Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She also owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in the San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self Publishing Monthly. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.
Time to chat with Rachel!
What is your latest book?
I released my third book, Broken Pieces, last December. It’s a departure from my earlier humor books (Mancode: Exposed and A Walk In The Snark) but I felt it was important to address some of the difficult experiences I’ve had and what I’ve learned from them.
It’s done better than I ever dreamed – seven awards, 5-star reviews from top Amazon reviewers, but more importantly, the incredible bond I’ve formed with other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?
Booktrope signed me for the print version of Broken Pieces this past fall, and the print version was published at the end of 2013.
Is your recent book part of a series?
You know, it didn’t really start out that way, but of course, I had so much more to say! I’ve also received feedback from readers that they want more, so I’ve started writing the next book, Broken Places, due next year.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
Well, this is interesting because it’s narrative nonfiction, written in essays, poetry, and prose. So it’s different in structure from telling a more traditional story with archetypes and arcs – but ultimately, it’s a story I’m telling, so some of that applies.
If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Broken Pieces inspires survivors of childhood sexual abuse and lost love.
What else have you written?
My two humor books mentioned above (all books available on Amazon), two blogs, multiple guest articles (12Most.com, bitrebeles.com, weekly for BookPromotion.com, monthly for the San Francisco Book Review, and Business 2 Community, and the new Self-Publisher’s Monthly), and a local Examiner (way back when).
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
I read and reacted to an article this past fall – something along the lines that ‘all indie books are crap’ and the guy (it’s always a guy LOL) said we’re ruining literature and that we don’t know anything beyond ‘Buy my book!’ tweets.
Without going into great detail, let’s just say I disagreed and provided concrete proof that many indie authors are award-winning, well-reviewed, produce professional books, and are being signed. Those types of generalities drives me nuts.
That said, I have read some horrible indie books. Like anything, the onus is on us, the author, to work with professionals (editors, formatters, proofreaders, graphic designers) to make our book as amazing as it can possibly be.
What part of writing a book do you enjoy the most? The least?
I tend to become sort of obsessed with a comment or word and the pre-writing starts in my head. When I sit down to actually write something, I have that as my guiding theme or watchword, if you will. It goes from there.
I tend to outline in a general way, in that I’ll have major themes (like love, loss, grief, etc) and I write with those in mind. As a nonfiction author, I tend to not like chronological order but that’s a personal choice.
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
As a nonfiction writer, scenes are different because I’m writing on a particular topic.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
I definitely want to know the title. That’s always the main theme for any work, in my opinion. As for the ending, I definitely have the beginning, middle, and ending in mind as a guideline. Because my work is more free-form, I don’t have to adhere as closely to fiction guidelines.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I don’t self-edit as I write, though I will go back over a piece before I send it on to my editor.
After working for a very long time on a book, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?
Yes, absolutely. I tell my editor that I’m “saturated,” and can’t even look at it anymore. That’s why having an editor you can work with and trust implicitly makes such a huge difference for authors.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?
In Broken Pieces, I wrote about being molested by my next-door neighbor (I was eleven; he was an adult with five kids). That wasn’t easy but I also didn’t write from his POV. I’m not sure I could do that, emotionally.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Some tough love:
Stop making excuses. Stop worrying about what others will think. People will hate it – get over it. If you’re worried about sharing sex scene because your parents/kids will know, guess what? They already know – the jig is up.
Give yourself permission.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
I have self-published all three of my books. I’ve been approached by a few agents (who found me on Twitter, actually) but it didn’t work out. And that’s okay – I enjoy my 70% profit/book!
I did recently sign with Booktrope for print. They vet all books through their submissions process, but once you’re in, you’re in. I look forward to working with them on future books also. They are a hybrid publisher, so I retain more profits than if I went traditional. And I’ll still self-publish. I’m all in.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I’ve loved Twitter since day one. It’s short and sweet, the conversations are great, and it’s a wonderful equalizer: I’ve spoken with many authors, musicians, and even a few tech people – household names – who couldn’t have been nicer.
Do you have any grammatical pet peeves to share?
Too many! But my main one is that alot is NOT a word, people. It’s a lot. I feel bad for our teachers at this point. I mean, really?
I used to be exclamation mark averse, but I’ve started using them in a judicious manner. Maybe I’m just not that excited about things as other people.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I adore involving characters with rich inner lives. I’m not big into genre fiction – I’m more a poetry and literary fiction kind of girl. That said, I’m a sucker for an engaging time-travel story.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
I’m thankful to have kept many journals over the years – many of them half started with pages ripped – but it was extremely helpful to read about my twenty-year old self and all the impressions and angst while writing all of my books.
I’m also the Google queen. I look up EVERYTHING. If you want to know something, it’s out there.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
I definitely feel we have to share our work. Writing in a bubble gives an author zero objectivity. So I share pieces here and there with my editor (knowing she’ll see it all when it’s done, of course), as well as a few writer friends whose opinions I respect. I also share on my blog – it’s good for people to stay in touch and see what we’re working on.
I also feel strongly that betareaders are an integral part of my process. They are readers! Of course I want their opinion.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
My first two humor books are satirical, yet many readers take the work literally and become offended. At first, I was upset that people would think I was a bad person. Then, after getting 1-star reviews saying I’m a terrible mother (because I let my kids listen to Queen), or headed for divorce (because I talked with an ex), I’ve gotten used to it.
I’ve learned not to take anything personally with regard to reviews. The reviews that really touch me are the ones from other childhood sexual abuse survivors – I’ve even created a private Facebook group because that bond is such a connector for so many. Being the voice for people has been extremely gratifying.
Do you write anything besides non-fiction?
