Rebecca Cantrell

Rebecca Cantrell photographed by Angela Marklew.

In 2006, as part of the (now defunct) Maui Writers Conference, Rebecca Cantrell submitted one of her works to be reviewed by an agent. Things snowballed from there to the point where she sold her first novel, A Trace of Smoke, to Tor Forge, leading to the Hannah Vogel mystery series, which follows a crime reporter–turned-spy throughout pre-Nazi and Nazi Berlin. Since then, Cantrell, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling writer, has published nine novels in over 10 different languages and has worked with both indie and traditional publishers specializing in the thriller and horror genres. She has written YA; co-written the Order of the Sanguines series with James Rollins, published by HarperCollins; and independently published her Joe Tesla series. Cantrell lives in Berlin with her husband and son.

What drives your interest in thrillers and horror, and what is it about these genres that is especially popular with the reading public? 

I love making sense of things that go bump in the night. Mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories ask difficult questions and take us places that we’d love to go, with the underlying knowledge that we can always close the book if it gets too scary. Of course, we have to open that book again later, just to find out what happened.

What were your challenges when you went the self-publishing route?

There was a bit of a learning curve, but I was very lucky that I had several close friends who had walked that path before me, and they were all very generous with their advice. I was able to get solid recommendations to put together the first-class team I needed.

What are the rewards in indie publishing?

 It’s wonderful to have control over all aspects of the publication process, from the cover to the story to the publication date. It’s also rewarding to keep a bigger share of the royalties and to be paid monthly instead of twice a year. Writers often don’t talk about money, but we do need to eat and pay rent like everyone else.

How has the image of indie publishing changed over the years?

I think it used to be viewed as the last refuge for an author who couldn’t get a traditional contract, but now I think it’s seen as just another tool in a writer’s toolbox. Writers have the freedom to decide what works best for their particular projects and goals. It’s a great time to beCantrell cover a writer.

You have a few different series ongoing. Did you ever feel that one kind of series would work better with one model of publishing?

I’d say that a niche series, such as a historical with a woman sleuth set in Berlin, might do better in the indie world, where it would have more time to find an audience, and a series with a more accessible hero, like a male sleuth living in New York City in modern times, might do better with a traditional publisher who could take it out on a larger scale. I guess that means I’m doing things exactly the wrong way.

What steps have you taken to market your books once published?
I have a newsletter, a Facebook page, and a Twitter handle where I talk to readers about books, my various obsessions and theirs. I view it as a place where we all hang out together, not a place where I sell them stuff. I’ll guest blog if I have a cool topic I want to talk about.

What is your advice to writers considering self-publishing?

It’s the same advice I’d give any writers. Read inside and outside of your genre. Take your writing seriously, and get those words on paper. When you think your project is ready for the world, assemble the best team you can find. You spent a lot of your life creating this world and the people that live there, so don’t sell them short at the very end.

Poornima Apte is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor with a passion for everything books.


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