Deborah Bladon remembers sending a proposal for a romance novel to Harlequin Desire many years ago. She eventually received a polite rejection letter, and though she continued writing, she shelved her dream of becoming a professional romance writer—until New Year’s Eve 2013. That night, Bladon made a New Year’s resolution: to self-publish—something that hadn’t been an option previously. And, on February 21, 2014, her first title, Obsessed, went live on Amazon.
A year later, Bladon is a New York Times bestselling author with 21 self-published novellas across six series (Obsessed, Exposed, Pulse, Vain, Ruin, and Gone) with more planned for 2015. She’s made the New York Times e-book bestseller list 14 times and the USA Today list 21 times, as well as being a Kindle Top 100 author in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. “I made a promise to myself that I'd put one novella up and it just snowballed from there,” she says.
In its first week of release, Obsessed—about a jewelry designer who falls for a powerful bad boy—sold 107 copies. “I knew that I didn't know all the people who bought it, so I was ecstatic,” she says. The book soon reached the Top 100 chart on Amazon.ca in her native Canada. But the moment she knew “something really shifted” was when her readers started emailing her and posting on Facebook about when the next book in the series would be released. “The first time it happened I remember staring at the message on Facebook. I was in awe that anyone was invested enough in the Obsessed series to want to know what was happening next,” she says. “Then I released the Exposed series and sales soared.”
Part of the reason for Bladon’s success is her series’ format. “The fact that my releases are very close to one another is important to [readers],” she says. Her fans also respond to the cliffhanger endings, she says—each novella ends unresolved, driving sales for the next book in the series. And, her publishing strategy is to give her readers what they want quickly: each title in a series comes out one or two weeks after the previous installment. The entire Ruin series, comprised of three novellas, was released in just one month.
While serialization is nothing new, self-publishing does lend itself to the format—indie authors have control over their publishing schedules and can release installments quickly to keep readers on the hook. For Bladon, once each series of three or four titles is complete, the next step is bundling the novellas and offering them as a single book in both e-book and print formats. Bladon uses Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace, while tapping Draft2Digital for distribution to iBooks, NOOK, and Kobo.
“I chose to self-publish because the opportunity was there,” says Bladon. “I saw it as the most convenient route for sharing my work with potential readers and it also allowed me to retain complete control over all the aspects that are important to me including my release schedule, covers, etc.”
However, self-publishing isn’t without its challenges. Bladon notes it’s difficult to keep as engaged with her readers as she would like—especially as she tries to balance her need to write with an increasing volume of correspondence. “I answer each email myself and I try to interact as much as I can on Facebook and Twitter,” she says. The most surprising aspect of self-publishing has been the support she’s received from the romance community. “Romance readers are incredibly supportive, giving and generous people,” she says. “They are so encouraging and they treat me as if I'm a close friend.”
As Bladon reflects on the changes 2014 brought, she calls the experience and the success of her books surreal, overwhelming, and humbling.
“I think the biggest change [going] from being a mom to being a New York Times bestseller has been the fulfillment of a life dream,” Bladon says. “The income is, of course, welcome and lovely but the satisfaction of being able to do what I love and share it with readers, is ultimately the best part.”