Non-fiction sex books: getting published
You – yes, you – have an interesting life. I mean it, you do. Everyone has interesting lives. Every single day you have weird thoughts and odd sex dreams and hot wank fantasies and occasionally actual honest-to-god sex. And other people want to hear about it.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that the World’s Biggest Publishing Companies are literally camped on your front lawn, gagging to pay you oodles of money for a manuscript. But what I am going to tell you is that if you’re interested in writing a sex book that sits neatly in the non-fic section, there’s one key benefit of non-fic over fiction:
You don’t have to write the book before a publisher buys it.
Surprised? I was.
If you’re beavering away over your fantasy shags, churning out 80,000 words before an agent will even consider looking at it, we twats over in non-fiction probably look pretty damn lazy.
I’m not saying we are. I’m not saying that.
BUT we don’t work as hard on plotting or character development, because life does that for us. By the time you meet Dave (a character in my latest book, who also happens to be my best mate), he has already been shaped into the person he is, so I don’t need to wonder if he needs a tortured backstory or a surprise lottery win to help him feel more real as a character. He’s real already: I went for a pint with him only the other week.
If you want to write non-fiction, what do you do? The most important thing you’re going to need is an idea. The second thing you’ll need is a proposal.
The journey to published non-fiction
As with everything I write, this is based on my own experience. Not everyone will take the same path, but this should give you an idea of what has to happen in order to get a non-fiction steamy sex book published.
A long time ago, back in 2012, a publisher got in touch with me. I’m not telling you who it was, but it was one of the ones I’d heard of, and so when their email popped up in my inbox I wet my knickers a bit, ran around the room, downed a glass of wine, and had a celebratory wank.
This publisher said, essentially:
“We’ve published [Sex Book] and it’s quite popular. We’re looking for similar sex books to publish. Would you be interested in writing one?”
I know. You hate me. I hate me too, because this is Very Unlikely To Happen.
I met with the publisher, we had some chats, and I got an agent.
Unfortunately, at the time things didn’t work out with that publisher (‘Life’ may help shape characters but it is also sometimes a cruel and unforgiving bastard). Still, now that I had a bit of interest, and an agent, I could take my idea to a new publisher. If you have neither of these things, then you can skip straight to this next step:
Write a non-fiction proposal
With a non-fiction book, you don’t always have to write the whole book before you try and sell it. What you sell instead is an idea, and a promise of how amazing your book is going to be. You put together a proposal which includes a whole bunch of things:
- Blurb for the book, and outline of the idea
- Marketing ideas/indication of your current audience
- Market research (i.e. similar books that have done well)
- A chapter summary (a chapter-by-chapter list of the rough story)
- Sample writing (this might be a chapter or two that you’ve written, or samples of your past work)
If you’re thinking of doing this, or you want to see how much work is involved in a proposal, I’m happy to have a chat with you and show you some stuff from my first proposal, just get in touch with me. I’m slow to reply but I do get there eventually.
The proposal itself is essentially like a longer version of your CV. It tells a publisher how awesome you are, how great your idea is, and why it is Guaranteed To Be A Success. Once you’ve got all that together, you send it to your agent. If you are me, your agent then comes back with a whole bunch of useful feedback like ‘here are some other successful books/TV shows on similar lines you should mention’ and ‘why have you referenced Wetherspoons five times in this sample chapter?’ My agent is amazing. If you don’t yet have an agent, then this proposal is the thing you should send to an agent.
I’m not an agent, or an expert on them, but the best thing to do if you’re looking for one is to check out who has agented similar books before, look at their submission pages on their websites, follow them on Twitter to see what they chat about and are interested in, and eventually send your proposal when you know who might like to see it. Don’t just spam every agent, or tweet them at random with your elevator pitch. Apparently agents hate that, because I’m pretty sure everyone hates that. It’s like that South Park episode where some people are adverts in disguise.
Getting your non-fiction book published
This is the hard part, and I’ll be honest this is where I sit back and weep in a corner nervously as my agent does her stuff: chatting to publishers and selling my book and explaining why it’s a brilliant idea. If you’re lucky you’ll get a few publishers keen on it, and they then engage in a massive bidding war which leaves you selling your idea for millions of pounds.
This is not what happened to me, and this is not what happens to most people. What will happen to most people is that either their proposal will be rejected, or they will be offered a small sum of money (or no money but a promise of some).
