I first met Rachel when we were invited along with David Penny and Martin Granger to attend the Indie Alternative panel at CrimeFest 2016, moderated by Zoe Sharp.
Already blown away by her success as an indie author, I loved her no-BS attitude and really enjoyed chatting with her behind the scenes about different business strategies and what worked (and what didn’t work) for us as individuals.
With her latest book, The Sixth Window, out today, it gives me great pleasure to welcome Rachel to the blog!
I was riveted by the different layers of this story, and as usual it’s because you’ve got an eclectic mix of characters, underpinned as always by Tom Douglas. How do you keep track of characters and timeline while you’re writing?
For each character I have a comprehensive description with photos, and lots of detail about their eye colour, how tall they are, when they were born, what is their background etc. For the story timeline (and Tom’s longer term timeline) I use a spreadsheet. Where actions are time sensitive, it’s so important to know what day of the week it is (are the kids at school, or at home?), and what time of year it is (when does it get dark?). These details matter so much for me.
How much research do you carry out with regard to location, and how do you do this given you’re living quite a way from Manchester these days?
I have a secret weapon – my sister! She still lives in Manchester and she’s retired so when I have researched locations online (because a lot of the places I use are in areas I would never have visited) I send her the information and off she goes with a camera and her husband for support. She has done everything from photograph Pomona Island for Kill Me Again (where she famously asked some workmen where would be a good place to bury a body), to going along to Central Library to discover how and where you can find the photo archives. I ask her to tell me what it feels like, smells like, sounds like as well. But wherever possible, I go myself. For my next book – which won’t be in Manchester – I am going to have to go on a little trip!
Do you pre-plan plot twists, or do they take you by surprise?
I usually plan them, because I need a starting point – but then what actuallyhappens may be entirely different. The twists become character driven, and in both Kill Me Again and The Sixth Windowthe final twist came entirely from the characters – from knowing what they would do and just letting them get on with it.
Do you think there’s a shift in publishing industry perceptions about indie publishing? What barriers still remain for self-published authors going into 2017?
I think most publishers now accept that there are some good indie authors. Most traditionally published writers also accept that, for some of us, remaining indie is a choice and isn’t driven by a lack of a publishing deal.
There are still a few barriers – but I can understand why. While some independently published books are every bit as professionally written and edited as traditionally published books, a lot aren’t. So if you’re the organizer of a writing prize or a festival it might be difficult to open the door to independent authors because you may feel less confident about the quality. If you say ‘yes’ to some, how do you decide where to draw the line?
It will change. Writers will be chosen on merit, possibly as determined by the popularity of their books (in the case of festivals). But being indie means you have to take the good with the bad, I’m afraid
What three tips would you give to someone contemplating indie publishing, apart from having a great cover and having their book professionally edited?
The most important thing is to be prepared to work hard if you want your book to be noticed. At time of writing, The Sixth Window is available for pre-order, although I haven’t been publicizing that fact yet. However, when checking out the pre-release list on Amazon in the UK, there are 17,000 books at pre-order stage!
Once you’ve accepted that the odds against you are high and that you’re going to have to work your socks off, think about every possible way of making your book cover visible. AWARENESS is the very first key to selling a book. You want people to recognize it when they see it and think ‘I’ve seen that book somewhere – I’ll just have a closer look.’
The third tip is to take critical feedback well, and learn from it. Send your book out to early readers before publication – and not just to people you like. Send it to some who you know will enjoy finding something not to like, and then listen to them. You don’t want everybody to say it’s wonderful! And when you get criticism after launch, absorb every word. Decide if it’s just a personal choice issue or whether the reviewer has something sensible to say. Listen and learn from everybody who reads your books
What do you have planned for the remainder of 2017?
I am planning on writing two books this year, but whether that will happen or not I don’t know. It may take me 18 months, but I definitely want to up my game from one book a year. Having said that, I work long hours and most of the time I work seven days a week – so it’s not lack of effort that reduces my output. My books are complex and so they do take a lot of working out and writing. But also, as an independent author there’s a lot of stuff that I have to do for myself – such as marketing. But still – I’m going to give it my best shot