Saturday, August 9, 2014

How a New York Times Bestselling Author Switched to Being Self-Published

SWITCHING HATS: HOW I WENT FROM BEING A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR TO BEING SELF-PUBLISHED
It was 1983. I’d just moved to New York City from California with my two young children, my typewriter and no child support.  I needed to find work – pronto – or we’d all starve. At a party I was approached by an attractive flight attendant who confided that she moonlighted as a call girl. She tried to recruit me, with promises of big money. I passed.  I wasn’t that desperate.  

I signed with a book packager instead. I kept the wolf from the door in those early years by churning out teen romances for small five-figure sums and even smaller royalties. But you’ve got to start somewhere and 

I’m proud of the part I played in helping launch the successful Sweet Valley High series, even if my name is nowhere to be seen on any of those titles. It was decent money and, more importantly, I could count on a monthly income. My kids and I didn’t go hungry.  I didn’t have to sell my body to pay the rent. And writing those books was instrumental in honing my craft. By that I mean the most basic skill of stitching together a beginning, middle and an end.

I was nevertheless thankful to go on to bigger and better things. With my first adult novel, Garden of Lies, I found a wide audience and my name was on the cover. It enjoyed a 12-week run on the New York Times bestseller list. This despite the fact that I’d been warned by publishing veterans that green-colored book covers don’t sell. (The way I saw it, that only meant my green-colored book cover would stand out from the pack.) I was too naïve then to know my early success wouldn’t simply continue to grow. I failed to factor in the vagaries of publishing, the economy, or the human factor (I was married to my agent then, whom I subsequently divorced).

What I envisioned as a steady upward trajectory was a roller-coaster ride instead. Corporate mergers, industry shifts, recessions, the musical chairs of editors coming and going – I’ve seen it all. Finally, it reached a point where I could no longer subsist on my royalty income.

I should be depressed, right? But I’m not. Here’s why (besides the fact that my current husband is wonderfully supportive in every way). While I was floundering in traditional publishing, along with a bunch of other authors like myself, a revolution had been taking place in the digital world. Indie publishing had arrived and it was no longer the back alley of publishing but a place where you could proudly hang your hat. Opportunity was knocking and I took heed. 

Bones and Roses, the first book in my Cypress Bay mystery series, is the answer to the question I’d asked myself back then: What would you write if you were on a desert island? If there were no publisher/editor expectations to be met?  I’ve always been drawn to the mystery genre and even penned a teen series in the 1980’s titled Who Killed Peggy Sue? I enjoyed reading mysteries and realized I would write one for the fun of it even if I never saw a dime from it. It was thrilling to me that even I didn’t know whodunit till halfway through the writing of the first draft! 

Writing the book was the easy part. The biggest challenge was when it came time to wear my publisher’s hat.  I was such a newbie I barely knew the meaning of SEO. But I’m a quick learner and one of my strengths is knowing what to tackle and what to delegate. At the suggestion of an author friend I signed with INscribe Digital to distribute Bones and Roses.  They have expertise and relationships with the various e-tailers I couldn’t hope to replicate on my own.
Next up, cover design. After pursuing some dead ends I hired the peerless Mumtaz Mustafa, who’d done the covers for several of my backlist titles, to design kickass covers for Books #1 and #2 of my Cypress Bay mystery series. She did an awesome job, as I knew she would. I ended up with two covers any publisher, traditional or otherwise, would be proud of.  The lesson is this: You get what you pay for.  Book design is not an area in which to skimp. Go with the best you can afford.

Editing is another must.  I’m smart enough to know I’m my own worst editor, so I hired a team of professionals, Samantha Stroh Bailey and Francine LaSala of Perfect Pen Communications. They’re both authors themselves, so they came at it from an authors’ perspective, and it was great to have two pairs of eyes. I highly recommend them.

For digitizing I went with Polgarus Studio. Jason from Polgarus delivered in a record two days and did a great job at a great price.

With the approach of my pub date I knew I needed some marketing muscle, so I hired a whiz of the biz, Lauren Lee, with whom I’d worked in the past.  She guided me through the shoals and did online outreach while I did my part in becoming more active with social media and blogging. Hiring someone to assist with marketing and promotion isn’t essential if you yourself are adept at that kind of thing, but I’m a beginner so for me it wasn’t optional. I’m smart enough to know that word-of-mouth only works if you get the word out to begin with.

Now that the book is out there, only time will tell if the proverbial wolf will return or if its banished for good.  But I’m hopeful. Either way, I’m doing what I love without having to sell my body or my soul.    

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New York Times bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, Secret of the Mossy Cave, at he age of eleven, and went on to pen the perennially popular Garden of Lies, which was published in 22 languages around the world, and numerous other women’s fiction tiles. 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. Keep connected with Eileen at her website, www.eileengoudge.com.


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