Episode # 87 – Revenge of the Nerds with Annie Bellet

In Uncategorized by Angela McConnell22 Comments

anniecovernewAnnie Bellet is currently a Top 50 Amazon Author in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Today we talk about her journey to publishing success with her bestselling series, “Twenty-Sided Sorceress,” and why she thinks Nerd-dom has won the Culture War.

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Writing for Fun and Profit:  Annie Bellet

Brad Torgersen (Text interview with Annie Bellet on May 27, 2012.)

Destiny the Game

RSP Episode #64 – Writing in Genres That Sell (and those that don’t!) with Mimi Strong

RSP Episode #35 – Don’t Look to the Outliers with Hugh Howey

Heinlein’s Rules

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love

Hunting Delilah

Indie Author Survival Guide

Write. Publish. Repeat.

Ravven – Book Cover Designer

Dean Wesley Smith

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Show notes:

Origin Story:

In 2009, Annie Bellet hated her job. So she told her husband, “I’m going to quit my job, and you will support us for 10 years, and at the end of 10 years, I will make us rich” — to which her husband supportively obliged.

As it turns out, she didn’t need 10 years.

It wasn’t a straight shot up the bestselling ranks though. She spent the first year working on a couple of books as well as her MFA. Ultimately, however, she realized she didn’t want an MFA; she wanted to write for a living. So she quit her MFA program and refocused her efforts on the writing.

In 2010, Annie discovered Heinlein’s Rules and wrote 39 short stories. She submitted them everywhere she could, and sold two. In the meantime, she had been following Zoe Winters and JA Konrath as they blogged about their indie publishing ventures. Finally, in July of 2010, she decided what the hell, and put up a literary short story. She sold a handful and thought, “This isn’t so bad.” She made $10 that year.

In 2011, Annie released a literary short story she had written in a workshop. She had a lot of nice rejections on it, but no sales, so she published it. That title sold 80-100 copies a month for 18 straight months at $1.49, after which, sales mysteriously stopped. She also put up more short stories that either hadn’t sold or the rights had reverted back to her.

Also that same year, Annie wrote and released two novels: the first book of a dark fairy tale romance duology called “A Heart and Sudden Shadow” and “Hunting Delilah,” a thriller under her pen name Anne Baines. “Hunting Delilah” took off after Bellet ran a free promotion using price-matching and gave away 20,000 copies in five days. After the free promotion ran, Annie found herself just short of cracking the top 1,000 with the book priced at $5.99. She was doing something right, but she didn’t know what.

She continued on in 2012, releasing Avarice, a fantasy mystery police procedural, while continuing to write more short fiction for anthologies.

But by 2013, following a tough personal year, she crashed. She felt nothing was working, sales were dying out, that she was doing everything wrong…so she just stopped. “Success paralyzes you as much as failure,” says Annie. The fear of screwing it up or not knowing what to do became overwhelming, so “it was easier to do nothing.”

Turning Point

In January of 2014, Annie decided that the high-pricing strategy she had been encouraged to pursue just wasn’t working. That month, with over 40 titles up, she had sold only 18 books and made $40 in commission. So she took all her short stories and made them free through price-matching. Then she dropped all novel prices from $5.99 to $3.99, and dropped her novellas from $3.99 to $2.99, making the first in a series free or $.99.

In February, making no other changes and doing no marketing, Annie sold 61 books and $120. With a third of her catalog now free, she was now making more money…with fewer paid titles!

The Twenty-Sided Sorceress

Stuck on bed rest for months due to an illness, Annie started plotting an urban fantasy, what would become “The Twenty-Sided Sorceress”…but she felt it was missing something. it needed a unique element. So she made a giant list of all the things she loves to read about, and then asked herself how she could fit everything she loves into this one series. She calls it total nerd fiction, the series she wanted to read, an urban fantasy by and for gamers.

By this time, in 2014, Annie was facing financial difficulties. She decided if this book didn’t take off, if she couldn’t make at least $1,000 a month by at least December, she would go get a job.

So she started the series in May, releasing the titles in rapid succession:

  • 7/23/14 – Book 1: Justice Calling – $.99
  • 8/23/14 – Book 2: Murder of Crows – $2.99
  • 10/14/14 – Book 3: Pack of Lies – $3.99
  • 12/2/14 – Book 4: Hunting Season – $3.99
  • 3/10/15 – Book 5: Heartache – (forthcoming) – $4.99

Annie wanted no barrier to entry for readers, so she priced the first one at $.99, and then the second at $2.99, the third and fourth at $3.99 as the books got longer, and then finally, for Book 5, $4.99. The series took off in a big way, hitting the top 100 in several categories. Her conversion rate from Book 1 to Book 2 is 64%; from Book 2 to Book 3, 73%; and from Book 3 to Book 4, 75-80%.

Needless to say, she didn’t have to go out and get that job.

What’s next for Annie?

With 113 books outlines, Annie will have no trouble filling her time, but for now, she’s focused on doing what works, which means more upcoming books in “The Twenty-Sided Sorceress” series. With so many ideas, she wants to make sure she’s balancing her need for making an income with her need to write books she feels good about.

Annie also continues to write short fiction. She has appeared in numerous anthologies, including the “Apocalypse Triptych” anthologies, and “The Alien Chronicles” links anthology.

She notes our current geek culture translates well to today’s audience. You only need to look at all the science fiction movies and television shows to see that “nerd-dom has won,” which suits Annie just fine. “The advantage to being indie is you can write to the audience and know what the market wants and can deliver much more quickly.”

