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Interview with Bella Andre, Self Publishing Success

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In January 15, 2011, Bella Andre (http://www.bellaandre.com/) launched a new title under the name Lucy Kevin. Lucy Kevin had no cross pollination with Bella Andre name and was unknown before the release. “Falling Fast” shot up to #4 on the BN Bestseller list and Andre sold 25,000 copies of the title in one month. Her print runs for her books had never been that large. Her latest self published release “The Look of Love” went to #19 on the bn.com list within three days of the release this month.

Bella Andre began writing for Ellora’s Cave in 2003. She found she had a natural aptitude for erotic romances. She proceeded to sell two series of erotic books to Pocket which were published in trade paperback and a mass market series to Random House.

In 2010, Bella Andre’s career seemed dead. She did not have a new contract but she did have her four backlist titles from Ellora’s Cave. She decided to put up her first book, Ecstasy, on Kindle and then promptly forgot it. She eventually was able to sign a contract with Grand Central under the penname Bella Riley. It is a sweet series set in a small town called Emerald Lake. Home Sweet Home is the first book in the series and will be released in September 28, 2011.

When she checked into the account later that month, she found she had sold $238 worth of books and she was thrilled.

What happened next, she could not have predicted. The following month, Andre earned $4,000 in sales from her backlist title and self publishing as a career began to become a viable concept.

When asked if she would have signed the Grand Central contract today, Andre replied with a long pause followed by an uncertain response. When asked about the advantages of traditional publishing, Andre cited print distribution and access to markets like Walmart and Target. While her digital reach is quite large, there are still a number of readers who only read print who can’t access the new Bella Andre titles unless they choose to order the POD titles from various vendors.

After she has a new set of data, Andre will be better able to make decisions about a traditional publishing program. Andre’s decisions are largely data driven. She tracks her sales, her releases, her prices in a precise manner. She analyzes the data using her economics degree from Stanford. She has developed personal relationships with retailers like Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and even Apple. At the Apple iBookstore, she has had the #1 erotic novel for over a month and 4 straight contemporary novels on the top 100 romance bestseller list for the past 4-6 weeks.

Andre credits her current success to the secret of self publishing. Hard work. Andre repeatedly says that she works all the time. Her husband has taken over many of the tasks that Andre used to perform for the family so that Andre can maximize her business venture.

As Andre speaks about the process of publishing, she becomes very animated. The business aspect is very appealing to her.

As a reader, I am most concerned about quality and Andre agrees that a book that is not a quality product most likely will not succeed. However, every self published author will have a steep learning urge. She has released books with errors in them and then pushed out new, proofread versions after reader complaints. With every new title and exposure to bigger audiences, Andre’s anxiety about the quality of her titles increases. She is always focused on putting out the best book she can with every release because she believes this is the best way to show the readers how much she respects them and is thankful that they continue to support her.

I asked Andre what is the most effective thing she’s done to promote her self published books. Andre thinks it is the fact that she sends a personal email to every reader who has ever written her when her new titles releases. The email will reference their last correspondence so that the reader knows that this is no automated, stock response. This process takes her at least a week.

Andre believes that the fan relationship is even more important when you are a self published author.

She is also a believer in free giveaways to increase your audience. Her two free giveaways have reached nearly a half million people. If only 1% come back and buy her books, the giveaways are a success but the response has been much more positive. Most of the time, the people who are availing themselves of the free giveaways are readers who would not have purchased her. She has received comments on her Facebook page that readers have never read a book like x before or that the giveaway prompted a purchase of her entire backlist.

At some point, the free giveaways have diminishing returns and the freebie is discontinued.

Her self published books are variety of lengths from novella to 75K and the prices reflect the word count. A short story will be priced at $.99 and the full length novels at 75K words will be $5.99. Andre is always tweaking the price, running sales on the weekend, using price to leverage more sales.

Her writing process is a quick first draft and then many revisions. She has a great set of beta readers and critique partners and feels with their help has good content editing but hires out copyediting and “many, many proofreaders.”

When asked about the most challenging aspect of self publishing, Andre states that she “works all the time.”

The self publishing model is built on regular volume publishing and while there will be a few authors who are successful self publishing only one book a year, the majority of successful self published authors will be ones with a robust publishing list.

She has seen an uptick in her print book sales but primarily with the series from Pocket even though those books are $11.99 versus the lower priced books from Random House. This is attributed to the fact that her three self published titles are sequels to the Pocket books. She’s driving readers to her traditionally published titles.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

18 Comments

  1. Amber
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 13:36:10

    Bella Andre was on my mental TBR for a long time. I finally read Ecstasy when it was available for free, and liked it, but didn’t love it. It did inspire me to read another book from her that I purchased, Game For Love – which I liked a lot. It didn’t quite inspire a glom, but I’m fairly certain I’ll go back, particularly if I notice one with a theme I like or hear about a good new release.

  2. Ros
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 14:00:30

    Very interesting, especially the first book under a different pen name. Almost all the successful self-pub stories I’m hearing about are from established authors putting out backlist (or occasionally some new) books.

  3. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 16:42:26

    I’m thrilled for Bella Andre. We met at RWA a few years ago when we were both new to Random House. I’ve been following her career with interest and it’s so great to see her take off. I love that she did it *her* way. Go on, girl!

    My main takeaway from this and other self-pub success stories is that it takes a lot of time and effort to build an audience. HP Mallory said she spends 4 hrs a day on Facebook, for example. Andre writes personalized emails instead of a newsletter. And they’re both prolific authors.

    Seems like the “secret” is one-on-one interactions with readers, fast/steady writing, and a background in marketing or economics.

  4. Mary Anne Graham
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 18:45:03

    I’m an indie author as well. (Un) Fortunately, I’m blessed (cursed) with a full time job practicing law. Although my legal career is as a scrivener (meaning I write), I’d still much rather be working on my books full time. That’s a dream for the future.

