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Rags to Romance

Sonoma author's seven-figure print deal has the industry spinning

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BRIDGING BOTH WORLDS Bella Andre's contract allows her to retain all digital rights and royalties.
  • BRIDGING BOTH WORLDS Bella Andre's contract allows her to retain all digital rights and royalties.

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 author Bella Andre, who recently inked a seven-figure deal with romance imprint Harlequin MIRA for her popular series The Sullivans.

How, you ask, 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 United States, Canada and Britain—the ebook, audio book, film, TV and foreign-language rights remain resolutely hers. This is significant because most publishing 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 hundred-year-old log cabin in the Adirondacks, where her family spends their summers.

Andre had already been published by three of the big six New York publishers, but in 2010, Random House elected not to pick 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 catalogue 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 2 million mark on self-published 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'm not giving up my digital rights,'" says Andre, who wryly adds, "'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, Andre's series has been rolled out in continuous back-to-back releases. The latest title, Can't Help Falling in Love, just hit stores last 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, with profits going more directly to the author herself.

"I really am committed to the digital business that I run, and I do it very well," Andre says. "I really like being in charge of that, and I just was not interested in passing that off.'"

Though excited early in her career 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, seven 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.

"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!'" says Andre. "There's never been a better time to be a writer."

For more information, visit bellaandre.com.

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