Rachel Starr Thomson is a bestselling author with more than 50 published books, including The Seventh World Trilogy. She is also a freelance editor, publishing consultant, and founder of Independent Publishing Solutions.
From a very young age, Rachel spent her time sitting in nature and making up stories in her head.
Rachel was homeschooled. Her parents encouraged a lot of reading and a lot of independent study. Rachel read hundreds of books growing up. Her dad had a library of thousands of books.
She loved books and reading. That translated very easily into writing for her. She finished her first book, Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe, at the age of 13 and has been writing ever since.
Prior to her first novel, Rachel was writing a bunch of Lord of the Rings knockoff-type stuff that she was never able to finish. She was able to finish Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe because it was funny and she was being quirky and writing with humor.
As a teenager, Rachel dreamed of being a famous writer. As she grew up, her life took a different path. She was heavily involved in humanitarian work in her early 20s, when she realized that she could combine her love of writing with advancing the worldviews she believed in. That’s when she started working on her writing as a profession.
How Rachel Found Her Writer Voice
Rachel writes Christian sci-fi and fantasy novels. She has a Christian worldview, but her books aren’t preachy. (In fact, she’s gotten some negative customer feedback saying that her books aren’t Christian enough.)
In the beginning of her author career, Rachel tried to appeal to a wider audience. It was only after she “embraced her weird” that her author career started taking off.
She stopped trying to appeal to everyone and started looking for people that her fiction already appealed to, which was a much easier task.
“If you really have no idea who you’re writing for, you can’t market to them effectively.”
– Rachel Starr Thomson
Rachel’s Marketing Strategies and Tips for Indie Authors
Rachel uses email marketing along with Amazon and Facebook ads to market to her audience.
Because Rachel’s niche is so small, just focusing on ranking on Amazon isn’t enough. Rachel could be number one in every category that applies to her and she wouldn’t be able to make a living as an indie author.
As soon as Rachel got on Facebook and found there were a million people who wanted to read her books, that changed everything.
How Rachel Uses Facebook Ads
Rachel found authors who wrote books similar to hers. Then she advertised to their audiences on Facebook; she offered a free copy of the first book in one of her series to everyone who signed up to her email list from Facebook.
From there, those customers were funneled into an autoresponder sequence that introduced Rachel and the kinds of books she writes.
She ran the ads for about five months. On average, she was spending about $1 to get a subscriber.
Towards the end of her Facebook advertising experiment, she spent $5,000 (Canadian) on Facebook ads. That may seem like a lot of money, but now she has an email list of around 30K subscribers, which allows her to write full time.
Rachel credits really knowing her target audience as the main reason she was able to succeed with Facebook ads.
Rachel made the difficult decision to shut down her Facebook ads because of cash flow issues. When you run a Facebook ad, you essentially pay for the ad the same day you run it. When you make a sale on Amazon, you get paid 60 to 90 days after the sale takes place. Rachel just got to a point where that cash flow situation was untenable.
How Rachel Uses Her Email List as a Marketing Tool
Now that Rachel has a sizable list, she does some sort of promotion for her list every two months. She either promotes her paperback books or her ebooks. Because her books deal with spirituality, Rachel has been able to successfully market courses and nonfiction books to her audience as well.
Rachel has also done BookBub-style promotion emails on different book promotion sites, and she has a newsletter sign-up link in every ebook she publishes.
Rachel’s primary online marketing channel is her email list, and the majority of her marketing efforts have been to build that email list.
How to Serve Your List as a Fiction Author
The key to serving your list as a fiction author is to develop personal connections with the people on your list.
In Rachel’s case, because her fiction is about her faith, she uses her faith as a way to connect on a more personal level with each member of her audience.
Rachel shares her own personal experiences and her own faith journey with her audience. She also invites them to share their journeys with her.
One thing she does is invite her audience to send her prayer requests, and she prays for them. Prayer requests are something that will probably only work with a very religious audience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to build a community around your fiction.
Find things in common with your audience. Don’t make your emails all about selling your books. Instead, build connections with members of your audience and they will do more to support you because they know, like, and trust you
You become more than just an author they buy from. You are a friend they want to see succeed.