    But Bella mentioned how many of the household tasks her husband takes on so she can concentrate on her writing career. I’m lucky that my hubby does the same and even manages our brand’s web presence and designs the book covers. Without a supportive spouse, it’d be tough to negotiate the writing world. I’m sure Bella’s as grateful as I am for having a spouse who is a true partner.

    I cheer for Bella’s success and appreciate the tips she gives on marketing. I’d never thought of the email stuff but I’m going to make a save folder in my mail program just for that purpose.

    And I’ll definitely have to pick up one of Bella’s books. Whether self or traditionally published, authors should support each other. There’s enough negative energy in the world – artists should concentrate on creating and nothing is more creative than a writer’s career re-birth!

  5. infinitieh
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 18:47:51

    Wow, when does she find the time to write? I’m glad all her hard work pays off.

  6. Carly M.
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 19:28:15

    I think the self-pubbed books driving traditional sales is an interesting phenomenon. Love Me/Game for Love are priced at half the Pocket prices, so maybe readers have more price tolerance than the .99, 2.99, 4.99 pricing a lot of self-pubbed authors aim for suggest. Also, I think branding is very important here. The Random House series isn’t as clearly erotic as her Pocket and self-pubbed titles are, so it seems unsurprising that readers don’t see it as part of the mold and might skip it.

  7. Mary G
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 20:02:40

    I’m a huge Bella fan & will read whatever she writes. I am happy that some of my fave authors are self-publishing. When us fans are waiting for more books & we find out that authors have written more but they’re not published, it’s very frustrating. Some nameless. faceless person has been deciding what we can read. Not anymore.

  8. Former Intern
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 21:10:04

    First off, I think Bella Andre’s business skills are to be commended and I have always enjoyed reading her books.

    That being said, I am a former intern (now in a completely different career) who used to read her drafts and do reading reports for her editor. I have read her polished products and what a difference from those early drafts. They were really rough. I cannot understand how Ms. Andre and others like her can put out quality work without an editor.

    Are there free-lance editors being hired? Is this a new career? Being a self-pub editor? I’m not being nasty, I’m just honestly curious how these popular authors are going to pull this off by themselves in the long run and really compete in the quality sense, not just the nickels and dimes.

  9. heh
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 21:37:56

    @Former Intern:
    “Her writing process is a quick first draft and then many revisions. She has a great set of beta readers and critique partners and feels with their help has good content editing but hires out copyediting and “many, many proofreaders.””

  10. C.J, Archer
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 22:15:38

    Great article, thanks for posting it. Congratulations to Ms. Andre for her success. It’s great to see someone putting in serious hard work and getting fantastic results for her efforts. She’s not alone, however. Hang around Kindleboards.com long enough and you’ll see quite a few other successful self-published authors. Not all on Ms. Andre’s scale, granted, but doing well nevertheless.

  11. Jeff Rivera
    Jun 30, 2011 @ 00:48:21

    She looks very fulfilled on the picture. I admire her value for top quality novels and books. She easily becomes an inspiration to self published authors like me.

  12. Laurence Brown
    Jun 30, 2011 @ 04:21:53

    Personally I had not heard of her, but yes, i do remember seeing the name of the book on BN Bestseller list. After reading your comments, she is on the top priority of my TBR!

  13. Lada
    Jun 30, 2011 @ 08:18:48

    I haven’t read this author before so thought I’d check her out on BnN. Since I prefer contemporary over erotic romance, I checked out her Lucy Kevin books. She has three titles priced at $0.99 which I’m guessing means they are more novella sized stories. Interestingly, she has those same three bundled and “discounted” for $5.00. These are the types of shenanigans that keep me from buying new self published authors, no matter how many raves they’re getting. Obviously Ms. Andre/Kevin won’t miss my sale and I wish her continued success.

  14. Christine M.
    Jun 30, 2011 @ 09:17:28

    @Lada: I don’t know Bella Andre from Adam, but this might just be a pricing error either on her or BN’s part since, as mentionned in the interview, she changes her books prices on a weekly basis. This one bundle might/could/may have been missed during her last price changes. Just some food for thought.

  15. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 30, 2011 @ 11:07:36

    @Former Intern: I can’t speak to Bella’s editing process, but I definitely think there is a place for good freelance editors in self publishing. Authors who’ve been in this business for years have a lot of experience with all stages of editing. I’ve been a CP, a reviewer, a contest judge. I’m tempted to believe (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) that good authors can edit each other. Of course, there are several problems with this line of thinking. Friends/colleagues are capable of giving honest critiques, but what if they hold back? And I can imagine being tempted to ignore some of the advice. It’s more difficult to shrug off the labor-intensive suggestions of an editor for a trad pub because she might not accept your finished product.

    Anyway, I just heard that Courtney Milan hit the NY Times with her self-pubbed novella. I think her success was due to strong word of mouth and a quality product, not a large backlist or marketing savvy. Clearly there is more than one way to succeed!

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    Jul 02, 2011 @ 16:05:19

    [...] From Rebecca Skrabl – Dear Author with Bella Andre on Self-publishing [...]

  17. Nina
    May 24, 2012 @ 13:55:52

    I just read my first two books by Bella Andre and loved them!!! I’m sopossed to be working but couldnt put them down (thank God for ipads!). I started readig yesterday and just finished. I can’t wait to get my hand on more…..I’m hooked! Thanks.

  18. Book review of The Look of Love by Bella Andre | Picky Girl: I read. I teach. I blog. (pickily)
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 01:54:04

    [...] or that he enters the bathroom she’s in without even knocking, I figured out the reason Bella Andre is such a success story. Her writing is super steamy and full of the [...]

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