The hardest thing about being a non-fiction writer is that if your idea is rejected – particularly if it’s a memoir – it can feel like a bit of a personal blow. “What,” you might think, as you glug vodka straight from the bottle and play Alanis Morisette on the stereo, “is wrong with my life? Why isn’t it worth a book deal?!” To which I will reply: nothing. It may just be that the publisher doesn’t have a slot on their list for a sex title. It might be that they’ve recently published something similar. It might be that last year there was a wave of sex books and they think that wave has passed. There are loads of reasons why your book might be rejected – it doesn’t mean you can never write it. If you get answers like ‘not right now’ and you feel a bit disheartened, then you may well want to wait a bit – if someone publishes an amazing sex book in a year or so’s time, suddenly a bunch of publishers are going to be looking for similar things to get out there. Keep hold of your proposal, and keep an eye out for opportunities to edit and tweak it to reflect the current market.
What I can tell you is that from proposals I’ve written and feedback I’ve had, if you’re writing about sex publishers often prefer something narrative which will sell well to the mass market. Think about the story – what adversity have you overcome or lessons have you learned? Did you fall in love? Discover a shiny new world of kink? Those things seem (and again – not a super-expert here) to be more popular than straightforward guides, how-tos, feminist dissections of porn tropes (no I’m not bitter) and that sort of thing.
Show me the money
Let’s assume your proposal’s been accepted. Let’s also assume that you’re not King Midas, and you have not been offered millions and a yacht. Your advance (the money you get paid for writing the book) will usually be in the low thousands if it’s a first book (expect £2k and if it’s more be chuffed), and is not technically a ‘fee’, rather an advance on the money the publisher expects the book to make. Some publishers offer no advance against royalties but they do offer a higher royalty rate than many other publishers.
Usually an advance is split into three – you get a bit when you sign the contract, a bit when you deliver the manuscript, and the last bit on publication day. They say that this is to guarantee things like delivery of manuscript and commitment to promoting the book, but I suspect it’s to prevent lazy non-fic authors like me getting really excited and drinking their entire advance away before they put a word to paper.
Writing the book
I’m going to gloss over this bit because if you’re reading this blog then you probably know how to write and I’m not going to teach you to suck any eggs. But what I will tell you is that the difficulty of writing a book (in my limited, two-book experience) can vary greatly. My first book (My Not-So-Shameful Sex Secrets, published by Carina yadda yadda yadda) took about 6 weeks to write. My second book (How A Bad Girl Fell In Love, published by Blink and available in all good bookshops on 10th March, etc etc) took 6 months. Why? I have absolutely no idea.
After you’ve written the book
One of the things you (by which I mean I) may struggle with is that when a publisher buys your book, even if it’s the most personal thing in the world to you, to a certain extent they are taking it out of your hands. All the sexy, romantic, quirky stories in it now belong to them. They will write blurbs for it, package it with a cover, and hopefully promote the living fuck out of it – and while they will consult you on this stuff, to a certain extent you lose a bit of control. For a control freak like me this is Very Difficult, and I have no idea how my lovely editor and all the great people at my publisher have managed to retain their calm, polite demeanour in the face of me chipping in with my opinions and critique. They are saints, each and every one of them.
In the run-up to publication, your publisher (if they are any good) will be working hard to get you coverage. You’ll have to do the same – writing things for them to pitch to magazines, giving interview answers and ideas and all that stuff. With promotion, you might find yourself doing some pretty odd things, so make sure you talk to your publisher beforehand about what is and isn’t possible. My publisher, for instance, knows that I’m happy to write till my fingers bleed if they need copy for websites and blogs, but that I don’t want any photos and I have to remain anonymous. A good publisher will respect your decision on this. The press might not, but fingers crossed.
When your book is actually published, one of two things happens: your book sinks like a stone, and you weep for a week, or it goes viral and stays at the top of the bestseller lists until the end of all time.
Lol, joke. What is more likely to happen is that your book will do something in between: sell some copies, and you’ll have a peak sales time where you get really excited, then sales will drop off a bit and you’ll have a fairly steady income for a while. This is what happened with my first book – published as an ebook and not (yet) available in print. With my second book? We’ll see. Like I say – 10th March. Keep an eye out and be nice about it when it’s published. For two reasons:
- I put a lot of work into it and it is my baby.
- If my book does well then other publishers will be on the hunt for ideas that fit the same mould. One of those might be yours.
So grab your laptop, make a start on your proposal, and come join me in the non-fiction section. It’s a long road, but we have gin to keep us going.