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July 1, 2015
By Jennifer McCartney
After 42 traditionally published novels with companies like Harlequin and NAL, author Elle Kennedy has found new success with her self-published romance series.

After 42 traditionally published novels with companies like Harlequin and NAL, Canadian author Elle Kennedy has found new success—New York Times bestseller success—with her self-published romance series Off-Campus. “Initially I wanted to publish it traditionally,” Kennedy says of The Deal, the first book in the series. “But I kept hearing how the new adult market was slowing down, and how traditional pubs weren’t doing enough with the genre, and that only a select few authors were finding success with new adult.”

So, Kennedy made the decision to self-publish and the novel went on to hit the USA Today bestseller list and was a top 100 Kindle bestseller. The second book, The Mistake, hit the New York Times digital bestseller list at #8 in May, as well as the bestseller lists of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Before she began writing full-time, Kennedy earned a degree in English literature from York University, and then worked as an English tutor and for a film distribution company, driving to different movie theaters around Toronto, where she is still based, and making sure that they were playing the right trailers before the features.

“I sold my first book to Silhouette Romantic Suspense (now Harlequin Romantic Suspense) in 2008,” Kennedy says. “And at the same time also sold a book to Harlequin Blaze and a novella to Samhain Publishing.” But this publishing hat trick didn’t come without a struggle: “I have stacks of rejection letters from agents and editors,” she says. Kennedy says she enjoyed the freedom that traditional publishing offered—not having to worry about the production process or the business of publishing and promoting a book. But, as her desire to test the new adult waters emerged, she ventured into self-publishing with no expectations and the feeling that she had nothing to lose. “My goal was simply to pay off my expenses,” she says, which included editing and cover design.

"Honestly, for me, a success is getting positive feedback from readers. It doesn’t matter if a book sells 10 copies or 1,000 copies."
Kennedy says she chose Kindle Direct Publishing and Draft2Digital to publish the books for both monetary and practical reasons. “Amazon, because that’s where I see the most sales with my other titles; and D2D because I was told it was easy to use and it allowed me to load the books to various retailers all at once instead of publishing individually on each site,” she says. “I’m not a business-minded person. I don’t like numbers and I rip my hair out if I’m trying to navigate a website that’s too complicated, so I just wanted something that was easy.” The biggest challenge of self-publishing was the added stress of being 100% responsible for the finished product, she says. “My brain hurts when I have to consider pricing or go over every word before I hit ‘publish’ because I’m afraid I’ll do something wrong,” she says. “I found the experience stressful, not just the business stuff, but the promo and marketing as well.” To ease the workload of promoting and marketing the book herself, Kennedy hired a publicist for the series, which helped get the book in front of bloggers and reviewers and create a bit of buzz. “With this series, it was so great to see people’s thoughts on Twitter or see them recommending the book to their friends.”

The Off-Campus series isn’t as steamy as Kennedy’s other books—she says she considered using a pen name so that fans of her “very dirty” adult romances or romantic suspense titles wouldn’t be disappointed. “I was worried they might not respond well to a college romance with younger characters and not as much sex/suspense,” she explains. In the end, however, she says her longtime fans enjoyed the new book, and she gained additional new adult readers who were unfamiliar with her other works. The story line follows Hannah, a student who agrees to tutor the obnoxious captain of the college hockey team in exchange for a pretend date, which she hopes will make her crush jealous. While the alpha-male hockey player may seem like a classic Canadian character, Kennedy says most of her readers are American, and her books are mostly set in the U.S. “I love doing research, so whenever I set a book somewhere outside Canada, I get to research the heck out of it and oftentimes visit that place, which is a ton of fun,” she says.

As for self-publishing, Kennedy says that while it’s not for everyone, it is something that authors should try if they’re considering it. “I know other authors who love the experience and the freedom it gives them, and they’ve had great success with self-publishing,” she says. “If you’re like me and you’re only interested in the creative side, then doing all that extra work might not be fun for you.” Kennedy says that writing is still the part that brings her the most joy: “Honestly, for me, a success is getting positive feedback from readers. It doesn’t matter if a book sells 10 copies or 1,000 copies.”