A little ago, buoyant on completing my first year as a thriller writer, I thought it would be fun to do a Q&A with a difference. I promised to answer any questions you cared to send in. Here they are, woven into an interview.
1. It’s been a year since your debut thriller, Standpoint, was published. Did you expect two of the follow-on books to be published so quickly?
Not for a second! I had a vague idea that it might be one every nine months, but the rate has been fantastic. It has also taught me not to obsess so much about the novels, to write them as well as I can and then move on to the next one.
2. Does that mean you see the thrillers as more of a ‘job’ than a creative project?
I think you could say that, and I am pleased about that transition. Jasper Joffe signed me on the basis of a five-book pitch, so I have no qualms about making good on my side of the bargain. Plus, I’m happy to confirm, the royalty payments have been good news.
3. What are the numbers?
Funny you should ask that! Chloe Banks covered this theme brilliantly in a blog post of her own and writing (probably all the Arts) seems to be an occupation where the abiding curiosity is about what you earn.
You’ve asked for numbers and I promised to be honest so here goes, with the caveat that Q4’s royalties won’t be available for another couple of months so I’m guesstimating:
Total sales: approx. 16,000.
Total free downloads: approx. 50,000.
Total income: approx. £9000.
The thing is, bar the numbers themselves, it tells us very little. There is no ‘typical’ author experience. As a friend of mine, Jem, likes to say: your mileage may vary.
4. Highlights and lowlights?
Seeing a press release in the local paper, and on the Literature Works website. Having a spot on BBC Radio Cornwall (where I managed to mispronounce one of the book titles!). Fellow writers and readers being amazingly generous with their time.
Even the bad reviews are fine if they make sense. Some would-be supporters decided not to join the Bladen bus, which is absolutely their right but disappointing nonetheless. I get that people are busy! A shame too about the highly successful author’s post for me and the newspaper book review that never came to pass.
One thing that really surprised me was how few reviews we received for the 50,000 downloads. You can check out Amazon (links handily provided below) to see for yourself.
5. Do you feel shackled to Thomas Bladen now?
Not at all – he’s just part of the family. My publisher has floated the idea of a crime thriller with new characters, which I’m still mulling over. I’m working on the fourth Bladen novel at the moment and I have an outline for the fifth / final (?) book.
6. What’s changed for you since Standpoint came out in March 2015?
I have more experience of the publishing industry – particularly where ebooks are concerned – and consequently my expectations have changed. My books have each had a steep trajectory, peaking in weeks and fading in months. That’s both exciting and humbling.
I’ve also learned not to fixate on Amazon’s rankings, important though they are, simply because my ability to publicise my novels is limited. A year on, I have slightly more traction and a wider community to interact with (and some people – take a bow again, Mrs Campbell! – went above and beyond to support the books), but most promotional activity is down to the publisher. Fortunately for me, Jasper Joffe knows what he’s doing and delivered on his promises!
If I pitch another book anywhere, I now have a track record. I did self-publish Covenant before, but that was reallyniche fantasy fiction and failed to set the literary or esoteric worlds ablaze. Now, I can cite my thriller figures as evidence of a readership and commercial viability.
The past year has also made me more confident about my own work. I know my books aren’t for everyone and that, as one person put it: “Let’s face it you’re basically writing 21st century pulp novels to read on the train.” It’s a fair point and I’m happy to take the stage and say ‘this is what I do’.
My horizons have widened considerably. I am currently waiting for feedback from a TV producer (no pressure, take your time!) who responded to my query and agreed to read Standpoint. It’s not that I have any sense of entitlement or expectation about future projects. No, it’s simply that I was writing novels in the attic until a year ago so I know that statistically improbable opportunities can and do arise. Why not think big!
As I write other things as well, I would really like to build on the past year and see my tragi-comedy novel, Scars & Stripes, land on a welcoming desk. I’ve thought about pitching it as as Great Expectations meets Catcher in the Wry (sic) in the 1980s.
7. Do you see the writing world as more competitive or less, since you’ve been published?
It’s more competitive in that I can better appreciate other factors that can have a bearing on your success. Things I’ve never considered, like who other writers from the same publishing house have books coming out and when, where your launch date or free download period sits in relation to UK or US public holidays, the importance of finding an audience on both sides of the Atlantic.
I also see it as less competitive in that I’ve encountered so much goodwill (plus a few crapbags!) out there. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to try and pay it forward by allocating a free hour each week for other writers. I also think – and I’m indebted to Stephen King’s On Writing for reminding me of this – that my ‘job’ is to develop as a writer and to write as authentically and as well as I can. That’s it really. The rest is secondary – has to be secondary – or I’d be too busy looking out the window to concentrate on the page.
8. Do you wish you had three novels under your belt when you were younger?
That’s hard to say. It would have been different, certainly. I wouldn’t have been as honest on the page because that didn’t really happen until I wrote about the impact of my brother’s death. If you’re pushing me on this, I wish I had been a more honest and more committed writer when I was younger. I might have written more books and very different ones, which is an intriguing idea for me now.
9. What would you do if your next book doesn’t sell?
Get despondent. Eat chocolate. Get writing.
Reflect. Write something else. Write better.