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Success as an indie author is not about luck, it's about putting significant effort into all aspects of the author business. In today's interview, I talk to Rachel Abbott, one of the UK's top crime authors, who also happens to be indie.
In the intro, I talk about how Amazon has overtaken Flipkart as India's biggest online retailer, plus how sanity has prevailed at the Hugo awards giving diversity a chance.
I also reflect on measuring your life by Olympic periods, and how we can't achieve too much in one year, but things can change dramatically if you take consistent action over 4 years. I challenge you to think about your writing life as it was in 2008 (Beijing), 2012 (London), 2016 (Rio), and how it will be in 2020 (Tokyo).
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Rachel Abbott is the internationally bestselling author of 6 crime thriller novels including the recent Kill Me Again.
In August 2015, Amazon revealed that Rachel is the UK's bestselling independent author over the last five years. She is also listed at number 14 in the list of UK bestselling authors – both traditionally and independently published – over the same five year period, outselling authors like Jeffrey Archer and JoJo Moyes.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- On what has changed since Rachel was on the show four years ago.
- Why Rachel continues to choose to publish independently.
- How marketing strategies have changed since Rachel first started publishing her books, and the marketing strategies she finds most effective.
- The team that works together with Rachel to help her succeed.
- On whether anyone can be an indie author.
- On publicists and PR agents and how to decide whether to use one.
You can find Rachel at www.Rachel-Abbott.com.
Transcription of Interview with Rachel Abbott
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I'm here with Rachel Abbott. Hi, Rachel.
Rachel: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: Well, it's super exciting to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Rachel Abbott is the internationally bestselling author of six crime thriller novels including the recent “Kill Me Again.” In August 2015, Amazon revealed that Rachel is the UK's bestselling independent author over the last five years, and is listed at number 14 in the list of UK bestselling authors, both traditional and indie, which is super exciting; outselling authors like Jeffrey Archer and Jojo Moyes which is amazing. Rachel, I'm so pleased to have you on the show. You're like a superstar.
Rachel: Oh, god. Don't say that.
Joanna: No, but you are. But what's great is you were first on the show back in 2012. And your first book, “Only the Innocent,” came out and reached the top of the UK charts. But I wondered if you could give us an update, like you know, going back to that first book over four years ago.
What has changed in your writing career? Give us an update.
Rachel: So much has changed. I can't believe it's actually four years ago. I can still remember sitting out, because I was actually in Italy when you did the last one. And now of course I'm in Alderney. Now, I spend part of my time in Italy and part of my time in Alderney. So that's one change, because I've never even heard of Alderney four years ago. And now I live here.
Joanna: And for people who don't know, what is Alderney?
Rachel: Alderney is a tiny island in the Channel Islands. It's close to Guernsey, and there's only 2,000 people on the island. And it's full of white sand beaches and turquoise seas, and a lot of people who like to party. So it's a great place to live.
Joanna: It is.
What else has changed?
Rachel: Loads. Since I spoke to you I don't know when about in 2012 it was that last spoke to you. But since then I've got an agent which is the best decision I ever made.
I've written four more full length novels and one novella. My books have been now published in over 20 languages. Well, I don't know. I'm just absolutely amazed by that. That's just fantastic. And I've sold over two million copies. So it's been pretty good, really.
Joanna: It has been pretty good.
And to be in the top 15 of all UK authors.
Rachel: That was just amazing. I mean it was nice to hear that I was the number one independently published author. That's always a really great thing to know. But to know that I was so high up in the list of all writers including some of my favorites who weren't even there, I thought, “Oh my goodness.”
Of course, that is on the Kindle. It's not paperback sales and things like that, obviously. I do sell paperbacks, but not in the quantities that you'd expect from, you know, one of the traditionally published authors.
Joanna: And I mean you mentioned you have an agent, and you know, you're in these multiple languages.
But are you still an indie, just so people know? How are you publishing?
Rachel: Yes, I am definitely independently published. Apart from the foreign language ones, they're published by traditional publishers all over the world. But in the UK, I'm entirely independently published.
And in the States my first two books I published traditionally. But I didn't go ahead with that for the subsequent books because they were looking for world English rights. And I wasn't prepared to give up my UK rights. So unfortunately, I decided that that was more important to me. So even though I've got an agent, I am still independently published.
Joanna: Yeah, fantastic. I just wanted everyone to know that, because some people think that as soon as you hit number one on Amazon or you get in the charts, you signed with an agent, you go traditional and that's it.
