Self-Publishing: The Scenic Route

by | Aug 4, 2014


By Eileen Goudge

I’d like to welcome author Eileen Goudge to The Book Designer. A traditionally published author, Eileen has decided to take the self-publishing route for her latest book and today she describes her self-publishing journey to us. I hope you enjoy it.


I have a terrible sense of direction. My husband thinks it’s funny that I get lost even with GPS. It’s not so funny when you’re the one driving south on a freeway when you ought to be headed north to the nearest airport, worried you’ll miss your flight. I’ve been known to scream at the GPS lady.

But every so often getting lost can turn out to be a positive. Like when I take a wrong turn that leads me down picturesque back roads. Who wouldn’t rather look out at cows grazing in fields or roadside produce stands than other cars and fast-food franchises?

But what happens when you take an unexpected turn in pursuing a career path? When I went from being traditionally published to becoming my own publisher, it was a direction I hadn’t planned on taking, and the journey has been one not unlike Dorothy’s by tornado to the Land of Oz.

It started innocently enough. I was having lunch at a restaurant with my author friend, Josie Brown. Josie had been traditionally published (we briefly shared the same agent, unbeknownst to either of us at the time) before she went indie. She’s now reaping the rewards. She’s gone from being relegated to piddling print runs—with the paycheck to match—to a six-figure income. She urged me to give it a go. I balked at first, arguing that it was too risky and besides, what did I know about DIY publishing?

A lot more than I realized, as it turns out.

First and foremost, I knew how to write. As a New York Times bestselling author of fifteen women’s fiction titles, I’ve had plenty of practice honing my craft and I’ve worked with some of the top agents, editors and publishers in the business.

I also knew people. When you’ve been in and around publishing as many years as I have, you’ve got what my husband calls a “solid gold Rolodex.” There were lots of people I could hire or call on for advice. (If you’re just starting out, it’s easy to make friends with other writers, thanks to all the social media outlets available. And writers, in my experience, are the most generous of souls. We all help one another because we know it takes a village. You won’t be out on a limb by yourself.)

I figured I’d learn the rest as I went along.

I won’t lie: It was hard work. In the beginning I felt like someone struggling to put together a child’s swing set without proper tools, having failed to notice the “some assembly required” in the instructions before ordering it. There were restless nights and fears of all that could go wrong. But I persisted. I’m stubborn. Once I make up my mind to do something, I see it through to the end.

The idea for my Cypress Bay mystery series came to me during a stroll on the beach. These days I make my home in New York City, but for some years I lived in the beautiful Northern California seaside town of Santa Cruz. I still go there once a year, for a month at a time, to hole up with my laptop and write. There’s nothing quite like gazing out at the sea or listening to the sound of waves for tapping into one’s creative wellspring.

The premise for Bones and Roses and the character of my amateur sleuth, Tish Ballard, popped into my head that day at the beach. I went back to the house I was staying at and sat down to hammer out an outline. It was love at first byte.

Several months later, I had a first draft. I showed it to two of my friends, both veteran readers and merciless critics. They were encouraging. I went back to the drawing board with their comments. In the meantime, I got busy assembling my dream team.

Signing With a Distributor

I signed with a distributor, INscribe Digital, which has an excellent track record. I didn’t see the need to shop around, given they were recommended by my friend, Josie, who’d worked with them on some of her titles.

They work on percentage—15%, the same commission I would’ve paid my agent—so I didn’t have to worry about being out of pocket. And INscribe has relationships with the various e-tailers I couldn’t hope to replicate; I knew the chances of my books being included in any special promotions were better with them than if I were acting alone. They also handle library distribution, and library sales had been a significant percentage of the overall sales of my traditionally published titles.

Finding a Book Cover Designer

Bones and RosesNext I set about finding a book designer. At first I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of designers to choose from. I looked at a ton of sample covers, and even ran a contest on 99designs.com that garnered over a hundred submissions, none of which was right for my book, before finally concluding my mom was right when she used to say, “You get what you pay for.” If you spend $200 on a book cover, chances are it won’t be in the same league as the covers of books on the New York Times bestseller list.

