Published November 19th, 2013 | Features

How I did it…

Nigel Goodall is one of the UK’s top celebrity biographers, and has been making a living from writing for more than 20 years. Waiting… caught up with him to ask whom and what inspired him to become a professional writer.

From Elton John to Kylie, Nigel Goodall has written about some of the biggest names in show business. Nominated for the first-ever non-fiction writing award, many of his books have become bestsellers throughout the world. Throughout his career, he has written books about celebrities in both the film and pop worlds, and is frequently seen on both American and British TV revealing some of the subjects he has written about.

That is what all writing should be, about following your passion.

What was your background before your became a writer, and did you always want to be a writer?  Nigel: When I left school I wanted to work in television, and the idea was to get to Elstree to become a trainee cameraman. When that didn’t work out, I worked in music publishing, first as a packer and then in copyright. In the evenings and at weekends I was DJing at a club in Tunbridge Wells, which later became my full time profession.

I ended up doing lot of gigs at clubs, and for Top Rank as a resident DJ, in their ballrooms, ice rinks and bowling alleys.  After the DJ craze died out, I became a printer and then I got into graphic design, designing album sleeves, tour books and posters. I wanted to work for myself, so I set up a little home studio and called it Artsleeves. I had moderate success with it and during that period I did my first book. I don’t recall there being any big career plans to become a writer at that point.

How long did it take you to publish your first book? How many books have you written to date?  Nigel: I’ve written 20 original books. One was a ghost writing affair, and if we count the books I have updated with new editions, I guess it must top 30. Quite staggering isn’t it when you consider there was no great career plan to be an author! I can’t remember exactly how long it took to get my first book published, but I do remember we started the process of the book in February 1990, and the book came out in September 1991, so probably close onto a year after we had delivered the manuscript.

Nigel GoodallWho or what inspired to you to become a writer?  Nigel: I would say Winona Ryder was my biggest inspiration. She certainly inspired me to write biography, simply because I was desperate to write about her.

I thought she was a brilliant actress; there is something very ‘silent movie’ about her acting, a quality I adore. I was really excited to be able to get to write about her, and share my name on a book cover with hers. I loved every minute of it; I literally couldn’t wait to get started each day. I totally immersed myself in her life. For me, it is still my favourite book I have written, and that was largely down to who Winona Ryder was and me feeling passionate about her and her films. That is what all writing should be, about following your passion.

What is your take on the publishing industry? Is it an easy industry to work in?  Nigel:  It’s changed enormously. There are now so many digital distributors and publishers that will now take your book and convert it into all formats, some will even design a cover for you! The only drawback in the print vs digital war is that an author will have to self-publicise and self-market his/her own work, unlike print publishing where all the marketing and PR is part and parcel of a publishing deal. Ebook publishing has its advantages and disadvantages. The joy of ebook self-publishing is the freedom you have with writing your story. No deadlines, no editors screaming at you and no extra hidden costs deducted from royalties.

There are now so many digital distributors and publishers that will now take your book and convert it into all formats, some will even design a cover for you!

In your opinion, how easy is it to earn a decent living as a writer?  Nigel: It’s a tough way to make a living, but then most creative jobs are. Most writers these days probably write in their spare time, or if they are writing full time, it is likely they  supplement their book earnings with earning from other things like magazine articles and  liner notes for albums. That is how I got through the lean periods, in between books. It’s funny because if you tell someone you are a writer, they think you must be rolling in money, but that really is not the case! I wish it were! I read an article not long ago that claimed authors were among the poorest paid jobs in the country and that is probably true.

What advice would you give anyone aspiring to become a professional writer?  Nigel: There has never been a better time for new unpublished writers, who perhaps dream of becoming the next JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. With so many now using self publishing platforms, without the need for a publisher or distributor, there will obviously be some titles with sub-standard writing, editing and  poor story-telling. My key advice though would be to know who you are aiming your stories at and to make sure you cater for the right market.  If you want to get into print, research the publishers so that you know you are submitting your story to the right publisher.

I would encourage anyone to write because the things you never think are feasible really can be. If you follow your heart and passion,  and if you think you have a story to tell, then you should write it down and turn it into a book. Today it is a lot easier to get published than it was when I started twenty years ago. And you never know where it will lead.

If you were told you could only write one more book, what would it be and why?  Nigel: It would probably be Elvis. He is my all-time favourite and I would love to do a book on the making of his films. I discovered him through his films when I was growing up. I used to watch them all. I still do now because they are timeless and he is still so fascinating to watch. I am intrigued that he once said he became physically sick of making those types of movies, and would love to find out why he couldn’t just say no to doing them.

Find out more about Nigel at

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