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How NOT to self-publish an erotic novel

‘Samba, sex and self-loathing’ was 5 years in the making snatching any nanosecond to write on the metro, frantically racing in between students when teaching English abroad or editing away in the evenings whilst fixing the injustices of the world as a social worker. And that was the easy part. Read ‘how my book came to be’ here. Due to the fact that there are some sex scenes in my book (granted most are comical), I was pigeonholed into classifying my contemporary romance fiction as erotica. By not mentioning its adult content those pesky bots on Amazon would find my book, ban me for life, catapulting me into metaphorical book cosmos. Read part 2 of this blog ‘Is my book really erotica?’ here. At that time, I knew very little about erotica, another clear indication I didn’t regard myself as an erotic writer. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and ‘In at the Deep End’ by Kate Davies, are sold in every high-street bookshops, both have illicit content making me believe it would be easy to market and sell erotica. Subsequently, sending off my synopsis to literary agents and not getting a response was soul obliterating. As it goes, agents generally won’t touch erotica with an oak tree trunk sized barge pole. Such novels are a risk as they contain adult content and agents are still quite toffee-nosed about the ‘sleazy’ genre. This was my first hurdle over the huge Great Wall of China of problems I’ve faced with marketing my erotic novel.

On discovering this literary agent’s elitism, I decided to self-publish instead, initiating epic scale hurdle number two. If you’re going to self-publish, not only do you have to be a writer extraordinaire but also a social media marketing guru. I’m not a millennial so spending more than an hour trying to navigate different socials, for me is the equivalent of giving birth for 48 hours, then having a C-section but on top of that also being a man.

Here are some multiple choice questions on how not to self-publish. 

1) Before self-publishing your book do you:

a) Don’t have a successful book launch or any kind of book launch for that matter.

b) Don’t get 50+ book reviews to bump up ratings on Amazon to be found by Amazon’s algorithms.

c) Send drafts to your closest friends (but only one friend actually gets round to reading it because she doesn’t have kids) to get their advice about your book.

d) All of the above

2. When your graphic designer brother creates three different designs for your book cover do you:

a) Ignore your friend’s advice about which book cover they prefer and just go for the one you like best (which involves a bit of nudity).

b) Don’t ask advice on support self-publishing pages in regards to these covers.

c) Research into whether having an explicit photo on the cover of your book will make it impossible to advertise on ANY socials and Amazon.

d) All of the above

4. When uploading your book onto Amazon that has taken 5 years to write do you:

a) Travel to Kenya to volunteer for three months, the day after its publishing date.

b) Don’t send a press release to book promotion websites, travel publishing’s or relevant radio stations

c) Fail at creating a buzz around the book by sending pre-orders of your book to influencers and other travel/erotica bloggers.

d) All of the above

5. In the first month of publishing your book do you:

a) Feel so overwhelmed you don’t know where to begin with social media marketing so just ignore it completely.

b) Start researching into SEO and give up at the first paragraph.

c) Keep pestering your friends to read the entire book and leave a review but it’s taken them months to finish it because they all have children and lives.

d) All of the above.

6. When researching into marketing your erotic novel do you:

a) Ask other backpackers whist travelling, if they would read your book set in Rio about four strong independent women with lots of sex in it. Then funnily enough all of them agree.

b) Suddenly find out that erotica is completely different to marketing any other fiction genres and impossible to advertise on social media due to its adult content.

c) Be too scared to recommend your book on socials in case you break the rules of self-promotion and get banned from that forum.

d) All of the above.

Yep, all of the above. Now you’re thinking I deserve to be festering in the Amazon dungeon with not an algorithm in sight, not knowing about digital marketing or having a marketing plan. Within three months I couldn’t even search for my book in Amazon’s search engine, it can only be found with the book link.

Marketing Erotica

Promoting erotica is a completely different ball game to normal fiction publications due to its adult content. I tried to buy Facebook and Amazon ads but they were rejected because of the explicit image on my front cover. If I couldn’t advise my novel then I’d have to find an influencer. It’s all very well thinking I’d find a non-expensive (no such thing) influencer who’ll give my book a shout out but which over 30-year-old female celebrity will actually promote a ‘shady’ erotica novel most probably tarnishing her wholesome image? Madonna (shudder)? Cara Delevingne (in my dreams)? Gemma Collins (more like)?

However, romance and erotica is nearly a $1.5 billion industry, following the rise of e-books and self-publishing. The commercial success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ rocketed erotica into the mainstream and made it socially acceptable to read smut on the tube (well secretly on a kindle albeit the red glow and sweaty top lip, giving it away). So if this is the case, why is it so difficult to promote erotic novels anywhere and why is erotica still so underground? Mainstream book promotion sites such as Bookhub and KDP ads bypass anything that’s not ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Any mention of vaginas even the word ‘sexual desire’ is comparable to saying- let’s have a chit chat about Hitler’s internal and foreign policies.

