Earlier this summer, fellow author and friend Rachel Abbott graciously interviewed me for her blog (you can read that interview here, by the way), and I am pleased to return the favor. Rachel’s detective/suspense/thriller novel ONLY THE INNOCENT has been an Amazon UK sensation, reaching #1 in the Kindle Store (Paid), as well as #1 in several other categories.
In this interview she talks about writing, living in Italy, the nature of internet celebrity, and much more. If you’re in the mood for a suspense/thriller, you should definitely pick up ONLY THE INNOCENT. Rachel is working on her second novel now.
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ONLY THE INNOCENT has been ranked #1 in several categories on Amazon UK: #1 Kindle Store (Paid), #1 British Detective, #1 Suspense, and #1 Thriller. The novel obviously has great crossover appeal between genres. What about the novel is making readers respond so positively?
I think there is a level of intrigue that has compelled readers to find out the answers to all the questions. ONLY THE INNOCENT is not so much a book about WHO committed the murder, it’s far more about WHY and to some extent, HOW. It also seems to appeal to people on different levels: some are interested in the whole concept of the detective solving the crime, others are more interested in what would drive a woman to commit cold-blooded murder. So I believe it keeps people intrigued to the end.
Although ONLY THE INNOCENT has been profoundly successful on Amazon UK and has been rising up the Amazon US charts, you and the novel are somewhat less well known in the States. What would you like to say to American readers of mysteries, suspense and thrillers to encourage them to buy and read your novel?
I initially focused most of my marketing on the UK audience primarily because I am from the UK, and had quite a following there. But although ONLY THE INNOCENT is set in the England, there are parts of the book set in Venice and Positano and the protagonist does live in a very glamorous world. So I believe that the setting should appeal to people everywhere. In terms of the story, the issues faced by the main characters are universal. There is nothing that defines them as British, and although the policeman is – of necessity – English, the story is driven by mystery and suspense, rather than by a police investigation. There have been a number of reviews already in the US, and to date all of them have happily been favorable.
You’ve had over 100 5-star reviews of the novel from Amazon readers, but surely 1–2 must stand out as favorites. What are some of your favorite customer comments about the book?
I particularly like this review, because it covers quite a few aspects of the book :
Rachel Abbott’s rollercoaster debut is astounding and has bestseller written all over it. She explores some dark, dark places in the human psyche that will make you think twice about outer kindness and charity. The Devil’s in the detail but who is The Devil? Gripping from start to finish, the pages almost turned themselves as I enjoyed the fast-paced journey to the final denouement.
I also liked this review, which came early on, from the Kindle Book Review. This is just a brief extract :
A Stunningly Complex Debut Novel
Rachel Abbott has proved with this debut that she is a cracking writer. The book is a complex layered web, every chapter adding more and more layers of intrigue that pull you in further.
But perhaps the one that made me smile most was :
I nearly burned the dinner twice because I couldn’t put this book down.
Are you an avid reader of books in these genres (mysteries, suspense and thrillers), and is that why you were inspired to write one of your own, or did you write ONLY THE INNOCENT for other reasons?
I am an avid reader of various genres, but I suspect I read more thrillers than anything else, partly because my husband likes them too, so I have always tended to buy books that we can share. But in this case, I’d had an idea in my head for a very long time and never had the time to sit down and write it. I wanted to think up a scenario in which a woman – a perfectly normal, sane woman – would have no other option than to commit a cold-blooded murder. I didn’t want a psychopathic killer – I wanted a normal person, and that was my inspiration.
You were invited by Amazon KDP to the London Book fair to discuss your success with ONLY THE INNOCENT. What did you learn about publishing and yourself from the experience?
I was really excited when KDP asked me to come to the book fair, and the one thing that I learned was that I really want to be in this industry – not just as a one-off author of a book, but because I want to be a writer. I am very clear in my own mind that self-publishing has been really good to me, but in no way does that mean for a minute that I believe traditional publishing is dead. I loved seeing a pile of my books, actually printed (by KDP) for me to sign, and I do love the idea of walking into a bookstore and seeing them all there. But self-publishing has some real positives too, and I realized at the end of the book fair that I won’t rule out either option. One thing that is very clear, though, is that marketing your book to success has to be partially down to luck. If I had launched ONLY THE INNOCENT at the same time as the 50 Shades series, it would have been impossible to get to the #1 spot!
Your #1 success with ONLY THE INNOCENT on Amazon UK has made you something of a celebrity in the Indie Author community. How has your writing life changed as a result of this celebrity?
When ONLY THE INNOCENT was successful, I wanted to share the things I had learned with other indie authors. I originally launched the book with low expectations of sales. I would have been happy, to be honest, with a thousand copies sold. That was my goal. But clearly I was very lucky, and I must have done a few things right – so for quite some time I spent most of my days blogging about what I did, and sharing things with other authors.
But the biggest change by far came when I found myself an agent. I have Kerry Wilkinson – another successful indie author (although he now has a publisher) – to thank for this. He introduced me to my agent, and she has changed the way that I work completely. She edited ONLY THE INNOCENT – something that I hadn’t thought of doing, but should have – and has guided my writing, giving tirelessly of her time. So the so-called celebrity status had a tremendous impact, and has made me even keener to improve my writing and help other indies.
