An Interview with Self-Publishing Sensation Bella Andre

It's a real treat to welcome my friend Bella Andre to the Formatting Fairies blog! Bella was one of the first romance authors to take the plunge into self-publishing in 2010 and has been a runaway success ever since. Not only is she generous with her time and advice, she also writes great contemporaries. If you haven't read her Sullivan Family Series, you are missing out on some very fun books! Here are some thoughts from Bella about self-publishing and what we can expect from her in the near future!

Marie: Congratulations on all your self-pub success! Could you tell us a bit about your publishing journey and how you ended up pursuing self-publishing?
Bella: My writing journey started with songs, actually. I was a performing singer-songwriter for ten years before I even thought about writing fiction. Of course, I've always been a ravenous romance reader - devouring a book a day when I can.

One day, two characters started to have a conversation inside my head! Instead of checking in to the nearest psych ward :-) I wrote it down. A couple of years later I sold my first novel. After writing for four major publishers, in 2010 I found myself with more stories to tell and the self-publishing revolution just beginning. I took a leap of faith and wrote the sequel to my most popular novel at the time, TAKE ME, which is about a full-figured heroine and the man she's loved forever. LOVE ME (the brother and sister's story) came out July 2010 and when readers kept writing to thank me for writing the love story they'd been waiting for, I wrote my next original self-published novel, GAME FOR LOVE, the 3rd book in my Bad Boys of Football series. I released it Christmas 2010 and that was when everything went nuts! The awesome kind of nuts. :-) Since then, I have written and released 5 books in my Sullivan family contemporary romance series. The latest, IF YOU WERE MINE, just came out this week!

Thanks to self-publishing, when my fans ask for more books—and for them to come out quickly—I am able to give them exactly what they want!

Marie: You haven't been shy about saying that 2011 was a banner year for you. What you think the secrets to your success might've been?

Bella: Yes, 2011 and the first half of 2012 have been phenomenal! I'm thrilled to have sold 700,000 self-published ebooks so far, the majority at an average price of $4.99 per book.

Marie: You are, without a doubt, one of the hardest-working authors I know. You even do your own *gorgeous* covers. Talk about what you like best about doing it all yourself and what parts of the publishing process you are happy to offload to others.

Bella: Thank you for the compliment on my covers. I really love being able to put out a final product that is exactly what I envision for my story, and I am very involved with every step of the publishing process. Even though I work with some fantastic contractors who help me with things like creating the digital files for each retailer, I first mastered how the process works on my own first.

Of course, I have always hired copyeditors and proofreaders for my books to ensure they are as polished as possible.

Marie: Your self-published Sullivan family series has been very well received and garnered terrific reviews. I'm a huge fan, as you know! What's on tap after all the Sullivans get their happily ever after?

Bella: Thank you so much! And thank you, too, for always being one of my first readers for each book. Your insight as a fellow contemporary romance writer is invaluable.

I love my Sullivans and hope to continue writing their stories even after all eight of the original Sullivan siblings have their happily-ever-after's. There are many more Sullivan cousins in Seattle and New York, fortunately. :-) And of course, I'd very much like to go back in time to tell the mother's love story with their father at some point.

In addition, I do have another series waiting in the wings about a series of sexy (of course!), connected heroes.

Marie: Ohhh, I love the idea of Mama Sullivan's love story and maybe a second change story for her too? I digress... Of course the no. 1 question posed to successful self-published authors is what it would take for you to sign a traditional contract at this point in your career. Do you have any interest in being traditionally published again? If so, what would it take to lure you in?

Bella: My motto is never-say-never! I try to stay positive no matter what comes and always be open to new and exciting developments.

I'm thrilled that my Sullivans will be debuting in other countries! The first five books in the series will be released in Brazil soon! I have also sold my self-published books to Italy, Turkey and Japan.

Marie: Congrats on the foreign sales. That's awesome! If you had one piece of advice for authors considering the self-published path, what would it be? Feel free to add second and third pieces of advice--LOL!

Bella: Go for it! Take the time and effort to right the best book possible, but don't get too caught up in the technical details. Concentrate on your story and connecting with your readers. Many of the big retailers now have very friendly self-publishing platforms.

Marie: What do you see as the "next big thing" in books, e-books, digital publishing, etc.?

Bella: The next big thing? Why, that will be Zach Sullivan's book, IF YOU WERE MINE, won't it? :-)

Marie: But of course! Here's some more about Zach Sullivan's story:

Can two people who have both sworn off love find forever in each other's arms? Find out in IF YOU WERE MINE, the fifth book in Bella Andre's bestselling Sullivan family contemporary romance series.

