Welcome to AskALLi, the self-publishing advice podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week, it's our monthly Writing Salon, where we discuss the craft of writing with author Dan Blank and ALLi Director Orna Ross. This week, Orna and Dan talk about how to effectively share your work in a way that inspires others to connect and, ultimately, buy.
The AskALLi podcasts are sponsored by Damonza: Books Made Awesome.
Topics discussed include
- Writing vs. marketing: It's a false dichotomy
- How to lead people “through the gate” and develop an interest in your writing.
- How to think about the “creative writing” around your book, including cover copy and social media.
- “Show your work” to your fans as you write the book.
- How to use different social media formats for different purposes.
- Quick tips on how to get started on your book;
Also, on Inspirational Indie Authors
Today the theme is crime, and the human mind. What if you were falsely accused of a murder? Howard Lovy's guest is one of the most-popular authors of British crime fiction today, Adam Croft, who is also a leading self-published author.
Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center: https://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.
And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the Hosts
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers and artists share their stories and grow their audience. He is the author of the book “Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience.”
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a “book doctor” to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance business and technology writer. Find Howard on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts
Orna: Hello everyone and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors, Self Publishing Salon. And we have a new salon for you. I am here with Mr. Dan Blank, hi Dan!
Dan: Hey, how are ya?
Orna: And we have added, by popular request, a writing salon to our collection of of Self Publishing Salons. So we also do a beginners publishing each month and we do an advanced publishing salon each month. And there we're talking all about the business of, you know, making great books, selling great books and so on but very little talking about creative writing, which is the reason that a lot of us are in this thing in the first place, if not all of us. So yeah, Dan and I both share an interest in the creative process, a deep interest and so we thought it would be nice if we would spend 2019 just talking about writing.
So here we are. So we will take your questions on any aspect of what we're talking about today. We're going to kick off with something that we both feel very strongly about and that is when we hear authors saying, you know, I love writing but I hate marketing and both Dan and I think that's a false dichotomy. And I'm going to call on Dan who has written a whole book really and not just about this, but this kind of feeds into very called Be The Gateway and am I putting words in your mouth? Is that how you would express it?
Dan: Yeah, I think that's a perfect way to talk about it.
Orna: Yeah, I, I think it's just when authors say that, I think the split is just completely in the wrong place. Writing is writing and all of the things that we do to market a book involved writing as well. And today we want to talk about why that writing is creative writing too, how to think about it in a more creative way and how to use that writing to ultimately engage the people you want to follow you and to read you and buy your books. So talk to us. Let's kick off talking a little bit about, Be The Gateway, Dan. Tell me about where that book came from and summarize all those pages in a few sentences please.
Dan: Yeah, I mean Be The Gateway kind of hangs it hat on this metaphor, this idea of crafting a gate and really thinking about what it is that drives you to be interested in what you write about and how do you communicate that. So the first step is building that gateway and it's separate from your writing, from your books, but it's related to, it's talking about, well, why did you write this novel? Why did you write this memoir? How do you talk about those themes? And I think that that, the first thing there is a lot of writers have a very difficult time putting that into words. You ask them about what they're writing and they kind of start apologizing and they tell you the background. They tell you the, the 5,000 word version of it, and then they backtrack a little bit and they don't really get it down.
So I think the first step there is to understand what you write and why and how to communicate that. And that's sort of the gateway. The second part of the metaphor is this idea of opening the gate of actually going out into the marketplace, going out with real people because inherently the idea of publishing a book is to make public. So this idea is not just, “I wrote this thing,” you want people to read it, you want people to kind of consume it to become a part of it. So the second part of this process is actually go out there and to talk to people to learn about who engages with these topics, what engages them, where are they? And the third part is to just walk someone through the gate.
And the way I like to think about this, this is not about building an audience or getting followers, although I'm happy to work with writers on that all the time. It's about leading one person through the gate of having one connection with a possible reader or a reader about what you write and why you write it. And I think that's how I approach the whole topic of marketing and platform is this very human connection between the author and the reader.
