How One Bestselling Indie Author Became a Book Box Entrepreneur
After hitting bestseller lists and landing a traditional book deal, indie author Colleen Hoover turned her attention to creating a book subscription service called Bookworm Box.Like hundreds of other indie authors who have found success, Colleen Hoover has a number of New York Times bestsellers, a deal with a traditional publisher, and a strong social media following. Her latest romance, November 9 (Atria), about a troubled couple that agrees to meet up at a designated spot for just one day per year, was a top-100 digital bestseller on Amazon. In addition to all that, Hoover has parlayed her success as an author into a new business: the Bookworm Box subscription service.
Subscription boxes are big business. Early adopters of the model such as Birchbox and Ipsy helped disrupt the cosmetics industry, and subscription boxes for dog treats, cocktails, and full meals followed close behind. Each service aimed to change the way that consumers discover and purchase products. The Bookworm Box, like similar services Book Riot and the Kickstarter-funded Lit-Cube, follows the same model. For $39.99 plus shipping, Bookworm subscribers receive a monthly box containing two signed books—including at least one by a New York Times–bestselling author—as well as swag like pens, bookmarks, and magnets. Since the service launched in March, subscribers have received titles by the big-name romance authors E.L. James, Anna Todd, Penelope Ward, and several others. Authors who want to participate in the service can donate signed books and swag in any quantity. Hoover also purchases titles in bulk according to Bookworm Box’s needs. Though the cost of two books at bricks-and-mortar bookstores may be similar to or even cheaper than through the subscription service, the thrill of receiving a new set of signed books plus swag every month appears to be enough to entice and maintain subscribers.The logistics of this business are considerable, and subscriptions are capped every month to ensure that Hoover and her team can meet the demand. Each month, Hoover, her husband, and a small team of volunteers pack and ship 2,000 boxes containing 4,000 books. Once the Bookworm Box work is complete, media interviews are done, and her own books are signed and mailed for various giveaways, Hoover often finds herself rushing to attend the evening basketball games her three children play. Only when the kids are in bed does she find time to write—usually until 2 or 3 a.m. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard, and it’s almost impossible to take a day off,” Hoover says of her schedule. “This is my life, and I’m very, very lucky to be able to do things I’m passionate about on a daily basis and actually be able to support my family doing it.” In addition to the work Hoover does to support her own family, the Bookworm Box supports others as well.
After Hoover accounts for overhead costs like books, packing materials, and shipping, the proceeds are donated to charity. “I feel like so much has been given to me in the last four years, the least I can do is give back in return,” Hoover says. More than $200,000 has been distributed to various charities since the program began, she says. With a different group benefiting every month, organizations that have received funds so far include the South Carolina chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; the Lake Charles, La., branch of the American Heart Association; Walk for a Cure; Mt. Vernon Cares; and the National Brain Tumor Society. “She feels enormous gratitude for her success and always makes a point to give back to her community,” says Johanna Castillo, vice president and executive editor at Atria Books.
After years of self-doubt, Hoover says she finally feels like she can have a career as a writer. “Honestly I had no idea anyone would want to read it,” the author and entrepreneur says of her first book, Slammed. “I remember the day I walked into Barnes & Noble and saw the books on the shelf for the first time, I felt embarrassed. I didn’t feel like my books were worthy enough to be displayed next to ‘real’ authors.” But she believes that this imposter syndrome serves her well: “I think the day I begin to have expectations that my books deserve to be a big hit is the day I should probably quit and go back to social work.”