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