Orna: Yeah. And as I was saying earlier, I think that's where you and I really kind of come together. I think of it as two imaginations of melding in this magic place, you know, where you both go off into the pages of a book and connect together and in some way finding, and it is hard for a writer to know exactly why they write, and to put that down in words and then find the way that kind of conveys, cause what's you're actually trying to do is not say, spell it out in so many words. If you could do that succinctly, you probably never would've written a book in the first place. And it's because it's a bit mysterious for you and you're making it up as you go along and you're following a need of your own.
The reader has that need too but it is an imaginative need and it's a little bit mysterious. So what you're really trying to do, I think, in the creative writing that you do around the book, which would include things like the book description, copy for advertising even, copy for social media updates, all that kind of writing. We even call it by a different word. We call it copy and we call, you know, creative writing's over here, this is copywriting here as if it is in some way different.
And what is different is, I think, possibly the intent that, you know, you sat and you wrote a book possibly because you had no other choice. Some great longing came on you to do so. But when you sit down to do a Facebook ad, you're doing it with the intention of bringing people through the gateways. So because the intention is different, the writing can become very different. It can become very cold. And your experience of actually putting that right together, you can start to feel cold and feel, you know, so it's how do you go back in and get the magic going in the writing that you do around the book?
Dan: You know, it's funny, I think a lot of writers get stuck on this idea of the publication of their book. They think that that's the goal. I want this thing and I want it to be in a bookstore. I want someone to buy it. And I think the book is a perfect form. I think it's magical. And the idea of actually publishing the book is an incredible milestone. And you were saying this earlier in different words, but the work isn't complete until someone reads it.
And we talked about that meld that happens. And I think that when you think about how do you write anything else that connects someone to the book, it really is understanding your purpose beyond the publication. This idea of let's say your book sold a million copies and you are going to be doing a book signing at the biggest bookstore in London and there's 400 people online and they all come up to you and they're all gonna say something to you.
They all want to talk to you. What is that conversation going to be? And you might not know, but you might think, you know, I bet someone's going to touch upon this character a lot or this choice, or this context, you know, I got to meet J K Rowling at a big signing in New York City and it was so great because you see people crying. You see them like, this guy was clutching a letter that had the stamp on the back to seal it, holding it to give it to her. And you're like, what is happening here? What is it that people connect with?
And that's what I think is so beautiful about all of the aspects of how you connect with the reader outside of the book. Because you're an inherently experiencing that thing that's otherwise hidden from authors. You know, someone buys your book on Amazon, they read it, you have no idea what happens. But in all these other social media ways and newsletters and blogging and in person, you have that opportunity to experience it. And I think it helps. It should help writers think about their goals beyond publication. What kind of conversations do you want to be having and why?
Orna: Exactly casting the mind back. I mean, if you ask an author, they'll say they want fame and fortune and sell loads of books and you know, beyond the big chat shows, you know, but actually you don't have to go down very deep before you realize that there is a much, there is a much deeper need going on. And I'm old enough to remember when you put a book out and it was deafening silence. You had your launch if you were lucky and if the publisher coughed up and people drank warm wine and felt obliged to buy a book and off they went.
And the only communication you had with your reader after that was the reviewers in the press. And then if somebody actually sat down and wrote a snail mail letter, you know, in handwriting, and if they sent that to your agent maybe or to your publisher and eventually it might make its way to you and it was such a distance between you and your readers and it was very hard to have that sort of understanding and there wasn't the opportunity either for the author to, in a sense, position ourselves in the way that we want our books to be received.
Publishers decided how that was going to be and it was very much about selling it into a bookstore and finding the magic words that would get a bookstore to accept it long enough to keep it on the shelves for long enough for readers to find it, which is a whole different kind of marketing. But we can actually do, I hesitate to even call it marketing because it instantly puts authors off, but we can do that kind of communication ourselves. We can use our own words, set up our own positioning, talk to people in our own way. And yeah, that's a huge challenge.
And it can be overwhelming, especially at first when you don't know why you wrote the book or what it was all about or you know, and you're just feeling drained and a bit crazy, especially if it's your first book. You're always a bit crazy when you finish a book I think. So it can be quite difficult and it can be quite challenging, but it's an incredible opportunity and I think it's only writers who didn't have it, who actually appreciate how marvelous it is that we do have this opportunity.