You live and write in Le Marche, Italy (Central Italy). How has being a writer in Italy influenced your writing and how you work?
Living in Italy is a joy, and I can write here practically without distraction. I am able to write full time – which I know makes me one of the few very lucky ones – and in an atmosphere of total peace and quiet.
But living in Italy also means that during the summer months it is extremely hot – this summer in particular has been relentless and we have had no rain for over three months. It is quite difficult to work when your arms are sticking to the desk! We don’t have air conditioning, because in a normal summer it’s hardly necessary – but I might think about that for next year! We also have a lot of visitors from May to September – friends and family looking to escape the very wet summer in the UK. We love having guests, but they have all had to accept that I hide myself away for a large part of each day. The temptation of a few hours by the pool in the afternoon, though, sometimes gets the better of me.
So for most of the year I can be 100% focused, but for the summer months it becomes quite difficult – particularly if everybody else is drinking a nice chilled glass of white wine with lunch and have feel I have to stick to water!
Who are your writing idols—those writers whose work inspires you to be the best writer you can be?
I’m not sure that I have any writing idols. If I have to choose one, it would be Daphne du Maurier. REBECCA is my favourite book of all time. What I love about it is that it is a mystery, but it’s all about relationships. It’s not a story that is led by a detective – it is led by the protagonists. ONLY THE INNOCENT had to have a detective in the story because a murder is committed in the first chapter. But I definitely wanted to feel that the story was all about the victim and the perpetrator, and was not a novel about a policeman.
There are writers whose books I always enjoy – and Harlan Coben would be right up there. What I love about his books is the complexity of the plot – and I am referring to the one-off titles rather than the Myron Bolitar series, which I enjoy for entirely different reasons. It’s this level of intricacy that I strive for.
A considerable number of books that fit into the thriller genre focus almost entirely on the investigation and the character of the policeman rather than the personality of the victims, but with the Harlan Coben books, the focus is on the people to whom the events are happening, rather than on the people solving the crime. So between Daphne du Maurier and Harlan Coben – a strange mix, you might say – they have shaped the way I think of a story.
You are something of a social media maven as well, tirelessly promoting ONLY THE INNOCENT on Facebook and Twitter. How has social media helped you as a writer, and how has it been a hindrance?
When I launched ONLY THE INNOCENT I had just nine followers on Twitter. I had a Facebook account, but I rarely used it. I worked hard to build a following – particularly on Twitter, although I am working harder on Facebook now by engaging people in conversation a little more.
I don’t think that social media has been a hindrance at all. I have used some of the tools available to make my life a little easier, because for months I was doing all the updating and searching for new followers manually. I now have two Twitter accounts, primarily because most of my followers on the first account were other indie authors. That is no problem at all, and I’m delighted to chat to them. But the things that interest them are different to the articles and reviews that interest readers – so I now maintain two accounts. The one for readers is where I post reviews – not just of ONLY THE INNOCENT – hardly ever, in fact – but reviews of other books they may find interesting, retweets from other authors, etc.
I’ve made some really good friends via Twitter – particularly in the indie author area. In general, they are a really supportive bunch of people, although of course you get the odd troll who sees that a book has received a load of good reviews so takes delight in going to the Amazon page and writing a particularly nasty one that shows no evidence of them having read the book. The aim is clearly to damage one book in the hope that it will make theirs more prominent. That, to me, is the only downside of social media. You are laying everything out there for the world to see, and not everybody shows the necessary respect for others.
You’re currently working on your second novel. Can you give readers a general idea of what it’s about and what inspired you to write it?
I wanted to explore what goes on under the apparently perfect surface of people’s lives, and how individuals – intentionally or otherwise – can cause harm through obsession, jealousy and delusion.
In my next book, an apparently perfect community is ripped apart by a terrible accident. But it is this accident and the investigation into it that gradually begin to expose circles of deceit that are lying just beneath the surface.
Is there any advice that you could give burgeoning Indie Authors, advice that you wish you had received when you were starting out?
Yes! As you know, Chris, I have now had ONLY THE INNOCENT professionally edited. The first version did incredibly well, and I think that’s because many people read like I do – they are driven entirely by the story. But some criticized the first version, and having had an editor pore over it and send me reams and reams of notes for improvement, I understand why.
The editing process was quite hard. I didn’t get back changes which was what I half expected. I got back notes with comments such as – ‘what’s going on in the room?’ or ‘what’s she seeing here?’ or ‘cut this section in half’ – and it really made me think. The story hasn’t changed, but the characters have been fleshed out, and there is more to visualize in a scene. I spent a couple of months rewriting chunks, and then it was edited again by a second person, who made even more suggestions.
It sounds hard, but I really think that if I had done that at the outset, ONLY THE INNOCENT would have been an even bigger success. As it is, it has been re-released in the new version on all platforms, and the reviews on iTunes (UK) and Waterstones – probably the biggest independent bookstore in the UK – are all incredibly positive.
So if I was starting again, I would try whatever I could to find the budget for a professional edit. It has changed the way that I will write going forward, but hopefully not changed the tension and suspense of the story.
How can readers buy ONLY THE INNOCENT?
ONLY THE INNOCENT is available in all ereader formats, and can be found by following the links below. For some of the readers, such as Kobo and Sony, it might be necessary to perform a search as the sites default to the country you are searching from.