The Trials of Writing a Controversial Book

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Paulette Stout, The Trials of Writing a Controversial Book, on The Table Read

Written by Paulette Stout

When I finished writing Love, Only Better, I thought I’d done the hard part. But what came next was an essential education about the trials and joys of publishing and marketing a work on a controversial topic. It’s an essential education every author must endure, but even more so for those of us who decide to indie publish. There are wide rivers to cross and our IKEA bridge has yet to be assembled. Here’s how I navigated a few puddles, so you can avoid them yourself.

What Are You Writing?

When you tell someone you’re writing a book, the natural reaction is “what about?” In my case, it was a novel capturing my very private and personal trials understanding my pleasure life. It’s a problem most women face, but rarely talk about.

Paulette Stout, The Trials of Writing a Controversial Book, on The Table Read

In fact, only 33% of heterosexual women, 56% of lesbian women, and 36% of bisexual women “finish” in the bedroom. Men? 75%, 65%, 66% respectively. No fair, right? There’s a real and measurable orgasm gap between women and men—one never discussed in polite company.

My first hurdle when writing about a taboo topic was getting used to the blank stares. “You’re writing about what?!?” I learned early on that my role would be equal parts author and educator. If you’re writing a controversial topic, be prepared to steel your back, lift your chin, and never whisper.   

Wrong Cover, Wrong Readers

When picking my genre, I made the mistake of thinking my book was Romance. I researched and created a truly stellar cover that was on point for Contemporary Romance. Too bad my book wasn’t!

My book was solidly Women’s Fiction, and readers were making their displeasure known on Goodreads. With pitchforks. It was messy and my review score is still recovering over there. This was my first major blunder as an indie author, but I sucked it up and quickly pivoted.

Paulette Stout, The Trials of Writing a Controversial Book, on The Table Read

I changed my book description, genre categories and keywords immediately. I then commissioned a new cover. It would end up being as bold as the topic I’d chosen to write about. Women’s fiction readers loved it, and its cheeky nod to the topic. It took a few months to pull it all together and get the retailers swapped out, but it was worth it. Readers who dive in know what they’re getting and like it. The lesson: pick the wrong cover and you’ll get the wrong readers. Understand genre beats and expectations before selecting your genre. If you pick right the first time, you’ll avoid the headaches.

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Gatekeepers Strike Back

With a new cover in hand, I felt unstoppable. With the first cover the book was selling, got a BookBub featured new release and was getting 4+ star reader reviews. With the new cover? Suddenly I was too controversial.

Amazon suspended my ads, as did Facebook. My book was suddenly obscene. My cover was “obfuscated profanity.” It’s a grapefruit. Suddenly, fruit is obscene? It felt like the gatekeeping corporate titans who I circumvented by indie publishing had decided to rear their ugly heads. But I wouldn’t be silenced.

I fought back, appealing and getting in touch with actual humans. Many of these suspensions are done automatically by algorithms. If you can get in touch with a human with some sense, you can often work it out. And while I got Facebook sorted, Amazon is still working its way through. But by being a wide author, I’m cultivating a following across all retailers.

Every author has to start somewhere, and while the lion’s share of my sales is still on Amazon, I consign with my local bookshop, have sold to libraries via Draft2Digital, and I’m working hard to cultivate a global audience. I’m proud to report that I’ve so far sold books in 23 countries and 6 continents!

Keep Going

Being an author is hard. Being an indie author has a learning curve, especially if you’re pushing readers to embrace taboo topics. But there is absolutely hope if you’re persistent, believe in yourself and your work. Tap into community. Find author organizations and review the wide-array of resources, podcasts, free and paid courses created to answer whatever question you have while working alone in your office. Writing is a solitary sport. But your words have the ability to touch hearts and raise eyebrows the world over. It’s your job as an author to see they do.

Paulette Stout, The Trials of Writing a Controversial Book, on The Table Read

About Paulette Stout

Paulette Stout is the fearless author of Love, Only Better, an empowering women’s fiction read and bedroom rallying cry for women everywhere.

Raised by a single dad in Manhattan, Paulette is the gold-star wordsmith and owner of her content marketing agency, Media Goddess Inc., where she crafts content for her list of global clients. Prior to MGI, Paulette led content and design teams at several tech companies, and one educational publisher where her elimination of the Oxford comma caused a near riot.

Paulette’s prior career as a media buyer/planner in New York earned her three industry awards, including a MediaWeek All-Star. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Cornell University and her MBA in Marketing from the Lubin School of Business, Pace University.

You can usually find Paulette rearranging words into pleasing patterns while wearing grammar t-shirts.

Where to Find Love, Only Better

Find more from Paulette Stout:


Twitter: StoutContent

Instagram: paulettestoutauthor

Facebook: paulettestoutauthor

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