Dan: I love that. It's funny, I'm not even an hour ago, there's a friend's Facebook profile, I don't want to name the friend, but she's a very well known author and you know, she said, “Oh, I'm finally no longer anxious about my book and that's because now I've transferred all that anxiousness to my next book that's going to be coming out.”
And she is very successful, her books are, you know, really, all that sorta stuff, like she's living the life in many ways and yet that is her daily reality and I think that you're right, it is this incredible potential stress in that way. All the things around publishing and writing and as you said, marketing. It is also the opportunity though because I never would have had a chance to hear that that from her because she's not a close friend at all.
She's sort of an acquaintance and yet she has this ability to communicate totally honestly with the people in her little network in that way and that's even that little thing is a reminder to me that she's got a book coming out. It's a reminder to me that she's a human being. It's a reminder to me that success does not take away that human fear that we all have and it's a great example to me of “Here is someone who was very good at communicating in a way that feels totally authentic, that isn't marketing, that is not copywriting. It is just her being like, let me get this off my chest a little bit to my Facebook friends.”
Orna: Yeah. Fantastic. And I think the other thing that's really powerful that we don't do enough, and I'm speaking to myself here as well as everybody else, it's summed up in that brilliant book by Austin Kleon, Show Your Work. People love to see the process behind the making of a book and just by being honest about what you're going through as you do it, as you make it, just putting snippets out, showing photographs of your study, you know, what you got up to that da, a little bit about the character development. It can be anything or you can by, again, satisfying sort of a need of your own. And I think this is the key to, you know, doing that sort of reach out writing. The key is to find some need of your own that it satisfied. So, you know, if you're not the kind of social media person who enjoys sharing trivialities then don't, if you don't like reading them, then don't share them.
But find some need that is kind of scratched by social media, and start doing it. And it's the regularity and the constant, you know, with this type of writing, it isn't about any one post any one update, it's about getting really, really regular and consistent so that people know what to expect. And you're building up a picture of that coming book in their mind or indeed the book that you've already written or, a number of them, but you as an author and what you're writing. So, I mean, I know, Dan, you're super consistent. You have your Friday news that goes out all the time, like clockwork. You want to talk a little bit about that?
Dan: Yeah. I started sending a newsletter out, I send it every week for, I think it's about 14 years now. And this is something I started with the company I worked for. I emailed it to nine friends and that felt terrifying at the time. And I've just done it every Friday. And what I've found is that it pushes me, it pushes me to create on deadline.
And I have tried all kinds. I've written poetry, I've done posts that are just images. I've done videos, and I've done all different things and it's really been great to write outside of my normal writing and to put it out there. And it's funny because it allows me to play as a creator. I saw someone the other day, one of my most popular posts that people still bring up a lot is, my dad lives down in Delaware. It's about two hours away. And my brother lives down there too. And we met in the middle at this really famous sandwich shop in New Jersey and it's the worst location, but they make the sandwiches that are like this thick.
Orna: I saw it. It's thick.
Dan: Yeah. And my dad is, he's old school. He's from the Bronx. I'm sorry, for my listeners, but he got a tongue sandwich. It's like a kind of meat. And, I just wrote a post about this unusual deli, about why you spend $24 on a sandwich, why they drove a hundred miles to get there, why this disgusting sandwich was so important to my dad and that post, I thought it was, like, weird. I'm like, I hope people don't unsubscribe. It's photos of my dad in this weird place and the cake that was this big and people loved it.
And I think it was because it was a very human way of looking at marketing and branding. And I never would have known that if I only said “I'm not going to have a weekly deadline. I'm not going to try new things. I'm just going to, I'm going to do a top 10 Tips Authors Need For Amazon and I'm going to present that at a conference once a year.
By having the newsletter. And now I have, like, a weekly podcast too, which used to be monthly. I find it pushes me to create, it pushes me to write more. It pushes me to play in areas that are going to be always on the sideline and it allows me to test ideas that might become really big. And you'd asked this question earlier, but I didn't really answer it, which was like where did Be The Gateway come from?
It came from, I run this mastermind group and I do a daily video there. One day, one summer I randomly did one called Be The Gateway. I made it up as I recorded the video and people in the group liked it and I said, “Oh, maybe I'll do a blog post.” I wrote a blog post to the newsletter and people liked it. I said, “Huh, maybe I should expand this.”