But you're a businesswoman, right?
Rachel: Yeah. My agent is very savvy, very smart lady. In fact, she's Agent of the Year this year. So she's very smart, and she has guided me all the way through.
Obviously, after “Only the Innocent” there was a possibility I could have signed with a traditional publisher. And she said, “Well, I think you should do one or two more really just to build your name, build your profile, and then that would maybe make it easier to find the right match for you in terms of a publisher.”
We've worked together, and we discussed all the time which is the right room to go. I'm not against traditional publishing in any way, shape or form, but at the moment this has been working for me. So stick with what works, really.
Joanna: Yeah. That's fantastic. And then I remember when you were on the show you said you published that first book without having it edited, right?
Joanna: How has your writing process changed, and your writing craft?
Rachel: Oh, so much. I had it proofread, obviously. And a lot of people don't really understand the difference between editing and proofreading. And I don't think I did, if I'm honest.
I think that I thought an editor did the proofreading. And then if they thought anything wasn't really good, they changed it. I don't know where I got that idea from.
“Only the Innocent” which is my first book after I got an agent, it was subsequently edited. And when I saw what an editor does and how they recommend things for you to do and how you might change something. It was a revelation, to be honest.
So now my rights are very different. I put together a synopsis of what I'm going to write, and I send that to my agent who says, “Yeah, but what about this? Do you think this is the right age for the protagonist? And do you think that this is gonna be a big enough twist at the end of it?”
She asks me all these questions, which make me sort of want to slit my throat, you know? Not really. You've got to be fairly tough, I think, in this life.
When I've written the first about 20,000 words, I send her that. And she then comments on that, which sometimes results in me completely rethinking, to be honest. Sometimes…mostly it doesn't. Occasionally, it does.
And then when I finish the whole thing, it goes off to her and she reads it. And she has a reader who is also an editor, and she comes in. It's read by about six people, and comments fed back to me at all kinds of levels. And I pay for a copy editor and a proofreader. It's a much, much longer process now. So not a case of writing it and sticking it up on the Kindle.
Joanna: Although that did work for you the first time around.
Rachel: It did.
Joanna: I love having people back on the show since, you know, the show has been running years now since 2009. And what's great is you and I have both seen people come into the industry, write a book, disappear. You've just gone up and up.
What do you think keeps you growing and producing great books? What keeps the customers coming back basically? The people who have one hit might not make it on the second hit. But you seem to be really consistent.
What is it, do you think, that keeps people coming back?
Rachel: I think that although the books are different…they're all very different. They're completely different stories. Although I've got a series character in Tom Douglas who's the policeman, he's never the main character. So a lot of people don't actually realize that. A lot of people think he is the main character but he isn't.
All of my books tend to have the need of a policeman. So therefore, he's the same one who comes up over and over again. But the stories aren't about him. They're about people who are perhaps similar to my own readers, who've got dilemmas. What would you do if you were put in this set of circumstances, or if you find out that your husband was a killer, what would you do?
There are lots of scenarios that I hope that people can relate to. And I think that quite often if you've got a series character who is the main protagonist, sometimes the books can be quite similar, because that character is similar. But although I've got him, the main characters, the main protagonists in my stories are all quite different with very different dilemmas. I'm hoping that's what makes it work.
Joanna: But it is a really good point, because I've read three of your books. And I did notice this guy has come back again, but he's not the main character. And I did actually actively notice that. But until you said that, I haven't thought that that would make the books more original and seem more standalone. But I think you're right.
Are there any other writers who do that? I'm just trying to think.
Rachel: You know, I actually don't know. There are quite a lot of writers who I love; people like Val McDermid, Sharon Bolton, people like that who have series characters and quite often write books that haven't got those characters in.
Val McDermid with Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, and Sharon Bolton with Lacey Flint. But she's just written that complete standalone one now. So they quite often have standalone books as well as their series characters. But mainly, people who've got series characters, as far as I can work out, they are mainly the protagonist and mine isn't.
Joanna: Yeah. Oh, there we go. There's a trick.
Rachel: It wasn't intentional. I'd like to say that it was a very clever move, but actually it was not intentional at all.
Joanna: Ah, I love it. And then that's maybe what keeps the readers coming back. What keeps you inspired? Because many are people like, “Oh, if I only hit the charts,” or, “If I only sold this many book, then you know, maybe I'd have made it.”
