Like all media-based industries, publishing has seen its share of digital disruption. Unlike, the music and film biz, however, the seismic shifts caused by Kindles, iPads and their lot, have had direct benefit for the creative people behind the work.
Writers, who often have stopped just short of human sacrifice to score a traditional publishing deal that would net a mere 7 percent royalty off the cover price, are now able to go it alone with little to no overhead and a worldwide market at their fingertips.
Among the thousands of authors successfully charting their own path is Sonoma-based writer Bella Andre, who recently inked a seven-figure deal with romance imprint Harlequin MIRA for her popular series, “The Sullivans.” How can Andre have her indie publishing cred and a major contract too?
Andre is a “hybrid-author,” the term publishing professionals use to describe writers whose careers straddle both the worlds of traditional and self-publishing. More to the point, as a hybrid, her deal represents only the print rights in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. The ebook, audiobook, film, TV and foreign language rights remain resolutely hers. This is significant because most houses try to sew up these often lucrative rights, frequently leveraging the author’s ignorance of their worth in the process.
“I wouldn’t have done the deal otherwise,” says Andre, speaking by phone from a 100-year-old log cabin in the Adirondacks where her family spends their summers.
Andre had been published by three of the big six New York publishers, but in 2010 Random House elected not to take an option on a forthcoming slate of books. A colleague suggested that the author publish directly to Kindle e-readers using Amazon’s self-publishing platform. She posted some works from her back catalog and soon saw results. They weren’t staggering numbers – at first – but they were sufficient for Andre to double-down on the prospect of self-publishing.
“I sold 161 copies that first month and it was super exciting. I was like, ‘hey, I’m gonna do this thing,’” says Andre. “Fast forward three years, and I’m right around the two million mark on self-publish ebooks.”
Last summer, Andre debuted on the New York Times bestseller list with three self-published ebooks from “The Sullivan” series simultaneously. All the major publishers expressed interest in working with her. “I was just very clear with all of them from the outset that I’d love to see my books on bookshelves but I was not giving up my digital rights,” Andre says, wryly adding, “Really, you couldn’t afford them.”
Harlequin MIRA “didn’t mess around,” says Andre. “They were like ‘We get it. We understand that you are dead serious when you say that the only thing we can have are English-language print rights.’ So, our negotiations from day one were just for that.”
Since June, the series has been rolled out in continuous back-to-back releases. The latest title, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” hits store shelves this week. Meanwhile, the ebook version of the tale about a San Francisco firefighter with professional boundary issues who emotionally obsesses over a mother and daughter he saves, is available online at Amazon, iBooks and a bevy of online retailers as an ebook.
“I really am committed to the digital business that I run and I do it very well,” she says. “I really like being in charge of that, and I just was not interested in passing that off.”
Though early in her career she was initially excited to be published and have her books on bookshelves, the feeling waned as Andre grew frustrated with the lack of control she had over how her work was managed and marketed.
“I was never the author that they threw the money behind, that they threw the marketing behind,” says Andre. “When I started self-publishing, it was just exciting to be in charge of the covers, writing whatever I want, the title, the book descriptions, all the pieces that I always felt that perhaps I could do better because I knew my readership. I am my readership – I’m a romance reader – and I know them so well. I’m with them on Facebook and Twitter all the time, and email.”
Of course, the transition from author to a one-woman media empire takes a significant investment of time. By Andre’s estimate, she works 12 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week and has done so for the past three years. Somehow, she also manages to fit publishing conference keynote speeches into her schedule. Not to mention maintaining her online presence at bellaandre.com.
“I’m not gonna lie and say I’m not tired because I am. I’m tired. But, you know, when you have all these readers and they’re so excited – it’s like I put the book out and by the end of that day, they’re asking when is the next one? I just have to say ‘Soon, you know, because I have to write it!’”
To which Bella Andre concludes, “There’s never been a better time to be a writer.”
• • •
Daedalus Howell is hybridizing his writing career at DHowell.com.