My first year as a published crime author

As it’s been a little over a year since my debut thriller, The Scribe, was published on 1 July 2019, I thought this was an opportune time to reflect on my first twelve months as a published crime author, not just because I thought it might be of interest to authors out there seeking publication, but also because it’s a chance for me to look back on all the great opportunities and learning experiences I’ve had, as well as appreciate all the lovely people who have helped me so far in my writing journey. I suspect most, if not all of us, have had some pretty low moments over the past few months, I know I have, and so now, more than ever, it’s important that we reflect on all the positives in our lives, and use these to bolster us going forward.

To finally be published, to be able to hold my book in my hands and place it on my bookshelf last July was a feeling second to none. Authors generally spend years trying to get published. Not only that, when they finally get their break, an INCREDIBLE amount of hard work goes into producing the finished article. Consequently, the sense of satisfaction you get seeing your novel out there and being read is IMMENSE, and makes all the years of persistence and late nights editing worth it. My publisher, Lume Books (formerly Endeavour Media), did an amazing job with the cover and graphics (we had so many compliments following the cover reveal) and I really appreciated the time and energy they put into that. Before I got my deal, I had little understanding of just how much work goes on behind the scenes in the lead up to publication and beyond, not just from the publisher, but also the author. Right from the start, it’s about coming up with an eye-catching cover, engaging with readers on social media, building up a sense of anticipation, not just with cover reveals but other incentives like special pre-order periods and advance reviews.

Lume did a great job securing a spot for The Scribe on The Pigeonhole, the world’s largest online book club, where readers were able to read my novel over a ten-day period in advance of its official publication date. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was a pretty nerve-racking experience for me, in that it was the first time my book was out there in public and being scrutinised on a daily basis. Not only that, the way the Pigeonhole works meant I was able to see the comments as they were posted, both good and bad! But getting that spot was a lucky break for The Scribe because it got my name out there, along with some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads from readers who didn’t know me from Adam.

Two other things made my debut novel extra special; the first was a mega 22-day blog tour organised by Lume, featuring some fantastic bloggers, the second was a joint book launch event for The Scribe and Awais Khan’s In the Company of Strangers, organised by our wonderful agent, Annette Crossland of A for Authors Literary Agency, at Foyles Charing Cross Road.

The tour kicked off on 5th July and was a great success. I couldn’t have been happier with the reviews that came in over the course of the three weeks and I was so grateful to all the amazing bloggers who took part. It was such an exciting time for me, with the novel only recently published, and during that time I found myself spending a lot of my day on social media, interacting with the various bloggers, and sharing their comments with my followers and so forth.  Again, it was a whole new experience for me, and further enhanced my understanding of just how much ‘other’ work authors are required to do. It didn’t feel like work, though. Truth be told, I absolutely loved meeting bloggers online and taking onboard their invaluable feedback. And it was such a relief to hear how they were already looking forward to Kramer and Carver’s next instalment, particularly as the sequel was already scheduled to come out in December. I cannot underestimate the value of a blog tour in promoting your book and getting advance reviews. These readers really do know their stuff!

I had an incredible night launching The Scribe, alongside Awais Khan’s In the Company of Strangers at Foyles. It was an absolute dream come true for us, a one in a million occasion I will never forget. We were so grateful to everyone who came along to support us and raise a glass but most of all to our agent Annette, fabulous events’ organiser Sabine Edwards of Pendleton Events, well-known reviewer Kirstie Long, and acclaimed crime fiction critic/commentator and editor of Shots Crime and Thriller magazine Ayo Onatade, for their tireless dedication to making the evening so special. It was a real honour to have Ayo moderate the event. Being the consummate professional, she made us feel so at ease on stage, and we really appreciated her taking time out of her busy schedule to help make our first book launch event so special. Considering we were both debut authors, we were bowled over by the number of people who came along, and I will never forget the butterflies I had before we took to the stage. Having said that, the moment I started reading from my book, the nerves acted as a kind of adrenalin shot and I cannot recall having ever read so passionately and succinctly as I did that night. It was a thrilling moment, and I only hope I get the chance to do it again sometime. Afterwards, I did my first book signing, another moment I will always treasure. I remember feeling absolutely exhausted afterwards, but in a good way!

Following on from the launch, Awais and I were delighted to do an interview for Shots magazine. Again, huge thanks to Ayo Onatade for featuring us in her popular blog; it really meant the world. Another thing I have learnt over the past year is that writing articles is another great way in which authors can widen their reach and connect with readers and writers alike. So it’s something for all aspiring and debut writers to bear in mind.