What keeps you coming back and writing more?
Rachel: The readers, really. I mean they're so enthusiastic. They're so amazing; the number of messages that I get on Facebook, on Twitter, e-mails, all kinds of things. And they're so enthusiastic. “When is the next book? When is the next book?” And I feel that I owe them that, really. I think that that's one of the things.
And also of course I love writing, I love telling stories. So those are the two things.
Joanna: The other thing I wanted to know is what has changed in terms of how you market a book, because when we talked back in 2012, it seemed like your first book you really focused on book bloggers, for example. We really talked about that, and you have gone very hard in relationships with book bloggers and pitching them.
How was your marketing changed? What has stopped working and what does work now?
Rachel: I think with “Only the Innocent” I spent quite a lot of time on forums. They just started the Amazon Meet Our Authors Forum. And I found on that forum, there were lots of people like me who were writing maybe their first book, maybe not their first book. But they were just getting into writing for the Kindle.
Everybody used to share, you know, everybody used to pass around stuff, “Have you read this book by such and such person?” And people talked about it. And that's changed a lot now.
I think if you go onto most of these forums, a lot of the people are just…other authors who just cut and paste the next blurb for their book and then they move off. People don't seem to talk to each other in the same way.
Because I can remember with “Only the Innocent” when it really started to go up the charts very, very quickly, I put something on the forums saying, “I don't know what's happening. It's suddenly going berserk,” which was lovely. And somebody responded, “Check out this forum.” And I went to the forum and people were talking about it.
So it wasn't the Meet Our Authors Forum, but somebody from the Meet Our Authors Forum. I'd gone on and promoted my book in another…you know, as a reader and that had really helped, but that doesn't seem to work anymore.
Rachel: With the book bloggers, I still send copies of my books for review to book bloggers. We have a database of reviewers. And we send them what the publishers call it AI Sheet which is all the information that you might need; an author's information sheet with a picture of the cover, their blurb for the story, a bit of detail about how many books have sold. I get quite a lot of people prepared to review it based on that.
Joanna: And so on the forums, I mean I would say now that was probably mainly replaced by Facebook groups.
Joanna: In 2012 we weren't using Facebook to market books. I mean maybe we weren't even on Facebook, I can't remember.
How are you using Facebook? How has that changed?
Rachel: I use Facebook. I always think, with Facebook, I have more success than anything. Even though I've probably only got about four and a half thousand followers on Facebook, and 10,000 on Twitter.
But on Facebook, there's about four and a half thousand, but they are really keen and enthusiastic. I can put out a post, and I can see that it's been seen by maybe three and a half thousand people and shared.
And as you know, if you've got a Facebook page and you post on it, on average it's only seen by about 4% of the people who actually like your page, because that's the way Facebook works and they want you to promote the page, which of course, we don't. But you know, not always, but sometimes it just happens. Sometimes it's just kind of people are interested, and they share, and that's brilliant.
And so I use Facebook. I don't post on it all the time, but I do when I've got anything that I think people might be interested in. And the other thing that I do is I always…when I'm launching a new book, I always have a Facebook party.
Now, people think this is a really weird thing to do because why would anybody want to go to a party on Facebook? But we put a huge, huge amount of effort into the Facebook parties. Every single post is planned. So it's something for the people watching to join in on.
It might be a competition, it might be upload a picture. So we have one this year about a post with a dead body or something. You wouldn't believe the number of people who have pictures of themselves posing as a dead body. It was just hysterical, honestly. It was such good fun.
And we give lots of prizes. I was going to say goodie bags but we call them baddie bags, obviously.
But that's not really a promotion. That's really to say thanks to the people who have been so committed and following all the time.
I think the best thing in terms of promotion is the mailing list, you know, having a decent mailing list of people who have shown that they already like your books and they've chosen to join your mailing list. That, I think, makes a big difference.
Joanna: Yeah. And though lots of people know that if you have a mailing list, you should build your Facebook group, etc. But a lot of fictionals in particular don't know what to share. So there is some great examples there of things that you do on promotion, you know, launch day.
What type of things are you sharing with your e-mail list or with your Facebook group or your page on a normal level like between books? What are you sharing then?
Rachel: I share any promotions. So if you've got any books that are on special offers, I actually have that obviously because it gives people an opportunity to buy them usually for 99p. So people do tend to appreciate that.