And clearly, she knows how to deliver. :)

Action Steps

  • Write. As Annie says, “No one will read the books you don’t write.” So write.
  • Set a lot of deadlines. Annie attributes a lot of her success to the rapid release of her “The Twenty-Sided Sorceress” series, so in order to meet her goals, she sets lots of deadlines throughout the process. She finds that scheduling a date with an editor and putting down a deposit helps her get the job done.
  • Design your pricing strategy with a low or no barrier to entry. It takes readers (and their reviews) to get readers, and pricing high at the beginning makes it harder to get a reader to take a chance on you. Make it easy for them to say yes, and they won’t mind paying more for the sequels.
  • Invest in great covers for your work. It’s the best way to get a reader in the door, and Annie feels like her covers (designed by Ravven) do a good job of catching reader’s eyes.
  • Find the best support you can. Annie has her husband, who she says believes in her even when she didn’t. Find someone to cheer you on in your publishing endeavors, to ask about things and to push and encourage, whether that person is a spouse or a beloved auntie or your next-door neighbor. This person will help get you through the tough times.

Simon Asks:

Do you write what you love, or do you write to market? Does that work for you? Which approach do you feel is better from an indie author perspective?

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Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Angela McConnellEpisode # 87 – Revenge of the Nerds with Annie Bellet
  • Simon! Bug alert! Something ain’t working so good….

    • SimonRSP

      Ah! I blame the cold I am suffering from, forgot to paste in a bit of HTML! Should be working now 🙂

      • Crissy Moss

        Oh no, I’ve been sick for two weeks so I completely understand. It makes things difficult all over.

        Hope you feel better soon. Thanks for fixing the link.

        • SimonRSP

          Thanks Crissy, you too 🙂

  • Crissy Moss

    Simon, the page is loading but there is no audio.

    • SimonRSP

      Apologies Crissy, an oversight. It should be fixed now 🙂

  • Loved this interview, Simon. I love to hear about someone who was pushed to her limits and stuck with it. And she was just a joy to listen to (I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess she’s a Californian). Thanks for a great show.

    • Annie Bellet

      Nooooooooo. I’m from Oregon. But I say “like” a lot, I know. It’s the raised in the 80s/90s thing, I guess. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

    • SimonRSP

      Haha, thanks Ron 🙂

  • Juliette Nolan

    I absolutely loved this interview. Thanks Annie. Great to hear some honest experiences. You inspire me to keep on trucking and push on. 113 outlines?? That’s amazing. I have been a fastidious outliner in the past but I am throwing down the gauntlet ( to myself obviously) to do my next novel pantser style. Biggest takeout for me from this: write the book you want to read. Oh and never never never give up ( please add extra nevers if you wish! Long haul game this!!!). Thanks Simon. Great interviewing!

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks for listening Juliette, I’m glad the interview was useful :).

  • Richard Keller

    Simon, do you utilize Skype for your interviews? If so, what do you utilize for your recording purposes?

    • SimonRSP

      Sure do! Skype + Call Recorder for Mac. If you are a Windows user, get “CallBurner.” It’s a bit more expensive than the competition, but is simple and awesome (I used it before I switched to Mac). If they had a Mac version I’d be all over it!

  • Out of nearly every interview I’ve heard with writers online, on TV or on radio this is probably the most inspiring and heart felt. Such a wonderful story to hear. Thanks Simon and a big thanks to Annie for sharing her story.

    • SimonRSP

      Wow, thanks David, that’s really kind of you :).

  • Crissy Moss

    So, I need to thank you for introducing me to a new author. I bought her first book, and she’s right. It is really appealing to gamers (of which I am one). Love all the references in it. Good book. Thank you! Interview was good, book was good, all great!

    • SimonRSP

      Hi Crissy, you’re welcome! 🙂

  • mtr amg

    very interesting. Sometimes I think having too many ideas is just as debilitating as not having any. She’s the first person I’ve heard have an issue with Dean Wesley Smith – people usually proselytize about him.
    I will have to buy Rachel Aaron’s book – she’s about the tenth person I have heard talk about it.
    This is the wonder of self publishing; that you can go around the gatekeepers who tell you UF is over or werewolves are so last year… really? There’s teen wolf, hemlock grove, vampire diaries and new movies like Wolves – all of which have werewolves in them, and all of which have a current fanbase.

    Fantastic to hear that she has ‘made it’ – well done Annie!
    Hope you’re feeling better, Simon.

    • SimonRSP

      Right on! Great comment. I love hearing from authors who were told “that won’t work” and then just went and crushed it.

      And yep, I think Rachel Aaron’s book must be the most mentioned book on RSP!

      • mtr amg

        Done! Bought and half read Rachel’s book.
        I said ‘made it’ because I reckon Annie will go even further, but paying your bills – or keeping your promise to your husband – is a fabulous start.

    • Annie Bellet

      Thanks! Hopefully I have a lot further to rise, hehe.

      As for DWS, well, people proselytize, but you won’t see a lot of actually successful indies doing so. There’s a reason for that. It took me a while to figure out why, but once the truth started coming to light, things changed for me for the better. So that was good.

      Rachel Aaron’s book is amazing. Hope it helps!

  • This is really awesome. I love listening to fellow gamers/geeks. As an author of fantasy, I’m always interested in listening to other authors who write in similar genres and what they did to make things work. for them.