As a self-publishing superstar who recently signed an unprecedented 7-figure print-only deal with Harlequin MIRA for her wildly popular 8 book Sullivan series, Bella Andre’s real life story is a page-turner, reading like that of one of the strong, complex heroines she writes for her romance novels… a woman succeeding on her own terms.

Bella’s path to bestselling romance novelist was circuitous, to say the least. After graduating with a B.A. in Economics from Stanford University, she went from marketing director to rock star… literally (she was a singer-songwriter, who released four folk-pop albums and opened for Chicago and Jewel).

While fully immersed in her music career, an unexpected twist – two fictional characters sparking up a conversation in Bella’s head – opened up a new chapter in the longtime romance reader’s life. Realizing their compelling banter would make great fodder for a book, that’s when the undeniable tug began and Bella eventually found herself needing to make the choice between writing music and writing books. As soon as she started drafting her first romance novel, Bella knew she had found her perfect career.

“You know that saying, ‘When a door closes, a window opens’? Well, once I started self-publishing, the whole wall blew off!”

But professional romance writing wasn’t always a dreamy, sunset walk in a wildflower filled meadow for Bella. She was dropped by her first publisher when one of her earliest series failed to sell.

Faced with that harsh reality, the tenacious Bella figured she had nothing to lose by marketing her books herself, and decided to self-publish. In the Spring of 2010, she put her first self-published book online and sold 161 copies. That summer, she followed with the second book and more than doubled her sales. By the end of that year, she made $19,315 in one month alone. Bella knew she was on the verge of something HUGE and turned her focus completely to self-publishing.

In 2011, she began to write her contemporary romance series centered on the Sullivan family – six brothers, two sisters and their fabulous mother. A self-publishing feat, this series has gone on to achieve incredible levels of recognition and success.

To date, Bella has already sold 1.5 million copies of her Sullivan series books, which have landed on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and have been translated into nine languages. Known for “sensual, empowered stories enveloped in heady romance” (Publishers Weekly), The Washington Post has called Bella “one of the top digital writers in America”.

Through her recent groundbreaking print-only deal with Harlequin, the highly anticipated paperback editions of her books will be launched in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia in continuous back-to-back releases starting next month in June 2013 with THE LOOK OF LOVE, book 1 of the The Sullivan Series. As an added bonus for readers, Bella included never before published material in the new print versions of the first four books in the series.

We caught up with the busy author, WYSK, wife and mother of two, to talk about her riveting, self-made rise to success. This is what she shared with us.

Women Talk: 10+ Questions With Bella Andre

Writing has always been a part of your life. What’s the allure for you?

BA: I’ve always been a really big reader — I love to read a book-a-day when I can fit it into my schedule — so I think it makes sense that I ended up being just as passionate about writing. It’s a very emotional and fulfilling process for me to get to know my characters and take them on the journey to overcoming their fears and finding true love.

Writing songs came first, then nonfiction books. What made you switch gears to the romance genre and what made you fall in love with it?

BA: I was working as a professional musician when one day, two fictional characters started having a conversation in my head! I wrote it down and the next day when their conversation continued I kept writing until one day I realized I had written an entire book. Eventually, I realized I had to decide between songwriting/performing and writing novels. It was an easy choice to pick writing romance.

The Look of Love_Bella Andre_cover1Your first publisher dropped you after your stories failed to sell. As a writer, was your confidence completely shot?

BA: Honestly, I’m very resilient. But yes, this was a bit of a blow. That was when a good friend of mine suggested that I consider self-publishing. You know that saying, “When a door closes, a window opens”? Well, once I started self-publishing, the whole wall blew off!

How do you recover from such a devastating professional blow?

BA: I always believed in myself and my stories and knew there were many, many readers out there who would love them. I just needed to find those readers and get my books in front of them. That’s what I did by self-publishing my Sullivan ebooks — once those first readers found the books, they spread the word to friends and family and book groups like crazy.

You then make the decision to self-publish. What made you think that you could market yourself and your books better than your former publisher?

BA: It was more that I refused to give up on myself and my storytelling. I had a deep passion to write beautiful, emotional, sexy romances and I knew readers would love them. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

What was your strategy?

BA: Write a great book, and then another, and then another, etc. I’m a big believer that the books themselves are the most powerful marketing strategy there is. If people love a book, especially if it’s part of tightly connected series like The Sullivans, they will want to read the next book in the series, and then the next, and then the next, etc.

According to the Washington Post, who has called you “one of the top digital writers in America”, fewer than 50 independent authors make more than $5,000 a year. But you made over $19,000 in just one month after your first ebook went on-sale. To what do you attribute that kind of atypical and explosive success?

BA: Word of mouth. Sullivan fans love the series so much that they tell absolutely everyone that they should read the books!

From This Moment On_CoverTo date, you have sold more than 1.5 million books and your books have been translated into nine languages. Has it been thoroughly gratifying to make your own success and do it on your own terms?

BA: It has been a total thrill to reach so many readers. Writing and creating the stories is my first love, but I also thrive on running my publishing business. I was an Economics major at Stanford, and my father is a well-known Economist, so I suppose it’s in my blood.

For our readers who have not read any of your books, what kinds of stories do you tell?

BA: My Sullivan stories are fun, emotional, sexy reads. I love to write about alpha heroes — strong men who will do anything for the women they love. My heroines are intelligent and talented. When they come together, sparks fly!

Where do you find your inspiration? Personal experience, things friends tell you or is it all pure imagination?

BA: Inspiration comes from everything. A conversation with a friend. A dream. A newspaper article. The writing process is quite magical for me, actually, and I rarely try to break down how all the pieces come together. Rather, I just trust that they do.

Tell us about your central characters, the Sullivan men.

BA: Ooooh, I love my Sullivan men. They’re gorgeous, strong, courageous and loving. Sullivan fans are constantly posting on Twitter and Facebook asking, “Where can I find my own Sullivan?” I love that!

What types of female characters do you write to go up against your alpha male protagonists?

BA: My heroines are strong and competent and fun. Many times they have been burned by love and are afraid to trust again. But in the end, it’s impossible to resist a Sullivan.

Cant Help Falling In Love_coverEach of the 8 books in your Sullivan series shares its title with a famous love song. How did you make your selections?

BA: I’m constantly searching for songs that will be a perfect fit for my Sullivan books and keep a long list of possible song titles. For each book, the title has to have not only the exact right emotional feel for the story, but it has to fit with the love story.

THE LOOK OF LOVE is perfect for Chase and Chloe, because no one has ever looked at her the way he does. In FROM THIS MOMENT ON, all it takes is one moment for Marcus and Nicola to find their destiny. And in CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE, despite all their good reasons to stay away from each other, Gabe and Megan can’t help falling deeper in love.

Amongst all the competition in the romance genre, why do you think your books are so popular?

BA: I write the books I want to read — emotional stories that also make me laugh and don’t shy away from the sensuality between the characters. Contemporary romance has always been one of the most popular genres, and it’s lovely the way readers have embraced my Sullivans.

You just signed a groundbreaking seven-figure, print-only deal with Harlequin MIRA for your Sullivan series, which is incredible. What’s the next chapter of your own personal story going to be about?

BA: It has been a tremendously exciting year and working with Harlequin MIRA on the print-side of my Sullivan series is a dream come true. Their vision for reaching print readers is extraordinary, which means the next chapter is going to be reaching more readers in the US/Canada and around the world with Sullivans in print, ebooks and audiobooks!

To learn more about Bella check out her site or connect with her on Facebook.