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October 26, 2015
By Jennifer McCartney
Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward co-authored the romance 'Cocky Bastard' -- deciding to forgo a traditional book deal for a more lucrative self-publishing option.

After Hurricane Sandy flooded her Long Island home with four feet of water, destroying almost everything she owned, Vi Keeland and her family were forced to relocate to a FEMA trailer. It was during this period, she says, that she began to re-evaluate what was important to her. A tax attorney by day, she realized she had always wanted to be a novelist. Three years later, Keeland is a New York Times–bestselling indie author of almost a dozen books, including the MMA Fighter series and the Cole series. Earlier this year, she embarked on a new project: a coauthored romance with friend and author Penelope Ward called Cocky Bastard. The novel, which features a Harley-riding Australian hunk named Chance, has been a hit with readers. The book made the New York Times bestseller list, the USA Today bestseller list, and the top 100 Kindle romance titles within a few weeks of their releasing it through Amazon on August 15.

Like Keeland, Ward says she began writing during a particularly stressful time in her life. It was 2013, and coping with her daughter’s autism, her mother’s illness, and the death of her grandmother meant that life was a challenge. After reading Fifty Shades of Grey, the Rhode Island–based author was inspired and wanted to give romance writing a try—if only as a means of escape from daily stress. Soon, she too was a New York Times bestselling author, with novels like Stepbrother Dearest and a number of other successful self-published titles. After meeting online, the two authors began a friendship and decided to embark on a writing project together.

Keeland and Ward admit that the racy title was a gamble, but decided it would attract more readers than it might deter. “As indie publishers, we don’t have the luxury of a large marketing and promotion budget that can help explain our story to our readers,” Keeland says. “So it’s even more important for us to convey the feel of our book with our title, cover, and synopsis alone.” In fact, this was the first step in the coauthoring process. They quickly realized the potential of the unique title and began exchanging a Word document in which they’d suggest plot points until they had a solid outline for a novel. “Once we were fairly certain which direction the story was going to go from start to finish, we alternated chapters,” Keeland says.

Big Decisions—Together

"After a combined 17 indie books, we feel we know the monetary value a solid self-published book can bring."
“I wrote on the schedule of Friday through Sunday, and Vi took over on Monday through Thursday,” Ward says. Neither knew what the other had written until the document arrived on the appointed day. Such cowriting is not for everyone, the authors say. In order to be successful, they each had to be willing to give up some creative control.

The biggest challenge, according to both authors, was establishing their business together. The endeavor required them to set up new vendor and bank accounts in addition to drafting legal agreements. It was important to them that they each had access to the accounts and that the financial split from the royalties and other revenue streams was equal. After initially offering Cocky Bastard for $3.99, they set the price for the digital book at $4.99, which is slightly higher than their individual titles. Keeland notes that the novel is still below the traditional publishing price point for similar books, but adds that the slightly higher price helps cover advertising costs. The duo has also sold foreign rights to Book Plaza, a publisher in South Korea.

The finished manuscript for Cocky Bastard attracted the attention of several traditional publishers. Both Keeland and Ward were intrigued by the idea of a publishing deal and shopped the novel around to see if there was interest. What they discovered was that the advances offered by major publishers couldn’t match what they were expecting to earn through self-publishing. “After a combined 17 indie books, we feel we know the monetary value a solid self-published book can bring,” Keeland says. The authors are already planning their next collaboration. They say their follow-up will be a standalone novel with all new characters, but with elements readers will find reminiscent of Cocky Bastard. A sexy Australian? A Nebraska rest stop? Readers will have to wait to find out.