I share a bit if I've been on some really nice holiday and stuff. I don't share what I've had for dinner and what I've had for breakfast, you know. But if I've been somewhere quite interesting and exotic so people can be quite interested in that. There are never pictures of me. I hate pictures of me with a passion. I just share pictures of birds and things.
The more important thing really is with the newsletter that I send out to people who have joined my newsletter list, my mailing list. We're starting to do a monthly newsletter now. We used to do it less regularly than that, but we do a monthly newsletter.
But it's not all about me, because I don't think they just want to know about me. I read a lot, as you might expect. I'm starting doing review of up to about four books that I've read. I only write positive reviews. So if I don't like it, it doesn't go in the list.
We've got competitions on there, and lots of things for people to engage with, really. We have book competitions on Facebook as well. So there's stuff like that for people to get involved in. I think at the moment we've got a competition to win free Audible downloads, and stuff like that. There's usually something that we can think of that will engage people.
Joanna: Book reviews. I do book reviews, too. And I agree with you.
I think this is something that you realize when you become an author to only post good reviews, because you can really piss off people that you end up meeting, right?
Rachel: I won't do it. Because I'm very fortunate now, I get sent quite a lot of books by publishers to read and comment on. I will never comment positively on a book that I don't like. I just say, “I'm sorry I've not had time to read it,” or something.
I will only comment positively, because I don't think there's anything to be gained by being negative about people who are competitors. I just don't think it's the right thing to do. Because I don't like it, doesn't mean it's not a good book. It means that it just didn't work for me.
Joanna: Exactly. And I think it's so important with the world we live in as well, because you do tend to meet other authors over the years.
Rachel: Of course.
Joanna: And then it's like, “Oops.” So yeah, be careful. I was wondering there, you know, just on the mailing list.
How do you continue to build your mailing list? Is it just in the back of your book it says, “Join my mailing list,” or do you do anything advertising-wise?
Rachel: The most important is the one in the back of the book. So in the back of each Kindle book, there's a link. If you click on it, it takes you to a website where you can fill in the details. I get new people every single day signing up to that list. And they're the best.
I do some of the Facebook advertising stuff. A lot of people do that very successfully. And I did. And I got a lot of names on my list which was great, but they had all signed up for something free. And so what I do now is when I send out anything at all, I have kept the lists separate.
I've got a list of the people who have actually joined because they've enjoyed my book. And I've got the list of people who've joined because there was something free that they were getting. The difference in the response rates between the two is quite extraordinary.
The people who have actually joined up because they want to read my books, the response rate, the click-through rate, the open rate is so much better than the other one. Although I still do the rest of it, I still do the Facebook adverts to get people to come on board because it's still very useful, the quality of the leads that you get through that is not as good as the leads that you get through people actually liking your books.
Joanna: Fantastic. And then just coming back to the book bloggers, one thing that's been opened up to indies is NetGalley, which traditional publishers have used. And on NetGalley, of course, book bloggers can get e-book versions of traditionally published books. You know, it used to all be hardbound. Now, so two questions.
One, do you do e-book and paperback reviews? And secondly, what do you think about NetGalley?
Rachel: In terms of do I do paperbacks, yes I do. They can get e-books or paperbacks. I usually have a print-on-demand version of the paperback done very quickly. That's available as an advance copy for mainly some bloggers, but a lot of them are quite happy with an e-book.
I've got a PR agent now, a publicist. And she sends out books to the mainstream reviewers, and they will only take a book. So she sends them to reviewers, and she also sends them to magazines and festival organizers, anybody who she thinks might be interested.
In terms of NetGalley, I haven't used it. And I think part of the reason I haven't use it is because I don't really know properly how it works. My understanding is that lots of people can actually download. But according to my publicist, she says that she would get the requests, and then she could decide whether to let people have them or not, which is fine.
But I'm not quite sure how people would react if you said, “No, you're not having one.” It's the equivalent of giving a bad review. “No, not giving one to you.” You know, it's almost offensive, isn't it, to be honest.
Joanna: Yeah. I know. I understand, and I've seen things in Facebook groups, again, with people getting offended and those types of things. It is a very careful space to step around.
You mentioned a publicist, and of course we're indie authors, but we don't do everything ourselves, do we? You mentioned your agent.
I believe you have more than one virtual assistant, one or more?
Rachel: I have a virtual assistant and a personal assistant.
Joanna: And a personal assistant.
Rachel: They're both part-time.
