H.M. Ward is a powerhouse in the indie romance genre and is approaching 13 million titles sold. While Ward has penned many romance and paranormal titles, she says that contrary to popular belief, the primary subject matter of her romance titles is not sex. They are instead about redemption and how long the human spirit can persevere through suffering. Ward is still 100 percent indie-published and keeps a pulse on the traditional market to get the best outcomes for her work. After a difficult personal year in 2015, Ward is back again with a vengeance. The Arrangement series will conclude with book 23 later this summer, and audiobooks of her titles are in production again.
Can you describe your start as an author? What was your first book, and how did you go about publishing it?
I wrote my first novel, Demon Kissed, during the summer of 2010 and spent the summer and fall researching traditional publishing. I only submitted the manuscript to a handful of agencies before I was offered representation. While the book was on submission in New York, I realized that traditional publishing wasn’t for me and pulled my manuscript. Three weeks later, I released it on my own. I used skills I already had to make my website, shoot and design the cover, and do formatting. I spent $200 to publish the title and recouped it the first week after the book was released because of the groundwork that I laid long before I sent my first query letter. I built my author platform and had 20,000 Facebook fans at launch, who were all drooling for the book. Within a year I had a website with over a million hits and a thriving community of rabid readers excited for the next novel.
Are you able to elaborate what made you realize traditional publishing wasn't for you?
It's about control. I'm a bit of an anomaly in that I'm very good at marketing and branding. When it became clear that those assets wouldn't be utilized in traditional publishing, it made me stop and think. There's a rift between publishing arms within traditional New York publishers. The end result is that one hand isn't working in tandem with the other. I want every possible benefit at the forefront to make sure my book succeeds. When I later approached New York again, I requested marketing plans, but what I was presented with was anemic. They didn't bring enough to the table for someone like me, so I walked away. More than once.
How different are the rules of the game today than from when you first started?
The market has changed radically over the past six years and will continue to do so. There was a time when the New York Times said there would never be an indie author on their list. There was also a time when indie authors outnumbered everyone else on the list. That alone is an indication of how far the market sways from side to side. This is a career for those who enjoy a challenge. If you thrive on status, this isn’t for you.
How do you distinguish yourself in the marketplace, especially in the crowded romance genre?
Standing out is a must. In my books, there needs to be an element that says this is classic H.M. Ward, which usually equates to an evocative read that questions morality and redemption. I’m often surprised how many readers are able to put their fingers on that, but they do. If you don’t know why people should read your books, people won’t read them. You need a clear identity that gives the reader parameters and sets expectations. With my titles, it doesn’t matter which genre they’re reading, those elements (suffering, redemption, love) remain constant because they’re important to me.
Looking back, if there is one thing that you would have done differently, what would that be?
I would have changed the cover on Scandalous sooner. I waited nine months because I was in love with the original cover. Bad move. Covers make or break books. Don’t marry yours.
Do you self-publish these days or use traditional publishers, or are you a hybrid of both?
I am still 100 percent indie, by choice. I keep checking to see where New York publishers are in the process of change. One area where I see the most change, and desire to embrace the new market, is with AmazonCrossing. They’ve been translating The Arrangement into German and will soon start on Damaged 1 and 2. They’ve studied the market here and overseas, taken traditional elements and mixed them with indie panache, and we’ve had mind-blowing results.
Do you feel there's still a stigma associated with self-publishing these days, or do you see that as largely having been erased?
The stigma is still there, but it’s becoming more apparent to readers that it doesn’t matter as long as the story is good and the book looks pretty. At the end of the day, publishing is a business, and success is dictated in dollars. Publishers are seeing that element now, but I don’t think they’ve figured out how to capitalize on the indies they’ve acquired. There’s a difference between the sale of tangible and intangible goods (ebooks versus paper) that’s caused a chasm. One day someone will figure out how to close that gap, and that person/publisher will become the Adonis of the market, sitting pretty.
Are you able to share what the initials H.M. mean?
It’s my name—Holly Marie.Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor with a passion for books.