can have something a lot like the direct, personal interaction of a bookstore signing or reading with readers every day.

When readers get to know an author personally, they are far more likely to buy that author’s work. The internet makes it possible for you to help readers get to know and like you. If they do they will share their positive regard for you with other readers, and you are on your way to becoming known.

If you want to create or build a loyal audience of readers eager to read each story or book that comes out, you must have an exciting site that makes people want to come back. You must use it to promote your books and yourself as a writer. Look up the sites of some successful authors of erotica and see what they are like. Emulate what they do. You can’t go wrong.

Once you have readers coming to your site, you want to communicate with them directly, give them a sense of who you are. This is your chance to establish a bond that will carry over into sales. That’s what blogs are for. In a blog you can share your opinions, likes and dislikes, and just about whatever of what you think of and about as you are willing to share. There are many sites that tell you how to build blog traffic. Look them up and follow their advice.

Twitter is also a powerful aid to selling your book, instantly sharing news about it through widening networks of people. And the use of Facebook or some variant like Myspace is also essential.

It’s no coincidence that the writers I know with the best sites, who work the hardest to make use of all their available internet tools have the best sales over all.

Apr 232010

This will be short but hopefully pithy. Here are five more tips.

1) Yet another method of getting more bucks for the bangs you write about is to link some of  your stories together into a series, and to write enough stories in the series to collect as a book.

This is a hallowed practice going back more than one hundred years. Books as diverse as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Cheaper by the Dozen were created just this way.

Terri Pray, who writes for Sizzler Editions, has a knack for writing novelettes about series characters, who are often captured and forced to be sex slaves and are sold and pass from the hands of one master to another — each owner or captor the subject of an individual story in the series –  and then bringing it all together at the end through a developing story arc for a satisfying conclusion complete with her own version of a romantic happy ending bdsm-style.

2) Or to make it easy, you can forgo story arcs and just write otherwise unrelated adventures of a single character like Sherlock Holmes and then collect them into a book. This way you avoid having to hassle out a plot arc or happy ending. You could write a book about a woman named, say, Fay, who has a series of post-college sexual escapades with different men, and the collected stories could be called The Adventures of Fay, or the Exploits of Fay, or Fay Discovers Sex, or whatever. Anyway, I understand it worked out pretty well for the Holmes author.

This way you are at least assured of being paid twice for each story in the series you write.

If the book does well, you may make many times over what you received for writing the original stories.

3) Here’s another tip for squeezing more income from your work: Participate in public readings of erotica. If you live near or in a metroplex there are likely to be events like the SF Bay Area’s Perverts Put Out and Queer Open Mic, where writers of erotica read their work. Often they receive some small remuneration, but even when they don’t they are allowed to sell copies of their work; and if they get a decent discount on their books from the publisher, these writers can make $35-$100 a reading.

To get in on deals like this you will need a) find them and b) network. Also volunteer to read your work free at fund raisers where other authors are doing the same. That way you meet writers and the kind of people who put on events, making it far more likely you will get invited to any paid reading gigs than if you just sit home and wait to be noticed.

Through this kind of local networking, you will be in the best position possible for learning about local workshops, group readings, writer’s conferences, and the like. If you put yourself out a bit and ask, you will eventually get paid, or at least fed, gigs reading, teaching, etc. You may also learn about magazines and anthologies that are looking for erotica.

If you network on the web too, you may learn about opportunities beyond the local for making additional income from your writing. I, for instance, will be participating in an on-line course in writing erotica later this month for which I will receive some small remuneration.

4) If you have any personal area of expertise, you can also profit from creating and teaching your own on-line courses in writing via Google or other sites. One male writer I know teaches courses in writing believable male characters to women authors of romance novels. Using Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, etc., and emailings to various writer’s groups, you can drum up quite an income once established.

5) Dream up an anthology idea and place it with a publisher. Anthologists traditionally get half the royalties, the other half is split among the authors. Use one of your own older stories in the anthology, and come out even further ahead.  Sascha Illyvich came up with an idea for an anthology of gay male romance stories set against a background of starships and the spacelanes. I accepted the book as soon as he described it. I once spent a week reading through old science fiction magazines and emerged with an anthology titled Future Eves: Classic Science Fiction About Women, By Women. I also put one of my stories in it. It’s a pretty standard practice among anthologists.

If you keep these ideas, and the ones in my previous blog on this subject, you will at least double your earnings from your writing. Work hard at them and you can triple or quadruple it.

Mar 112010

Many books, websites and courses tell you how to write and sell erotica. But they stop there. The fledgling writer is left with the impression that these two steps are all there is to it. In short, that successful writers of erotica earn enough to live on by simply writing and selling an erotic tale, and then moving on to the writing and selling of next one, never looking back.

Most of us would be starving to death if that was, indeed, all there was to it. Try it yourself and you will soon discover, via starvation, how absurd this idea is.

In fact, for many of us, especially those who write erotic short stories and novelettes, writing and selling the story are only the beginning of wringing the maximum income from it. When my friend Harlan Ellison (primarily a short story writer, whose example, while he does not write erotica, is germane) finishes a story, he first sells it to the highest paying magazine market he knows of. Then, a year or so later he sells it to some anthology it seems right for. A year or so later he puts it in a collection of his own stories. Next, he typically sells it to a magazine that pays it lower rates but whose contents page would be enhanced by a story with his name on it. Later other anthologists may also purchase the story. These steps sometimes transpire in a different order, but you get the general idea. He gets paid four or more times, usually more, for each story he writes.

That’s why when I sell a short erotic story the first time, if the magazine or anthology wants any kind of exclusivity on it, I insist on a one or two period of exclusivity, after which they can still keep the story in their anthology, but I can sell it wherever I like. At the very least, I absolutely insist on being able to put it in anthology of my own stories, after a one or two year period. This is, in fact, how many short story writers enhance their income and manage to pay the rent/mortgage.

The situation isn’t the same with novels or book-length collections of your own work, of course. Naturally, the publisher of a book wants exclusivity during the time they are marketing it and making it available to the public.

But there are still several ways you can leverage more income from your erotic novel/s.

Does your publisher have a strong presence (distribution to Amazon, B&N, Sony, and other major book selling sites) in both print books and ebooks? And what about audio? If they appear to be weak in one or more of the above, see if you can reserve those rights for yourself. Then search the web for information for publishers who do have strong distribution in those areas, and try to interest them in the rights you have retained.

Here’s another tip. The more books, novels or collections, you write and have out, the more copies of each individual book you will sell. If you only have one erotic book out and a reader buys and likes that one, all you can have is one sale. But if you have six books out, and a reader buys one for the first time and likes that one, that reader will inevitably come back for more. Resulting in one to five additional sales.

At my site,, we have seen this over and over. A new customer will come in and purchase a book by, say, Terri Pray, who has just written her 50th book for us. In a day or two and, sometimes even just a few hours later, they come back and buy a half-dozen more and they keep on coming back until they have read them all. And then they may discover another writer at our site they like and do the same. And from then on, they tend to purchase every new book by these authors.

The same is true of series. If you write six stand-alone books, each will sell better than if you had just written one book. But if all six are part of a series, and a reader likes the series, you have virtually ensured the reader will buy all six.

These are some of the key ways you can maximize your income from writing erotica. There are others. But, we will deal with those in a later installment of this blog.

Jean Marie Stine,