I ended up paying top dollar for a top designer, Mumtaz Mustafa, a senior art director at HarperCollins who also works freelance, and got my money’s worth. It was substantially more than the $200 I was quoted by another designer but still well within my budget, at under $2000 (including the fee for use of images), and the value it adds is priceless.

Readers DO judge a book by its cover, and if your book cover looks like a cheapo-depot special or something your teenage son Photoshopped in an afternoon using Shutterstock images, your otherwise worthy book will get passed over by discerning readers, I guarantee. Word of advice: If a designer has a crappy website that’s thin on samples (or has samples the size of a postage stamp), how can you trust him or her to give YOU the best book cover?

Editing

When the final draft of my novel was completed, I had an editor/copyediting team go over it. I went with Francine LaSala and Samantha Stroh Bailey of Perfect Pen Communications. Both are talented authors in their own right, as well as careful and methodical editors.

I’d worked with Francine on four of my traditionally published titles and knew the quality of her work. They did an excellent job and delivered in a timely fashion.

E-book Conversion

For the digitizing I went with another of my friend Josie’s recommendations: Polgarus Studio. Their fee, at under $100, was a bargain. As a note of interest, they’re physically located in Tasmania. Talk about the global village!

My Conclusions

Now, with the approach of the pub date for Bones and Roses (August 5th), I find myself reflecting on the journey I’ve taken. I learned a lot over the course of the past year and a half. I am no longer ignorant as to what, exactly, metadata is and does and what acronyms like BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communication) stand for.

I mastered more social media platforms, with the help of my digital marketing “genie,” Lauren Lee, than I knew existed prior to this. Mostly through Twitter and Facebook, I forged invaluable connections with other authors and book bloggers.

I use TweetDeck so I can view multiple columns on one screen and see right away whenever my name or the titles of my books are mentioned. I’ve found I’m more comfortable retweeting when followers tweet nice things about me or one of my titles than I am canvassing the virtual highway wearing a sandwich board that reads BUY MY BOOK!

Also, the adage “You reap what you sow” applies to social media as well as life: I’m happy to urge people to buy my friends’ books because I genuinely want what’s best for my friends, and they, in turn, do the same for me. Remember, people who don’t know you are more inclined to listen when it’s a word-of-mouth thing than if you’re tooting your own horn. I do post/tweet notice of any special promotions and or new releases or when I have a new blog post, but I try to keep it within bounds.

The bottom line? Whatever comes of this or wherever I end up, I won’t regret taking the trip. If I hadn’t had the faith and courage to veer off the beaten path, I’d have remained remain stuck in a rut.

A brief description of Bones and Roses, Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series can be found here on my website. I’m also sharing an excerpt here on Facebook.

I’d love to hear about any unexpected turns in your career path. What was the hardest part? What was the best part? Was it worth it in the end? Do you have any tips that could help others on a similar path?

Eileen GoudgeNew York Time bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, Secret of the Mossy Cave, at the 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.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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20 Comments

  1. Kristen Steele

    “Readers DO judge a book by its cover, and if your book cover looks like a cheapo-depot special or something your teenage son Photoshopped in an afternoon using Shutterstock images, your otherwise worthy book will get passed over by discerning readers, I guarantee.”

    I love this! So true! A professional book cover is well worth the money. If the cover is terrible it will be passed over, even if the content inside is great!

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      Looks like I was preaching to the choir. Glad you agree, Kristen. That means your books don’t have crappy covers if you’re an self-pubbed author :) You get what you pay for.

      Reply
  2. eileen goudge

    Brave move, Laura. In the beginning I didn’t think I could possibly manage, but somehow I found the way. The best advice I can give is to find your own method that works for you. I tried following the advice of a friend of mine who’s a bestselling indie author and kept falling short, until I realized she was coming at it from the perspective of someone with a background in marketing and promoting. She was 102 and I was 101. So I decided to hire freelancers to help with certain aspects, such as marketing.

    Reply
  3. Laura Hile

    Eileen, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

    I, too, am making the scary leap from traditional publishing to indie. And I’ve bookmarked your article for those days when I know I’ll feel overwhelmed, wondering why I ever thought I could take this project on.

