Confessions of NYT Bestselling Author Gone Indie

More practical advice about a most impractical business:


by Eileen Goudge

Let me begin by saying I’ve never met an author who was an overnight success. It just sounds sexier when you put it that way and makes for good press.

So if you should happen to Google my name and come across an old article about my “meteoric” rise from welfare mom to millionaire, take it with a grain of salt. Yes, I was on welfare, years ago, at an especially low point in my life. And yes, I wrote my way out. But it didn’t happen overnight.

Behind every successful writer is a stack of journals or boxful of unpublished manuscripts moldering in the basement. I’m no exception.

The year was 1983. I had just moved to New York City from California with my two young children, a typewriter and no child support. I’d been eking out a living as a freelance journalist, but needed to find steady work – pronto – or we’d all starve.

At a party I chatted with an attractive young woman who confided that she earned more money moonlighting as a call girl than from her day job as a flight attendant. She offered to set me up with her escort service. I declined.

I wasn’t that desperate.

I signed with a book packager instead.

For the next couple years I paid the rent and stayed afloat churning out genre romances for teens. I was among the stable of ghost writers behind the wildly successful Sweet Valley High teen series created by Francine Pascal. I didn’t get rich from it—I was making only enough to squeak by—but I’m proud of the role I played in launching the series.

The “Overnight Success”

In 1986 I had the joy of seeing my first adult novel published in hardcover. I was ecstatic when Garden of Lies went on to become a New York Times bestseller. I’d been warned that green-colored book covers don’t sell but had ignored the warning, figuring if mine was the only green cover it would stand out. I was right, as it turned out.

Unfortunately it was the only thing I was right about.

Back then I naively believed I’d continue to build on my early success if I reliably produced a book a year. I failed to factor in the variables. The shifting sands of the publishing industry for one and flux and flow of the economy for another.

There was also the fact that I was married to my agent whom I later divorced.

I had a nice ride for a time. The novels that followed Garden of Lies sold well.

The Four-Step Fall from Grace

 Then came a spectacularly horrible two-year period worthy of one of my novels in which I was slammed by the quadruple whammy of:
1) a corporate merger,
2) falling out with my editor,
3) the loss of my in-house “rabbi” to another house,
4) the aforementioned divorce from my agent husband.

I was left reeling. My sales took a hit. That in turn led to booksellers cutting back on orders. Long story short, I eventually reached a point where I was no longer making a living wage.

Come the Revolution

I ought to be depressed, right? Out on a ledge with some Good Samaritan trying to talk me down.

 But I’m not depressed. Instead I’m hopeful. Why?

Because while I was on my ass a revolution was taking place.

With digital sales growing in leaps and bounds, traditional publishing is no longer the only avenue open to writers. Name authors displaced by the seismic shifts in the industry are migrating to indie publishing. Some have enjoyed great success. Others are making a living. The majority continue to struggle.

But one thing is clear: Indie publishing is a boon to writers. It provides hope where there was little and give us some control over our own destinies.

The inspiration for my first indie-published title, Bones and Roses, Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series, came while I was strolling on the beach in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California.

I’m fan of the genre and always wanted to write a mystery, since I created the teen series Who Killed Peggy Sue? in the 1980’s. When I sat down to write the first draft, it poured out of me.

But writing was the easy part.

The Steep Learning Curve

Becoming my own publisher required a whole other skill set.

I took a self-taught crash course in indie publishing by reading everything I could find on the subject and picking the brains of my indie author friends. My friends have been amazing. They’re always on hand to answer questions, share resources and provide reassurance.

But I couldn’t shake the pit in my stomach and the little devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear that I was a fraud, I’d never be able to pull this off. In addition to the mechanics of launching of a business, there were social media platforms and computer programs to master (Goodreads alone was a labyrinth that had me lost!) and the biggest challenge of all: finding the time to do everything.

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