Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interview with Rachel Abbott

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
In The Back Road a young girl is knocked over and left for dead at the side of the road. Nobody knows what happened to her, and how she came to be where she was, but so many people in the small community have one part of the picture. Each of them has something to hide, and their reluctance to tell the truth results in tragic events that could have been avoided.

The Back Road is the second book featuring British detective Tom Douglas, although in this book he’s taking a sabbatical. It doesn’t stop him getting involved in a local intrigue that results in murder, though!

Have you ever had a minor character evolve into a major one? Did that change the direction of the novel at all?
It seems to happen to me more and more as I write! I am very fussy about creating detailed character profiles before I start writing. I know my characters well – from what they like to drink to the style of clothes they wear. But when I start to introduce them into the story, sometimes their characteristics become even stronger and clearer. This happened with Leo (short for Leonora) in The Back Road and she now features in my third book as well.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish your book(s)?
When I had completed my first book, Only the Innocent, I sent it to a small number of agents, and a couple of them were incredibly helpful. They phoned to speak to me, and said that they enjoyed the book very much, but I needed to be aware that it would be difficult to find a publisher, because it didn’t fit neatly into any one genre. My books tend to be about dilemmas – “What set of circumstances would be so bad that a woman would have no option but to murder a man” – for example. The result is a thriller with some police involvement. But my protagonist is either the victim or the perpetrator of the crime, and so nobody knew quite where to place it.

I wasn’t massively confident about my writing – it was my first book – so I thought I would just give self-publishing a go. Only the Innocent went on to reach #1 on Amazon UK where it stayed for four weeks, and hit the number one spot on Amazon in the US last summer, although in the US it is traditionally published.

If you used a graphic designer/publisher’s designer, how involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
I am very lucky indeed in this respect. I used to run an interactive media company, developing software and websites. I employed a bright young man just as he left university, and some eighteen years later he now has a very senior design position. In his view, I gave him his career start (although he would have made it anyway) and so he insists on doing my covers. I am involved at every stage, from writing the brief to making suggestions, if they are necessary. But he is a complete star.

Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
I do quite a detailed outline. Having been involved in computer software for most of my adult life, there’s nothing I like better than a good flowchart! And that’s more or less what I do for each element of my story. I work it all out, work it all out using software that allows me to develop each story thread separately. When I start writing, I begin by roughly sticking to the outline, but occasionally a character or an event takes over and I take a small detour.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
I didn’t do this for Only the Innocent in the first instance. I published based on my own editing, plus lots of proof reading from some excellent people with plenty of copywriting, but not editing experience. However, once the book had been successful and I got a wonderful agent, she suggested that we edit the book. And what a difference it made. The book had done well without the edit, but the difference after a professional had scribbled notes all over it - “what’s going on in the room while this is happening?” or “this bit slowed me down” - I really began to see the massive difference a good editor makes. And now, I would never consider publishing a book without going through a rigorous editing process.

What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
Although my books are self-published in the UK, they are published by Thomas and Mercer in the US, and they tend to take responsibility for the marketing there. But in the UK I develop a comprehensive marketing plan, with specific targets. The tools such as Twitter, Facebook etc are brilliant, but only as a means to an end and not an end in themselves. So for example I may have a target in my plan that says “strengthen relationships with existing readers”. I work out how best to use Twitter and Facebook and other tools in this regard, rather then just post content without thinking about why I’m doing it.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
That’s the tricky bit. I may have a marketing plan, but when I’m writing or editing, I am so completely focused on my story that I really struggle to get on with anything else at all. While my latest book If You Leave Me (to be released in 2014) was with my editor in October, I spent some time working on a new marketing plan. I was full of enthusiasm. And then the edits came back, and I was so totally engrossed that I’ve barely looked at the plan since. It’s not good enough, really, and I need to be more organized. But I love writing more than I love marketing. That’s the problem.

Besides writing, do you have any other passions?
I really enjoy cooking. Food crops up quite often in my books, and I post the recipes on my website too. Before Only the Innocent was so successful, I had considered that my next book would actually be a cookbook, and had already started writing it. But I do prefer writing thrillers, so it’s gone on the back burner.

What’s next for you?
My third book – If You Leave Me – is now back with my editor, who I am sure will have a few more notes for me, and then we’ll be ready to start the pre-marketing. I am hoping to have a finished manuscript by January, and will push the ‘go’ button in the UK in March, perhaps slightly later in the US.

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