How I Went from Traditionally Published Author to Indie Author (With the Scars to Show for It)

eileen goudgeGuest Post
by Eileen Goudge

The term “traditionally published” took some getting used to when I first began hearing it. Back when my first novel, Garden of Lies, came out in 1986, there were two kinds of writers: published and unpublished. Those who were self-published didn’t count.

The digital revolution changed all that. In today’s world, not only is there no stigma to self-publishing, there’s valor in it. And money to be made. Statistics from two recent surveys on self-publishing show that indie authors dominate eBook bestseller lists by a whopping 54%. That’s more than all the traditionally published authors from the major houses combined! That said, I had to be dragged into the new reality even though my indicator lights were blinking, warning me I was in danger of being crushed by the old ways. My reluctance was understandable. Like an adult child living at home, I was spoiled. For my fifteen women’s fiction titles that were traditionally published, I’d had other people doing the work of bringing each book to the marketplace. I didn’t need to concern myself with pesky details such as editing, cover design, distribution, marketing strategy, and promotion.

But somewhere along the line, the rosy picture started to change for the worse: With the rise in sales of eBooks and the tanking of the economy, print runs for print books shrank. Bookseller orders were down. Foreign sales were off. Publishers held the purse strings more tightly. My advances grew steadily smaller. Suddenly, overnight it seemed, no one seemed to care what I’d written or what I was working on. The only thing that mattered to publishers was the number of copies my last title had sold. I still had fans, and they were clamoring for my next novel, but publishers turned their collective back.

I’m a silver-lining kind of gal, so I always try to look at the bright side. And there was an enormous bright side. I had a viable alternative: I could go indie. At first it felt like Mission Impossible. “Your mission should you choose to accept it…” I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and online chatter on the subject; I didn’t know where to begin. I’m also not that tech savvy. The mere act of creating an account on a social media or retail site can bollox me up.

I didn’t know how to raise a child, either, before I had my two, and that didn’t stop me. So I plunged in, for better or for worse.

I made a budget and identified the essentials that are best hired or delegated:

I signed with a distributor, INscribe Digital, who came highly recommended by an author friend. They take a 15% cut, the same as my agent would have taken in commission, so I wasn’t out of pocket and they do the work of getting my book to the e-tailers, giving it the best shot at being included in any upcoming e-tailer promotions.

Book Cover
I knew from my long experience in publishing the importance of an eye-catching and professional-looking cover. Contrary to the popular saying, books ARE judged by the cover. I commissioned a book cover from a top designer, Mumtaz Mustafa, who’d done several of my traditionally published book covers.

When I had a final draft of Bones and Roses, I hired the professional editors of Perfect Pen Communications to edit and copyedit. They were wonderful and worked seamlessly as a team, delivering on time and providing essential input.

Marketing Strategy
I like knowing what’s going on without necessarily having to be hands on all the time. I happily delegated the development of a marketing strategy to a digital marketing “genie.” Lauren Lee devised a marketing strategy for me, which unlike the marketing plans of traditional publishers, was one in which I was actively involved. It’s been a wonderful partnership.

Social Media Platform
Friend and social media consultant Susie Stangland helped boost my social media presence. I also keep connected with my author friends who’ve encouraged and aided me every step of the way.

The biggest difference between my being traditionally published and indie published? I’m in charge of my own fate, as an indie author. I control pricing. And the quality of what I put out and the amount of effort I put into marketing will determine my sales figures, not my prior track record. Sure, it’s a tremendous amount of work.

The other day someone observed that my husband was looking thinner. “That’s because I haven’t done any baking lately,” I replied. Self-publishing ate my life. I barely have time to go shopping much less cook or bake. I joke that I have to pencil in bathroom breaks. But I don’t bemoan or regret a single minute of it. Whatever comes of it — whether I rise triumphant from the ashes or fall on my sword — I’ll look back on this leap of faith and say to myself, “Well done, you.”

New York Times 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. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter, Sandy Kenyon. Keep connected with Eileen at her website and visit her Author Central page to see all her books.

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34 thoughts on “How I Went from Traditionally Published Author to Indie Author (With the Scars to Show for It)”

  1. Welcome to the Indie side, Eileen. I wish you well and hope this decision proves to be a lucrative one for you.

    But I think many of us envy you. Why? because we do not have the funds to pay for distribution and marketing support. Many of us do without essentials to pay for editing and covers, or barter for those services.

    On the other hand it is encouraging that you, and several others who have been Trad published are seeing that going Indie may be a good decision. It lends those of us who put out good books but don’t have the street rep a better reputation and helps reduce the stigma of ‘vanity publishing’.

    1. My total cash outlay was far less than you might imagine, Yvonne. My distributor works on a percentage basis (15%) and the other professionals I hired were freelancers who didn’t cost an arm and a leg. With any business there are start-up costs, and that’s how I approached this – as a business. Since indie publishing is one of long-range goals, I don’t expect to earn out right away.

