A thin, pretty brunette who majored in economics at Stanford, Belleville had been a singer in her 20s, but that career died, and now her writing career was so flat line that one of her old publishers had even given her the rights to her first two novels.
So, out of sorts and feeling blue, she sat down one morning and figured out how to self-publish one of those novels, “Authors in Ecstasy,” on Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle, just to see what would happen. It was a pain. She had zero graphic-arts skills. She had to create a cover, write her jacket copy, figure out formatting and set a price. She did it and forgot about it.
A few weeks later, she checked her account. She had sold 161 copies. She’d made $281. She was astonished.
She rushed to a lunch with three writer friends, with the numbers scrawled on a sheet of yellow paper, and slapped it down on the table. “That moment is burned in everybody’s mind now,” she says. “It was not a tipping point. It was a turning point.”
She put her other old book online and figured out how to place both on other e-readers — the Nook, the Sony Reader, the iPad, Kobo. The next month, her royalties bumped to $474. Giddy, she self-published a new e-book in July. She made a jaw-dropping $3,539. It was like the best thing ever!
“Every day, as the numbers ticked by, my husband and I were floored,” she says.
She got the rights to two more old novels. She feverishly wrote another e-novel, “Game for Love,” about a bad-boy pro football player and his unexpected marriage. She popped it online Dec. 15.
Earnings for that month? $19,315.
In January and February, she e-published a trilogy of young-adult novels she’d written years earlier. She called the first one “Seattle Girl” and chose a new author name, Lucy Kevin, to distinguish it from the sexually explicit Andre books.
Here’s what her first quarter looked like: 56,008 books sold; income, $116,264.
Perched on the edge of a couch in her tiny writing office, which doubles as a playroom for her kids, Belleville says: “Isn’t this just awesome?!”
There is no good comparison for what’s happening in the frontier world of self-published e-books, because there has never been anything like it in publishing history.
Since Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press in the 15th century, publishers have pretty much owned the presses, the means of mass production and, therefore, of distribution. Save for tiny “vanity” printings, for the intervening 500 years or so publishing houses have controlled who was able to publish, how many copies were printed, the price and the percentage of profits paid to writers (in modern America, usually about 10 to 15 percent of the list price.)