In 2010, Bella Andre was a romance novelist with an intriguing past and a questionable future. For almost 10 years, she had toured the country as a musician, first in the progressive folk group The Girl & I and then as the solo artist Nyree. Then she married, had two children and, improbably, started writing romance novels for major publishers.
When her publisher rejected her latest manuscript in 2010, Andre gambled on the nascent e-book market, self-publishing on Amazon’s Kindle store. In July of that year, one of her e-books caught on, raking in $8,000 in the first month. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money out of the blue,’ ” Andre said. “It started ramping up pretty quickly after that.”
In the next three years, Andre says her novels sold more than 1.5 million electronic copies; she keeps 70 percent of each book’s $5 or $6 price. Then the world’s largest romance publisher came knocking. Harlequin will turn Andre’s e-books into paperbacks, printing her Sullivan family series (about a close-knit family of eight siblings) one novel a month, for 10 months starting in June with "The Look of Love."
In this interview excerpt, Andre, 40, talks about how she has handled sudden success as a self-publisher and how she balances art and commerce, family and work:
I've always been very entrepreneurial at heart. I graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics and then decided to go off and be a rock star. (Ha ha, 'cause that makes sense!) We were actually quite successful. We played shows with Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Santana and Jewel, and toured all over. That’s how I started writing. I wrote a couple of nonfiction guides for musicians [on how to market and promote their music].
I was heading into my late 20s at the time. I got married. Honestly, the music business is great for when you’re very young. It’s exhausting to be touring all the time. I had already transitioned into songwriting when I started to get ideas for novels. I had been a voracious romance reader for my whole life, like a book a day. We romance readers are crazy readers.
For a decade, I was writing these five-minute love songs, really thinking about the hook and the title. In a way, book writing is the same thing, except instead of being five minutes, it’s 400 pages. I had to make a decision because there were only so many hours in the day, and by that point I really enjoyed writing books more than I enjoyed writing songs
When I was a young musician, I didn’t understand that the business part of your career was as important as -- in many instances more important than -- the music. The music had to be all there, obviously, but you really had to go out and network and understand how the business operated. I was too young to accept all of that.
By the time I came into self-publishing, I understood that this is the business. I felt very confident I could go out there and create the kind of books that my readers really wanted. For parts of the day, I’d take off the “creator hat,” my “weeping over the keyboard” hat, and I'd put on the businesswoman’s hat.
I adamantly felt the starving-musician thing – this idea that if I’m going to be an artist, I have to starve – is garbage. I’m the first person to say, “What? No! Let’s not. Let’s make art and be rich. Yay!” And I have no conflict at all.
With my romance novels I get an outpouring of gratitude for the way these books have made people feel better or touched their lives. I want the greatest number of people to have that experience, so I have no problem at all with whatever I have to do promotion-wise or marketing-wise.
It’s more of a question of where do you find the hours. The time it takes to write a book and juggle the demands of running a multimillion-dollar-a-year business is big. My readers say, “What are you doing on Facebook? Is this going to delay the next book?” They'd much rather have that next book a week early than talk to me on Facebook.
I always tell people: “Prepare for success.” I did it the backwards way. When I started self-publishing, it grew so big so fast. By the time I realized, “Oh my God, I should be a corporation,” I had to play catch-up. I found a great CPA and a great intellectual-property attorney to convert everything midstream -- while I was working 12 hours, seven days a week.
My career path is extremely lucrative, so it just sort of makes sense for the balance of parenting to shift now. My awesome husband takes care of all the tennis lessons, ballet and everything. If he was not the kind of husband who was willing to do all that, it would be undoable. I couldn't do all I’m doing if I also had to take care of all the parent stuff. My job is more than full time. I’m the spouse on the road, I’m the spouse burning the midnight oil and I’m the spouse working weekends.