Building a Deeper Relationship with Your Audience through Your Email List
Rachel has found that a lot of her audience is going through some sort of medical issue. That means they spend a lot of time in bed and they read to pass the time. She found that out because she reached out to her audience through her email list and started conversations that helped her figure out who her audience was and what they need.
You can do that no matter what niche or genre you write in. It’s all about seeing your customers as people rather than just numbers on a sales sheet. If you see your customer as a person, they’re more likely to see you as a person, your connection will be stronger, and they will be actively rooting for your success.
If you want to genuinely connect with your audience:
- Be authentic.
- Be yourself.
- Share your strong points and your weak points.
- Don’t try to make yourself look amazing; everyone has flaws.
People care that you’re a person.
“I have people who email me and say, ‘I haven’t read any of your books yet, but I open all your emails because I love them.’ I think when you’re hearing that, you’re doing email marketing right.”
– Rachel Starr Thomson
The key to building a connection with your audience is being genuinely yourself.
Rachel’s autoresponder sequence introduces her audience to her books. But she doesn’t write salesy emails. She usually writes about the writing process. She writes about the themes in the book and why she chose to write the story she wrote. Rachel writes about how the stories she tells connect to her life.
That approach has been tremendously successful in building an audience of loyal fans.
When you compose emails, ideally you want to write an email that’s encouraging, inspirational, or helpful in and of itself, regardless of whether your subscriber buys from you or not.
How Rachel Promotes a New Novel
The first thing Rachel does to promote a new release is send the new book to her lifetime readers club. There are about 200 people in that club. She’ll ask them to review the book when she launches it, which will help the book gain visibility.
Rachel’s regular email list will already know the book is coming because she talks about books with her list as she’s writing them.
When she launches the book, she will send out an email that talks about the themes of the book and how it connects to Rachel’s life, and the lives of the people in her audience. Then she’ll connect the themes to the bigger faith picture, which is the theme that ties her list together.
In her next email, she’ll send a cover reveal. After that, she’ll likely send out some sample chapters. Finally, when it goes live on Amazon, she’ll tell her list that the new book is live and available for purchase.
Usually, when she launches something on Amazon, she tries to give bonuses and free things to her list.
When Rachel publishes her next book in December 2017, it will be the first time that she’s using her email list to promote a book. When she started building an email list, she had most of her 50 titles on Amazon already. The majority of her email marketing has been simply promoting her backlist.
How Rachel Built Her List
When Rachel started building her list in 2015, she had more than 30 books live on Amazon, bringing in about $100 a month.
She knew logically that the audience for her work had to be there, so she started looking at what other authors were doing to promote their work.
She started using book promotion sites and free giveaways to build her list. Her sales tripled in short order. She dipped her toe in the Facebook ads pond and started to see consistent growth from them.
After seeing consistent growth in her email list through Facebook ads, Rachel decided to throw all caution to the wind and spend as much money as she could on Facebook ads. That’s how she grew her list from 2,500 people to 30,000 people in just over two months.
How Rachel Handles Editing and Consulting on Top of Being an Indie Author
If Rachel could simply be a full-time author, she would. She does editing and consulting when she needs extra cash flow.
When she takes on editing and consulting jobs, Rachel likes to batch work and keep her writing days and freelance days separate.
At the very least, Rachel tries to give any creative things she is working on a three-hour chunk of time, so she isn’t bouncing from one thing to another, because that isn’t an effective use of her time.
When Rachel is working on more than one thing, she likes to set aside at least an hour a day to work on her own stuff before she starts working on freelance projects.
When Rachel is working on her own creative projects alongside freelance projects, she likes to work to a daily word goal for her own projects. Right now that’s 2,500 words a day.
Last Words of Advice for Authors
“Own your weird. Whatever it is that makes you unique, really, really own that, and don’t try to run from it. Don’t try to water it down, and let that into your marketing. Let that into your books, and connect with people who want to hear from you. They’re out there and you can find them.”
– Rachel Starr Thomson
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
https://rachelstarrthomson.com/ – Rachel’s website, where you can read her nonfiction blog or sign up for her email list.
Theodore Pharris Saves the Universe – Rachel’s first novel, written when she was 13 years old, about an eight-year-old boy who saved the world with his slingshot.
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!