How this Alabama-based author sold a million books
There is this little notebook in which Robert Bailey writes ideas. Some time ago he wrote something like, billboard lawyer in some kind of case out of their wheelhouse. He thought it might be interesting to explore “that kind of law, that kind of personality.”
The rating bloomed in Bailey’s latest legal thriller, “Rich Blood.” Released this week, the tome centers on Jason Rich, an ambulance chaser who is personally in shock and faces his biggest legal challenge yet.
“I wanted to do something with a character that had flaws and skeletons in the closet,” Bailey said. “Someone who was kind of a villain, but by the end of the book, readers will want to put down roots.”
“Rich Blood,” published by Thomas & Mercer, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, is Bailey’s eighth book. His titles have amassed over one million total sales. This number is particularly impressive since writing is not his daily job. For nearly 20 years, Bailey has been a civil defense litigator in Huntsville.
“A big part of being a lawyer, especially litigators, is storytelling,” says Bailey. “It’s just with real facts instead of facts (in fiction writing) that you make it up, so there’s a lot of synergy between the two professions. That’s probably why so many lawyers end up becoming Fiction writers Lawyers who became successful scribes include Meg Gardiner, Scott Turow and, most famously, John Grisham.
So far, Bailey’s 2014 debut album, “The Professor,” is his biggest seller, selling over 250,000 copies. He might have a new personal bestseller, though. Released September 1 and available earlier to Amazon First Reads subscribers, “Rich Blood” has already racked up more than 10,000 reviews.
Megha Parekh, editor of Thomas & Mercer who works with Bailey, credits Bailey’s success to her writing skills and the broad appeal of her books. Seattle-based Parekh describes “Rich Blood” as “‘Better Call Saul’ meets Greg Iles,” referring to the hit crime drama and prolific novelist from Mississippi.
For Parekh, “Jason Rich is one of those rare characters who is both flawed and captivating. I couldn’t stop reading as I followed him through the incredible twists and turns of this story.
In the book, Rich’s advertising slogan is “IN AN ACCIDENT?” GET RICH!” To avoid the sordid caricature – and make him someone readers will spend 379 pages with – Bailey put him against the ropes. Rich is recently divorced and out of rehab. He’s on a position zero tolerance with the Alabama State Bar Association.
Next, Rich’s sister is framed for her husband’s murder. She asks Rich to represent her. With his life in a downward spiral, the case became a lifeline for him.
A problem. This will be his first jury trial. “He settled a lot of cases,” says Bailey. “He’s a successful lawyer, but he hasn’t really been in the courtroom much, which is not uncommon for a civil litigant.”
As a writer, Bailey quickly grabs the reader. His style is lean with just the right amount of specific details and the rhythm does not encourage sleep.
There is also a strong sense of belonging. “Rich Blood” is set primarily in the Lake Guntersville area of Alabama, where Rich grew up but was away for a while. Bailey describes Lake Guntersville, which is about a 40-minute drive from Huntsville, as “a natural wonder” emanating “with beauty, mystery, romance and even a twinge of danger.”
Bailey’s previous books, including the McMurtrie and Drake series of legal thrillers and “Bocephus Haynes,” are also set in the Southeast. Alabama and Tennessee specifically.
If you know Guntersville, Tuscaloosa, and Pulaski, there are Easter eggs in Bailey’s books for you. You ate at the same restaurant as his characters. “It’s a way to connect beyond the page,” says Bailey.
Yet many Bailey readers aren’t from the South or haven’t even been there. His books have been published in Japan and he has readers in Australia and elsewhere overseas. He thinks the appeal to these readers is a sense of escape. “They are visiting a place they have never been before.”
Bailey was 40 when he published his first book. It took him eight years to complete “The Professor”. Lots of early morning writing sessions before work. This book’s story involved a law professor, a former student, death, blackmail, and even an appearance by legendary University of Alabama football coach “Bear” Bryant.
Bailey has since streamlined her writing process. It took him about four months to complete the first draft of “Rich Blood”. Bailey says he learned to put a story together “faster in my mind and to get the story moving, while developing the character”.
Thomas & Mercer is Amazon’s arm for thrillers, mysteries and true crime. Bailey got noticed by literary agent Liza Fleissig, who is known to have a good eye for thrillers.
“As a publisher,” Parekh says over email, “part of what I look for in a writer is not just the merits of their book, but also the potential for a long-term collaboration with Amazon. Publishing. I saw endless potential in Bob. He imbues his novels with courage, emotion, perseverance and hope, and readers love them.
Bailey, in turn, saw the writing potential in others. He encouraged his longtime friend Bill Fowler, as Fowler wrote his own first novel. In 2020, Fowler, who works in real estate technology by day, released “Free and Clear,” a book inspired by his experiences as a local musician.
When the two Huntsville High grads got together over beers, Fowler would ask Bailey for advice on everything from plot to publishing. But he learned just as much by observing Bailey’s work ethic. And not just the discipline of writing every morning.
For “The Professor”, before Bailey had a publishing deal, Bailey would load copies into his car and take them to independent booksellers to carry the book. “A lot of writers just assume,” says Fowler, “that you’re going to throw it on the internet and the world is going to fight its way to your doorstep. And it doesn’t work that way. You’re swimming in the sea of people who are competing with you for storage space. Bob has done tons of road work and built relationships.
Fans of legal thrillers are known for their loyalty. Once they find an author or series they like, they lock in book after book. But Fowler says Bailey has more than gender algorithms. “Bob comes up with great stories,” Fowler says. “He’s not trying to solve the world’s problems. He tries to give people a window into something compelling and meaningful.
When writers start making numbers, the guys in Hollywood who develop and greenlight TV and film projects notice. Although none of Bailey’s books have yet been adapted, he says, “We’ve been really close before, and I hope that eventually happens.”
Although legal thrillers are his calling card, Bailey’s most personal book does not fall into this genre. In 2020 he released “The Golfer’s Carol”, a golf-themed fable with tones from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Field Of Dreams”.
Bailey played golf in high school and college. He shared a passion for the sport with his father, who in 2016 was diagnosed with lung cancer. Around the same time, Bailey’s wife was also diagnosed with lung cancer.
His father had six months to live and arrived at age 10. A month after her father died in 2017, Bailey’s wife underwent surgery to remove most of her right lung.
Before cancer struck, Bailey and her father had planned a trip to all the homeschooling of their heroes, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones. They only succeeded in one.
Bailey wrote “The Golfer’s Carol” under these intense circumstances. “People who have read it,” Bailey says, “I get a lot of emails from people going through things to say, ‘Hey, I just read your book, and I just want to thank you.’ And that means a lot to me because that’s why I wrote it.
Grisham, the juggernaut known for “A Time To Kill,” “The Firm,” and “The Pelican Brief,” casts a shadow over Southern legal thriller writers. Bailey is no exception.
“I probably wouldn’t be a lawyer or a writer without his influence,” Bailey says, “because I love his books and the main characters in his stories.” Bailey’s later writing inspirations include Illes, SA Cosby and, most recently, Thomas Perry. “As a writer, it’s important to read to get better, but also to read for fun,” Bailey says, “because that’s what you do it for.”
“Rich Blood” is available in paperback ($12) and other formats via amazon.com. His local book tour stops include the Standard Social Market (6 p.m. Sept. 6) and the South Huntsville Library (6 p.m. Sept. 27). More info on robertbaileybooks.com and facebook.com/RobertBaileyBooks.