Confessions of NYT Bestselling Author Gone Indie

by Eileen Goudge

We have a visit from a literary superstar this week. New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge has written 32 novels, sold over a million copies, and been translated into 22 languages. 

I first heard about Ms. Goudge in the 1980s, when my friends and I all ran out to buy her phenomenal novel Garden of Lies when it first made the New York Times bestseller list. I was living in the San Diego area at the time, and she was making all the local papers as the "hometown-girl-makes-good."

But like so many successful traditionally published authors at the height of their creative powers, Eileen found herself pushed out by her publisher (and agent--in a particularly unpleasant way, as you'll read below) as the marketing department went off chasing the next shiny thing. 

We live in a winner-takes-all economy these days, and publishing companies often don't want to promote skilled, regular producers of good quality product when they can throw all their money behind a brand new Snooki book or ghost-written celebrity tell-all. 

By cutting the advertising budgets of long-term successful authors, publishers create self-fulfilling prophecies that these authors "aren't selling anymore" and the authors find they're no longer making a living at the profession they've practiced successfully for 20+ years. 

Luckily we now have self-publishing. Some of the most successful self-publishers are the former stars who were told they "weren't selling anymore" and went on to hit the bestseller lists as indies and live there permanently, like Catherine Ryan Hyde (who has a similar story of being told she "no longer had an audience" before hitting the #1 spot on Amazon with each of her self-published novels.) 

However, Eileen didn't just have to deal with shifting publisher loyalties, difficult agent relationships and the usual disrespect. She also had a tech/social media catastrophe that would win any bad luck contest. 

She has a message for all of us about how to take care of ourselves so this doesn't happen--so DO read the part at the end about social media. (Especially where she calls me a rock star. LOL) 

But she's back on her feet, has a fabulous new series, and has lived to tell the tale...Anne


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. 

(Note from Anne: I can't figure out Goodreads either, and they've even made me a librarian!) 

The Tech Catastrophe

I acquired so many passwords I didn’t know what to do with them all, so I stored them temporarily on my iPhone. 

Bad move. 

In a single, sleep-deprived moment, with a misbegotten swipe, I accidentally cut-and-pasted the entire list onto the text of an Instagram post. 

I instantly deleted it, relieved to have dodged the bullet until my sister-in-law in California phoned me in alarm to let me know it was still on my Facebook page. 

I panicked and spent the next two hours changing the passwords on all my accounts. I went from sleep-deprived to not being able to sleep, I was so wired, visions of Ukrainian hackers dancing in my head.

(Naked photos leaked on the Internet, as in the case of Jennifer Lawrence, wouldn’t be as bad a having your bank account hacked into!)

Don’t make the same mistake. I don’t mean just this business of securing your passwords. I mean don’t put yourself in a position where you’re so addled your left brain doesn’t know what your right brain is doing. 

I saw my screw-up as a wakeup call. I was worn down from trying to do much. 

Don't Try to Do Everything!  

I know, I know. There are indie authors advising you to go all out and do everything the sun. 

I learned the hard way I’m not one of those authors. 

If you’re like me and value your sanity and wish to have some semblance of a personal life, you’ll ease up on the throttle. Here are three simple ways to achieve that while increasing your chances of success (because I’m convinced nothing good or lasting comes of pain or deprivation).

*Delegate wherever possible.

I signed with a distributor, INscribe Digital, once I realized I couldn’t do it all. Founded by former Borders executives, it’s a young and dynamic company with the expertise and preexisting relationships with e-tailers I knew I could benefit from.

It’s also where bestselling author Sylvia Day got her start. They work on a commission basis (15%) so I wasn’t out of pocket, which is important when you’re on a tight budget.

*Get marketing help

I also hired a freelance marketing expert to help develop a targeted plan of action. If you don’t have money in your budget to allocate on marketing, join an online writers’ group. I belong to several, and I’ve found my fellow members to be unstintingly generous, not only in sharing their wisdom and expertise but in helping promoting one another’s works. You can benefit from your peers. They’re always on hand to give advice, help out, or act as a sounding board. And it’s a global village, so there’s always someone awake in some part of the world.

