It’s time for another interview, and this time I have been chatting to Ed James, self-published author of the DC Scott Cullen police procedurals as well as Snared, which was published by Thomas & Mercer. They will also be releasing two DI Fenchurch books this year, and he recently published a PC Craig Hunter book.
You gave up your day job in IT to write full time (just as I did). Did it ever feel like a risky move?
Hell yeah! And it felt like that for about eighteen months. Still get shivers if my monthly income goes below a certain level… But I don’t regret doing it.
I took the plunge kind of by accident. I’d been working in London on a huge migration project, and I was in charge of the data migration team, which was running into serious difficulties. None of it my fault, I hasten to add.
During my time there, my book income had exploded from about £900 a month to over four grand. Then around Christmas time, an agent approached me, Allan Guthrie, who’s also a novelist I greatly admired.
I wasn’t enjoying being away from home every week and I managed to secure a contract back in Edinburgh, luckily for the same amount of money. I took a week to see if I’d actually be productive writing full-time and it went really well, finishing an outline for the first Fenchurch novel, though it had vampires in it… Anyway, I lasted three days at the job before I started getting a really sore back and I had to quit. I’ve not looked back…
What are the main differences between self-publishing and having a team like Thomas & Mercer behind you?
On the self-publishing side, or indie author as we like to call ourselves now, you’re in charge of everything. You’re your own publisher. So as well as writing the books, you’ve got to market them, get covers done, organise and pay for editing. With T&M, I don’t have to worry about any of that, other than working with editors and approving covers, really. The marketing is all taken care of and that’s T&M’s great advantage – they can direct market to everyone who’s got a Kindle.
The plus side of being an indie author is you can set your own schedule. I finished up editing a book with my friend last weekend and I published it on Monday. With T&M, and they’re very quick compared to traditional publishers, it takes about seven months from finishing development editing to publication, something I’m not used to.
On the T&M side, there’s usually some lead time between submitting that first draft and starting dev editing, something I maybe don’t give myself enough of with my indie work. That means I’m cold to the book and I can take a pair of scissors to it, or more likely add in stuff that’s lacking…
I’m a very quick writer and T&M are being really good at calling me out on it, heh. For instance, I’ve got the first two books in the DI Fenchurch series out five weeks apart and they’re pushing for me to write the third one, which is pretty much unheard of in trad publishing circles. The only exception I can think of is the success Bookoutoure have had with Angela Marsons Kim Stone series, where the books were published very quickly.
On balance, though, I love having the blend. I know a few trad authors who’re stuck publishing just one novel a year, so everything has to go into that book, and it doesn’t seem to have a positive effect on their health… And the social side of being with a publisher can’t be ignored – the parties T&M run every year have let me meet a load of different authors, including yourself, and it helps share stories and pain points and successes. Keeping perspective is one of the hardest things when you’re locked in a room for eight hours a day with just a fat cat for company.
What’s a typical writing day?
When I’m writing, it’s usually a sprint, so getting up at seven-ish for a quick breakfast. I go to the gym four or five times a week, usually about 9, 9.15, so I take a break for that. Then I’m back at it until lunchtime. I usually work straight through to about six at night, though in winter I break to walk the dogs at about three, not a problem in the summer. I usually aim for a word count of about 7,000-10,000 when I’m doing that heavy-lifting phase, mainly so I get through it. Then I can spend a couple of weeks fixing stuff. But I tend to work in an agile way, everything’s timeboxed and focused, there’s no diversions allowed!
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Information is harder than ideas.
Ideas I usually get from news stories. I use Feedly to subscribe to a load of newspapers and blogs, and skim through them every day saving stuff off to Evernote. I’ll sift through that selection every month or so, and find something that catches my eye and I’ll file a note in my ideas file. Other than, it can be stuff coming out of the ether that I just get struck with. Those are harder to replicate…
Information is the hard bit for police procedurals. Murder cases are pretty easy, as everyone’s seen or read hundreds of books/shows/films with a dead body on page five and a post-mortem and forensics and interviews and so on. The challenge there is in making the story as good as possible, as unique and different, with interesting characters. The book I’ve just published focuses on sex crimes, which is a harder thing to do – the victims are still alive, forensics are different and police procedure isn’t so well-documented. Luckily, I know a few officers, including a couple of serving ones, so that does help.
Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favourite?
It’s always the latest one. The first two Fenchurch books I’m particularly pleased with as I think I’m maybe pushing the genre in a slightly new direction. MISSING, the first Hunter book, is similar as I’m focusing on sex crimes and giving voice to a different set of victims. It allows for the victims voice to be heard dramatically, instead of through exposition.
Have you ever yearned to collaborate with another author, and if so, who?
I have collaborated with Al Guthrie, though the project we selected is pretty much the hardest thing either of us have ever tried to do. I did my first draft two years ago after Al had done a couple on his own and we’re still back at the drawing board stage, five drafts in. It’s been a great experience seeing how someone else works and picking up skills. Al’s very big on character, particularly motivations and what makes each person unique, but also on writing craft and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot of good tricks from the process. Just hope one day we publish the bugger!
What’s the easiest and hardest things about writing?
The easiest for me is sitting down and bashing away at a project. I can do that till my Spidey-sense starts tingling to tell me I’m working on something that’s rubbish.
The bit I enjoy most is outlining. That’s when it’s fresh and exciting and all the weird little twists and insights come out. Compare with proofing where I’m just done with that book and can’t put any more emotion into it.
The hardest bit is editing, mainly because I could just keep changing it all the time. I have to be very disciplined and go with what the editors are telling me and just keep it at that.
When you’re not writing, how do you relax?
Going to the gym, watching TV (box set stuff, not live), watching football, walking the dogs, going for drives with my girlfriend and generally just spending time with her.
Where can we find your books?
They’re all on Amazon or you could look at my website, www.edjames.co.uk