Today, Bella Andre is arguably one of the hottest names in romance. The books in her celebrated Sullivans series, filled with emotional, sexy stories of the members of the Sullivan family and their respective love interests, have earned spots on The New York Times, USA Today and Amazon’s Top 100 bestseller lists. And since 2010, she has sold over 3 million self-published e-books.
But it didn’t start out that way. And she didn’t end up there the way most of her counterparts did, either.
For seven years Andre had worked with traditional publishers, “holding on by [her] fingernails,” as she describes it, to the midlist. By January 2010, though, her career seemed to have taken an upward swing with the sale of one of her romance trilogies at auction, and she had high hopes for the next three-book installment. So when her editor informed her that she couldn’t get the approval to contract the new trilogy, Andre felt the full force of the blow.
It took the encouragement of a friend and her own resiliency to recover. In March 2010 she decided to self-publish one of her out-of-print novellas as an e-book. Encouraged by its modest sales all on its own, she continued to write and release new romances at a feverish rate—and soon found herself landing on The New York Times bestseller list with three of her Sullivans books at the same time—catching the attention of nearly every major publisher. She went on to broker a groundbreaking deal with Harlequin MIRA for the print rights. While a select few other pioneering authors had also managed to secure print-only deals with traditional publishers, Andre’s contract—for a whopping eight books—was remarkable because she was able to retain not only her e-book rights, but also the rights to foreign translation, audio books, film and television—all while receiving a seven-figure advance. Harlequin began releasing the Sullivans books in print in summer 2013, and the most recent installment in the series, Always on My Mind, hit shelves in April.
Andre is an enthusiastic advocate of self-publishing, but she stresses that the path is not necessarily an easy one to tread. In addition to the full-time job of writing as Bella Andre—and running her e-books’ marketing and publicity campaigns almost single-handedly—she also writes under a second bestselling name in romance: Lucy Kevin. Her decision to diversify her pen names as distinct brands is paying off: Kevin’s “sweeter” stories in the Four Weddings and a Fiasco series and her novel Sparks Fly were recently picked up in a print-only deal with Harlequin HQN.
Andre’s cheerful disposition and passion for both her subject matter and her readers are clearly factors in her success—as is her understanding of her identity as a writer. In this online exclusive of interview "outtakes," Bella shares more the pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing, her cover design process, and what's next for her. (And to read the full interview, check out a copy of the September issue of Writer's Digest!)
Now that you’ve seen both sides of the coin, so to speak, what are some of the pros and cons for traditional and self-publishing?
For someone like me, who has a really clear vision of what it is that their books are, of their brand, of how to reach their audience, and who is willing to put in that ridiculous amount of time to do all the stuff you need to be to become your own publisher, then self-publishing is amazing. [If] I decide to do something [for a book] I can get to it pretty quickly, whereas when you work with a publisher, even when they’re great, it’s hard because it’s a big company and a lot of people have to weigh in on decisions, and it can be difficult to get things done. They may not always agree with your vision for what you want to do. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. I think if you’re a very entrepreneurial-minded person, and you like managing a process, and you like being in control of things, then self-publishing is fantastic. It’s a ridiculous and shocking amount of work—I can’t emphasize that enough. …
But one of the big things right now that publishers get, and it’s why I did the print-only deal with Harlequin, is the print distribution. If they’re at the top of their game like Harlequin is—there’s nobody in the world who can print and sell in contemporary romance the way that they can. They’re better at it than anyone; it’s their wheelhouse. … People come to me all the time [asking], “What should I do? I’m trying to decide. Should I go traditional? Should I do indie?” It really comes down to: What is it that you’re looking for? How much time do you want to put into this? And it’s not like you don’t have to spend a lot of time promoting when you’re with a publisher, because you still do, but it’s a different set of to-dos when you’re with a publisher. …
It does make sense, I think, for some people to do that traditional path, especially if they have that big print distribution, if their cover art is really on point, if they have the kind of publication schedule that they want, if they’re a fast writer and can get a back-to-back situation—great. Everything is perfectly set up for them [with the traditional model]. From where I came from, I didn’t have any of that, and I wouldn’t have gotten any of that if I hadn’t created a situation for myself where all of that would become possible. …
You’ve said before that you discovered your love for the romance genre when you first started writing. What drew you to it in the first place?
