Help me welcome romance/erotica author Luke Young to Romance University! He’s here to tell us what’s worked (and what hasn’t) on the self-publishing market.
Hello Luke! Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and your books.
I’m married, have a full time job and three kids in high school. My kids know their father has self-published some books, but they don’t know exactly what the books are about— for now I’m trying to spare them the horror of knowing what their father is up to and the potential embarrassment of kids at their school somehow finding out.
I was one of those slightly delusional people who would watch a movie and think I could write a better film. About seven years ago I sat down and cranked out a movie script in about a month. It was an okay first script and went on to do fairly well in a few screenplay contests. From there I wrote another screenplay and quickly realized how difficult it was to get anyone in Hollywood to actually read it, much less to invest fifteen million dollars in making it. When I read about Amazon’s self-publishing program in 2010, I decided to adapt my second screenplay into a novel. Finding an audience was a bit of a challenge for that first book and it floundered for a while. But once I experienced a little success, I was hooked on self-publishing, and since then I’ve released four novels in a series (in two versions each), one novella and one short story. So I actually have twelve books out in total.
After selling less than 4,000 books in 2011, I’ve sold just over 33,000 books in 2012 on Amazon without being able to hold a ranking in the top 1000 for any length of time. I think this proves that by having a number of titles available and putting in enough marketing effort, as fruitless as that sometimes seems, even a midlist author can make a dent in this incredibly huge market Amazon has created for eBooks.
What do you find has brought about the best in sales for your books? C’mon..share. =)
When I released my first novel, Shrinkage (yes it’s a somewhat inappropriate story about male enhancement gone horribly wrong) late in 2010, I started off with some grand ideas—I created a book trailer, hired a photographer to shoot the cover and built a website myself. The book trailer was fun to make and I thought funny, but led to very little in the way of sales. The photo shoot was a disaster and I ended up with no pictures I could actually use for the cover and the website didn’t seem to have much of an impact either. So while selling a handful of copies over the next few months, I got to work on my second novel, Friends With Partial Benefits.
Friends was released in the summer of 2011 and at that point I’d made a contact at Amazon who was helping me work out some issues with my book’s categories. Knowing my sales challenges, he suggested I make my first novel free for a few days. This was before Amazon’s KDP program, where you can do this on your own. I had nothing to lose, so I agreed and he made it happen. I didn’t announce anything about the free promotion— I wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter at the time, I didn’t do a thing. Somehow word got out and snowballed, and by the second day my book hit number two on the free list. I was blown away. After the promotion, I went on to sell over two thousand copies of that book over the next month and it also led to a number of sales of my new novel as well. I was psyched, I thought all I would need to do is make a book free every once in a while and sit back and watch it all unfold.
Well, it didn’t exactly work that way. Amazon KDP came along a few months later and I enrolled the books. I made Shrinkage free again, it didn’t perform well at all. After Christmas in 2011, I released two more books in my Friends series and made the first series book free for three days. The promotion was mildly successful; the book ended up ranked around number 500 in the free store and led to some sales of the other books in the series.
I realize that the majority of people who download free books don’t actually read the books, but when you offer a book for free and thousands of people download it over a couple day period, this results in your book showing up higher on the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” lists of other popular books. This is where the magic can happen. Your book comes off the free promo and is suddenly showing up on the front page of popular books that get tons of traffic and this will lead to actual sales. The other boost here is that if you have a series, a small percentage of the people who downloaded the book when it was free will read it and possibly buy another book in the series.
Since these initial promotions, I’ve learned a thing or two about getting the word out for free promotions. I utilize Twitter, Facebook, Amazon customer discussions and other social media outlets to try to increase the visibility. While these can help, there are a few services, which can get the word out about your free promotion in a big, big way if you’re lucky enough to get them to do it.
Ereader News Today – This free service has promoted my book a few times and each time it’s led to very successful promotions. I love these guys.
Pixel Of Ink – This free service, sadly has not promoted my book even though I’ve repeatedly submitted. I suspect that my book might be a little racy for their guidelines. I’ve heard that they also can get the word out in a big way if you’re lucky enough to be featured.
Bookbub – This paid service, has promoted my book once and the results were nothing short of spectacular. It’s pricey, but the results seem to be in line with the cost. The day that Bookbub promoted my book, I had over 13,000 downloads. I’ve never even come close to that many in one day. It was astounding and I believe I’ll be using this service in the future.
So what made you decide to go with writing romance/erotica?
It’s a complex story and I kind of just fell into it somehow. When I wrote my first novel, I found my sex scenes drifting into the “a little too much information/erotic/explicit” zone. A friend who read an early draft alerted me to this. So I scaled back those scenes and released it as more of a straight comedy novel. But I found that I really enjoyed writing those steamy scenes and that came in handy for some of my later work.