And my goal was to write a 20,000 word quick self published book and it ended up being more than double that. But the book came from me just, I mean, it was a video but just writing. And that's what I think is so great about the idea of what we're talking about here, almost marketing, but viewing it from the standpoint of a writer if you are writing more often.
Orna: Absolutely. And video and audio I think have to be taken into our big writing bucket now. You know, so we're all doing different forms of communication and videos go out with transcripts, you know, and blog posts are then, you know, worked up into video courses and audio comes in audiobook form or podcasting or whatever. And these different formats are very fluid and draw on slightly different parts of the creative process that the mix allows us to do an awful lot.
So you can hear there that Dan is doing his weekly text blog post, he's doing his podcast, he's doing a daily video. So that's a lot of content. Out of that will come all sorts of other things. And this the same for me. And we do different formats. You can use different kinds of ways to reach people. So, for example, for me with poetry, I use Instagram, which is a visual site, but I use it for, I take a photo and I do a haiku poem, which is a sort of a verbal snapshot and then I alternate that with quotes, which are done in it in a kind of a handwriting font of quotes for poets.
And so Instagram has become, it's relatively recently become my social media for poetry. And that takes people to my Patreon page where, which is quite poetry centered. Whereas work for ALLi is very often video on Facebook Live hello and podcasts. And we also have a daily blog as well. So when you're doing a number of different formats, you find that you can do and awful lot more and one feeds the other and you're just getting more stuff out there.
And I think that's the key to reaching people. It's, you know, not being afraid of your own flow and allowing that to build over time and going with the flow. And yes, you will be afraid. Sorry. Yeah, you will be afraid. But not letting that fear stop you just going and doing it anyway. And did you find with you it's been a build over time that you're doing more and more with less time?
Dan: Oh my goodness, yeah. And something I talk a lot about with writers is just the idea of how to focus your creative energy and how to say no to things and then how I do my schedule, how I work in what I call white space, which is space in between things and I think these things are critical. And I think overall we're talking about this idea of making creativity a central part of your life overall.
Dan: When you look at people who are successful, of all of the writers and artists and creators who inspire me and I've studied the lives and it's like they live creative lives. They do different things. My wife is an artist, she is primarily a painter, but she does all this other work too because it just allows her to explore in different ways. I was watching this documentary about Kate Bush not long ago, and I had not realized that she was also a dancer and when she was sort of getting started and it totally changed her stage show and how she thought.
And it was just astounding to see someone exploring the message of their music in all these different ways. It was really amazing to see what happens when you give yourself permission to create and then where that leads beyond, well, “Here's my word count in Scrivener and then it goes to my publisher and here's the step” where it's all like really regimented, where it's like, “No, you have permission to just live in this world and these ideas all the time. And that can come out in all different kinds of ways.”
Orna: Yeah, absolutely. I think other artists are better at that than writers. I think it's because we work with words and we queue up the analytical side of ourselves more and we can get lost on that side of things sometimes where we get very, very, regimented as you say, and with commercial pressures, particularly in publishing now to write more and get more stuff out and you know, sell more, and all of that kind of thing.
We can get very caught on that side of the house and we can learn a lot I think for people outside of the writing field, by looking at artists in other arenas and indeed by looking at other change makers and activists who are working from a sense of passion and purpose. I count that as the creative class, if you like. It's much wider than just what we conventionally label creativity. So, yeah. If anybody has any questions specifically about the topics we're talking about here or about your own marketing, your own way, you know, that you have been approaching it or would like to approach is please do send your questions through in the comments. We have about another 10 minutes to go. So we have time to take some questions, but yeah. Do you, do you, would you agree with that that writers can get lost in the wrong side of the brain sometimes?
Dan: Yeah. I think each craft their own way of doing it. I know a lot of artists who get lost in scrolling through Instagram and a lot of musicians, you get lost in just nine hours of noodling from midnight to 9:00 AM. But you're right, writers have that other way of doing it as well. And it's like there's the opportunity that comes with the way we're connected now. You have the opportunity to publish more often, but the problem is you're, and you're saying this too, we have so much more information that it can freak us out. You can, you can do so much right? But you're also aware of the 400 other things you haven't done and that kind of weighs on your brain. So you could be doing awesome, but you could still feel bad about what you haven't done or what you haven't done as good as the next person, that thing as well.
