Rachel Morgan is not just a pretty face. The thirty-year-old author of the bestselling Creepy Hollow series and the contemporary romance Trouble series holds a degree in genetics and is flying her flag high in the indie revolution.
The traditional publishing world has lost a lot of clout over recent years, with many authors selecting the indie or hybrid model of publishing. The benefits of the digital age and independent publishing platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace mean that a traditional rejection letter is no longer the knoll marking the end of an author’s career. While it is relatively easy to publish a book, marketing and building a brand is not quite as simple. In the world of author marketing, however, Rachel Morgan is at the top of her game.
Rachel, you started writing at a young age. What sparked your creative mind and your passion for writing?
This isn’t the most exciting answer, but I think I was born with that creative spark and passion! I’ve loved telling stories for as long as I can remember. Even before I was old enough to write, I dictated a story to my mother so she could write it down for me. I entertained my younger brother and sister with Barbie-enacted stories, and then wrote short stories during high school for my two best friends. But I do have several authors I can thank for their part in influencing my growth as a storyteller. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books were the first I remember reading, and they instilled in me a love of adventure stories. Philip Pullman’s The Northern Lights introduced me to fantasy, a genre I have adored ever since. I also read my first cliffhanger ending in that book, which was both a shock and an inspiration (as anyone who has read my Creepy Hollow series will tell you! Sorry about all those cliffhangers, guys …). J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series taught me a lot about creativity and foreshadowing (a concept that was new to me when I began that series as a young teen). And then there’s Twilight. Love it or hate it, that was the book I was reading when I decided to take the leap, leave my master’s in Biochemistry, and pursue writing as a career. So I’ll always be grateful to Stephenie Meyer for that.
I adore your author branding – the bird and your tagline work very well together and are instantly recognisable. How did you come up with the tagline “Let Your Imagination Take Flight”?
For me, stories are all about escaping the stresses and responsibilities of the real world for a little while. When you’re reading a good book, it’s as if your imagination transports you to another realm. That’s what I strive to do with my stories. And hopefully, if I have succeeded, readers’ imaginations really do take flight when they’re immersed in one of my books!
You hold a BSc Agric in Genetics from UKZN and have jokingly claimed that shortly after completing it you discovered you weren’t ‘grown-up’ enough for a real job, and returned to your passion for writing. Do you have any regrets about the course that you studied or the fact that you haven’t used the degree you attained?
No regrets at all! I may not have used the majority of what I learnt at university, but my degree did allow me to teach high school Mathematics for several years (which I greatly enjoyed), and my experience at UCT (which I attended before UKZN) partly inspired two of the Trouble series books. Besides, I wouldn’t have met my husband if I’d done a different degree, and that would have been terribly sad!
Let’s talk about the Creepy Hollow Series. The world building is incredible! How did you come up with the idea and how much time did you spend plotting this incredible setting before putting pen to paper – or fingers to keys?
Thank you! The initial idea came from the name itself, Creepy Hollow, which just sort of appeared in my head one day. I knew it would be fantasy. It kinda sounded like a forest, the sort filled with magical creatures that were probably dangerous. And that meant I’d have to have characters that could fight the dangerous creatures. Those characters turned out to be faeries—the human-sized, kick-ass kind, not the miniature kind with wings. All the rest of the details slowly filled themselves in over the course of several months.
You opted to release nine books in the series, following the antics of three exceptional characters. Why this structure?
I originally planned the series to be a trilogy, but while I was writing the first one, I began to think of how the series might continue beyond the third book. I didn’t decide for certain back then that I would continue, and when the third book released, I called it the last in the series, but at the back of my mind, I planned for the possibility of more. A year later, I was ready to return to Creepy Hollow! And not just for one more trilogy, but for two. I had known for a long time who the main character of books four, five and six would be, but by that point, I also had a plan for a potential main character of books seven, eight and nine. Apparently I’m a fan of the trilogy structure 😉
You have also published and planned for a few Creepy Hollow novellas. Novellas have become hugely popular in recent years, particularly in the fantasy genre. Why do you think that is, and how many novellas will you be releasing?
The pace of life is faster now than it used to be. It seems as though we’re always trying to fit more and more into the same amount of time! I think that might be one reason why novellas have increased in popularity. You can read a full story in less time, leaving more time for other activities (or other books!). From the marketing and promotion side of things, the more often an author publishes, the easier it is to maintain visibility amongst the millions of books being produced every year. This is no doubt another reason we’ve seen an increase in shorter works over the past few years: they can be written and published faster than novels.
I think novellas and short stories are great tools to further flesh out a detailed fantasy world. The backbone of my series is made up of novels, but if I want to explore the stories of some of the secondary characters, I use novellas. So far I’ve published one, I’m releasing a second one this month and I have a third planned for some time in the future. But it’s entirely possible there might be more than three!
The Trouble series is a contemporary romance series, with four books already published. How do you shift your genre gear so effortlessly, and do you find it easier or more difficult to write romantic novels?
I’m glad I appear to shift genres so effortlessly, since it certainly doesn’t feel effortless! There’s a reason I took an entire year off from fantasy and wrote three romance novels before returning to fantasy for a year and a half, and then going back to romance. I think I’d find it very difficult to shift back and forth one novel at a time! Writing is such an immersive process. I have to be completely in the zone, which means once I’m ‘living’ in the Creepy Hollow world, it’s difficult to extract myself from it and dive into a contemporary romance setting. I find that reading in the same genre helps a lot. When I’m writing fantasy, I read fantasy (or other speculative fiction). When I’m writing romance, I read romance.
