Bella Andre, one of those rare self-published phenomenons who has become an ebook millionaire, gave a short talk at the IDPF portion of BEA Monday and shared some of her marketing and publishing strategies.
Andre is a natural public speaker who can land a joke in the largest room, but she’s also a savvy marketer who appears to work nonstop to improve the sales of her titles. In the past 18 months, she explained, she’s sold over 700,000 ebooks at an average price of $4.99, and twice now she’s managed to produce hits in the romance book category, each time using a different method. I imagine half the industry professionals in the room wanted to hire her and the other half wanted to throw their BEA passes at her in envy.
- Build a series of at least five titles. She’d noticed that authors who hit it big often broke through on the fifth title in a series. She originally planned on ending her current “The Sullivans” series at five books, but each new title boosts sales of earlier titles, so for now she’s keeping the series open ended.
- Use ridiculously clear branding. That means using nearly identical layouts for cover art for each book in a series so that it’s “super easy” to recognize, and putting maximum emphasis on the author’s name. “I don’t even care if you can read the title,” she told the laughing BEA crowd. “All I care is that it’s a Bella Andre party.”
- Consider using price as a brand element. She uses $2.99 for works around 40k words, and $4.99-5.99 for works in the 60-80k range. She also suspects her readers equate these prices with quality, so she only reduces them for the occasional promotion.
- Diversify across sub-genres using pen names. She launched a small series last year under the name Lucy Kevin, with no ties to her Bella Andre identity, and managed to sell 25,000 copies the first month. That gives her another identity under which she can attempt to grow new series.
- Look for past successful publishing trends and experiment with them. The Lucy Kevin covers follow a style that fell out of favor in this category a decade ago, but she suspected the real problem was overuse, and that enough time had passed to make the style feel fresh again.
- Pursue self-publishing in foreign languages. (No, really.) Earlier this year she had as many as 30 people contracted to help translate her books into foreign languages. She admitted that DIY translation was much harder than she’d ever expected, even with large QA teams to help ensure quality, so in addition to that…
- Pursue more traditional foreign licensing deals with an agent.
- Listen to your readers and quickly give them what they ask for. You can turn out books much more quickly than traditional publishers. And if you’re lucky enough to get fan mail, then you have the benefit of knowing exactly what they want next.
- On a related note, communicate directly with your readers. When she published her first ebook, she wrote back to each one of the fans who’d written to her over the years — she’d kept all of their messages — to let them know about the book.
- Remember that your licensing options are endless (audiobooks, foreign rights, movie rights, etc.).
- And finally, get an assistant.
You’ll notice that nowhere in those lists is there the suggestion that you should take your time to produce a quality book, and in fact, the Amazon customer reviews for the first three Lucy Kevin titles average out to 3.4 stars, with many readers complaining about the writing, proofreading, and promotional materials for other Lucy Kevin books. (The Sullivan books published under Andre’s own name fare better, but there are still complaints of bad writing.) Okay, so maybe you won’t write a masterpiece if you follow Andre’s advice. But that’s not what being an ebook millionaire is all about, right?