A fortnight after Foyles, I was lucky enough to be able to sign more books at Waterstones Cambridge, alongside Awais Khan, at an event entitled “Crimebridge”. We had a great evening discussing our novels with our host Amy Crawford and the audience. It was a real pleasure to be able to read from our books again, but also discuss the various themes and issues running through them. A more intimate affair than Foyles, it was another new and different experience for me, and something I very much hope to do again in the future.

The rest of the year continued to be busy. With a publication date of 21st December scheduled for The Abduction, much of August to November was spent editing. Only this time, I felt more organised and prepared, having learnt so much from editing my first novel. I also felt exceptionally lucky to be bringing out the sequel less than six months after the first, and the positive feedback I’d received for The Scribe gave me a real boost and incentive to make the follow up just as good. For the sequel I employed a couple of experts to advise on certain aspects of police and forensic procedure: my fellow Lume author and ex DI Roger A Price, and forensic expert Kath Mashiter. This was my first experience of working with experts, and the written advice I received and incorporated into The Abduction proved invaluable, making the novel that much tighter and including a level of accuracy and detail I wouldn’t have been able to find on the internet. On that basis I would say it’s really worth employing an expert, especially in the field of crime writing, if you are at all unsure about particular points of procedure.

As with The Scribe, during this time I also worked with my publishers on the cover. Having had such a great reaction to The Scribe graphics, it was something of a challenge coming up with something as effective and took a few goes to get it right. But in the end, I think we hit the mark with the finished product, sticking to the same colour scheme and a simple yet effective image which conveyed the intended air of mystery, secrecy and danger. A book’s cover can make such a difference to sales and first impressions, especially when you are just starting out, so it’s something that’s really worth investing your time and energy in!

In September, I attended the inaugural Capital Crime festival in Covent Garden. It was my first experience of a proper book festival, and completely exceeded my expectations. With an illustrious line-up of incredible authors discussing all manner of fascinating topics, it was a real eye opener for me, and again brought home the diverse nature and global reach of the crime genre. Being new to the scene, I wasn’t fortunate enough to take part, but I hope to one day, and listening to authors like Ian Rankin and Martina Cole really inspired me to keep working hard and improve my craft.

In October, I attended my first CWA dagger awards dinner hosted by the brilliant Barry Forshaw. It was such a fun night, and a real pleasure to meet so many crime fiction heavyweights. Even if you’re not up for an award, it’s a fantastic social event and great way to meet new people in the industry.

2019 ended on a high for me, with a seven-day blog tour for The Abduction in advance of its release four days before Christmas. Again, the feedback from bloggers was amazing, and I am so grateful to them for reading and reviewing the sequel, and even more delighted that many of them enjoyed it even more than The Scribe.

Moving into 2020 and looking forward to what everyone had expected to be the start of a brilliant new decade full of hope and optimism, who could have foretold the worldwide catastrophe we’d all be faced with just three months into the new year. Before that, much of January for me was spent working on a short story for an exciting new crime anthology being published by Lume in the Spring. I had little previous experience of writing short stories, so this presented another new challenge for me, but one I was only too eager to accept. To have had two books published, and be featured in a short story collection, all in one year, gives me a great sense of achievement and I’m really grateful to Lume for giving me that chance.

Before lockdown, I was also lucky enough to be one of ten authors invited by Lara Marshall to participate in a unique “Read-Dating” event at Uxbridge Central Library on February 1st. A play on speed-dating, it was great fun pitching and chatting about our novels to nine tables of readers in ten-minute slots, and afterwards we were also given the opportunity to sell and sign copies of our books. I also did my first radio interview for Uxbridge FM which was great fun, and something I’d love to do again.

All of us since March have been forced to make dramatic changes to our way of living that a year ago none of us could ever have conceived. But despite not being able to interact with our fellow authors and readers in person, the author community, like so many industries, has banded together and proved just how innovative and enterprising it can be when faced with such unprecedented upheaval. My good friend, Awais Khan, is one such example. He started his own Live Instagram Show, “Talking Books and Publishing with Awais Khan,” and I was extremely honoured to be his first guest back in April. Not only did it entertain and educate committed book lovers and aspiring authors, it gave a great many authors, agents and publishers the chance to promote their work and expertise at a time when normal promotional avenues had been closed to us. It was great fun talking to him about my books and crime writing in general, and my first experience of being on a live Instagram show!

The CWA is another body whose entrepreneurial spirit has shone through in recent months. With authors not being able to go out into the world and interact with their readers, they created a Crime Writers in Residence series; short videos uploaded to YouTube where authors invited readers into their homes and talked about their experience of life at home for a writer during lockdown. It was another great opportunity for me to get to know my readers as well as promote my books, along with those of my fellow CWA members.

