How Erika Foster changed my life…

I’m very excited that Fatal Witness, the seventh Erika Foster book, is now published!  Click here to get your copy (this is a universal location-based link, which will take you to your location with store options)

 

It’s terrific to be back with a new Erika Foster novel for you all after a four-year break. I was asked recently if I still get nervous about publication day. And this got me thinking back to what it was like when I published the first book in the Erika Foster series, The Girl in the Ice. And also, when I published my debut novel, The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard, back in 2012. 

For the long answer, the screen needs to go wobbly, and flashback music needs to play…

I’ve had so many setbacks in my creative career. I went to drama school, graduating in 2001, and spent six exciting and challenging years working as an actor. When I met my Slovak husband, Ján, he encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I spent another five years doing all kinds of jobs in-between writing my first novel, The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard, in the evenings and weekends. I then spent another year querying literary agents before finally signing with one, only to have my hopes dashed when the book was turned down by every single publisher.

In 2010 we felt beaten down by the expense of living in London, so we moved to Los Angeles, living day-by-day and hand to mouth for an exciting, unforgettable year, but by late 2011 we ran out of money. And without jobs, long-term work permits, or health insurance, we knew we had to come home. But where was home? Coming back to live in London was out of the question. I’d loved the years we spent living there, but I fancied something different, so we decided to return to Ján’s hometown in Slovakia.

Ján’s Mum, Vierka, took us in for what was meant to be a few weeks, and we ended up staying for 4 years! And this was when I felt I really became a writer. I love my mother-in-law to the moon and back, and I will never forget her generosity and the sacrifices she made having us live with her for so long. She believed in me as a writer, just as much as Ján did. It was a challenging four years, all living on top of each other in a one-bedroom flat with two dogs! But it was also a lot of fun. Luckily, the cost of living in Slovakia was low, and I was given the gift of time. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Every day, all day. I wrote a book about our time living in Los Angeles, which Ján translated to Slovak, and then he managed to land a book deal with a Slovak publisher. In industry terms, the advance was tiny, just €500, but back then, this was a considerable amount of money, and I was finally a published author! It spurred me on. The book was published fast and was a moderate success, and then another Slovak publisher asked if I had anything else. 

I dusted off The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard, and Ján sold it to the publisher and the sequel I had just started writing Coco Pinchard’s Big Fat Tipsy Wedding. This time they offered a lot more money, enough to live on for the next few months, and my confidence grew. Around this time, we decided to publish the English-language versions of the books on Amazon’s KDP self-publishing platform. This decision was life-changing. At the time, it felt like a significant risk The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard had been turned down by every single publisher in the UK. Could we do it ourselves? But things were changing for writers. Self-publishing had just taken off, and writers were selling vast amounts of books doing it all themselves. I knew I had a great book I believed in, but we had to make it look as good as we could. We found a great cover designer, and I’m glad we did because I think it was the cover which sold the book in the first instance.

The first cover for The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard!

The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard was launched with little fanfare, sitting on the sofa in the living room of our one-bedroom flat and pressing ‘enter’ on my laptop. The first six months of sales on KDP were patchy, but with a great cover and with Ján working hard to find ways to promote the books on social media, and it started to sell more and more copies each month. It was incredible. I kept going and wrote seven books in total that we published on KDP in two and a half years. It was hard work but liberating, and by the time we published my seventh book, the romantic comedy Miss Wrong and Mr Right sales were incredible – it sold 30,000 copies during the spring and summer of 2014. We could finally afford the mortgage deposit on a small one-bedroom flat of our own. It was a bit of a dump, but it was ours.

Then, I decided I wanted to do something different, so I started writing the detective story that would become The Girl in the Ice. I did it without any feeling of pressure or any expectation. We didn’t tell anyone, and as far as I knew, no one was writing British crime fiction where the lead character is a Slovak. Although the first draft of the book was actually written with Erika returning to Slovakia after the death of her husband and solving a mystery as a civilian, I then figured that the story would work better as a police procedural set in London.

