It is a special moment in every writer’s life when their first book is listed for pre-order on Amazon. Amazon makes it official; Amazon puts a ring on it. My past year – of 5am alarm trills in the morning and declined Martinis in the evening, as I juggled my day job as a freelance journalist with writing a travel memoir – had all been building up to this moment.
I typed my name, ANNA HART, into the search box with shaking fingers… and promptly discovered the Other Anna Hart of Amazon. The Anna Hart who writes stepbrother porn. Scrolling through the list of titles under my name, I became rapidly acquainted with the different flavours of sexy stepbrother. Shagging your stepbrother is plainly not a sufficiently niche sexual peccadillo.
There’s a tough and violent sexy stepbrother, in Stepbrother Fighter:
“Beckett Grady, the cocky, reckless professional MMA fighter, always gets what he wants, especially when it comes to women.”
There’s a sexy Western stepbrother in Bucked: Stepbrother Cowboy:
“Luke Maverick, professional bull-rider and heir to an oil fortune, likes his life how he likes his women; wild and uninhibited.”
And there’s a rich sexy stepbrother, in Stepbrother Billionaire 3: Alpha Billionaire Romance:
“Twenty-seven-year-old real-estate mogul, Tommy Hawkson, is serious about business, but he never forgets fun... Danica Richards hasn't seen her arrogant, and extremely sexy, stepbrother in seven years, but when a chance job opportunity aboard a private yacht arises, Tommy is suddenly thrust back into her life.”
This was not the gratifying moment of creative fulfilment and personal glory I’d envisaged.
I became obsessed with the Other Anna Hart. Was Other Anna Hart even called Anna Hart? Was she even a she? Did he/she/they know about me and my journalistic career and consider me a suitable stooge?
“There’s another Anna Hart on Amazon and it’s not good,” I moaned to the other writers in my co-working space. Dan, Will and David diligently gathered around my laptop, where I’m gazing in abject horror.
“It can’t be that bad,” stated David, who has written three highbrow and critically acclaimed novels, not that I’m jealous or anything. “Oh. Perhaps it is,” he said, a warm smile spreading across his face. “Yes, this is much worse than the other David Whitehouse on Amazon, who writes about Islamic glassware.”
“At least it’s stepbrother porn, and not, well, brother porn…” suggested Dan, helpfully.
“She’s a New York Times bestselling author!” pointed out Will.
Other Anna Hart was impressively prolific; on top of her stepbrother smut output, she’d co-authored a number of additional torso-emblazoned titles with a Tess Oliver, like Stone Cold Bad: An Alpha Bad Boy Romance.
Where was Departures? Where was my heartfelt, painfully honest, feminist and empowering travel memoir? Buried among the tattooed male torsos? I was two weeks away from launching my career as a published author – the biggest moment in my writing career – and, according to Amazon, I’d been writing pornos since 2015.
The only thing stopping me sobbing hot tears of wounded professional pride was the gleeful laughter of my friends. Because my life’s mantra is this: if something cannot be fun for you, it should at least make for a funny story for your friends.
My friends know me as a mouthy feminist – I took my first job in journalism at FHM because I believed we’d only sort out sexism from the inside. My closest friends know me as a hopeless romantic, a soul as sensitive as a nipple, who has only slept with a handful of people – none that I’m related to. I’m no prude, but stepbrother porn, porn all about arrogant jerks, was so precisely what I would never, ever write that I briefly wondered if someone was playing an elaborate joke on me, if I was being secretly filmed. I had certainly had my bubble burst, those lofty daydreams punctured, in spectacular fashion.
I became obsessed with the Other Anna Hart. Was Other Anna Hart even called Anna Hart? Was she even a she? Did he/she/they know about me and my journalistic career and consider me a suitable stooge? Or did he/she/they just choose that name as a slutty generic writer’s name? I told my parents about Other Anna Hart.
After extensive online snooping, I contacted Tess Oliver via her author page on Facebook, explaining I was trying to track down her occasional co-author, Anna Hart.
Wendie could so easily have blanked my messages and avoided a potentially awkward exchange. But the thing about writers is, we love a good story
Hours later, I received a response: “Hi Anna, you can certainly email me at XXXX, but I might as well lay out my confession first. I am also Anna Hart. I have several pen-names. I started the Anna Hart name when I decided to write a book to put in Amazon's KU [Kindle Unlimited] program. So I'm both Anna and Tess and neither are my real name. Anna Hart is a great name, by the way. That's exciting to hear that your first book has been published!”
Thus began my epistolary friendship with the Other Anna Hart, who, it turns out, is an ex-teacher in her early fifties called Wendie, who lives in California and keeps horses. In my first email, I referred to the history of female writers using pseudonyms, such as the Brontës. It transpired that Wendie shares my love of Romantic era and Victorian novels, mentioning that Branwell Brontë – the booze-addled, hot-tempered brother to the talented literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne – is supposedly the inspiration for Heathcliff. Perhaps this inspired Wendie’s hot-brother theme!
Wendie could so easily have blanked my messages and avoided a potentially awkward exchange. But the thing about writers is we love a good story. Writers are nosy. Neither of us could resist taking this odd tale further, thickening the plot. And so when I told Wendie I’d be in LA the following week, she agreed to meet me for lunch.