I’ve been such a massive romance reader my whole life. [I was] eight, nine, 10 years old, reading until two in the morning with the lights under the covers. Romance has always been my genre. … I love romance. I am romance’s biggest fan. …
I was visiting the folks over at Amazon last week … and they [asked], “What do you do to wind down?” I said, “I read romance novels.” They all just started laughing. They said, “We talk to a lot of writers, and [they all say,] ‘I can’t look at another word.” I just said, “You know what, it’s my reward at the end of getting my pages done.” …
Can you talk a little more about how you promote your Lucy Kevin brand?
With my Lucy Kevin books, I just don’t have the extra bandwidth to do [the same amount of outreach], and it’s been interesting to see … I think if I did do it, I suspect the numbers would rise for my sales there, that word of mouth would go way up. But I just don’t have the time to do that. I’m not able to run that experiment right now to see what would happen if I could spend more time interacting with my readers.
In the last couple of months Harlequin has put out the paper versions of the Lucy Kevin books, and I had never mentioned the Lucy Kevin books to my Bella Andre readers before, but I just thought those print versions were pretty cool. So I went on Facebook last month and said, “You know what, you guys, I don’t know if any of you know this, but I also write very sweet romances; they’re very different from the Sullivan books, but I write them as Lucy Kevin. And if you’re in Target or Safeway or Walmart, you might want to flip through [one], you might like it if you also like reading the sweeter books.” And I was shocked by how many people said, “Oh my God, now it all makes sense! You’re two of my favorite authors.” I was shocked. [Laughs.]
When you first started self-publishing, you designed your own covers for the Sullivans series. Can you walk us through your thought process when designing a cover?
With my Sullivans, in contemporary romances there’s no suspense in them. There’s sensuality, but it’s a very mainstream sensuality. They’re not erotic romances … [they are] sexy, very emotional, very much a feel-good read. So when I thought, How am I going to cover that? that’s why I very deliberately [featured] that couple on top. There’s a sensuality to them, but it’s not over the top, it’s not erotic, nobody’s naked. And there can be fun to it, but there’s very much a romantic thing going on with the couple, and then below, you have that scenery. If it’s set on a vineyard in the wine country, or if it’s set on a lake off of Seattle … wherever it is I’m setting the book, that is part of it. [When readers look at] my Sullivan covers, they think, Okay, it is a contemporary, I can see that, but I see that there’s a sexiness to that, I can see that it’s not over the top. But I can also see that it’s a bigger story, there’s sort of a mainstream element to it. So it’s going to attract readers who may not only read romance. And that’s what that scenery down at the bottom does: It gives the book a little bit of a bigger look than if I had done just a full focus on a couple with the cover. It would have read differently to the readers.
You’re getting ready to release a brand-new series in the new adult category. How is writing in the new adult category different from the romance genre?
I’ll tell you what I’m doing that’s the same first, and then I’ll tell you what I’m doing differently. It’s another family, they’re called the Morrisons, and the reason why I did another family is because I get families. I get how to write a family. I understand the attraction of a family as both a reader and a writer. There are a lot of really fun dynamics there … You see little snippets as their stories are being built. If I’m writing about the middle brother in Book 1, but I’m talking about the three other brothers and the two sisters, [readers are thinking], Oh, I wonder if his younger sister’s story is maybe going to be like this, or Oh, the older brother, he’s kind of got issues. …
In the Sullivan stories, they’re all adults and they’ve been out in the world and they have jobs and they’ve struggled through things. Some of them have been married, and some of them have kids. … For at least one of the characters, usually what they do and who they are is a very solid thing. They know who they are. A lot of times in my Sullivan books one of the characters is struggling with that [identity]. Maybe he or she has been on a path but is starting to realize that it’s not the right one. … In the new adult books, both characters are kids. They’re “adults,” [but] they’re just figuring out who they are, they’re [thinking], I don’t even know who I want to be. Maybe I want to be this. Maybe I want to be that. I don’t know; I’m going to try all these different things.