Joanna: What does your role look like in your business now? Are there any other people that might be useful to mention in terms of what they do for you? How do those tasks go to them so that you can do the writing?
Rachel: Well, my personal assistant comes into the office twice, maybe three times a week. And when she's not here, she uses a piece of software called Sprout Social. She goes on and checks all my Twitter lists to see which ones I need to respond to. If people have retweeted, she thanks everybody. I really wouldn't have time to do that.
It takes her about an hour and a half a day, seven days a week. She tends to do it on a Saturday and a Sunday as well. I've not asked her to do that. Can I just point out? But she said she'd rather do that than do three hours of it on a Monday morning. So I kind of understand.
She does that, but she also comes into the office and there's nearly always some books to be sent out to people. She deals with all of that. She she proofreads any of my online question and answer things because I get an awful lot of interviews. So I write them quickly, she proofs them. She used to be an editor, so she edits them and makes them make sense, and get rid of any garbage that I've written, just sort of madly typing away trying to get as much as you can.
She manages the accounts to send to the accountant. And so she does everything you'd expect a PA to do, really.
And then my virtual assistant, who is in Canada, who you know, is a complete star as well.
Joanna: Yeah. She's both of our virtual assistant.
Rachel: Yes, she is. And she's fantastic because she's quite technical. So she can manage the blog, and she can manage the databases. And she can do a lot of that technical stuff.
We're redesigning the blog at the moment, and I had done some work on the design, and then I just sent her the content. So she puts it up there as the categories and stuff.
I think people need to appreciate if you are a self-published author and you do become reasonably successful, there's a huge amount of stuff to do. My desk is absolutely covered, covered in stuff, because there is so much that comes through the door all the time. Well, not through the door, and obviously online as well. But there's a massive amount of stuff to do. So it does take quite a bit of managing.
Joanna: And I think the more successful you are, the more you get those requests, right? Because you know, I get more requests for Joanna Penn than JF Penn. I would like more for JF Penn. But I totally get what you're saying, there's loads of it. But people at the beginning often can't imagine why you would have that much to do. And why don't you just write? So what do you enjoy? I mean because this is the other thing I wanted to ask you.
Do you think anyone can do this job, or what are the skills that you need to do this job?
Rachel: I think that's a really tricky question. I think that you have to be prepared to work very hard. I think that is fundamental to it. You have to be able to put in the hours and enjoy it, because there's no point doing it if it's gonna be a complete slog.
I would say that roughly half of my time is spent on admin even though I've got a personal assistant, a virtual assistant, a publicist, and an agent, and an accountant. But you know, in spite of that, I still spend about 50% of my time.
This week alone and I would probably have done five interviews; mainly not like this one. This is easy, I like these. These are easy, because I can just talk to you. I'm just talking to Jo. So that's great. But the question-and-answers that I have to type up, I enjoy doing them. It's not an issue, but they all take time.
And then the sales figure is coming from the agency; you've got to check through all those and make sure that they all are what you're expecting them to be. And so there is an endless stream of stuff to do, particularly when you're dealing with foreign transactions as well, because you get the contracts in which I have to say, I never read any of them. I just trust my agents they've got it right. So I just sign them. But they've got to be signed, initialed on every page.
There's just that sort of constant stream of admin stuff. And anytime we've got any special offers on, we make a big effort about publicizing that to let people know. So my PA then will design loads of tweets that she sets up to come up at different times. It's just endless, really.
Joanna: It is, and I agree with you. It is a full-time business. It's like a small business in a way because we don't have loads of employees or anything, but it is kind of all-encompassing life. I think it really is a life.
I wondered how it does compare with your previous life in business, because you've been a businesswoman for a long time.
How does being an author compare with your previous businesses in terms of everything?
Rachel: It's more fun. So I did enjoy it.
I enjoyed my life running a business, but I had at one time about a hundred staff. That brings its own headaches. And all I did then was manage. I didn't do anything. I didn't actually produce anything. I just managed. And so that had its own rewards, but this is much more fun. Much more fun.
My PA is an editor, as I said, or was an editor, but she's now a writer, and is very, very funny. So when she's in, we have quite a good laugh. It's just the two of us. I don't have to deal with a load of traumas of, you know, all the kind of HR things that I used to have to deal with, and then going to board meetings and having to produce board reports.
It used to make me laugh, really, that…you know, effectively you work 20 days a month. One day you'll be preparing a board report, one day you would be actually at the board meeting. That's 2 days out of 20. That's a pretty significant amount of time reporting on what you're doing. So there was an awful lot of that game.