We meet at a Panera Bread sandwich shop in Pasadena, a 45-minute drive from her family home in the country. “Anna?” she calls out from the table, spotting me immediately. “Anna Hart?” Wendie hands me two of her topselling books – Stone Cold Bad and Hard Core – and a neatly giftwrapped box of posh See’s Candies chocolates. “It’s the least I can do, for putting your name all over a bunch of dirty books,” she laughs, and I know I’ve found a soulmate in my namesake.
Over quinoa salads and iced tea, we discuss our favourite bad boys in literary history. I did my postgraduate degree in Romantic and Victorian literature and, in Wendie, I’ve found a fellow superfan. A true connoisseur of anti-heroes, Wendie prefers Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. “Heathcliff gets a bit too irredeemable at times,” she notes. In her own books, depicting her own bad boys, she makes sure her bad boys are just good enough to not be bastards. “Alpha, a little bit dangerous, but ultimately they’d do anything for the woman they love,” is how she puts it.
“Soooo, what’s with the whole stepbrother thing, anyway?” I mutter, awkwardly, spooning quinoa into my mouth to shut myself up. And that’s when I get the story behind Wendie’s phenomenally successful self-publishing business. She published her first book, Camille, in 2010, and made half of her salary as a teacher – $40,000. “I doubled that the next year, and then it was $165K the following year,” she says. “I made $500,000 for the next two years running, and that’s when I gave up teaching, after 28 years.” She started out writing historical fiction and steadily made it sexier, because that’s what sold.
“I just wanted to make sure people actually read what I’ve written,” she says, simply. In late 2014, an e-book by Penelope Ward, Stepbrother Dearest, took the e-publishing world by storm, becoming a New York Times, USA TODAY and Wall Street Journal bestseller. As a self-published author, Wendie spotted a publishing trend (sexy stepbrothers!) and responded swiftly, bringing out her first Anna Hart-authored stepbrother title just a couple of months later.
“I honestly never expected to make the sort of money I did, from writing,” says Wendie. “My daughter, Nikki, who does my marketing, was able to buy a house.”
It’s 27-year-old Nikki who casts the bare-chested male models on the covers of Anna Hart books. “That guy, he’s a Canadian model called Josh, who is also a school psychologist and the sweetest guy ever,” she says, pointing to the tattooed torso on Hard Core. “That book did really well, so I sent him a bonus cheque, because a lot of that was down to him.”
I ask if she’s always truthful about how she makes a living – what she says to strangers at parties. ‘Of course! I tell them I self-publish dirty books,’ she says, with a laugh
It’s refreshing to hear an author speak so candidly about writing for the market, commercial viability and financial success. In Britain, we’re prudish about such things, perversely attached to the idea that real artists suffer for their craft, that it’s crass to think of commercial gain.
“The sex scenes are actually my least favourite bits to write,” she says. “I love dialogue. The sex, well, you don’t want it to be cheesy, plus it’s hard to think of new things for couples to do…”
Wendie’s career is a masterclass in striking a balance between the words she wants to write and the words readers pay for. I fervently hope that some of Wendie’s pragmatism rubs off on me.
Wendie’s mother was a Holocaust refugee whose wealthy family fled Berlin when she was 12, to live in poverty in Shanghai for eight years before moving to California. Wendie was raised to be broad-minded and adventurous, and she raised her family in a similarly unconventional fashion. I ask if she’s always truthful about how she makes a living – what she says to strangers at parties. “Of course! I tell them I self-publish dirty books,” she says, with a laugh. Now I find myself hoping that Wendie’s confidence rubs off on me; I’m still apologising for the fact that Departures is an accessible read with my bikini-clad arse on the cover. I feel bad for not having written Middlemarch.
I could also borrow some of Wendie’s work ethic, because she’s no slouch, penning a book a month and keeping a shrewd eye on e-publishing trends, for the next big thing.
Today, Wendie writes under three different names: “London Lovett” for “cosy mysteries”, a new genre that is apparently flavour of the month in the notoriously fickle e-publishing market. “London” comes from her love of all things English, “Lovett” because it’s a quaint European name. “Tess Oliver” for historical romances, derived from Tess Of The D’Urbervilles and Oliver Twist. And, finally, she writes her smut under “Anna Hart.”
So, where did my name come from? How did she possibly choose Anna and Hart, over all the other names out there? “You know, I think I just thought it was a cute, sexy name,” shrugs Wendie.
Now, knowing Wendie as I do, I consider this a true compliment. Because I’ve learnt a lot from meeting the Other Anna Hart. As a first-time author, I’m green as spirulina about the publishing world and it’s been an honour to clink glasses of iced tea with a veteran. To talk about heroes and villains and sexy stepbrothers, to discuss the balance between artistic merit and commercial viability, and to see how a fellow writer – and a fellow Anna Hart – has carved out a good life through the writing of words. If the name Anna Hart is good enough for her, well, I consider myself lucky to share it.
Anna Hart’s travel memoir, Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time is available on Amazon
Other Anna Hart’s sexy stepbrother titles are also available, here