Here’s the thing about indie romance books: there are literally thousands of them. Tens of thousands of them. Millions? Could be, who knows. It’s impossible for one person to say “here are the absolute best indie romance books ever written, the most interesting, utterly romantic romance novels independently published throughout time,” so I’m not even going to try to do that. What I will say is that these are some that I’ve loved in the past few years. There are so many books out there that there are more than likely a lot that I’ve missed here, just because I haven’t read them yet. So in a year, this list could be pretty different (though there are some that will always be on my list of favorites, no matter what year it is).
You might be asking: why indie romance books? And why are there so many? It’s easier than it’s ever been to publish a book right now. All you need is the words and a computer with internet. Which means it’s possible to subvert the barriers that come with traditional publishing. Now, for some people, the lack of those barriers means a book might not go through the proper rounds of editing and consideration of readership. But for many, the ability to move around those barriers means the stories that once might not have been considered by agents and publishers because of their inability to draw the “mainstream” can reach their intended audience. Black authors. Queer authors. Other marginalized and systemically excluded groups. Not all authors decide to self-publish because of barriers; some would rather have control of all elements of publishing, from the first word to the marketing. And with the advent of things like Kindle Digital Publishing and IngramSpark, as I said before, it’s easier than ever to publish.
So here are some great places to start with indie romance if that’s something you haven’t yet done. There’s a little bit of everything, but just as it is across the board, the majority of the books listed are contemporary romance.
(Also note that there are a lot of books that started out as indie but that have been picked up by publishers, and I have not included any of those here.)
If you like one of these books by an author, chances are you’ll also dig their other books. So wander through some of these folks’ backlists, because a lot of them have plenty of other indie romance books to offer.
The Worst Guy by Kate Canterbary
I am a recent Canterbary convert, but I am now a Canterbarevangelist for life. With The Worst Guy, she brings us into the world of two surgeons — one trauma, one cosmetic — who butt heads on the regular. It reaches a tipping point when their sniping leads to a minor disaster in the office, and they’re made to go to counseling together. The time they spend together and the homework they get from their in-hospital therapist leads them to discover more about each other — and the underlying attraction between them.
Neighborly by Katrina Jackson
It was hard to pick a Katrina Jackson book, because they’re all so great, but Neighborly is one of my favorites of hers. (My actual favorite is The Tenant, but that is very much a YMMV type of book involving a vengeful ghost and a creative take on the HEA.) When Heaven and Calvin move in next to Tasha and Stephen, there is an immediate attraction between the two women. As they spend more time around each other — and sharing a wall — their need for each other grows. And their partners will do anything for them.
Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly
Anita Kelly has a couple of traditionally published full-length novels, but the Moonlighters trio of novellas is how I was introduced to them. The first one, Sing Anyway, remains the highlight of my Kelly experience. Here, we meet Sam, a quiet history professor, who loves to watch Lily from afar when they go to the same karaoke night. When Sam’s friends abandon them on a group outing, Lily befriends them, and the rest is history. Kelly’s characters are so complete, with their own dreams and fears, and all three of the Moonlighters books are a total joy to read.
White Whiskey Bargain by Jodie Slaughter
So this isn’t quite a contemporary Hatfield-McCoy situation, but it does involve a marriage of convenience between two warring Appalachian families who need to join forces against a bigger enemy. And Hannah and Javier. Whoosh. Their relationship goes down as smooth and easy as the moonshine both of their families have been making for generations. But there’s a violent faction at play, and they have to band together to make sure their legacies survive.
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
Courtney Milan started out publishing through traditional means, but went indie when those same publishers didn’t allow her to push the boundaries that she wanted. You can see how much more she can do on her own in The Duke Who Didn’t, a Victorian romance between two leads of Chinese heritage living in England. I have often referred to this book as a warm mug of tea in book form, because even with its brief moments of racial prejudice expressed by a couple of tertiary antagonistic characters, it’s such a joyful little book. And the author’s note at the end will definitely teach you a lot of stuff and make you cry. Ten stars.
(If you want to try Milan’s work but aren’t interested in historical fiction, start with Trade Me.)
Managed by Kristen Callihan
There are so many places you can start with Kristen Callihan’s work, depending on your preferences. The first book in the VIP series, Idol, is amazing, but not my personal favorite of the series. You should read all four, because they’re damn near perfect, but Managed is the one that will grab your soul and make you never want to leave. Gabriel and Sophie meet on a plane, one of them under a bit of duress. Their personalities clash to the point of them being perfect for each other, but when they discover they’re going to be working together, there are more setbacks to that plan.
(My actual favorite Callihan book is Make It Sweet, but turns out that is actually published by Montlake!)
Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon
This isn’t my favorite of hers, but it’s definitely her Best Book™. While it’s the third in a series connecting a group of friends, you can read it first and backtrack to the others. Harbor is a story about overcoming grief and taking what you deserve, and is a love story between three people who have to deal with the fallout of both of those things. When Brooklyn is first approached by Vaughn and Shaw, she wants nothing to do with them. Her fiancé and their partner were murdered together, and she just wants to end that chapter of her life. But the three need each other, and in the end, it all turns out okay.
The Lady’s Champion by Marie Lipscomb
This second-world medieval fantasy novel drew my attention for one big reason: the cover. How often do we get to see barrel-bodied strongman-style heroes on our romance covers? And then there’s the story: A not-skinny lady of the manor who is obsessed with tournaments, who idolizes an aging, body-conscious tourney champion. An attack that puts them on the run together, where he teaches her to fight. An abandoned cabin and “let’s get you out of those wet clothes.” You won’t regret it! (And while there are three books featuring the same characters, the first one can stand on its own with an HEA.)
The Captain’s Midwinter Bride by Liana de la Rosa
This novella will break your heart and put it back together in a brief amount of pages. Sea Captain Phillip has been married long enough that his daughter is getting married. But his life at sea has made it so he hardly knows his wife, especially since it all started out as a marriage of convenience. So when it’s time to sit down together after years and get to know each other, the pair are both unsettled and delighted.
Your Dad Will Do by Katee Robert
Katee Robert has done a little bit of everything, and is publishing both traditionally and independently. The Taboo series, starting with Your Dad Will Do, is probably the best if you want to try contemporary novels that don’t have much darker themes. In this one, Lily has always had a crush on her fiancé’s dad, which comes in handy when the asshole cheats on her. So, after they’ve broken up, she decides to seduce his dad. But worries about age aside, he doesn’t particularly need to be seduced.
(Note: this book contains explorations of daddy kink.)
Touch Me by Alexandria House
I know I keep bringing up books that are not the first in a series, but the first one involves a professor/student relationship and I don’t do those. Touch Me is about two university employees — a professor and the new artist in residence — who have an instant connection that goes beyond the metaphysical. Their connections go beyond the work they do on campus, and they can’t stop running into each other. This book leans a little more into melodrama than some might like, but the writing is tight, the characters are incredibly well developed, and it’s just great to see Black academics in a college setting.
Strange Love by Ann Aguirre
This is the first science fiction romance novel on this list, and that’s in part because of me. I’m the problem here. But there’s a reason it’s here — it’s bloody fantastic. It starts out with an abduction, but it’s literally an accident: Zylar lands on Earth thinking he’s going to the planet where he’s set off to meet his matched companion. Instead, he finds Beryl, and thinks he’s saving her from a wasteland. What happens next involves some extreme culture shock, a talking dog, and a tournament of champions. Just delightful. Absolute bonkers fun.
Something Like Love by Christina C. Jones
Christina C. Jones was another one I had trouble with when it came to choosing a “best” book. She has written countless novels and novellas, in all different styles and tones. The first book I read by her, I Think I Might Love You, is a shorter novel that made me cackle out loud. The Reinvention of the Rose is a more serious, grief-filled novel about recovery and redemption. Maybe Next Time is a marriage-in-trouble story with a grieving woman and a husband willing to kidnap her to get her to just Talk To Him. And Something Like Love sits somewhere in the middle, with fun and funny characters who have to deal with serious life issues while getting on each other’s last nerve. The Range.
Behind These Doors by Jude Lucens
This is a rare Edwardian romance that involves a society gentleman and a young journalist. Aubrey, a well-off member of society, is out for an evening on the town with his partners when he sees Lucien, a young go-getter, and is immediately smitten. This is primarily about the evolution of their relationship, but also deals with his other relationship, and the complications and joys that come with it.
Play it Again by Aidan Wayne
If you want the sweetest, quietest long-distance romance you could ever imagine, Play it Again is the thing you want. Blind influencer Dovid has a huge following, which might cause a leeetle problem when he discovers Sam’s YouTube channel and extolls its greatness to his followers. When Sam becomes overwhelmed by the sudden success, Dovid reaches out to offer advice and help. And things go from there.
Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole
This trio of novellas (published individually as Promised Land, The Pursuit Of…, and That Could Be Enough, was born out of the Hamilton craze, but lives beyond it. Each of the stories is somehow connected to Alexander Hamilton, whether during his lifetime or after. Each story stands out on its own as excellent (though I have a special place in my heart for That Could Be Enough), but all three together are a particular treat.
As I said, these selections are mostly a little older because I’m just…behind…and are all based on what I look for in a book, whether it’s snappy or beautiful writing, deep characterization, or swoonworthy romantic moments. Every reader will have their own individual thoughts on what the best indie romances might be, but many of my peers agree on these — just see how many sit in the four-plus star range on Goodreads.
Romance is a vast and varied genre, which is what makes it great. So I’d love to hear from you about what you believe are the best indie and self-published romances! Come find me on the socials. And if you’re looking for a place to start, take this quiz!