It's much better to be creative. Even when I'm doing the blog, I'm being creative.
Joanna: I think that's the most important thing for people to remember is business is creative, right?
Joanna: All of it. It's not just the putting words into a document for a story. It's everything else that makes up the author's life.
Rachel: I get asked all the time about what next you're going to do that readers are going to enjoy. You know, you're doing it for the readers.
Joanna: Super. Now, I did want to ask you because as you said you've sold over two million books, and you're one of the top people in the UK. But in The Guardian, it was an article in March, you said you still deal with snobbery as an indie author. I was really interested about that.
How are things different than 2012?
Rachel: Can I just say that The Guardian do tend to invent their own headlines? That's not exactly what I said. They've done it before. The last one that they wrote, the headline was something like, “My success is all down to me,” which is not what I said at all.
What I said is, if it all goes wrong, it's all down to me. So success or fail, as a self-published author, you've got nobody else to blame is what I was trying to say. But of course they used that as a headline. Oh my goodness me. I couldn't believe it.
But it is true that there are still some people out there who believe, firmly believe that I'm self-published because nobody would publish my books. And I would like to think, and I would like to believe that maybe if I wanted to publish it now with the track record that I've got, that that would be possible. And it has been suggested to me more than once that it is possible.
There are certain people who just don't get it that some of us remain self-published because we want to. I'm not saying I'll always remain self-published. I think there's lots to be said for being with a traditional publisher. And the time might come when actually all this other stuff that I have to do, I'll be just so happy to hand it over to somebody.
But as far as I'm concerned, that's been my choice. But there are still some people out there who feel maybe irritated by the fact that some self-published authors are doing very well and maybe their books aren't doing so well. And that must be pretty grueling, really.
If they've got a traditional deal, they've been through all the process, somebody signed them up and they're still not selling very many copies. So that must be quite grueling. I think that's why maybe some people can be a bit, you know, just self-published.
Joanna: Yeah. We both know quite a lot of traditionally published authors as friends, and it always surprises me how little people are actually earning in the traditional industry. And even when in the charts they might be quite high up in the UK charts, for example. But the reality is the number of books sold are quite low in general.
Do people approach you from the other angle and go, “Hey, Rachel. Maybe tell me about being indie. I don't want my publisher to know.” But are people asking you on the sly?
Rachel: Yes, yes. They are. I've met a very well-known author recently.
I tend to, every now and again, take myself off to some kind of spa place somewhere, you know, where I can be starved. Because when I'm working and when I'm really struggling, I tend to eat biscuits which, you know, takes its toll. So every now and again, I take myself up to somewhere like the Mayo Clinic in Austria or somewhere like that.
I've met there a couple of authors, one of whom is very well known and has actually been nominated for Man Booker Prize. So really good. And he said to me, “What do I have to do to make money, because I'm not making any with my publishers?” And I said, “Well, I don't really know how to answer that,” because it depends on the kinds of books. His are very literary books, and it's a completely different ball game, really.
My books are commercial books. They're books that can be read by anybody. His books are very specific to a certain type of reader. So it is difficult.
But even some of the people who write commercial fiction have asked me. But then when I tell them the truth about what it entails, they run for the hills, you know, “Oh my god. I can't do all that.” And I don't blame them either.
I started this so it's easy for me to carry on, but to change from having everything done for you and to then start have to do everything for yourself, I think that's a much more difficult transition.
Joanna: No, you're right. And it was funny. I was reading about James Patterson who of course actually has his whole department at the publisher. There are like 20 people working for him. Even though they're within the publisher, you know, he pretty much runs the department of people.
Even if you went into a publisher at this point, it's unlikely you would have a whole team. You would still only get a publicist in a month of publication. Most people seem to say that authors have to do the marketing regardless of how they're published.
That's why some of those people, you know, are just not getting anywhere because the publishers aren't doing it, and the authors aren't doing it either.
Rachel: Yeah. I think that's true actually. I think a lot of people think that their publishers should be doing it so they don't do it.
Rachel: And I don't think that's necessarily the case, as you say, and they do get publicists for a reasonably narrow period of time. I originally took my publicist on for six months, but I've kept her on all year because she's ace. She's really good, and she's not busy all year round. But when she is busy, she's really busy. So it works out very well. But it must be frustrating to only have somebody for a week or a month or something.
