TJB: Stephen, thanks for doing this. How many books of yours have been published?
SE: I have been writing since September 2010 and in that time have written 16 books. I self-pubbed eleven of those, two were published by Endeavour Press and Bookouture have published two with the third due out early 2018.
TJB: Kapow! That’s a lot of writing! Your latest series has Kate Matthews hunting down serial killers – can you tell me what it’s like writing a female lead?
SE: For a long time I avoided writing a series with a female lead as I was worried I wouldn't be able to get her thought and mannerisms right. After all, what do I know about a female mind (it's a mystery LOL). But I was really keen to work with Bookouture who are one of the hottest publishers out there at the moment, and I knew they had a great track record with female-led detective series, so set out to write one. I had completed two books in the series when I submitted to them in an effort to show the series had legs, and it must have done the trick. I'm also lucky to have a female editor who gets first look at my books, and she's able to pick me up when male thoughts start to occupy my lead's mind LOL.
Brilliant. So, how do you structure your writing life? You and I both are married and have kids – how do you make it all work?
I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing my life. I have a full-time job and a young family as well as the writing career, so I'm often asked how I manage all three. I write before my wife and children wake up, during lunch and sometimes in the evenings once the children are in bed. Before they're awake, I'm a writer. When I start work, I'm a worker, and when the family are there, I'm a dad and husband. I'm also lucky enough to be a quick writer, in that I can usually write 1500 words in an hour. At that speed, a first draft only takes 60hrs.
That's an impressive pace. Is your speed facilitated by having an outline, or are you freewheeling it the whole way? To that end, how much of a reviser are you - are you submitting after two drafts or ten or somewhere in between?
I am definitely a planner. I need to know where the plot is going chapter-by-chapter. Think of it as building a jigsaw puzzle, where your first job is to hunt for all the corners, and then the flat edge pieces so you can build the border before fixing the rest of the picture. So, when I sit down to write in the morning, I know the key moments in the scene and where it needs to end. That allows me to get in and out of the chapter and move on. Although I have the chapter's structure in mind, I still have the creative freedom to engage the characters and I have had unexpected twists stem from these moments too, which then require me to alter future chapters.
What’s the thing you’re after for when you’re writing? Is it truth? The narcotic bliss of creation? Protest? Pure entertainment?
It's an escape. When I'm writing, I don't have to be me, I can be any character I choose, make any decision I like, with no fear of repercussions. I can forget all the stress and worries from my real life and spend a couple of hours somewhere else.
Where do you write from – an office, a dining room table, a coffee shop?
I write in an office / spare room in my house most of the time, I can close the door so my wife and children can't disturb me, put on some music and just get lost. I don't like the idea of writing in a café with everyone else's conversations and troubles distracting me.
Do you have a favorite book you’ve written?
Always a tough question as it's like someone asking you to pick your favourite child. I have favourite books for different reasons. I'm proud of my first book (Integration) because it showed me I had the stamina to do it. It's probably one of my worst books to be honest, as I didn't really know how to write and I have certainly improved my craft since then. My fourth book (Snatched) is a favourite as it's my most successful book with more than 200K downloads since publication. That said, again, my craft has improved since then. My favourite book to write was book-12 (Blackout), as I wrote it with no plan. I had the idea for the plot (man wakes in hospital with no memory of the last five years, and is arrested for murder) on a Friday night, started writing it on the Sunday, and was finished within six weeks. It was a thrilling story to write and packed with adventure and harrowing twists. It's a story I may return to at some point in the future, as I think there is more of the protagonist's story to tell.
I love that idea - Blackout. And fitting you didn’t have a plan for that one. I rarely have a plan (though that may be changing). Enough about me – let’s talk about the marketplace. Some reports have shown that the growth of eBooks recently leveled off, and there’s been a slight resurgence of print. What do you think the future holds?
I don't think it matters what format books are in, people will read on anything they can. I tend to read on a Kindle these days, but for some of the traditionally published books, it can be cheaper to buy the reduced paperback in the local supermarket, rather than on Kindle, so I mix how I read.
I’ve heard estimates that there’s an ungodly amount of books published each day – in the thousands. How do we stay afloat in this business? Is “indie” or digital publishing going to wind up with publishers getting even more selective, or will there just be more of them emerging to handle the surge?
There are new publishers sprouting up every day, though a lot of them are yet to have significant successes. I can't criticise the "indie" revolution, as that is how I got started, but I think platforms like Amazon need to take more responsibility for the large cut of the profits they take. At the moment all the editing, beta-reading and proofing is the writer's responsibility. The only role Amazon play is to warn the author to make sure the manuscript is perfect, which is a cop-out to me. Yes, it is the writer's responsibility to make a book as good as it can be, but suppliers like Amazon need to vet some of the quality to help eradicate formatting issues, spelling and grammar troubles, so that the end user (the honest reader) doesn't suffer as a result.
I’m with you. In fact for a time I was a bit obsessed about a writer who was always showing up in my “customers also bought” section, but with very low ratings and reviews that the writing was poor. The thing is, his covers looked really good, and he had the right taglines to hook readers. I definitely think the direct publishing model is exploitable. Readers do catch on, though! But whether it’s a cover or title that initially draws them in, or a catchy premise, an author/publisher brand, or a particular timing (or some combination thereof) – success is hard to predict. So… cut through the confusion for us – what do you think is the number one reason a book soars or sinks?
I don't think there is one thing that makes a difference. I think idea, cover, blurb, and timing all play a critical role in how well a book does. I know all readers like to pretend that they don't judge a book by its cover, but most do (including me). If a cover looks good, I'll read the blurb, if that entices me, I'll look at the review / rating to see what others thought, and if that's good, I'll purchase. But timing is key too. Who knew Fifty Shades would suddenly take off? Or the Harry Potter series? Those books found a hungry audience and soared. To be honest, if I knew what they key to success was, I wouldn't still be working full-time and praying my books make me enough money to quit the day job.
Too true. Hey, I have one last question: What are you reading right now?
I have just finished reading DEAD SIMPLE (Roy Grace book-1) by Peter James, which I really enjoyed, and next up is THE SECRET MOTHER by Shalini Boland, which I've heard great things about.
Stephen’s newest book, the second in his Kate Matthews series, DYING DAY, has just been released. To find out more about it and the rest of Stephen’s books, visit stephenedger.com