Self-Publish or Perish
A traditionally published author takes control of her career and goes indie.New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge has written 32 novels, sold over a million copies, and been translated into 22 languages. But you won't find her next novel in a publisher's catalog: she's doing it herself.
Back in 1989 -- long before the rise of self-publishing -- Goudge published her first novel, Garden of Lies with Viking Books. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller that shipped over a million copies and was published in 22 languages. “I was riding high, touring the country, doing book events, being interviewed by major newspapers, and appearing on TV talk shows,” says Goudge of her early success. And she continued to garner six-figure advances -- for a while.
Once the 2008 recession hit and digital publishing revolutionized the industry, Goudge found her book sales declining and her career in trouble. “To my horror,” she says, “I found I was facing a major crisis as my career went into a death spiral.” Luckily, she found a solution. “For me, she says, “it was self-publish or perish.”
Her first self-published novel, the mystery Bones and Roses, was released in August and has been well-received by reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads, and the second book in the series, Swimsuit Body, is slated for March of 2015. “It wasn’t just the best alternative,” Goudge says of self-publishing, “it was the only alternative.”
Breaking with Tradition
Eileen Goudge has traditionally published 32 novels for young adults (including six titles in the '80s cult-classic Sweet Valley High series), as well as 15 women's fiction titles. “Traditional publishing was all I’d ever known,” says Goudge. “My job was simply to write books, I’d have gone on doing just that if it had been up to me.” Soon, however, she fell victim to circumstances beyond her control -- and it became harder and harder to publish successfully.
“My advances were steadily shrinking, and then one day there were no advances.” Publishers who had previously been competing to publish her were now rejecting her manuscripts. “What I was writing didn’t seem to matter, only that my numbers were down,” she says. She remembers feeling defeated. Even in this new reality, deciding to self-publish wasn’t an easy decision.“Twenty years ago, [self-publishing] would not have been a viable option,” Goudge says. “Back then there was a stigma to self-publishing.” But today, she saw it as a way out of her career slump.
“With the switch from traditional to [self]-publishing,” says Goudge, “I had a chance to switch genres as well.” A longtime fan of the mystery genre, she credits authors like Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain as early inspiration for her writing. “I’d always wanted to write a mystery,” she says. Goudge conceived of the idea for Bones and Roses (the first book in the planned Cypress Bay series) while strolling on a California beach in her hometown of Santa Cruz.
“The voice of my amateur sleuth, Leticia ‘Tish’ Ballard, a plucky, irreverent 30-something property manager and recovering alcoholic, came to me like she was a real person speaking to me, so I decided to go for it.” Eight months later, the manuscript was finished, along with a draft for the next title in the series, and she was ready for her first foray into self-publishing.
Plotting an Indie Strategy
“I knew next to nothing going into self-publishing.” Goudge says. With traditional publishing she never had to be concerned with finding an editor, or a book designer or a distributor for that matter. “Most of what I now know I learned by the seat of my pants and from my indie author friends,” she says. As a first step, and after an evening of consulting with friends and other indie authors, she hired Francine LaSala and Samantha Stroh Bailey from Perfect Pen Communications to edit her manuscript.
With a polished manuscript then in hand, Goudge set out to find a cover designer for her book. She hired Mumtaz Mustafa, a senior art director at HarperCollins and a freelance artist who had designed book covers for some of Goudge’s other titles. “I knew from my long experience in traditional publishing the importance of a good cover as a selling tool.” The final cover is a full-bleed crimson featuring the image of a red rose overlaid with white font.
Goudge chose to work with digital distributor INscribe Digital -- a company that distributes across most e-book platforms. One of the advantages of INscribe Digital, she said, is the ability to list books for preorder well ahead of publication date. This allowed Goudge to start selling the second title in her series as the first was published.
She cites control over pricing as another part of her indie strategy. “In order to be competitive and attract new readers, I knew I’d have to sell at a lower price point, which meant I’d need a higher percentage of the net for my [self]-published title be profitable.” Bones and Roses and the preorder price for Swimsuit Body are currently $4.99.
Publication and Beyond
In order to learn more about promoting her books as an indie author, Goudge says she’s joined several indie-author groups as well as subscribing to blogs about the subject. In particular, she recommends following the publishing blogs of both Jane Friedman and Anne R. Allen. “I’ve implemented many of their tips, which have helped boost my SEO,” Goudge says.
She also hired marketing and publicity professional Lauren Lee to help with online outreach. “She saved my sanity and broadened my reach in a way I could never have achieved on my own,” Goudge says. “Once the ball is rolling, delegate,” she says. “You can’t do it all yourself, nor should you.”
She also notes that’s she’s fortunate to have a number of her backlist titles available from digital publisher Open Road Media, founded by former president and CEO of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman. She says that Open Road Media has worked with her to aggressively cross promote her indie and backlist titles. And, Friedman adds that Open Road is "reconnecting [Goudge] with her many fans and introducing her books to a new generation of readers."
The Numbers Game
While Goudge admits that her initial indie sales figures are nowhere near the figures she enjoyed at the height of her traditional publishing career, she notes that she's playing the long game. "As my indie author friends keep reminding me," she says, "this is a numbers game. The more books you publish, the better your numbers. Slow growth versus rapid growth." The book has also received some positive mentions in places like Fresh Fiction and Judith Collins's "Must Read Books" blog.
Her final advice to aspiring indie authors is based on years of experience: “Whatever you write and however it finds its way to readers, do it for love, not money.” She notes that when she became discouraged, she began writing projects that she thought would be commercially viable -- putting aside the projects she actually wanted to work on. “I did a course correction and now I’m back to being excited about what I’m writing,” she says.