When I started writing the taboo romance Love’s Forbidden Flower, I knew it would be a hard sell; however, I thought my fresh take would shine through. The subject of siblings in love is normally handled as erotica or as a cautionary tale containing dysfunctional characters, but I took the approach of soul mates 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 seemed 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.”
What? Seriously? Taboo romance books are a genre all their own. What about Flowers In the Attic? Didn’t that one, incestuous page make the book fly off of the shelves? Besides, Love’s Forbidden Flower represents consensual civil rights, not sibling incest under the blasphemy of rape.
While I was certainly open to the possibility that Love’s Forbidden Flower could use sprucing, some things were sacred. Without the key element of Lily and Donovan being siblings, I had just another love story on my hands. Worse, these people saw my sweet civil rights based romance as simply an incest novel designed to shock, yet there was so much more.
I had two choices: let my heart’s creation die on the vine or self-publish. I also faced another issue: how do I market a book that agents and publishers don’t want to touch because of its subject matter?
I tried to get blogs to write about it, but getting traction was difficult. Being honest and upfront about the subject matter meant many people didn’t respond. Feeling the push of discrimination was demoralizing. However, when a blog did respond favorably, they didn’t just review, they raved!
Then I reached out to both taboo books and dark books 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. The book was gaining a lot of attention to the point where even the briefest mention on a small-time blog would cause over a hundred copies to fly off of the shelves. Amazing! I can only begin to imagine what would have happened if one of the big six publishers had jumped on it.
I took a chance and signed up for a blog tour. The problem there was that the book blurb for Love’s Forbidden Flower intentionally fails to mention the characters’ blood relationship. I wanted to appeal to emotions, not to fetishes. Instead, I attached a disclaimer. Apparently, quite a few bloggers missed the disclaimer. Thus, the majority of those who agreed to review the book had absolutely no idea what they were getting themselves into. Luckily, the vast majority 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.”
So, how do you market a controversial novel? Just like with any book, it all comes down to finding your audience. I had to add to the disclaimer that Love’s Forbidden Flower is not a work of erotica, because people commonly think any type of romance involving siblings would naturally be just about sex. However, 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.
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 post links to it on Twitter and Facebook often. 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 is sharing the mission—the whole reason why I wrote what I did: Love’s Forbidden Flower is a controversial, civil rights piece that makes you ask the question, “Why do we make love laws?”
If you have any tips on finding your audience or on how to market a controversial book, please let me know.