    Your book cover is beautiful. I wish you every success.

    Laura

    Reply
  4. eileen goudge

    Many hats indeed. There aren’t enough hours in the day. I congratulate you, John, for finding your own path and somehow finding those extra hours. If I have one piece of advice for authors hiring a book designer it’s this: Let them do their job. I paid mine to do what I can’t – she’s the visual arts person and a highly trained one at that – so I wasn’t going to muck around. I only gave her the genre and a brief description of the book and told her to come up with some designs, that I’d know the the right cover for me when I saw it. As a result of her being allowed to do her job without a lot of interference and/or stupid suggestions, she delivered great work. I hope your clients allow you the same creative freedom.

    Reply
  5. john rios

    Thank you Eileen for sharing your publishing story…a hearty congrats! It’s wonderful that you had a “dream team” to make it happen. I’m at a crossroads personally and professionally, and am trying to make a permanent move to book design–something I absolutely love. It has been slow to start though. The hardest part…well, i’m the promotions mgr, the ad exec, the marketing guru, the web guy, etc.. So many hats and so little time!

    I recently wrapped up a $500 cover project for a nyc-based author’s memoir. The author was on a strict self-publishing budget, and after reading parts of her book, I was drawn to her story and felt it was my duty to honor her personal work with something timeless and sophisticated. She was ecstatic when I gave her the final layout. Her positivity, praise, and enthusiasm is good “fuel” as I continue my quest. Guess it’s a matter of perseverance to see if it’s “worth it in the end.” Not quite sure yet, but it’s certainly worth a try!

    ps: Steer your friends and associates clear of websites like 99designs…it’s just bad for designers, the industry, and the craft.

    Reply
  6. Josa Young

    Career changes? I’ve had a few. I started out as a glossy magazine journalist on Vogue UK, graduated to broadsheet newspapers, and then jumped into the internet uttering happy cries in 1995 (my journalist colleagues thought I had gone mad). Since then it’s been a rocky ride, I can tell you. I wrote my first novel around the same time that I discovered the internet. Agent was crazy about it, but failed to sell it, and a completely different version was finally published in 2009 by a small publisher, by which time I had the second one written. Again, new agent crazy about it, failed to sell. Marriage blew up, children to care for, no support network of any kind to collapse into. So I went into digital content consultancy to feed and educate the two who were still at home. In brief breaks between contracts, I edited my second novel, and edited it again and again. It will be published on 9 October. I won’t be able to work on it full time, but have designed a marketing programme I can implement after work. As a very early adopted, I do have a presence of sorts on Twitter, and have so enjoyed the contact with many writers I admire, who are, as you say, so generous and kind. I have had amazing feedback, including from a top selling novelist here in the UK who offered an unsolicited cover quote for an early version. So, on we go…. I love your story and am particularly interested in Polgarus Studio. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      Seems we’ve all had our roller coaster ride. I’ve seen so much ups and downs in publishing it’s enough to make my head spin (or make me throw up!) I was a single mom when I first started out a writer. Don’t ask how I managed to feed and clothe my kids in those early years. I’m not even sure myself – I think the fairies visited in the night. It sounds like you’re going in the right direction, Jose, in that you’ve written two novels and educated yourself in how to market them. As for the writer community online, I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it.

      Reply
  7. Cindy Arora

    Cannot wait to read your new book. Buying it now! Congrats on your new chapter in publishing.

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      Thank you, Cindy! I hope you enjoy it. I had so much fun writing Bones and Roses, I’d have done it for free. But then my bills wouldn’t get paid :)

      Reply
  8. Martha Reynolds

    This is one of those posts you save. Thank you, Eileen, for your insight. “…people who don’t know you are more inclined to listen when it’s a word-of-mouth thing than if you’re tooting your own horn.” This is so true! I, too, enjoy shouting out about great books I’ve read.

    Really wonderful post.