  2. Good for you. Sounds like you were able to take the bull by the horns and get it done. It’s awesome that you had a go-to cover artist and took some advice from friends on places to go to get other services.

    I think that’s one of the best things about the indie community–the authors are all super helpful, and willing to offer honest recommendations. (In some industries, people just don’t offer any helpful tips to other people doing the same jobs as themselves, viewing those people as competition).

    Have your fans been pleased with the new “indie” title or do they not even care or notice?

  3. Thank you for sharing your journey, Eileen. Grocery shopping and stuff is overrated, anyway. 😉 I’m also curious to know how your fans have reacted.

  4. Those of my fans who don’t use e-readers were disappointed only in that they couldn’t buy a print edition. I’m working on it. Thanks to the magic of Create Space there will soon be a print edition of BONES AND ROSES available.

  5. Welcome to indie publishing, Eileen!
    I agree that it’s hard work but so totally worth it. And being able to fine-tune what you do towards what the reader wants as opposed to the accountants is no bad thing either!

    It must be hard to make that leap and strike out on your own but honestly, most readers (myself included) don’t actually know or care who publishes their favourite authors: they see your name and buy the book. With an established fan base all ready in place, I suspect you’ll do fine – if not better…
    I hope you’ll love indiedom as much as I do, and wish you all the best in your future endeavours. As people have said, we’re a friendly lot and love what we do so always happy to swap experiences and tips- just find a forum and ask the question!

    All the best:

    1. It’s good to know I’m not out on a limb alone. The hardest part for me is being patient. With a series it usually takes a few books to catch on, I’m told, and I only have the one title as of yet. I have a first draft for Book 2, but its not a short road between the first and last drafts. I refuse to compromise on quality for the sake of quantity.

  6. Eileen, thanks for sharing your decision to go indie with us. It’s a steep learning curve but in the indie world, we’re there to catch each other and help haul our butts back up the mountainside. Best wishes for your continued success!

    1. Good to know. I’m a hard worker, but not what you’d call tech savvy. I grind my teeth with envy when other indie authors use words like “simple” and “push-button.” Nothing about this process was simple or push button for me. Not. One. Thing. My definition of “simple” is Amazon one-click ordering. Everything else I had to learn the hard way. But I’m proud of myself for hanging in there.

  7. A really great post, Eileen. Thank you for sharing your journey to the world of indies with us. I can assure you we are not all tech savvy but there are always those who are ready to reach out and help those of us who aren’t.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one. My mind goes blank when I stare at technogeek-speak on my computer for too long. If I don’t have anyone at hand to help me, I make my way through the YouTube tutorials until I find one that explains it clearly and concisely. Works for me most of the time, as long as it’s not too advanced.

  8. Brilliant! So inspiring! I know you read my post from a couple weeks back, so I feel like I’m a step behind you in that we’ve both made the same decision but you already have a built up fan base and back catalogue. It will be so interesting to follow each other’s journeys – I’m glad we connected. Best of luck!

    1. I read your post with great interest, Becky. Do I recall correctly that you designed your own cover? If so, you are definitely beyond me in terms of techno skills! Half the battle in indie, I’m convinced, is harnessing the power of SEO. I discovered a cool site the other day. It makes it so you can create these cartoon bubble thingies in an image with captions and links. Hard to explain; if you go on the site, you’ll see. I signed up for it and have been playing around with it. It’s fun!

  9. Welcome Eileen, sorry I’m a bit late to the party; although we are a day ahead down here in the antipodes it actually works out, because of the time difference, that we’re a day behind with responses.

    Excellent post, Eileen.

    1. Thanks! I’ve been travelling all day, so I’m lagging behind on my some of my responses. Currently in Calif. for a family wedding. First non-book activity in a while. Nice to get away 🙂

    1. You’re so right. I befriended a group of indie authors who have become close friends. We all met for a long weekend at the beach last winter and plan to do so again this coming year. We’re constantly emailing, texting or tweeting one another. And we’re there to support one another’s books in every way possible. Don’t know where I’d be without my fellow Beach Babes!

  10. Great article and your strategy is exactly what we did 4 years ago. The only difference my partners and I plunged right into indie-publishing after repeated rejections from the traditional route (I actually had a literary agent, too). So, we became an LLC and hired editors, book designers, typesetters, and “polluted” social media with our virtual footprints. Luckily, one of my partners is a marketing expert, so he drummed up an effective plan. As a result, our first indie-published novel sold 10,000 copies, a significant feat for a do-it-yourselfer. 🙂

    1. Wow. Amazing success story! 10,000 downloads is a lot of copies in the indie world. Good for you. Yes, it helps to have marketing savvy. I have an indie author friend who went from barely making a living to bringing in an annual six-figure salary. She’s another one with a background in marketing. Sigh. I wish.

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