The moment my pen hit the paper, I knew Love’s Forbidden Flower would be hard to sell. The subject of siblings in love is normally handled as erotica or as a cautionary tale containing dysfunctional characters. Instead, I took the approach of soulmates that are born into a world of cruel realities. Since I spent a lot of time both polishing my queries and gathering feedback from successful authors who stated my story and pitch were beautifully crafted, I entered the querying process with confidence.
It is well known that the turnaround time for a query response is several weeks, sometimes even months. For me, the turnaround time was so short, it felt like I hadn’t even hit the send button on the email. Two responses were common: “No, thank you” and “Your writing is eloquent, but we are unable to publish your story given the relationship of those involved. Feel free to submit again if changes are made.”
While I saw this coming, it still did not make a lot of sense. If one incestuous page in Flowers In the Attic made the book fly off of the shelves, shouldn’t that be a sign that an entire book dedicated to the subject would sell? And since Love’s Forbidden Flower represents consensual civil rights and not sibling incest under the blasphemy of rape, I thought at least one publisher would be curious to know more.
Truth be told, responses like the second one made me take pause. Could I actually get traditionally published if I sold out and changed the subject matter? That thought did not sit very well. In fact, it made me feel cheap and dirty. And even I was willing to remove the key element of Lily and Donovan being siblings, it would create a snowball effect of other things I would need to change, leaving me with just another love story on my hands. The worst part of it all was realizing that these people saw my book as simply an incest novel designed to shock instead of the sweet civil rights-based love story it is.
There were two choices: let my heart’s creation die on the vine or self-publish. There was also another issue: how do I market a book that agents and publishers will not touch because of its subject matter?
I reached out to bloggers, but getting traction was difficult. Being upfront about the subject matter meant many people didn’t respond, which was highly demoralizing. However, when a blog did respond favorably, they didn’t just review, they raved!
Then I tried to get the book listed in a bunch of paid newsletters. ALL of them turned it down due to the subject matter. Then I discovered taboo book groups on Goodreads and asked the members for honest reviews in exchange for free copies. The support was absolutely overwhelming, and Love’s Forbidden Flower took off with the taboo book community so much that even the briefest mention on a small-time blog would cause a hundred copies to fly off of the shelves. Amazing! I could only begin to imagine what would have happened if one of the big six publishers had jumped on Love’s Forbidden Flower.
I took a chance and signed up for a blog tour. Since the intent was to appeal to emotions instead of fetishes, instead of mentioning the blood relationship in the blurb, I attached a disclaimer. When the reviews started surfacing, I learned that the blog tour company had neglected to include the disclaimer when they sent out the query packet. As a result, the majority of those who agreed to review the book had absolutely no idea what they were getting themselves into. Luckily, most reviewers absolutely loved it. The common response was, “Had I known what it was about, I never would have picked it up. I’m so glad that I didn’t miss out on an amazing journey.”
Times are slowly changing. Not long ago, I tried a bunch of those same newsletters again, and several of them now accepted the book; however, some chose not to include the disclaimer. I am highly grateful that I did not get any negative reviews because of that.
So, how do you market a controversial novel? Just like with any book, it all comes down to finding your audience. In the disclaimer, I added that Love’s Forbidden Flower is not a work of erotica because people commonly think any type of romance involving siblings would be just about sex. But in learning that, I found that audiences who enjoy erotica are much more likely to read Love’s Forbidden Flower than the average romance reader. This led me to write Love’s Erotic Flower and list it as free on Smashwords. It has proven to be a great way to connect with my target audience.
The disclaimer was a great way to go. The blurb reflects the spirit of the story while the disclaimer lets readers know what they are getting themselves into. I made the first chapter available on my website, and I often post links to it on Twitter and Facebook. By the end of that chapter, readers know what they are in for. Sometimes I get flack for throwing readers into the relationship quickly instead of easing them into it. However, I’d rather get a little bit of flack than mislead people into reading fifty pages before they see where everything is going and feel deceived.
Another helpful thing was sharing the mission: Love’s Forbidden Flower is a controversial, civil rights piece that makes people question why we make love laws.
If you have any tips on either finding your audience or on how to market a controversial book, please share them here or email me privately.