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      I make it a practice in life to take a moment to praise or thank whenever it’s deserved. A pat on the back goes a long way – something that often gets overlooked in this digital era in which we communicate by text or email. A handwritten note, even better. As for tooting my own horn, I’m not very good at that! Maybe that’s a good thing :)

      Reply
  9. Jessi Gage

    Really helpful article, Eileen. And wonderful to meet you. I LOVE that you’re promoting self-publishing as anything but “going it alone.” YES! This is what I’ve found too. I cringe at how many talented writers have gone a cheaper route and found they’re just not getting the visibility and sales their work deserves.

    With traditional publishing, we’re used to hearing, you shouldn’t have to spend a dime to get published. Anyone who wants money up front is NOT legit. But it’s the reverse with self-publishing. You have to spend money to make money.

    I couldn’t have gotten started without a loan from a friend. I will forever be grateful, because self publishing is the best thing that’s happened to me in recent years.

    Thanks for the post! I’m sharing it on twitter!

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      Oh my gosh, Jessi, how true! If it takes a village, self-publishing takes a global village. The good news is, the investment is relatively modest compared to, say, opening a restaurant. The most important piece of advice to anyone going indie is to get a great cover. If content is king, the book cover is queen. It seems to have worked out for you, so congrats!

      Reply
  10. Kelly Peterson

    Eileen, it’s so fun for us to see the whole journey! It’s such a pleasure to work for you, and we can’t wait to see what the future will bring for this series. What a fantastic book!

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      Thank you, Kelly! It’s a joy to work with professionals like yourself who really know their stuff. I know I’m in good hands with INscribe Digital!

      Reply
  11. Samantha Stroh Bailey

    What a fantastic interview and thanks so much for the shout out. Francine and I absolutely loved every minute of editing Bones and Roses because it is such a well-written, funny, poignant, and heart-pounding novel. You know that you have been one of my idols for as long as I can remember, and I am so very lucky to have worked with you. This book is fantastic!

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      Thank you, Sam! I love that I can honestly recommend my friends (who I would pay to have edit my books even if you weren’t my friends!) Your words will carry me through the day.

      Reply
  12. Ernie Zelinski

    You say, “I’d love to hear about any unexpected turns in your career path.”

    At the age of twenty-nine, I embarked on a new career. Having been fired from my engineering job for taking too much vacation, I decided that I wanted be a creative loafer for a year or so. Although my new career was supposed to be temporary, I have yet to return to a regular job. That was in 1980. Since then I have truly been a creative loafer, believing that I don’t have to “work hard” to make a good living. I know that I still have to work — but to “work smart!”

    After not working for several years, then going back to university to survive on student loans, and then working part-time for a year and a half, I decided to become an author in 1989.

    At that time my creativity book was represented by Canadian agent Joan Kellock and turned down by all the U.S, British, and Canadian publishers that she sent it too. I was totally broke and had $30,000 in student loans. Even so, I started self-publishing with a loan from my mother.

    My role model who inspired me to self-publish my first three books was Robert J. Ringer. He is the only person to the best of my knowledge
    to write, self-publish, and market three #1 “New York Times” bestsellers in the 1970’s and 1980’s (much more of a “pioneer” of self-publishing than many of the people today claiming to be pioneers of self-publishing). Not so long ago the first two of Ringer’s books were listed by “The New York Times” among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

    Here is one important piece of advice from Robert J. Ringer that has served me well, whether the book is self-published or published by a traditional publisher:

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job working on the right project than a great job working on the wrong project.”

    What’s more, this has always been my motto:

    “Do It Badly — But at Least Do It!”

    This approach has helped me get published in 22 languages and 29 countries. I have a total of 111 book deals with foreign publishers, all without using a North American foreign rights agent. My books have now sold over 800,000 copies worldwide. Not bad for a creative loafer, wouldn’t you say? Incidentally, today I only work one or two hours a day and, like your friend, have a six-figure income.

    Regarding becoming a successful self-publisher, these words of wisdom from H. Jackson Brown, Jr. resonate with me big time:

    “When starting out, don’t worry about not having enough money. Limited funds are a blessing, not a curse. Nothing encourages creative thinking in quite the same way.”

    Reply
    • eileen goudge

      Wow! What an inspiring story, Ernie. Proof that you can do whatever you set your mind to. Love your advice to others: so true. Rule number one: you have to have a great product to sell. I wish you continued success.

      Reply

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