Which is why I love the idea of starting with the creative process of creating more. I think the biggest thing that pains me is when you talk to writers who aren't writing. They can't fit it in or they say “Yeah, my next book is done, you know, it's copy edited.” You know, it's like they've now reserve three years between writing a book to doing anything else creatively because they're now in the publishing process. And I think that's a shame because they have these things they can be exploring and playing with and doing. And that's not just good for marketing. I think it's good for the human being.
Orna: Absolutely. And that's what we're talking about here, I think, isn't it? It's that whole idea that we probably do this in order to be creative. And then as soon as we're there and we've somehow managed to give ourselves enough permission to put words on paper and told people we're doing it, or managed to sneak off often enough, we become frightened almost by that possibility. And the thing with reference to what you just said there, I think it's really important to realize that the creative process is a process of selection and commitment as well. It is about deciding, even if it's just for now, I'm going to explore and experiment with this, but I'm going to give it my all. I'm not going to line up 25 different things to do and go bang, bang, bang, bang through them at a very superficial sort of level.
Because by definition creativity means taking a bit of a dive, you know, going in there and giving some essential kind of part to yourself, part of yourself, I should say. We have a few questions here. Julie says it will be helpful if we didn't have to jump through so many hoops for all the different platforms, all the formatting and publishing process, the different pricing reporting arrangements take too much time. I think that's very true that the publishing side on the publishing side, we can, we're not quite there with the tools that allow us to publish wide. We could do with some help on that. Do you have any tips or tools there, Dan?
Dan: No, but I will say I think that's part of the, I think that's part of any creative profession. If I think of my podcast to get it on Google and iTunes and all these different things, they're all separate in some ways. Some you can combine with Libsyn but then like it's a mess. And I am okay with that. And I think it's because of what you said earlier, which is in the past we didn't have the option at all.
The fact that you can publish at all and get an audience outside of your town, it's still mind blowing to me. It's a worldwide audience and yeah, it would be great if we can get on all the platforms all at once if we had these options. But that would come with its own headaches because then it might be one monstrous company is controlling it all and then they're doing something else we don't like. So then we'll hate the system. I agree it's frustrating. I agree that it means you've got to become more of a technical expert than you'd like. But I guess I'm a little more glass half full just that we have this magical opportunity to share our work so broadly.
Orna: And I do think tools are getting better and better and all that sorts of practical stuff gets easier and easier to do. I mean, if you wanted to, before published your book, you needed a printing press. If you wanted to make it video-
Dan: The ink gets all over your hand.
Orna: Then it really took time and a lot more people. So these tools just keep on getting better and better. So I have faith that they will get ever easier on that side. What doesn't ever get easy is that meeting your own creative self and stretching yourself because again, by definition creativity will make you anxious. It will make you feel like you've, you know, you've gone past some boundary because that's what it's all about.
Dan: Well, and we'll just say with that, I started buying typewriters recently. I've got a couple behind me. You type on a typewriter, you realize how magical word processors are and it kind of reminds me of in the 90s I produced like a music fanzine and I would stay at the coffee shop all night, which was magical and you'd have to lay it out and then you have to distribute it because you're only one distributor. So you, like, get in your car or your bicycle going to record shops and leave it in the door and no one cared about it. Just this idea that you can publish on Amazon or whatever is still so much better than staying up all night at the coffee shop and then hand delivering it to your local shops and watching people just ignore it.
Orna: Yeah. Julie, they were hoops. You think you've got hoops.
Dan: No, it's such a good question. I don't mean to put down the quest ion at all.
Orna: No, not at all. I know Julie, she'd only be laughing at that. Kathy has two part time jobs, teaching and writing, wants to know. you know, finding the time thing. Now I know this comes up for you all the time with authors because it's hard for us too. Quick tip and she also wants to know how do you know when to take the leap.
Dan: You take the leap now, period. The quick tips I think are something I wrote about this recently. Do the minimum amount you can every day or every week. Set up a remarkably pathetically simple goal. And the example I use for that is if I've decided a year and a half ago to finally learn how to properly play guitar instead of just messing around with it. And I set a goal for myself of at least one minute a day playing guitar.