Another CWA initiative I was only too delighted to take part in was National Crime Reading month, in respect of which the CWA invited its members to pen original new stories to be published on the CWA website. It was another fantastic opportunity for me to improve my writing and keep in touch with writers and readers during lockdown, and I was thrilled that my story, The Black Out, a dark, twisty thriller, was so well-received.

May 1st saw the release of Lume Books’ thrilling new crime anthology, Given in Evidence. In advance of that, my fellow authors and I took part in the the usual cover reveal and pre-publication promotion. Once again, Lume did a fantastic job with the graphics. I was also really excited when they asked me to read an extract from my story for their Instagram video channel to be used in the run up to publication. It was another great way of connecting with my readers and driving sales.

Given in Evidence was also fortunate to get a spot on The Pigeonhole before publication, and to date I have been bowled over by the positive feedback I’ve received for my story, The Encounter, by Pigeonhole, Amazon and Goodreads reviewers. One reviewer even suggested I turn it into a full-length novel, so watch this space!

As touched on above, over the last year I’ve learnt that another way in which authors can keep connected with their readers and fellow writers and promote their work is by writing articles. I have already talked about the interview Awais and I did for Shotsblog, but over the last year, I have also written several articles for the CWA: the first on my path to becoming a crime writer and inspiration for The Scribe, the second on The Abduction and pull of the psychological thriller (a sub-genre of crime fiction I absolutely adore), the third on my visit to Capital Crime and the fourth on my approach to short story writing given the release of Given in Evidence. I have always enjoyed writing articles (sometimes I wish I’d become a journalist rather than a lawyer, although, of course, I wouldn’t have been able to write legal thrillers without being a lawyer!) and so it’s been a highly rewarding to see my articles published on the CWA website. I hope people have found them enjoyable and inciteful, and I look forward to writing more in the future.

Looking back, it’s been a really busy, productive year for me. I’m immensely grateful for the many opportunities I have had, in terms of getting my books out there, engaging with readers and learning new skills. I guess the icing on the cake was getting bestseller tags in Australia and Canada for The Scribe, and in Australia for The Abduction and Given in Evidence. It was also a very special moment for me when The Scribe hit the top 15 in legal thrillers on Amazon UK last August. Although I plan to return to Kramer and Carver in the future, for now I am really excited about several standalone thrillers I’ve been working hard on over the past few months and hope to be published at some point.

Looking back, I’m actually quite surprised how much I’ve learnt and achieved in my first year as a published author. But a few things deserve a final special mention.

First off, I have made some wonderful connections on social media. For all Twitter’s shortcomings, I have come to realise that the writing community is a hugely supportive one. Writing is a notoriously tough industry to crack (there are so many variables involved in getting a deal) but the one thing I can safely say is that the majority of writers I have met on social media (and before the pandemic at events) are a wonderfully fun, supportive crew who keep each other going. The same goes for book bloggers, without whom we authors would be nowhere. I have so much respect for bloggers who dedicate vast amounts of time, mostly for free (!) to reading and reviewing crime fiction, getting our books known and generally being a fantastically supportive bunch. So, massive thanks to them. The CWA are also tireless in their support of the crime writing community. I feel so privileged to be a member and their proactiveness under lockdown has reinforced what an important organisation they are in the British crime writing world.

I’ve also learnt that the hard work doesn’t stop once your final edited book is approved. It’s then about the cover, the marketing, whether that be online or at book events, signings, festivals and so on.

One final thing I’ve come away with is that, not only do you need to develop a hard skin in terms of rejections, you also need to be able to shrug off bad reviews. Even the best in the business receive harsh reviews (indeed, some readers can be downright nasty with their comments!), so it’s inevitable. My first negative review felt like the end of the world, but I soon came to realise that when the good ones far outweigh the bad, when you get professional bloggers telling you how much they love your writing, these are the things you need to hold onto and say to yourself, actually I’m doing OK!

So, brush the bad reviews aside, take onboard constructive criticism, and never stop believing in your writing.

These last four months of my first year as a published crime author have been tough, challenging and surreal, with some great highs and terrible lows, but all in all it’s been amazing to see how people in the industry have adapted and risen to the challenges thrust upon us in such a short space of time. All of us hope for a return to complete normality at some point (for a writer there’s nothing like meeting your readers and fellow authors in person) but in the meantime, we will have to continue to do our best to reach out to one another however we can, whether that be through Zoom, social media, videos, and of course, through our writing.  It’s been a great first year for me as a published crime author. Let’s see what the next twelve months brings!