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Email: melinda@tropicalwriting.com.au     Phone Number AU: 0400703836

Writing From The Trenches: An Indie Author Success Story

I think we underestimate the amount of creative time and energy that we lose when we get anxious and worry. You just need to come back to why you’re doing this – which is hopefully because you love writing and you love books. Err on the side of giving time to what you love doing.

Bella Andre is the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of “The Sullivans”, “The Morrisons” and “The Maverick Billionaires” series. Having sold more than 8 million books, Bella is known for “sensual, empowered stories enveloped in heady romance” (Publishers Weekly). A graduate of Stanford University, she has given keynote speeches at publishing conferences from Copenhagen to Berlin to San Francisco, including a standing-room-only keynote at Book Expo America in New York City. Bella also publishes under the pen name of Lucy Kevin.

 

Mel I’d like to welcome the beautiful Bella Andre. Bella is a New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. She’s well-known for her wonderful Sullivans series. Bella, when you first started out, you were a one-woman show, doing all the marketing yourself. How did you manage to be as prolific as you are while also doing the marketing required to get you in the face of readers?

 

Bella That’s a good question. My friends and I, who started indie publishing early on, always joked that we were after making fire with sticks. There was no support anywhere for us and the retailers’ platforms were so new that we had to be there in the trenches every day, finding all the bugs. It was constant conversation with whichever retailer like, “Oh, found this bug today.”

I always joke that until you’ve been that deep in the trenches and had that much mud on you, you really don’t know the lay of the land. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be in there, learning absolutely everything myself. I had to be able to do everything myself. There’s something really empowering about it.

 

I’m not necessarily advocating that to anybody today, but there is a real magic to it. You learn skills you never knew you had. I’d realise, “Oh, I have to make a cover” – and I’d always thought that I wasn’t visually inclined, that I didn’t understand graphic design. I made my first cover on PC Paint, and I couldn’t even figure out how to get it to shrink down enough that I could see the whole cover. But you get it done and you figure it out. I ended up learning things about myself – that nobody was as good at creating my brand as I was. As writers and creators we have clear visions for ourselves – and I figured out that I’m good at making covers, I’m good at expressing my brand and the point of my stories visually. If I’d been able to hire a cover designer, my covers still would have been great, but I wouldn’t have had that deep sense of ownership over my brand.

 

That was a long-winded answer to get to the point that I worked round the clock. That’s the answer. For the first five or six years I worked twenty, twenty-two hours a day. That’s not something sustainable – it was very much start-up hours. I don’t work that much now, but I still work long hours. A lot of people come to me and ask what’s the magic bullet, what’s the magic potion, just give me the answer. I’m like, “Honestly, the answer is work really hard for a long time.” Hopefully you’ll build up a fanbase that wants to see what you write next, and if you keep writing you keep filling that void and giving readers what they want.

 

Mel I’m up to about book 15 in your Sullivan series now. You’ve built this world and this community – you’d let your readers down now if you stopped!

 

Bella Thank you so much! I’m glad you love my Sullivans as much as I do. I have no plans to stop! I’ve said this from the beginning – I plan on writing the Sullivans forever. That’s for two reasons. First, like you said, I think there’d be a lot of upset people if I didn’t. But the other reason is, I love it.

Every book is a new adventure to me. I’ve created a world and a family. A lot of writers say they get bored, but I honestly don’t understand that. I’m endlessly fascinated with every new book and every new set of characters.

 

It’s been good to take more time with the books now than I did in the beginning, and go out into the world and get inspired. I’m definitely inspired by the places I’ve been travelling to and the people I’ve been meeting.

 

Mel You’ve been writing the series for a long time. Not only have times changed, but readers have changed – they’re younger, digitally savvy, with no time for long, rambling novels. Has that changed the way you pace your work?

 

Bella Yes and no. As a reader, I like long, rambling books. I like 800-page multi-generational sagas that I can really sink my teeth into. But it’s not what comes naturally for me to write – though I am inspired by everything I read, of course. I definitely agree that there are certain guidelines. If you write between 35,000 and 90,000 words, you’re going to be able to find a readership somewhere in there. My full-length Sullivans all fall somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 words. My novellas and the books under my Lucy King pseudonym usually fall between 20,000 and 35,000. Those are the two lengths I’m comfortable writing in. Once you’ve written enough books, you don’t really have to think about it. When you’re thinking about the story, you have a sense that it’s the kind of story to fit in those guidelines, and then it sort of magically ends up at that word count. It feels like a satisfying read.

 

Mel Your international rights are doing very well at the moment. Do you organize that yourself, or do you have an agent who manages it for you?

 

Bella I have a foreign agent who negotiates my foreign licensing power in Germany. With some of my titles in France, I hire my own translation team. In Germany, everything is being done by my translation team and I’m self-publishing there. I’m putting out a new book in German every six weeks. They’re doing extremely well and I couldn’t be more excited. I had tried to get into the translation space earlier, and it was a big mess and I lost a lot of money. But I learned a lot from the experience and vowed I wouldn’t do it again until I could do it right. It took almost three years to put all the pieces in place so I could do it well – and now I’m just really enjoying being a German language publisher as well as an English publisher!

 

Indie authors are just such a community. Everybody’s there for each other. I’ve had a lot of conversations over the years with various authors who were thinking of coming out of the traditional space and switch over into indie. We had very frank conversations about numbers and money and time. It’s just such a great community. We’re all so willing to get in with each other and help and share information. It’s a privilege to be a part of it.

 

Mel I’ve found that a lot of aspiring authors try to shoot straight to the top, without looking at their own peers who can help them.

 

Bella I mean, that’s human nature. It goes back to searching for a magic bullet, magic answer. There isn’t. You just need to get together, form a nice community, help one another – and then, inevitably, all of you will rise together. When I think of everybody I started with, the only people who haven’t done well are the ones who have quit.

 

When you look back at your journey, there are always moments you couldn’t have predicted. You just need to keep working and keep the faith – block out the white noise and put the blinders on and stay focused. If you do, good things will happen. Good things happen to people who are focused and determined and love what they do.

 

Mel You say on your website to err on the side of writing and leave the white noise to other people.

 

Bella You just have to work on writing the next book. The more frustrated you get, the more you have to go, “Okay, here’s what I can control.” I can control sitting down, writing my book, and feeling good about the books that I’m writing.

 

I’ve been working closely with Amazon for quite a while. I was on a call, and the representative asked me how I was going. I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m good, just having a good time, enjoying my books.” And she said I was the only person she’d spoken to in a year who was relaxed. The only person who was just feeling positive and not worrying about things.

I think we underestimate the amount of creative time and energy that we lose when we get anxious and worry. You just need to come back to why you’re doing this – which is hopefully because you love writing and you love books. Err on the side of giving time to what you love doing.

 

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This interview was first printed in Author Success Stories, Issue 2. You can find out more here. 


About the author, Melinda

I'm an authorpreneur, English teacher and podcaster who dreams of a life on the road full of adventures and handsome heroes, whilst making squizillions of dollars in book sales to pay for my chocolate fix. In the real world, I write novels and non-fiction, and offer my expert advice via online courses (as soon as I make them) and writing retreats (as soon as I organise them).

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