Even when I finally found erotica recommendations platforms such as Cliterature Book Group 18+ and B.A.N.G Book Club on Facebook, I couldn’t actually advertise, add my website or the link to my book on Amazon because you can’t self-promote on them. My posts were pending, rejected or just deleted so many times that now I’m scared of doing anything in fear of being banned completely, left all alone in the naughty corner. Even the miniscule amount of erotic promotional sites that are available only choose 10% of submissions and most charge a fee for the privilege.

I’ve just discovered #SmutTok a hashtag which has billions of views on TikTok- who knew erotica was so popular (just the millions of female erotica readers out there desperately trying to find their next read). Just give me eighteen years to work out how to produce and upload a riveting, outlandish, mortifyingly embarrassing (to get me noticed) video and I’ll be laughing. So now my Syd Kelly social media pages are full of photos of Rio (with no adult content) which isn’t really going to attract hot, sexy wanton ladies to my website. Maybe I should add hot Brazilian men sunbathing on the Ipanema beach showing off their wears in their speedos- that might have the desired effect.

It just feels like I’m constantly running twelve ‘Marathon des Sables’ back to back by spending all this time on socials which I hate, not having a clue where to begin every day, detracting from what I’m actually good at (obviously biased) and love doing… WRITING. My next great marketing plan is to invest some money and actually pay a social media marketer who has experience in doing their job which they are qualified to do. Ingenious, isn’t it?


Here comes my shouty opinion (there’s always a little bit). How is film pornography so easily accessible to children on the internet nowadays and yet adult women are censored from reading erotica? Rockstar Games are allowed to advertise + 18 ‘Grand Theft Auto’ games again, easily obtained and generally played by children. Music videos with adult content can be effortlessly found on YouTube. But yet a little bit of written ‘how’s your father’ is taboo. FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) are two U.S’s Senate and House bills passed in 2018. Similarly, ‘Human Trafficking- Section 2’ of the ‘Modern Slavery Act 2015’ and the ‘Online Safety Bill 2021’ were also passed in the UK and rightly so.

Due to these laws social media and the majority of the internet massively freaked out, petrified of being fined or taken down. So rather than differentiating between hard core pornography involving children and Bridgerton, they’ve gone all-out-war and banned anything which has adult content, including erotica which certainly isn’t violating any sex trafficking laws. What’s illegal about over 18-year-old women reading erotica? Nothing, so why are we being discriminated against?

After all the censorship and difficulties with marketing erotica (even E.L.James started out self-publishing ‘Fifty Shades’) how do books such as ‘In at the Deep End’ or “Fifty Shades” go from underground filth onto Waterstones book shelves overnight but still have exactly the same content inside? Because it’s not breaking any human trafficking laws, that’s why! Moreover, is it as simple as bestsellers are huge fat cash-cows making ‘dollar’ therefore the adult content is merely no longer significant or in question. Surely not… said sarcastically, just in case you didn’t get that.

I’m pretty sure that reading is a choice, it’s not like you can force someone to see, closing your eyes will put a stop to that, unless you’re that guy from ‘Clockwork Orange’. Kids currently have the attention span of an amoeba, reading a book to them is like completing the ‘Siberian Black Ice Race’ naked. I doubt that any ‘Gen Z’s’ have got past b) on the multiple choice questions above and that was written exclusively for them.

So it’s hard to believe that a teenage boy on finding his mother’s stash of erotica would read for hours, resulting in him actually understanding a woman’s wants and needs and subsequently respecting and pleasuring his 16-year-old girlfriend. Unfortunately, the reality is that film pornography has made it normalised for young girls to have anal sex aged 16 and be treated like dirt during sex.

Freedom of speech

Banning advertising of erotica (even with an adult content warning sign) is surely suppressing women’s freedom of speech. The availability of what I want to read is being taken away from me. Is that not censorship? It just feels like the people that make these laws (men in congress and parliament) are dictating what women are allowed to read? Bearing in mind that these are the same men taking away women’s rights over their own bodies by making it illegal for women to have abortions in the US. Yes, I’m marching down the M1 of the patriarchal society we live in. Again!

Furthermore, those troublesome male CEO’s of the internet appear to be not giving women readers the time of day- even though we are a huge money making market. Is it because we’re seen as sluts for reading smut or still seen as non-sexual beings without a voice? Why is our freedom of erotic speech not being questioned by the millions of horny women out there? Why are we just rolling over? Why are there not ‘top shelf’ erotica sections in all bookshops? We should be allowed to read about enormous willy’s or sex with werewolves if we want. Why are we not making a stand? Is it because woman can’t say the word sex incase our professional and social lives are called into question?  Or are we just too worried about having a positive female sexual empowering debate in public for fear of what our boyfriends, husbands male and female work colleagues think of us? Or all of the above, you decide.

Now read part 2 of this Blog- ‘Is my book really erotica?’


Amazon Optimierung- Tobias Dziuba

Head scratching title- Energepiccom

Hands typing- Cottonbro Studio

Digital Marketing- Mikael Blomkvist

Rocket launch- Pixabay

Book covers- Symian Creative

SEO scramble- Pixabay

Socials on phone- Pixabay

TikTok on phone- Cottonbro Studio

Gaming- Yan Krukau

Boy reading- Ron Lach

Woman with megaphone- Thirdman