Joanna: Yeah. And so just on the publicist, because some people think that that is the answer, that all you need to do is if you self-publish a book or publish a book, hire a publicist. It's not an insignificant expense.
Joanna: What can people expect from a publicist? And who does it suit, basically?
Rachel: The thing about PR is it's very difficult to quantify the returns. So if your publicist managed to get you a speaking engagement at a festival, you probably won't get paid. Sometimes I get offered the money, but if it's a charitable thing, I always waive my fee anyway.
So you're not doing it for money. And how many books will you really strictly sell? You've got to work out why you're doing it.
The reason why I want a publicist is because I want people to have heard of my name. And it is very difficult to define what the returns from that would be. But if somebody is on Amazon and they see my book, and they think, “Oh, I've heard of Rachel Abbott. I might give that a try.” And it's as vague as that.
You know, obviously, she does quite a lot of stuff getting reviews, and gets me lots of articles in magazines and stuff. But again, if you look at the sales figures, just because I got a brilliant review in Good Housekeeping Magazine, there was no obvious rise in sales for that day. But that's what PR is all about.
It's about building up awareness of who you are, and of people knowing who you are and having heard of you. You're constantly trying to get your name and your book cover in front of people so that when they do see it somewhere and they are out to buy something, yours is the first one that springs to mind.
Joanna: It is hard to quantify. And so I would say that for newbie authors or people without a budget that hiring a publicist is not a…
Rachel: Waste of time.
Joanna: Yeah. Not a good start. Okay, so we're almost coming to the end.
I hope it won't be four years until I have you back on the show.
What are your ambitions? When you've sold these many books and you've hit these charts and everything, do you have writing ambitions, or is it more lifestyle ambitions, or what are you looking to do in the next four years? It's a big question.
Rachel: Thanks, Jo. What I'm looking to do? I want to write even better books. I want them to get better, better, and better. It's really important to me that I feel as if each time I write I'm getting better at my craft. Not necessarily the story is any better, because sometimes the other stories are better than the more recent ones and vice versa. But it's more about me getting better at writing.
That's really important to me, but apart from that, I just want to keep on writing, keep on writing, and have people love my books, really. I've not got any specific target, any specific goal in mind. I want to write enough so that I can have nice holidays. I do like having nice holidays, a couple of those a year. And you know, that's about it, really. I just really enjoy it.
I'm meeting some great people, readers and/or the writers, which I love meeting other people. That's great fun. But if I start to find that people aren't enjoying my writing, I'd stop.
Joanna: Oh, okay, or write something else?
Rachel: No. I'd probably stop. If I didn't think people were enjoying it, then that would mean that somewhere along the line, I've lost whatever it was, lost the edge. And then I would stop.
Joanna: Maybe there will be an Alderney Writers Festival sometime.
Rachel: Oh, there's an Alderney Literary Festival every year. So I'm a trustee of the Alderny Literary Trust. And we have one big event each year which is usually historical. So it's the historical novels, it's fact and fiction. And so that's a great event, really good.
And then I think this November we're having some of The Killer Women over.
If the people watching this don't know, this is a team of authors that are based mainly in the south of England. And they all write thrillers, so they call themselves The Killer Women.
Some of them are coming over in November to do a murder weekend social event. Alderney is a great place for things like that; full of people who write and paint, and also like to get drunk actually.
Joanna: That's why I so have to come.
Joanna: Thank you. Okay. So where can people find you and your books? And what is the latest book that everyone should go check out?
Rachel: The latest book is “Kill Me Again.” And that came out in February. And that's available in paperback, and it's available obviously for the Kindle. And you should be able to get the paperback in book shops. You might have to order it because as an independent author, it's more difficult to get your books on the bookshelves. But they should all be able to order it because it's in the mainstream ordering system, or from Amazon.
Joanna: Fantastic. And your website?
Rachel: The website is www.rachel-abbott, A-B-B-O-T-T .com.
Joana: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Rachel. That was great.
Rachel: Thank you. Nice to talk to you, Jo.
Meg Cowley says
Very interesting episode! I love your intro this week regarding thinking in Olympic cycles. 4 years ago, things were certainly very different (now they are better – always good!!), but I am still so far off where I want to be. Now I’m almost full-time creating, and things are really tight financially (a calculated risk!). This is a helpful prompt to think about where DO I want to be? And how can I get there?
