I am so honored to have internationally bestselling author Rachel Abbott visiting today. For those who don’t know, Rachel’s debut novel, ONLY THE INNOCENT, rose to the top of the Amazon UK Charts as an indie release, and then hit the sales lists in the States. Amazon took notice, and Rachel landed a deal with their imprint, Thomas and Mercer. ONLY THE INNOCENT has recently re-released to staggering success, and Rachel was gracious enough to answer some of my questions.
Your book, ONLY THE INNOCENT, was an indie sensation and recently re-launched through Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint. Tell us where you got the idea for the book.
The idea for Only the Innocent was buzzing round in my head for many years. It all started when I heard that a woman had been accused of murder – a pretty rare thing and probably the first I had heard of in the UK. It made me wonder if there was any set of circumstances that would cause me to think that murder was the only option. I had to come up with a scenario in which there was no other sensible way out for the murderer – but I also wanted the killer to be somebody that the reader would empathise with. That’s why I added the strapline – Can murder ever be justified? Should the guilty be punished, or the innocent protected?
We can talk marketing strategies all day, but your book clearly gained a following by word of mouth and great reviews. What is it about your book that strikes such a chord in people?
That’s a really hard question, and if I knew the answer for sure, I would be able to replicate it! I think it’s the fact that the story is about the ‘why’ of murder, and not just the ‘who, when and how’ – if that makes sense. Personally, I’m not a fan of typical detective driven murder mysteries where the emphasis is on the evidence, with the police following procedures to eventually capture the perpetrator of the crime. I want to get inside the head of the killer – or in my next book not necessarily the head of the killer, but understand the motivations of the main characters – to see what drives them. So I think that makes it a book that people can associate with. It allows them to ask – “What would I do if this happened to me?”
Your life has no doubt changed exponentially in the past two years. What’s been the biggest change, and how did you cope with the demands of your success?
It has certainly been a very interesting period! I had effectively given up work some time previously. I used to run an interactive media company, and we sold it a few years ago. I carried on doing odd bits for the company, but not that much – so I suppose I was ready for the next challenge.
The biggest change has been that I am permanently attached to my computer! I am either writing – which I really, really love – or plotting, or marketing. Nearly every day is different. One thing that has changed, though, is that I’ve put on a ton of weight – which I am less than happy with! That’s due to being welded to my chair – and when I need inspiration I tend to eat biscuits. Not a good outcome – but everything else that has happened has been terrific.
I’ve also had amazing support. My husband has completely taken over the running of the house, and does everything. When I’m writing, I barely leave the house. I do cook, though. I still enjoy that – thank goodness!
Authors around the blogosphere want to know: why did you decide to sign with Thomas and Mercer after your indie success, and how has the experience been? What’s been the best part?
Thomas and Mercer contacted me quite early on – when Only the Innocent had been at number one in the UK for around two weeks. I had managed somehow to make an impact in the UK, but less of one in the US. That was partly down to time zones – I was never tweeting when the US market was active, for example. The same was true to a large extent with forums. The book was selling – it wasn’t totally dire – but although it was steadily selling in low double figures each day, it wasn’t getting close to its UK success.
Thomas and Mercer have been absolutely excellent. It was one of the best decisions that I ever made, to be honest. I have heard from so many indies that have gone on to get publishing deals that there has been no marketing budget to put behind their books at all, and they are expected to just get on and do it – much as they did before, but for a fraction of the retruns. T&M were quite clear: we want you to write – leave the marketing to us. And they have done a great job. Only the Innocent went into the top ten in the first week after launch, and although it’s dropped now, it’s hovering around the 250 mark, which is great. Their initial push got it noticed – now we need people to start talking about it so that there is more ‘pull’ than ‘push’ if that makes sense. So the marketing has been a huge positive.
I have a two book deal, and the T&M editor has just done the dev edit on my new book, The Back Road, which is due out in the US in October. She did a great job, as did the copy editing team for Only the Innocent. I’ve found them to be totally professional, and a pleasure to work with.
