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!
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 publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
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. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
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.