Now my Friends series was my first experience with contemporary romance, not that I think I fit perfectly into that category, but they’re in the ballpark I suppose. When describing my books, I say they are kind of like Sex And The City meets American Pie. They are erotic, somewhat romantic and raunchy comedic fiction.
I understand you write under two pen names and you are doing something a bit unique with them.
While I was writing the first draft of Friends With Partial Benefits, I became so intrigued with the complex and fascinating Victoria Wilde character in the story that I decided to put that novel away before completing it. Switching gears, I wrote Victoria’s back-story. I wondered how Victoria developed her mojo, her superfun, wild, strong, sexy personality and as I crafted it, the character really came to life. It’s a story of love and loss, striking a more serious tone than the rest of the books in the series. As I was writing the erotic scenes, the words just poured out of me.
After seeing how some self-published authors were doing very well with erotica, I decided to release this prequel under another pen name. From there I released a steamier version of the first Friends book and when each version seemed to find its own audience, I decided it wasn’t such a bad idea to maintain the books in two forms. I’m simply trying to give readers more options. Each “Ian” version contains approximately 7,000 more words with expanded scenes and more explicit prose. I’m not sure I’ll maintain this strategy in the future, but for now all four books in the series are available in both contemporary romance and erotic romance versions. It’s been an adventure maintaining both versions, especially when I went back to rework/improve all the novels earlier this year, but I’m happy with the results so far.
Luke, it’s been great having you here! Why not leave us with a blurb from one of your books?
Thank you for having me. This is from the first book in my Friends series, Friends With Partial Benefits:
Jillian Grayson wrote under the pen name of Jaclyn West. She’d written fourteen bestsellers so far and had more money than she needed flowing in, so her next novel could wait. The book royalties had paid for her large, beautiful house in Miami. She still had plenty of money, even after the divorce, which forced her to part with nearly half of her earnings to her bastard ex-husband.
She’d never forget the day she came home early from a book tour and found George performing oral sex on that slut in the pool, the pool she had paid for and an act he rarely, if ever, did for her. Jillian always thought he hated oral sex or, more specifically, he hated the giving part. But there he was, naked, standing in the shallow end of the pool, and going to work on some other woman as she floated in the pool on a ring, which Jillian had also paid for. The pool oral sex thing actually looked like it might be kind of fun, and Jillian often wondered why George had never once tried that on her.
That day, when Jillian spotted them from the second floor balcony off their bedroom, she had watched for a little longer than she’d care to admit. Maybe that was because all her erotic romance writing had left her desensitized to sex, at least a little. At first, it didn’t seem real; it was as if she was visualizing a scene for a book, not watching her husband cheat on her.
When she finally came back to earth, Jillian left the house and went to the side of the pool. She snuck up on the adulterous couple and stood there until the woman being serviced noticed they had an audience. The woman tapped George on the shoulder to get his attention. When George turned around, he had a guilty look on his face that Jillian would never forget. Jillian wouldn’t let the naked woman back in the house to get her clothes. She simply threw the clothes out the door. The woman was forced to get dressed outside and shamefully leave through the back gate. George went into the house, got dressed, and left through the front door. It was the last time he ever set foot inside.
Jillian didn’t cry that day; instead, she put on a pair of kitchen gloves and retrieved the ring float from the pool. When her attempts to drain the float of air through the valve seemed to be taking too long, she stabbed it ten times with scissors. That could possibly have been overkill, but it did the trick and gave her a much-needed outlet for her rage. Jillian called a company to have the pool drained, scrubbed, and refilled at the cost of fifteen hundred dollars. It was worth it, she thought, because she would never have been able to dip a toe in the pool until every last drop of that contaminated water was replaced.
RU Writers – what are some of the ways you’ve discovered to promote your books that have worked?
Join us on Friday for Handsome Hansel and his latest article on Cynicism and Romance.
Luke Young is the Kindle-bestselling author of the Friends With…Benefits series as well as the novel Shrinkage.
Young’s Friends With…Benefits novels are filled with passion, longing, comedy, and, yes, sex. His relationship comedies feature strong, sexy female characters — women who seize every opportunity for fun and don’t let a little thing like age stand in the way of love or desire. In each book Young sets different wheels in motion, applying his comedic touch and pitch-perfect ear for playful couples’ banter. The result is warm, funny, sexy storytelling at its best.
Young also writes “spicier” books under the pen name Ian Dalton. If you like your sexy comedy heavy on the sexy, be sure to check out Dalton’s Victoria Wilde series. For more information on how Ian Dalton’s Victoria Wilde series relates to the Friends With…Benefits series please see the “Who Is Ian Dalton” area of his website.
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