*Put your money where it will do the most good.

Whether you’re working on a shoestring budget or have bottomless resources, play it smart.

1) Start with a professional-looking book cover. For the covers of Books 1 and 2 of my Cypress Bay mystery series, I hired a designer who’d done the covers of several of my backlist titles.

Mumtaz Mustafa is a senior art director at Harper Collins with a freelance business on the side. It was a joy to work with her. She’s super-talented and a seasoned professional. I ended up with two covers such as you might see on a front table at a Barnes and Noble. 

There are other book designers like her; you just have weed through all the dross to get to them. Keep in mind you get what you pay for, so go with the best you can afford. In the meantime, read this insightful article from Psychology Today, Judging a Book By Its Cover, if you want to know more about what is it about certain covers that attracts buyers.

2) Don't stint on editing! The good news is there are lots of freelance editors to choose from. I went with people I knew, the editing team of Perfect Pen Communications. Samantha Stroh Bailey and Francine LaSala are both authors in their own right, so they have a unique perspective. They did an excellent job and delivered on time. I highly recommend them.

*Do what you can and don’t stress about the rest.

Let’s face it, you’re only human. If you try to do it all, unless you have a background in marketing like my savvy indie author friend, Josie Brown, you risk being a jack of all trades and master of none. Sort of like the old saying, He who represents himself in court has a fool for a lawyer. Best concentrate your time and energy on what you do best.

Which for me is

Writing, you already know how to do. So let’s talk about blogging. 

Specifically guest blogging. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately because:

How do you get invited to hop on as a guest blogger? By first engaging with other bloggers.

Like Anne is always urging.

Actively seek out blog sites in the community of whatever genre you write in. Sign up for their newsletters and comment on their blog posts. That’s precisely how I came to be invited to do a guest post for this blog.

Anne commented on another blog post I’d done and one thing led to another. (At the risk of gushing, may I just say I was totally over the moon to be asked. She’s a rock star and role model.)

None of this happens overnight. Be prepared to do some spade-work. But don’t think of it as work. Find the joy in it. Make it fun! 

(And always, always, always read a blog before you ask to guest post!! Otherwise it's like asking for a favor with your middle finger raised. You will not have happy results...Anne)  

Keep in mind, unless you have a cast of thousands at your beck and call, you will only scratch the surface of all that’s available to indie publishers online. For every social media platform or app you master, there are a dozen new ones popping up. Every day. Every minute of every day. 

If you try to keep up with it all, you’ll go crazy or drive your loved ones crazy. Information overload is a bigger threat than that of any sales you might lose due to not utilizing every bell and whistle. Take a deep breath, then let it out. 

Now repeat after me: 

"I understand I can’t do it all and I’m okay with that." 

Say it a few more times until you mean it.

In short, do what fulfills you, what brings you pleasure, rather than strive for perfection. You’ll be happier. And probably more successful. 

Me? I didn’t sell my body and I’m not going to sell my soul.

What will come of all this? I don’t have the answer yet. This is long-tail publishing so I may not know for another year or two. In the meantime, I’m happy to have some control over my destiny.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bake a cake. 

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any horror tales of tech nightmares you've caused by being on overload? What do you feel is the best use of an author's time on social media? Do you have any questions for Eileen? 

New York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge is the author of 15 women’s fiction titles, which include Garden of Lies, published in 22 languages around the world. Bones and Roses is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon.


Available at Amazon NOOK, Apple, Kobo 

Welcome to the northern California seaside town of Cypress Bay, where the surf’s up, the sixties live on and long-buried secrets are about to surface.

From home invasions to cheating spouses, Rest Easy Property Management owner Leticia “Tish” Ballard thought she’d seen it all. Almost four years sober after flambéing her real estate career in an alcohol-fueled blowout, she’s finally in a good place in her life when the discovery of skeletal human remains rocks her world and plunges her headlong into solving a decades-old crime. 

Now she must delve into the darkness of her own past, including the one-night stand gone horribly wrong with Spence Breedlove, who happens to be the lead detective on the case. When the truth comes out at long last, Tish finds herself pitted against an enemy who will stop at nothing in a fight for her own life.


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THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

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