Ezra Blake's debut erotic novel hasn't been released yet and he's already making $150 per month, but it may be too hardcore Amazon

"I’m selling it exclusively through my own website, because it violates the content policy of every major retailer."

Paul Trenton · 06 Dec 2018

Who are you?

I’m launching my debut novel this Halloween, but I’m selling it exclusively through my own website, because it violates the content policy of every major retailer.

If this novel is your debut, how are you already making $150 per month?

I’m making money on preorders, plus a small amount from amazon’s affiliate program (through the blog on my site.) Right now I’m accepting preorders through Celery, which is an indie crowdfunding platform. I’m printing through Lulu, and so far my book hasn’t been rejected.

Can you elaborate about your upcoming novel and why it can't be published by major retailers?

It’s a gay erotic horror novel, sort of like splatterpunk erotica, and is ridiculously graphic. It’s about a necrophiliac who’s kidnapped by a serial killer and forced to live out his fantasies, with a healthy dose of Stockholm syndrome involved. Since it includes graphic torture, mutation, sexual murder, rape, and necrophilia (I’m sure I’m forgetting some taboos, but those are the big ones) it violates all but the most lenient terms of service. It’s filth, honestly, but early reviewers have also praised its literary value.

It was originally posted for free, but the audience response was so encouraging that I decided to heavily edit it for publication.

I use social media profiles and maintain interest by frequently publishing gory art, interacting with various fandoms, hosting giveaways, and interacting with other authors and artists. I’ve done most of my advertising through tumblr influencers, since I’m already banned from twitter ads and found little success with AdWords. I’m going to try facebook ads next. I’ve also submitted to numerous horror and erotica review sites, but the content seems to be too explicit for horror reviewers and too horrific for erotica reviewers.

Your website is very slick and the tone is very playful considering the subject matter. How involved were you in the making of the site? How did you decide on the tone of the copy writing?

I designed the website myself. It was originally independently hosted, and while I got it up and running, I struggled to implement everything I wanted (parallax scrolling, tags for blog posts, etc) so I switched to Squarespace, a website builder which has been very intuitive so far. I’ve been interested in graphic design as a hobby for a while, and frankly I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, since the budget for this project was about $100 to start. The tone is intended to mimic the tone of the novel. Though it is ridiculously dark and graphic, there’s an element of black humor and lyricism which I’ve used as a sort of counterweight. This seemed like a natural choice for the site copy. If it were purely dark and gritty, I’d probably be advertizing it as splatterpunk.

You seem to be going after a very niche audience, do you have a sense of how big it is?

I’m not sure about the size of my audience. The free version had about 15,000 hits, and a small percentage went on to purchase my original work. I was also involved in the fandom for NBC’s Hannibal, which is one of the few commercially successful properties I’ve seen equate sexuality and violence in a queer context. I’d estimate that at least half of my readers come from the fandom, and the rest are dark romance fans or members of alternative subcultures.

I don’t see the market growing any time soon, so after the initial push for Claustrophilia, I plan to frequently release new content. The audience I do have is particularly engaged, because this type of content is very, very hard to come by. I aim for poignant, elegant torture porn, and that simply doesn’t exist (except for Poppy Z. Brite’s book Exquisite Corpse, which I can’t recommend highly enough.)

What are your long term plans? Do you have any expectations for making a living writing in your current genre?

I’d like to make a living doing this. I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket, but I see it as a possibility. I plan to explore the space between horror and erotica, lean in one direction for one project, and another direction for the next. Hopefully, I’ll stumble on something lucrative—but if I don’t, I’m not going to push myself to write something I don’t enjoy just to make money. I have other options, career-wise, and would rather write what I enjoy than turn art into a chore. I originally started this project because I wanted to share my work with a wider audience, and I hope to keep that my top priority.

You said that you writing has helped your readers. Can you elaborate?

Several people have contacted my about the impact this work had on them, which is what inspired me to self-publish in the first place. I wrote it as art therapy, and it’s incredibly humbling to find that it’s been therapeutic for others as well. I can give you a few examples (with names omitted for obvious reasons.) One reviewer was living in an abusive home and struggling with mental health issues. This person found some solidarity in the abuse my protagonist endures. A word that pops up often in reviews is “catharsis.” The intensity of the novel certainly helped me release repressed emotions, and I think reading it has had the same effect for some. One reader described it as “purifying.”

Claustrophilia is about suffering. It’s a raw picture of the worst pain I could conceptualize, both physical and psychological, but I certainly take pains (haha) to eroticize this suffering. It helps me cope. I spoke with a reader who was enduring opiate withdrawals, and she told me that when the aches and chills were at their worst, part of her was able to enjoy it in a morbid, perverse way—like schandenfreud, with yourself as the target. More than one reader wrote me to say that they lived with a chronic pain condition, and that the novel’s emphasis on making pain mean something brought them new perspective. Others simply compared their issues to the protagonist’s, and realized that now matter how awful life becomes, it could always be worse.

What challenges have you faced (writing, marketing, etc.)?

The biggest challenge by far has been finding places to advertise. I mentioned earlier that I’ve already been banned from twitter ads. It’s tricky to keep my copy clean enough for the filters without misleading my readers, because I definitely don’t want anyone coming into this unprepared. Unfortunately, the word “necrophilia” is almost universally banned. I was surprised to find that, since my last email, I made it past the censors on several major retailers: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo... but I don’t anticipate this will last, so I still direct readers to my site (https://ezrablake.com). I’m trying to collect reviews on Goodreads, so they won’t be deleted if the book is taken off a retailer.

How much of a role do you think talent has played in your success so far?

I don’t think talent has much of a role in writing success at all. Plenty of terrible authors make lots of money through sheer brute force, especially in Amazon’s erotica categories, and I’m sure there are a hundred thousand Hemingways whose work will never see the light of day. I attribute the minor success I’ve had to the existing audience who read my work for free. So far, my most effective advertising strategy has been continuing to post quality fanfiction, with a link to my novel at the top. I’ve gotten exactly zero conversions from paid search ads.

If I’m going to take credit for any aspect of my minor success, it’s the passion. I’ve put hundreds of hours of unpaid work into this project (not including the three years I spent writing and revising.) I wrote Claustrophilia because I needed to read it, and the amazing response from my community leads me to believe that others are also searching for quality content in this niche. The book has already helped a handful of people through rough patches in their lives, and by that measure, I consider it a success whether or not I ever make a living writing.

Links

 

Paul Trenton is the founder of Votable (the publisher of MediaFilter).

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