And there are plenty of days in the last year I literally picked it up for a minute. I strummed a g chord almost in just like spite and put it down. But most days I would do nine minutes, 10 minutes, 28 minutes, 38 minutes. And what happened with that is that I realized in a year if I'm doing a few minutes a day, I'm building that skill. And even more than that, you're thinking about your story between those four minute chunks each day. So that's my quick tip on how to think about creating more with very little time.
Orna: Fantastic. And my tip is do your most creative thing first in the day. So you know, I don't, I know you'll probably say I've got baby or this or whatever, whatever your situation is, just do something so you can get 10, 15, 20 minutes where you can do the thing that is most challenging for you before you do anything else. Because as soon as you start doing other things, chances are it won't happen that day and it won't happen the next day.
And when things don't happen for a little while like that, this great ridge of resistant and horrible energy kind of builds up inside you and it's a huge drain on your creative capacity. And so I would say, you know, whatever is most important, most creative, do it first and my other big tip is meditate. I think it really is brilliant at, you know, reminding us what's most important to ourselves. Just stopping and taking that time, giving the mind, the thinking mind, a bit of rest and a bit of space is intensely clearing.
And if we do that, I find that and free writing's another great practice that over time we shift and we change our priorities because really that's what we're talking about here is what am I choosing to spend my time on, what are my top priorities? How do we aim for balance between the practical admin side and the writer, artist exploration side? That's from Britain.
Dan: I got some flack for this, but this is the way I frame it for myself. I don't believe in balance. I believe in obsession. So I think that if you split those two things you want to do, as you just said, of really focusing the creative work first, going right into it. Finding a way to allow yourself to obsess over it. Maybe that means you do four minutes in the morning between dropping your kids off from school and going to your long day job, you need to think about it.
And the marketing side is sort of the same thing, which is figuring out what is the single most important thing for you to do. Instead of the, “Well they say I have to blog, I've got an e newsletter, I've got to be on Facebook and it sort of like you're kind of barely everywhere, instead of just saying “I'm going to really show up here. I'm really going to forge connections with members of this community” and really go all in on that, you know, the creative work and then specifically maybe one or two things are going to do on the “marketing side” and allow yourself to be obsessed with those two things and I think you'll get a richer experience and you'll kind of learn more in the process as well.
Orna: Fantastic. Okay. We are out of time. I am afraid. That was a great first discussion on creative writing. This podcast and Facebook live session is facilitated by the Alliance of Independent Authors. For those of you who don't know us, we are an association for self publishing writers and a membership organization and we would love to have you as a member and we have lots of ways that you can get your other questions answered as members and if you have any questions on that just to find us at allianceindependentauthors.org and you will find Dan at:
Dan: wegrowmedia.com or on social media @DanBlank
Orna: and his book is a great book, which I can highly recommend is called Be The Gateway. So we will be back in a month's time here at 6:00 PM London time on the second Tuesday of the month. If you're around then and if you've signed up for our podcast on our podcast page in the Self Publishing Advice Center, that's selfpublishingadvice.org/podcast, then you'll get a reminder all of the sessions. Thank you very much for being with us today and thank you Dan.
Howard: I'm Howard Lovy and you are listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. I don't know why this is, but I cannot get enough crime mystery. And while Scandinavian mysteries might be in vogue, it really was the British who invented the genre. I'm in the US, obviously, so I recently subscribed to BBCs Britbox so I could watch even more British crime drama from Prime Suspect to Inspector Morse. And that's why I'm especially pleased to have on our show one of the most popular authors of British crime fiction today, Adam Croft, who is also a leading self published author. Hello Adam. And thank you very much for appearing on Inspirational Indie Authors.
Adam: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Howard: There's so much we can talk about, but let's discuss what I think is your latest book called The Perfect Lie. First, tell me the basic premise and then I want to go into some specifics on your theme without spoilers, of course.
Adam: Well, the very basic premise is the tagline, which is “What if you were framed for a murder you didn't commit?” It essentially opens on a Saturday morning with my main character, Amy Walker. She's sitting in her back garden, enjoying a nice cup of tea, reading a book, as you do in the summer sometimes. And she goes back indoors and shortly afterwards there's a ring at the doorbell and she answers it. And the police are there and tell her that her father in law has been murdered and she's being arrested for it. And this is the first she's heard of any of it.