After years of setbacks, everything seemed to fall into place. My self-publishing success made contacting my future publisher, the new digital start-up Bookouture, a little easier. I sent them the first draft of the book, and after a nerve-wracking wait, they offered me a three-book publishing contract. Three! I couldn’t believe it! Then things moved very quickly, I worked with a fantastic editor on re-writes, and within 3 months, in December 2015, The Girl in the Ice had a stunning cover, and it was live on pre-order.

The stunning original cover by Henry Steadman.

As Christmas went by, I was very excited to hear that it had sold a couple of hundred copies on pre-order. We’d never had a book on pre-order, and to think people were buying it before they knew what it was about was incredible. Me and Ján went to a spa in the new year, and it sticks in my mind, the moment when I was brushing my teeth before bed, and he yelled that The Girl in the Ice had gone into the top 100 on the Amazon UK chart. On pre-order.

Two weeks later, my whole life changed completely when the book was published. The Girl in the Ice went to number one in the UK, Australia, and then on the American Amazon chart. It was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, and an author friend posted copies of the newspapers. It stayed high in the charts for months and sold hundreds of copies daily and then thousands. Foreign rights deals started to come through with more and more countries buying the book, and it was just astonishing, like a giant wave that kept going. 

When I signed the contract, I’d agreed to write the first three books very close together, so even before The Girl in the Ice was published, I’d finished writing the second book, The Night Stalker, and I’m so glad I did because then it all hit me and became quite overwhelming. In between writing. I travelled to Spain, Italy, The Netherlands and the Czech Republic to promote the foreign editions and saw The Girl in the Ice on the back of buses in Barcelona and in huge displays in bookshops. Within 6 months, The Girl in the Ice had sold a million copies in English, and over 100,000 people pre-ordered The Night Stalker.

Almost all the worldwide editions of The Girl in the Ice (I’m still missing a couple!)

People often ask me how it feels to be a bestselling author, and after a hard-won struggle, I can honestly say it’s wonderful. I feel lucky and grateful to all the readers who buy my books. But something always lurks at the back of my mind, those memories when I couldn’t even get my friends to read my first book, and no one wanted to know. Now with a bestselling book, I was doing exactly the same thing as I did back when no one wanted to know, sitting down at my computer and immersing myself in my characters, telling a story. I kept thinking, why do people want to read my books now? I felt impostor syndrome for a long time, and sometimes I still feel like that today. But I’ve learned to ignore that voice in the back of my head and write, write, write!

On buses in Barcelona!

 

Exhausted but happy in Barcelona airport 🙂


The Night Stalker
 was published, and still, things didn’t slow down. I was promoting the books abroad and online while simultaneously writing the third book in the series, Dark Water. 2016 turned to 2017, we built our dream house, and I wrote the fourth and the fifth books, Last Breath and Cold Blood

Throughout it all, the response from readers was, and is, constant and terrific; I received so many wonderful messages from people who had taken Erika Foster into their hearts and the other characters from the books, Moss, Peterson and Isaac. It was a fantastic rollercoaster, but by 2018, when I was writing Deadly Secrets, the sixth book, I knew something had to give. I loved writing these books and wanted to carry on for as many years as people wanted them, but I was exhausted and burnt out, and I didn’t want to let my readers down. I needed to slow down and take stock.

So I did. It was the most nerve-wracking thing to stop writing books that are so popular and so many people love. Since 2018, I’ve lived a little bit more away from my computer, and I’ve also written the first three books in another crime series about a Private Investigator, Kate Marshall, but in the back of my mind, I’ve been itching to keep that promise I made that I would go back to Erika Foster.

So, I’m so excited for Fatal Witness, the seventh Erika Foster novel, to be published! It’s so good to be back! Returning to these characters has been as fun as I thought it would be, and I’m so excited for you all to read it! I’d also like to say thank you to every reader out there for your support, love and kindness and for talking about my books. I appreciate each and every one of you. My readers are the most important people, and I will never let you down.

And just so you know, there won’t be another four-year gap between books. I’m already planning Erika Foster book 8!

Happy reading, Rob x

 

Click here to get your copy of Fatal Witness (this is a universal location-based link, which will take you to your location with store options).