In this ever changing publishing era, what do you think the most important marketing tool is for the new author?
I’m not sure I would call this a ‘tool’ but there are two things that a new author needs: a marketing plan, and a willingness to do the work, even when they don’t want to!
A marketing plan is essential. I have a very detailed plan that works on a couple of different levels. The first level is the target setting. I work out what I want to achieve in terms of the key ‘discoverability’ options in the various channels where people can buy my book. Some of my actions to achieve the target might involve using Facebook or Twitter – or engaging on forums. That’s where the second level of my plan comes in. At this level, I have a strategy for each of the different routes to engagement – so my action plan might say that I need to increase the number of likes on Facebook, or the number of interactions with readers, but my strategy determines how I am going to go about doing that for each of the social networking sites.
I have a daily time plan for marketing (which I have been ignoring for the last few weeks while I finished my second book – VERY bad behavior, and I’m totally ashamed of myself) – but I know which days I should engage with readers on each of the different platforms, and I have a strict number of minutes before I move on to do something else. It’s the only way I can avoid getting caught up on any one thing.
Tell us what you’re working on now.
I have just – literally in the last 24 hours – put book two, The Back Road, to bed. It is being uploaded to Amazon in the UK, and it will be released in the US in October.
So for the next few days I will focus on marketing and redrafting some sections of my plan, but at the same time my mind is going to be whirring as I think about book three. I already have the main idea, and I am really, really pleased with it. But my books are always complex, and so there’s quite a lot of background that I need to research.
You live in Italy, and that’s one of my dream vacation spots. Any suggestions for the tourists other than the famous must-see landmarks?
At the moment I live part time in Italy, but mainly I am living in Alderney – one of the Channel Islands. It’s a tiny island – only 3.5 miles by 1.5 miles. There are less than 2000 people, and absolutely zero crime. I leave my door permanently unlocked, my keys in the car – it’s wonderful. However, our main home – as you say – is in the Le Marche region of Italy. It is a beautiful part of Italy, with friendly people and scenery to rival Tuscany. The difference is that the towns still retain their original charm – there are very few tourists, and it’s very ‘Italian’. We love it there. Anybody coming to Italy who wants to see the ‘real’ Italy should consider Le Marche – whether its walking in the Sibillini mountains or staying closer to the Adriatic coast. Mind you, I would avoid that in the peak holiday season.
What’s your biggest writing quirk?
I’m not sure whether this is a quirk or not, but I do have a tendency to add the odd line which is meant to be funny. My agent always reads my work before it goes to the editor, and she scrubs them out. She says (quite rightly) that this is supposed to be a thriller! Why am I trying to make people laugh? It’s okay when it’s dialogue that’s in character, but it’s often in my description of people. I sometimes wonder if I should write a funny book and get it all out of my system.
Let’s do some fun stuff. Favorite candy? One material thing you couldn’t live without? Home cooking or eating out? Wine or champagne?
Favourite Candy (not that we would call it candy in England!) would be, without a shadow of a doubt, chocolate gingers. Lovely pieces of ginger coated in a thick, dark chocolate. I’m salivating at the thought of it! One material thing that I couldn’t live without? That’s harder. I guess if we’re talking extravagance here, I would have to say my Crème de la Mer face cream. Massively extravagant, but I have used it for twenty odd years now, and whenever I try something else, my face just dries up and goes blotchy (I’m painting such a lovely picture – with this and the biscuit eating obsession!). Home cooking – definitely. I love to cook, and in fact there are loads of recipes on my website because food plays a big part in my writing. Wine or champagne? Both please!
What’s the one question you’ve never been asked but would love to answer, and what’s the answer?
I would love somebody to ask me “If I could wave a magic wand to change one thing about you today, what would it be?” And my answer would be “make me a person who can eat anything at all, and stay slim!”.
Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with me today, Rachel. Your story and positive attitude have been an inspiration to me.
I hope you all enjoyed the interview, and don’t forget to check out ONLY THE INNOCENT!