I am currently working on a romance.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I started writing at age 10, after my teacher read us The Secret Garden. I was mesmerized, and decided I wanted to write like that someday!
Do you dread writing a synopsis for your book as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?
Not really. People need to know pretty quickly whether a book is right for them. If we can’t explain it in a few sentences, how will they get it?
If you were to write a novel, what might it be about?
Similar topics that I write as nonfiction: relationships, love, loss, grief, family.
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
I say explore the middle – look at hybrids like Booktrope. It’s an excellent option.
What have you done to market your books and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
I do everything! The best thing an author can do is connect with readers on a personal level, and blogs and social media allow for that (notice I said ‘connect’ and not blast with constant ‘Buy my book!’ links). Advertising is also very helpful: I make my husband do my Google Adwords (too much like math for me), and now he’s started a business and does Adwords for scores of authors!
I say try everything: do promotions, price reductions, giveaways, blog tours, blogging, guest blogging, interviews, social media, ads – it all increases your Google ranking and therefore, your visibility.
I’m sure you’ve read many interviews with your fellow authors. In what ways do you find your methods of creating most similar and dissimilar?
I tend not to dissect the writing process as intensively as many others do (not that I have a problem with that, of course). I find there’s just something magical about creating something from nothing – a gift if you will – and I love when the words flow through me and form sentences that carry that magic.
A less woo-woo answer is: do whatever feels right for you. There’s no right or wrong. Yes, writing is an art and a craft. There are ‘rules,’ which I personally feel are meant to be broken. Play with it, have fun with it. Make it your own.
Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous books?
Yes, absolutely. Broken Pieces is personal, and it discusses difficult topics most people shy away from. It’s not for everyone and that’s okay, too. It’s a win for me either way.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
It’s hard. I get it. I DO. But look at what they’re writing and see if there’s at least one nugget of helpful information. We are so inside our heads all the time, and nobody can live our memories or experiences. Writing is the next best thing.
Listen, nobody universally likes any one book.
Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?
I have found success going free on Amazon (my eBook), but I find that one or two days is plenty as long as you get the word out via the various ‘free sites’ that list our books.
Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Program? If yes, do you believe it’s worthwhile?
Yes, I have and Yes, I do. All three of my books have gone free and then ranked much higher than if I hadn’t taken them free. That said, two times/year is plenty. Our books are worth something – we worked hard and invested a lot of time and money in creating them. Don’t sell yourself short.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
Definite night owl. I HATE getting up early. I’m allergic to it. I go straight to my coffeemaker every morning, first thing, don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, just don’t. And music, absolutely.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design
It’s HUGELY important. People absolutely do judge a book by its cover, especially since we purchase 50% of our books online now.
Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?
I think hybrid publishing will become bigger than ever as authors (both indie and traditional) look for a middle ground.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
I think it’s a combination of both, for me. I have character portraits I outline but once the story start to go, it starts to go.
How would you define your style of writing?
Free-form, to a certain extent. It’s always important to me that I avoid cliché at all costs – sometimes I’ll take one and completely deconstruct it as to make it unrecognizable. That’s a fun challenge for me.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
I go back and forth on this. I’m an avid reader and I certainly understand that the book I’m reading means so much to that author. If it’s not up to par, I would never leave a poor review; rather, I contact the author with my observations.
It’s something we have to learn, as authors, that not everyone will like our work and that’s okay. Learn what you can from the negative reviews and then just move on. Keep writing. Always.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
I haven’t – perhaps it’s because I write so many articles and blog posts, I always have ideas for my writing.
What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?
I’d definitely be interested in writing time-travel or something paranormal – not vampires or wolves, but a different type of world.
Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?
Yes! I started to write the third of my humor books (Chickspeak: Uncovered) and just didn’t have my heart in it. Broken Pieces was pushing its way out. I just had to open the door.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
To trust my voice.
Everyone has an opinion about our writing, but ultimately, it’s our name that goes on that book. You.
Would you like to write a short poem for us?
‘Happiness leaves no scars.
Pain leaves evidence.
We know where we’ve been.’
~ Broken Places (WIP)
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I live in Northern California, even though I’m still RacheintheOC everywhere. I lived in Orange County, CA for 17 years. I grew up here so it’s great to be back. If I could live anywhere, I’d live in Europe – I love the history and architecture. London, most likely.
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
I enjoy trains and planes – the whole adventure of it. Cars are okay – traffic sucks. Boats – I’ve never cruised so I can’t say, but I’d like to one day.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Favorite: Everyone knows I love Nutella, though I don’t even keep it in the house anymore. I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to that stuff. Least favorite: Lima beans ties with green peppers. Blecch.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
To draw, be an artist. I draw stick people and even then, they’re pretty awful. And to cook – I burn everything.
What makes you angry?
Racism and abuse.
What music soothes your soul?
I listen mostly to female singers. I love love love Tori Amos, Poe, and Imogen Heap. New favorites are Lana Del Rey and Banks.
What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?
Journalism and Communications studies in college. I use much of what I learned then in every day life.
If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?
Friends, Doctor Who, Weeds, Castle. I don’t watch a lot of TV (I have a husband and two kids who fight for it) but when I do, I turn those shows on.
If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?
I’d love a studio – my daughter (age 14) is an amazing artist. I’d love her to have a space set up just for that.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
Film: Blade Runner, hands down. Book: The Time-Traveler’s Wife (the movie sucked though).
Have you ever walked out of a movie? If so, what was it?
I almost walked out of Lord of the Rings – not a fan (ducks). But I stayed and shut my eyes. I’m not big into violence.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Mani/pedis. I rarely take time for myself, but this is a gift I give me once every few months.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Have more compassion, be less judgmental, give more than we receive.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
Watching my children sleep.
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