Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guest Post from Bella Andre (aka Lucy Kevin) (aka Bella Riley)

Bella is yet another one of those self-pub success stories (there seem to be so many.) She's got an unique perspective, and I'm pleased to have her guest blog. Here she is:

Joe got in touch with me a while back and asked if I’d like to comment on how my experiences in independent e-publishing have differed from my experiences with New York publishing. I’m pretty sure the Neely Tucker article in the Washington Post covered a lot of that but I’m always happy to answer additional questions. (So ask away!)

In the past year, I’ve released 12 self-published books in the past eighteen months in two genres under two different names--Bella Andre and Lucy Kevin. My latest release, FROM THIS MOMENT ON, hit the Apple and BN Top 30 bestseller lists immediately, and is currently #27 on the Kindle Contemporary Romance list.

Self-publishing has been a thrilling, amazing, very busy whirlwind--and I'd like to talk about a strategy that I believe could benefit other independently published writers: Diversification across genres and author brands.

In April 2010, I began e-publishing with two sexy, contemporary, backlist Bella Andre romances. After having a bit of unexpected success in those early months, I knew my chance had come to finally write the book my readers had been sending me emails about for five years. When LOVE ME did better than I ever imagined--Joe and I spoke on the phone last summer and I remember telling him I was shocked to have sold 1000+ copies of that book. He cheered!--I realized there was something to this whole e-reading business.

Of course I quickly went out and bought a Kindle and then a Nook later that fall and most recently an iPad. I released a couple more backlist books in October 2010 and then an original sequel to my Bad Boys of Football series that had been released through Pocket a few years back.

Amazingly, GAME FOR LOVE went to #28 at BN.com and was one of the top 5 erotic novels on Amazon for months at $5.99. This June 20th I launched a 8 book contemporary romance series about the Sullivan family with THE LOOK OF LOVE. It hit #19 on BN.com right out of the gate and has been a consistent Top 30 romance bestseller at Apple. Frankly, the whole thing continues to blow my mind.

Meanwhile, my husband had been watching my e-numbers rise for these self-published Bella Andre books and he kept saying, “Put out those fun chick lit books you wrote that no publisher ever bought!” Because I’d written them several years earlier, they needed significant rewrites, but I had always believed in the novels...and I like my husband to feel like I listen to him now and again. :) But since those books were very sweet (and snarky all at the same time), I knew they couldn’t be published as Bella Andre books.

Lucy Kevin came into being on a cold January morning in the Northern California wine country. Honestly, I figured 6 people would buy her books. To say that I was shocked when more than 25,000 people had downloaded SEATTLE GIRL and FALLING FAST by the end of February is a huge understatement. I released a third Lucy Kevin book in March titled SPARKS FLY.

The thing people are surprised to hear is that I didn’t draw from my existing Bella Andre readership for the Lucy Kevin books. In fact, until the Washington Post article came out, no one knew that Lucy and Bella were the same person, because I wasn’t sure the readerships would overlap between my teen-friendly books and my super-sexy romances. With the Lucy books I got to experience launching a new digital author--and building that readership--entirely from the ground up. It's been a lot of work, but I've loved trying to figure out what made people want to take a chance on a book. Heck, I’m still trying to figure that out :) and then find enough hours in the day to actually make it all happen!

Amazingly, here’s what happened--in some cases retailers were more excited to feature Lucy Kevin because the chick lit/sweet romance novels could reach a bigger mainstream audience. It simply didn’t seem to matter that no one had heard of Lucy Kevin. The fun, flirty covers (Oh, hello new graphic design skills I never thought I'd need!) seemed to draw people to the books and I’m guessing the $.99 to $2.99 price points helped, as well. Once I’d developed relationships with retailers via my Lucy books (I’m a “PubIt! Pro” for Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing wing), my recent launch of the more mainstream Bella Andre THE LOOK OF LOVE became even bigger and better.

I took things another step further in April when I decided to incorporate multimedia in my latest Lucy Kevin young-adult romance, GABRIELLE. In my previous career I was a singer-songwriter, so I wrote five original songs (rather, my songwriting heroine, Gabrielle, wrote them during the course of the story) and linked to them via Youtube and iTunes as an ebook package to create not only added value and excitement for my readers, but also another potential revenue stream.

Here’s what I’ve learned from it all so far: I really like not having to depend on one author name to maintain--and build--sales. Having two brands means I can build sales with new books while offsetting risks. We all know that diversifying our financial portfolios is a good money strategy. I’ve found that diversifying my e-book portfolio has not only been a good financial strategy, but as importantly, it had been a really lovely creative strategy, too.

So if you have a new idea or platform – if you want to try something completely different from what you’re doing now – I say go for it! Even if you think no one will be interested, the truth is that until you put your book out there, you'll never know.

Joe sez: There's a lot to like about this story. I'm a huge believer in luck, so it's great to see that Bella got lucky with two different names. A lot of her sales are on Barnes & Noble, which shows that it is possible to make a lot of money someplace other than Amazon. She's so self-effacing, and so enthusiastic, that you can't help but be happy for her success.

What does all of this mean for other authors?

Write. Then write some more. You can even try a different, and invent a new name (Jack Kilborn and Joe Kimball, anyone?) But the key is to keep putting quality work out there.

Bella has put out 12 ebooks in 18 months. Before you get depressed about your sales, reread that number.

Then write. And write some more.