5 Lessons in Publishing Success From Bella Andre

Matera, Italy

Matera, Italy

This week I’m speaking at the International Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy, which is slanted this year toward digital publishing and the future of authorship, particularly indie models.

On Friday morning, Bella Andre gave a talk on her path to success, from a traditionally published author with 7 titles in 2010, to self-published phenom with millions of titles sold and an 8-figure annual income. While she didn’t structure her talk with specific takeaways, these are the lessons I saw in her story.

1. Speak up about what you’re doing, especially your successes—and target your message appropriately.

When Andre self-published her first book, she did not have a big fan base from traditional publishing. However, she had collected several hundred emails from people over the years (the seven years of her traditional career). She wrote each reader a personal email that said, “Here’s the book that you’ve been wanting that my traditional publisher did not put out, and here’s how you can get it.” That book ended up being the first self-published book to hit the top 25 bestseller list of an online retailer.

Andre felt it was important to spread the word about her success; she had begun selling 1,000 copies per day. She got on Twitter and sent a targeted tweet to three news outlets saying that she was the first self-pub author in the top 25 with her ebook. The Washington Post was one of the outlets, and a reporter got in touch right away, in the hopes Andre could serve as exhibit A for a piece they were developing on ebook self-publishing. Here’s the article that was published.

2. Decide on your long-term strategy and execute it.

After her first book took off, Andre decided to bet on herself, take two years and focus on producing a series. She had noticed that the authors who really did well and the authors that broke out were the ones who had long series—and that authors pop at book five. She says, “You’ve got to put the blinders on—there’s a lot of white noise constantly.”

She decided she would write 8 books about 8 siblings—The Sullivans. When she released the first one, it mirrored the sales of her earlier self-published book. She released the second one, and sales of her first book in the series increased. The same thing happened with book three; sales of books one and two increased. Her strategy worked even better than she had hoped. At about book five, she says, “The world went crazy,” just as she had anticipated. Sales skyrocketed and she heard from all the major publishers and agents. (She ended up signing the first print-only book deal.)

3. Find the sweet spot between what you love to do and market demand.

Andre puts in the work; she produces a book every three months by writing 25 pages a day. This is her optimal pace; she knew she could put out 8 books in two years.

She says, “When you can find the perfect intersection between what you love to write, what you’re good at, and what readers love, it’s that perfect situation.” She asks, “Do you know what kind of readers your books attract? Where is that perfect intersection?”

4. Most people don’t do what it takes; they’d rather do their own thing.

Andre has spoken to and advised hundreds of writers (if not thousands), and she says, “Most people won’t do what you tell them to do; they go off on their own way.” She added, “The business is the business, and quite frankly, yes, it takes a lot of time. Yes it can be difficult and you do need a group of people around you. … But what I’m telling you right now, if you do your work and research and pay attention to what’s happening in the world of publishing, you can make great success with what you’re doing.”

Does doing your own thing equate to the kind of financial success you want? Go back and read lesson three.

5. No work is wasted; it all contributes to the journey.

Andre started her talk by saying she began her career by earning a degree in economics from Stanford and wanting to be a rock star. She says, “There’s never been any wasted work along the way.”

When she first self-published, it was done while biding her time waiting for a traditional publishing contract. She didn’t particularly know what she was doing and didn’t even keep track of her Amazon KDP account credentials. But when she saw something exciting happening with her sales, she focused her attention on developing a strategy to support it and build on it.

What I see in that is a playful experiment, a curiosity and openness to exploration and adventure, that is a recurring theme in so many success stories. Even when efforts don’t pan out, you’ve added to your body of experience. Andre, on a later panel, talked about a $40,000 disaster in hiring translators (via eLance) for her series. I’m sure she wishes she could’ve avoided that experience, but what a valuable one to inform future efforts!

Go read more about Bella Andre at her website.

Posted in Publishing Industry.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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16 Comments on "5 Lessons in Publishing Success From Bella Andre"

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[…] For those of us not yet at no 5, encouragement indeed. Here it is. […]

Dale Phillips

Jane, thanks for passing on the good success tips, to keep us motivated. And very encouraging to hear it reinforced that many series authors pop at book five- I’ve got #4 out soon, so next year could be the Big One!

Marcy Mason McKay

I’m ALWAYS fascinated to read about another traditionally-published author to find even bigger success going indie. Timely and informative news. As always, thanks, Jane.

Robin Mizell

Jane, probably you can attest to Bella Andre’s point, which you’ve paraphrased as “4. Most people don’t do what it takes; they’d rather do their own thing.” This is true even of writers who have agents and writers who have book deals. Which, obviously, gives a certain advantage to people who do what it takes. It’s a simple truth, but one that isn’t obvious to daydreamers.

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[…] What does it take to become a best-selling indie author? Bella Andre's experience offers us several lessons.  […]

JLOakley

Thanks for sharing. Agree with #4. You have to listen. I do. And I am patient. Book 3 coming out soon. And then the 4th. The first has found a special niche which I feel will go on for years. Given me the chance to speak to organizations, even though it is fiction, it struck a chord.

Dan Erickson

I’m reading a book called ReWork that would disagree with some of the traditional ideas about planning and strategies in business. Do you think the same can apply to publishing?

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[…] Advice from Andre […]

Janelle

Very inspiring story! I love to hear that hard work and determination are enough to push writers over the hump. Excellent point that tooting your own horn doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and for writer’s trying to drum up publicity, can be a very good thing!

Jake Parent

This is fantastic advice. So may independent books you pick up are great starts. But I too often find myself saying, “wow, this person could have had something pretty good if you’d just did a couple more rounds of edits and been willing to cut a whole bunch of the fat.”

The independent publishing process can open many avenues of freedom and creativity. It can also punish people who don’t respect that freedom (and their art) enough to do what needs to be done.

sachitra

Those are really helpful. But I’m not sure of entering the self-publishing market as I am a non-US citizen. Not even from an english speaking country, but with good english writing skills. I have read many articles about stratergies to carry out, when selling the ebooks. However, I am ready to publish my novels online. Fingers crossed. Let’s see if readers will like them. Cheers!

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[…] they’re now the hottest fiction genre going.” Even Jane Friedman, to whose blog I subscribe, wrote a piece about a highly successful self-published author, Bella Andre, and what other writers could learn […]

Sam Ramirez Friedman

Confused about part 4. It doesn’t explain in detail what “going off on my own way” is and why this is bad. Also, while I don’t disagree that it’s possible for anyone to have great success doing the “right thing” (whatever that means), clearly not everyone can, or else every author would be successful.

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[…] that dedicate their lives to talent scouting and have a credibility boost that opens doors to writing opportunities that rarely present themselves to self-published […]