Writing a bestseller is a burning desire for many of us – but where to begin with crafting that very first chapter? And how do you go about publishing your work when your masterpiece is complete?

Bestselling psychological thriller author Rachel Abbot has self-published four novels and sold over one million copies globally. She was named the 14th bestselling author of the last five years on Amazon's Kindle in the UK via Kindle Direct Publishing.

Her latest book, Nowhere Child, is a novella following on from her previous works Stranger Child, Sleep Tight, The Back Road and Only the Innocent.

“The day I decided to upload my first novel to Amazon for the Kindle was the day that changed my life – and that is no exaggeration,” says Rachel.

“Self-publishing my book was an experiment, but one that certainly paid off.

“The rewards have allowed me to indulge in one of my greatest pleasures. When I’m not working, I travel – and plan to travel as far and wide as I can over the next few years.”

If you fancy following in her footsteps, check out Rachel’s top tips for writing and publishing your first book…

Writing your book

1. Know your characters

I always start with a mental image of my characters, but that is quickly replaced with a real image. I hunt down pictures online until I find somebody who looks like the character of my imagination.

I grab the image, and then I write a page of notes about their personalities, their age, what they like to drink and favourite phrases. It’s my way of making sure my characters are consistent and that I really know them.

2. Visit your locations

I need to be able to give readers a feeling that they are in the place I’m writing about, so it has to be familiar to me. Even if a location is a figment of my imagination, I will travel the streets of similar places online, using Google Maps to find somewhere that looks like my location so I can picture it clearly in my mind.

I grab images to remind me how dark a tunnel is and how damp the brick walls and the roof are. I even know the layout of each house in my stories – if somebody is trying to hide from an intruder, I need to know all the best places!

3. Try mind-mapping

Because I write thrillers, my stories consist of several strands, often told from different points of view – the police, the victim, the perpetrator. Keeping track of all these storylines at the planning stage is difficult, so I use a simple software tool called Scapple that allows me to jot down my thoughts and arrange them until they start to make sense.

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4. Use writing software

There are features in some types of writing software that make it so much easier to keep track of different storylines. I use Scrivener, and each of my chapters – or even individual scenes – is allocated to a ‘collection’, such as ‘the investigation’, ‘Michael’s story’, ‘the past’ and ‘the second victim’. I can then select any collection to read sequentially all those scenes as if they form a stand-alone novel. This helps to make sure the story doesn’t have any holes.

5. Read, re-read and edit

I think on average I read each of my novels in full (not including re-reading individual chapters as I write) about 30 times. Most importantly, when I am near the final edit I read the whole book out loud so that I know it sounds real. This is essential for dialogue, but I find it highlights the bits of clunky writing.

The structural edit – the part where somebody with far more experience than me reads the book at tells me that some bits are in the wrong order, or the pace is dropping, or one of my characters is unreal – is crucial. I get back their notes, then I unpick, rewrite, and read it all again.

Marketing your book

6. Create a marketing plan

A scattergun approach to marketing is never a good idea. Define a number of target areas that you are happy and comfortable working in, and then decide on your objectives. For each objective you may have a number of actions that you can monitor to see which are working for you.

7. Build your mailing list

A perfect example of an objective would be to increase your mailing list by five hundred readers. Your actions might include putting a link to a sign-up page in the back of your books, running a promotion, creating a newsletter sign-up form for your Facebook page, your blog or your website. Then you can send readers regular updates on your book launches.

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8. Run an awareness campaign

Don’t only think about marketing activities that result in immediate sales – focus on making sure that people recognise your books, seeing them in as many places as possible. Display your covers – at the end of each email you send, in guest posts for popular blogs and in tweets or Facebook posts. Awareness is crucial to success. When readers see your book in a store you want them to think ‘I’ve seen that book before – it looks interesting.’

9. Develop a list of reviewers

Most bloggers post their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as well as on their own blogs. Keep a list of the reviewers you like, and make sure you invite them to read your book before launch. Find other reviewers by searching on an author similar to you, plus the word ‘review’. Send reviewers all the details they might need, including what the book is about, the word length and genre. Good reviews create a desire for people to buy!

10. Use social media tools to help you

It’s all too easy to get hooked on Twitter and be on there all day – but there are many tools out there that will help you to write your tweets at the start of the day and have them sent out automatically over a longer period. Remember: the average Twitter user reads tweets for no more than 15 minutes per day and follows 270 people, so if you want to catch their eye, you need to tweet at regular intervals.

Good luck!

Have you ever tried writing a novel? Is it something you’d love to do? Share your experiences in the Comments below.