“I just wanted a story with a nice guy.”
In late 2012, author H. M. Ward had an experimental manuscript collecting proverbial dust on her computer. It starred a woman named Sidney and a man named Peter—an impossible nice-guy combo of handsome, strong, smart, patient, and, oh, super wealthy.
Ward had been writing since 2010 and had been down the traditional publishing route before, finding an agent and shopping her work around. Her instinct told her that publishers would have no interest in Peter. “If you take a nice-guy book to a traditional publisher,” she says, “They’re like, ‘That’s weird. Nice guys are boring.’”
So in April 2013, she published her manuscript online on her own. “I just put it up out of curiosity to see what would happen,” she says.
Despite reports that e-books are dying, Ward’s chance paid off, and continues to pay out today. According to the author, Damaged shot to No. 6 in Amazon’s Kindle store within a few days and held the No. 1 spot for several weeks. It spent a month on the New York Times bestsellers list for combined print and ebook. It was the first in two series of nice-guy books that would go on to sell 12 million copies in three years.
Publishers took note. In the year after Ward published Damaged, she was offered a series of deals from various publishers totaling $1.5 million, by her estimate. She turned them all down, and by the time she said no to her last contract, she was making eight figures as a self-published author. “It would have been a colossal mistake to sign with them at that point, financially,” she says.
Romance novels, home of heavy lids, hot breaths, and grabbed wrists, have long been the embarrassing secret money-maker of the book industry. But today, a renegade generation of self-published authors like Ward are redefining the romance novel, adapting to digital in a way that has long-lasting lessons for the book industry.
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“Romance readers are a really, really different animal from any other kind of reader out there,” says Laura Bradford, who founded the San Diego-based Bradford Literary Agency, which focuses on romance fiction, in 2001. “They are incredibly voracious. They consume content like locusts.”
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Ward now earns seven figures a year. She writes in an email, “I’ve been able to hire staff, rent an office, and I admit I might take a private jet now and again. I was living below the poverty line when I started in publishing.”
But she claims none of it would have been possible with a traditional publisher.
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With less overhead, self-published authors can set prices far lower than traditional publishers can, usually $3 or $4. Despite the lower prices, the high payout of self-publishing means that some ultimately take home far more than if they go with a publisher, even after accounting for their marketing and editing costs. That’s an added advantage for romance, where authors set their prices extra low because they know their readers read more, and are especially price-conscious.
Link to the rest at Quartz