The last thing Zach Sullivan wants is to take care of his brother's new puppy for two weeks. Until he meets the dog trainer, that is. Heather is bright, beautiful, and he can't stop thinking about her. Unfortunately, she just might be the only woman on earth who wants nothing to do with him.

Heather Linsey can't believe she's stuck working with one of the city's top dogs, auto-shop tycoon Zach Sullivan. Especially when his focus is clear from the start—not only to learn how to deal with his temporary puppy...but also to make her his. Having sworn off love at seventeen when she realized it was nothing more than a pack of lies, Heather has stuck to her vow never to fall for a charming man.

Get it here:

Thanks so much to Bella for spending some time with us today! Here's wishing her many sales of IF YOU WERE MINE!

Demystifying Smashwords

The Fairies have been answering a lot of questions about how Smashwords works lately, so I figured it was time for a post about what Smashwords can do to help the self-published author. First and foremost, Smashwords is a distributor. Getting your books to platforms other than Amazon and B&N can be tricky business, and Smashwords can help you with that. Once your book is accepted into Smashwords' Premium Distribution Catalog (which can take some time depending on current volume), it is sent out to the retailers you designate in your Channel Manager.

To find the Channel Manager, log into your Smashwords account and go to your Dashboard. On the left-hand column, you will find a link for the Channel Manager. Click on that and go to the page where all your books are listed, along with the various places Smashwords can distribute them for you. If you're going direct to B&N through PubIt, for example, you'll want to opt out of distribution to B&N via Smashwords. Same thing with any of the other retailers. Because it's extremely complex to list your books directly with Kobo and Apple, if you only have one or two titles, it probably makes sense to distribute to those retailers through Smashwords. Once you start to accumulate a catalog, you may wish to conquer the more complex retailer sites and go direct. At that time, you would opt out of the Smashwords distribution to those retailers.

Word to the wise: Even if you opt out of distribution to some retailers, be sure to check to make sure that Smashwords didn't distribute to a site anyway. I recently logged on to my Smashwords account and found that they had been distributing some of my books to B&N, even though I'd opted them out of Smashwords distribution. I quickly notified Mark Coker, who is always very responsive. They took care of it right away.

If you are asking Smashwords to distribute your books to Kobo and/or Apple, you will need an ISBN. You can get a free one from Smashwords, but we recommend you buy your own from Bowkers. See our post on this topic. You can find the ISBN Manager on the left-hand column of your Dashboard. Click on the link and follow the prompts to record your ISBN. You must do this before Smashwords will distribute your books to retailers that require ISBNs.

Smashwords also sells direct from its own site in a wide variety of formats. Clients often ask me if they can use the formats created by Smashwords' famous "meat grinder" for other retail sites, and the answer to that question is no. Smashwords requires the words "Smashwords Edition" for each file that is uploaded, so you wouldn't be able to post a MOBI file that says "Smashwords Edition" to Amazon, for instance. But one of your customers could purchase the MOBI version from Smashwords and read it on her Kindle.

There are lots of little secrets to successfully formatting for Smashwords, and the Fairies can help you with demystifying that part of the equation for $25 per book.

Do you have other questions about Smashwords that I haven't answered? Feel free to ask!

E-book Customization, Is It Worth the Hassle?

I recently read a series that I really enjoyed on my iPhone using the Kindle app. When I finished one book in the series, I wanted to move right into the next one. Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy. An excerpt of each new book was included in the back of the current book, but guess what was missing? THE NAME OF THE NEXT BOOK! There was also no link to buy the next book nor was the series order outlined on Amazon. Each time I wanted a new book, I had to go the the author's website and drill down three levels to find the series listed in order. Needless to say, this was a lot of work for me as the consumer to find a book I was anxious to buy. As authors and self-publishers, it behooves us to make this process easier for readers who are anxious to buy our next books.

This is just one of many reasons why it makes sense to include live links to your other books at the end of each book, especially when the book is part of a series. I've also discovered that it makes tons of sense to include your list of other books as the VERY FIRST THING after "The End." Make it easy for readers to buy more of your books, and don't send them through page after page of author bio and reviews before they get to what they really want: the next book.

So how does customization work? First of all, you need to have multiple books available before you can customize your e-books. If you're working on publishing your first book, there's no point in worrying about customizing. Once you have two or more books available, you'll want to include live links to the other book(s) in every new book you publish—and you will want to customize those links to each platform. This requires preparing different versions of the native file for each platform. The Formatting Fairies do a lot of customization for our clients. We see it as a smart way to ensure subsequent sales if readers enjoy the first book. It's also important to go back and update your earlier books with the link to each new one. Never forget that e-books have a permanent lifecycle. With new readers discovering your books every day, what is "old" to you is new to them. Keep your list of books and your author bio up to date. I re-upload all my indie books (soon to be 13 of them) four or five times a year to keep them updated.