Is it easier or more difficult to write romantic novels?
Funny you should ask 😉 I thought it would be easier to write contemporary romance. I mean, it’s the real world. You can use existing settings and terminology. And it’s ‘just romance,’ right? Ha! Wrong. I discovered soon enough that for me, the thrill of action scenes, life and death situations, magical made-up settings, and complicated end-of-the-world plots keeps my fingers flying across the keyboard much faster than contemporary romance.
You recently decided to re-brand your author identity for your romance novels, and are now using the pseudonym Rochelle Morgan for the Trouble Series. What prompted this decision and how do you ultimately hope it will affect your career?
My Trouble series has never sold as well as my Creepy Hollow series, and I eventually realised that in order to give the romance books a real chance, I needed to put a little more distance between them and my fantasy books. The way the online retailer algorithms work means that because of the success of my fantasy books, my romance books are being shown to fantasy fans, a lot of whom may not be interested in romance. I needed to get the Trouble books in front of the right audience, and the best way to do that was to move them to a different name. Ultimately, I hope this will help me to better serve my readers, giving fantasy fans what they want and romance fans what they want (instead of promoting everything to everyone).
Let’s talk about your decision to independently publish. You have mentioned that you wouldn’t sign your rights over to a publisher, even if you were offered a traditional contract. Why is this?
Never say never 😉 If the right contract came along, I would certainly consider it, but it would have to be very good. A print-only deal, for example, which is what plenty of indie authors dream of! But there’s just so much about the independent publishing route that appeals to me. Not just the higher royalty rates, but the control and flexibility. I am completely in charge of what I want to publish and when I want to publish it. There are plenty of authors who only want to write, and that’s totally fine. I, however, actually like doing all the other tasks that are required of an indie author. I enjoy figuring out how ebook formatting software works, or putting together a marketing plan, or tweaking the design of my book covers until they’re exactly the way I want them to be. I’m a bit of a control freak, so the indie route works well for me 😉
Can you give us a run-through of your average working day? Do you have a set routine, or do you dedicate different days to writing, marketing and such?
I wish I had a set routine! I’ve been planning to have a set routine for years, and somehow it never happens. Somehow it’s almost midday and I’m still in my pajamas and I’m filling in a form that I found in a new Facebook group for a marketing opportunity that’s so great it just can’t wait until later for me to attend to. And then, of course, there are those promo graphics that I must do right now, and the twenty emails I need to go through, and the post office receipts I need to file, and the sales data I need to add to my spreadsheet. And then it’s 2 a.m. and I’m still writing because, let’s be honest, I probably didn’t start until after dinner!
Okay, so it isn’t always that bad, but I definitely don’t have a set routine I follow every day. I generally go through cycles. The closer I get to a deadline, the more hours I spend writing, until I get to the point where I’m writing every moment of the day. But then after I’ve published a new book, I’ll spend a week or two catching up on admin and marketing, and I won’t write at all. Somehow, this up-and-down, non-structured process seems to work.
You are married, but have no children yet. Do you use your favourite baby names in your books?
Ha ha! I don’t think I have favourite baby names yet. And if I did, I wouldn’t use them in books because then I wouldn’t be able to use them for the actual babies when they eventually come along!
You are an incredibly prolific writer and in the not too distant future you will release the last of the Creepy Hollow books. Do you have anything in the pipeline that you will be working on when that time comes?
To be honest, I’m a little bit scared of reaching that point. For so long, I’ve known exactly what I’m going to write next. But once Creepy Hollow is finished, endless possibilities lie ahead! It’s both exciting and terrifying, but I’m looking forward to choosing one of the many ideas buzzing around at the back of my mind.
Your marketing strategy is remarkable and you create all of your own promotional material, which is no easy feat! Many authors who opt to create their own graphics and covers are left wanting, because it is an art form in itself. Did you study any design courses or are you self-taught?
I am self-taught. YouTube tutorials are quite useful (and Photoshop is a great source of procrastination for me!).
You are very active on social media. How important do you think it is for authors to connect with their readers on these platforms?
While a social media presence is important, it’s actually less important than a lot of authors think. The reason I say this is because there are authors whose books are very successful who don’t have a particularly active social media presence. They keep on producing great books, and readers keep on buying them. However, it’s something that is greatly appreciated by readers, and it’s something that I enjoy, so I’ll keep on doing it. (I work alone at home with just my doggies for company, so I need some social media interaction in my life!)
What advice do you have for other indies out there, struggling to get themselves noticed?
I know this has been said before, and it isn’t what a lot of people want to hear, but you really do just need to keep writing. There’s no point in going all out with marketing when you’ve only got one book published (unless that’s the only book you ever plan to write. Then by all means, put everything you’ve got into promoting that baby!). My series only took off after the release of the third book, and it’s the same today for new authors. Readers are more likely to give an author a chance if they can see they’ll get more than just one book from that author. So my advice is to write a series (not just stand-alone books) and to write in a popular genre that you also happen to enjoy (no point in writing something you can’t stand!). Other than that, it’s a great idea to reach out to other authors in your genre and get involved in group promotional activities.
Rachel lives with her husband and three miniature dachshunds in Cape Town. You can find out more by visiting her website at www.Rachel-Morgan.com.