In 4 years I’d love to have a 6 figure business (or a high 5 figure business) with a ton of great income streams. I always try to create with diverse income streams in mind for each body of work. I think my current goal would be to be both indie and trad published in terms of writing, and indie illustrating, plus have a traditional agent for my art to secure excellent large scale licensing deals. Hopefully that’s not too ambitious! 😉
Fantastic to hear from Rachel again – you are hugely inspiring. It’s wonderful to hear of your continued success (although the increased amount of admin doesn’t sound that fun!) The sky is the limit! (And we are very envious to hear that you now live in Alderney… we hope to move from Yorkshire to Guernsey in the future! The Channel Islands have a beauty and tranquility like nowhere else!)
Joanna Penn says
Nothing is “too ambitious,” Meg! I’m a believer in thinking big and taking action towards those goals – because then even if you fall short, you still achieve a lot!
Rachel Abbott says
I agree with Joanna, Meg. Stick with that great ambition! And thank you so much for your kind comments. You’re right about the admin too – but it’s worth it. Enjoy Guernsey, when you finally make it. It’s a stunningly beautiful day today in Alderney!
Chris Syme says
Listening to the podcast while walking the beautiful nature trails in Bozeman, Montana. I love, love, love the idea of a career look-back on an Olympic schedule. Will give that a shot.
Diana Stevan says
Fabulous podcast, Joanna. I got lots of great tips from Rachel. Thank you so much to both of you. I’m chuckling here, as I write, because the protagonist in my latest novel is called Joanna. Lovely name!
I just listened to this episode. Great interview with Rachel. I appreciate the candor about her journey and success as an indie author. Also, I like your tip of looking at your career in 4 year cycles like the Olympics. We writers tend to look at what’s in front of us on a daily basis and not take a macro view of our careers. That tip is a good reminder to do just that.
Shonna Slayton says
I took your challenge! After listening to your intro I stopped the podcast so I could look at my own Olympic journey. I posted it to my blog, and now I can go back to the podcast and learn more from Rachel Abbott. I have a feeling I’ll need to take notes. Gold medal to Joanna Penn 🙂
Joanna Penn says
This is great Shonna! I’m so glad you found this challenge inspiring 🙂 All the best for 2020!
Maria Staal says
Thanks for a great podcast once again, Joanna! I learn new things every time.
I also took up your ‘Olympic’ challenge and put it up on my blog. What struck me most was how much the self-publishing world had changed in so short a time.
Robert Scanlon says
Fabulous episode! I love how down to earth you are, Rachel. Sometimes it is hard to keep going (on a daily basis), but clearly the long game still works, and it’s podcast episodes like this that make a difference.
Thanks to both of you for continuing to share so generously.
Great podcast Joanna. It’s always great to hear authors speak honestly about their careers. Rachel and Joanna, you both have achieved some awesome success over the years.
Thanks for bringing up the challenge of thinking about your career in Olympic periods. It’s easy to forget how much can change in eight years. It was interesting to reflect on where I was back in 2008, where I am today and what I hope to achieve by the next Olympics.
Nina Joshi Ramsey says
I really enjoyed reading the transcript (hubby’s asleep next to me and I don’t have my headphones). I loved hearing about Rachel’s journey, and Joanna, yours is tandem as you described the last time you talked. But also there was much here for me. As others have already said, I was also struck by progress in Olympic cycles. For me also knowing that as a literary writer, things are simply harder. That being borne out in the conversation Rachel relayed from the spa was strangely heartening. My book was read for the Man Booker this year, although didn’t get longlisted. But knowing it’s tough for everyone, even at that level, does somehow make it easier to bear,
I decided to try promoting on FB which I haven’t really done. Traditional PR may not have worked for me because a much more targeted audience is better, and a scattergun approach is not right. I learned that PR to get my name known can be worth it, although I’d wait a few books in to do that. Learned also to find authors and blog reviewers that fit my genre. And even accept that bookshops won’t stock my book necessarily, but it’s OK as this can be the case with even successful indie books. And as with Rachel, it’s OK to explain shops can still order them through their systems, and mention availability via Amazon. I used to be embarrassed before, but it’s simply the system.
The interview was very supportive simply through the honest sharings. Thanks Joanna and Rachel!
Jonathan Gunson says
Absolutely sensational interview Joanna. Congratulations. Tons of promo tips and tactics revealed. Comical point about snobbery re Indies. That will fade.
Tweeting it out right now