About a month ago, I reposted all my e-books with updated, customized lists of other available books on Amazon and B&N. I still need to do this for Kobo and Apple, which is on my to-do list. In each of my single-title contemporaries, I included the first chapter of MAID FOR LOVE, book 1 in my McCarthys of Gansett Island series, along with a "buy" link to make it easy for readers to get it. Last weekend, I offered my single-title contemporary GEORGIA ON MY MIND as a Kindle freebie for five days. I had 55,000 downloads and it was the No. 1 free download on Kindle for most of the five days. I saw a big uptick in sales this week for MAID FOR LOVE. Because it's book 1 in a soon-to-be six-book series, this could lead to many more sales over time. Cross-promotion and customization works. It leads to additional sales. Why not make it easy for readers to buy more of your books?

Do you have questions about customization? Feel free to ask!

Do You Need An Agent? Depends...

Hi there,
Remember me? Well, it's been a busy month around here! The Formatting Fairies have been doing a lot of wand waving, helping our friends to get their books ready for digital publication. There's nothing more satisfying than making it possible for a fellow author to take control of her own career. One of our recent clients, Sarah Mayberry (who writes the MOST addicting contemporaries), said of the Fairies:

"From the moment I made contact with the Formatting Fairies I was taken by the hand and guided through the process of getting my book ready for publication. Cannot thank the Fairies enough for their unending patience with my stupid questions, as well as their flawless formatting. They truly made self-publishing a matter of a few clicks. I'll definitely be using them for my next project."

Thanks so much for that, Sarah! We're thrilled to see HER BEST WORST MISTAKE climbing the charts. It's a great book, so be sure to check it out.

One of the questions I'm often asked when I give workshops on self-publishing is whether I still need an agent. The answer to that, in my case, is an emphatic YES! First, some background. I signed with Kevan Lyon three years ago, and she has been a great partner and advocate ever since. Before I self-published my first book in November 2010, I talked to Kevan and told her what I was planning to do. She was all for it. Unlike some agents who have pushed the panic button over their clients self-publishing endeavors, Kevan has taken a more reasoned approach. She sees the big picture. If I do well with self-publishing, we both benefit. In fact, we already have. Taryn Fagerness, the foreign rights sub-agent Kevan works with, brokered the French sale of my self-published McCarthys of Gansett Island Series. Kevan also represents me to Harlequin for the Fatal Series and is always on the lookout for other opportunities that might interest me. We have a number of irons in the fire, and I consider her a vital partner in my career. I'd never sign a contract without her involvement.

That begs the question of why, if I've done so well in self-publishing, do I still wish to be traditionally published? Because more than half the market is still reading in print. By restricting myself solely to e-books, I'm missing out on a big chunk of the market. That's why I was thrilled to hear last week that Harlequin will bring out my Fatal Series in mass market paperback, beginning next fall with FATAL AFFAIR. I hope to gain a whole new audience for that series as well as my other books. To me, it makes sense to be diversified. While not everyone agrees with that approach, it's what works for me right now. As long as I can continue to self-publish my McCarthy series and other contemporaries, I have no problem also working for a publisher or two to grow the big picture.

All that said, if you have taken your career entirely indie and have no interest in working with a traditional publisher in the future, do you still need an agent? Probably not. If you aren't dealing with contracts, it's probably safe to go it alone. However, the minute you are contemplating signing your name on the dotted line of any contract, I firmly recommend you engage the services of a literary agent or a literary attorney, such as Elaine English.

Another word to the wise about agents. Some of them are offering self-publishing services to their clients. I'm not going to address the potential ethical issues involved with such endeavors because others have covered that subject far more ably than I ever could. I would, however, recommend that you be on the lookout for services that require a percentage of the book's earnings as opposed to flat-fee-for-services, such as those offered by the Formatting Fairies and other similar outfits. Handing over a percentage of your book's proceeds can end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, over the life of the book. Ask yourself if editing, cover design and formatting should cost you tens of thousands of dollars. I have no issue with flat-fee services. I have a big issue with ANYONE, agent or otherwise, who charges a percentage for a book they didn't sell to a publisher if they are only providing pre-publication services such as editing, cover design and formatting. Word to the wise: E-books are FOREVER. Be very, very, VERY wary of any service that is tied to a percentage of the book's proceeds.

Questions? Happy to answer them!