Howard: It used to be that a murder mystery involved in murder. And then detective getting to the bottom of who done it. It's a trope that's worked ever since Sherlock Holmes. These days though, with the rise of true crime, there's a sense that the justice system itself can't be trusted to arrest the right person. And in your main character, Amy Walker, did you try to create a sense that this could be anybody trapped in a system and falsely accused?
Adam: Yeah, that's something I'm trying to do with all of my psychological thrillers, really, is to, I think what's scary, is really if you can not necessarily put yourself in the shoes of the person you're reading about, but imagine that it could easily happen to anyone. and you know, there are things in the media sometimes about people who have been wrongly accused of things and I guess it's just one of those things. It's everyone's worst nightmare or up there with it at least anyway and in the book, this is something that just gets worse and worse for Amy when it turns out that it's not just a case of mistaken identity, but somebody has actually gone to enormous lengths to make it look as if it was her and to lay an evidence trail that leads directly to her. And the more and more she tries to fight to get out of it, the worse it gets for her.
Howard: Right, right. And so, you know, through your main character, you created the sense of, are we seeing this all through her eyes and wondering what's going on and discovering things along with her?
Adam: We are, yes, yes. So, it's all from her point of view, and that's kind of crucial, really, in order to see, how things unfold in that way because there are, you know, if we were talking about writing this from, you know, an omniscient third person point of view, the book just wouldn't work without giving too much away. We would know straight away what was going on.
And I think for me, psychological thrillers aren't massively different from traditional crime fiction. They are quite often, a traditional crime book, but told through the eyes of the person who's being most directly affected. So not necessarily following investigation and following the police officers, we're following somebody who has been involved. So, my first psychological thriller Her Last Tomorrow, carries the tagline, “Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?”
The protagonist there, his daughter is kidnapped and he gets a ransom note which says he can have her back as long as he kills his wife. So obviously they are talking murder, we're talking kidnap, we're talking all of the sort of classic crime fiction crimes there, but we don't go into the police investigation, this, you know, it all focuses on the person who's been most directly affected by it. And I think that's kind of the background for me in writing all of those psychological thrillers. It's a slight deviation from what I already do anyway with my main crime fiction series. It's just writing it from a different point of view and from the point of view of the people most affected rather than from the point of view of the police officers.
Howard: Right, right, right. So it's a little different. So it's not what you would call a police procedural. It's more a psychological that you get into the mind of the accused and then you wonder whether the, you know, the trope these days is the unreliable narrator. And so you have to wonder who's reliable and whether this person's perception is correct or not.
Adam: Yeah, that's a huge element that comes in because you don't tend to get that very often with traditional crime fiction because you presume that the police officers you, you trust and if they're the same police officers you follow through each of the books in the series, you know, it's not going to be them. You don't, you can't have the unreliable narrator in quite the same way. So yeah, I don't see those huge amount of difference in psychological thrillers.
And the crime fiction for me is a change of perspective. There is an element of police procedure there of course, I guess, cause they're, you know, the police are involved in the books, but they're not major characters by any stretch of imagination. It's more about how that process and how the police procedure actually affects the people who become intertwined with it through no fault of their own quite often.
Howard: Right, right. So how do you get inside the mind of somebody, of your main character? Do you imagine that it's you, do you get your ideas from the news, from real events? How do you, how do you invent a character and then make that person real?
Adam: Well, a little bit of both of those, I think. I think I always tried to make the characters in psychological thrillers, ones that people can relate to but they are flawed in some way, all of them I guess. But in ways that people can relate to, you know, perhaps their flaw is that they, perhaps are little bit disorganized and chaotic since kids came along. I think, you know, a lot of us can kind of relate to that.
I think, you know, some of them may, they're just, maybe their downfall is that they are perhaps a bit lazy or you know, not quite on the ball with things and something sneaks in and then takes over. So I think they're very relatable human flaws sometimes the, you know, there are one or two books in which the flaws were bigger.
I think maybe readers haven't related to those characters in quite the same way, perhaps because of that. Yeah, you know, ideas come from me from all sorts of places, really. I think the main one for me is the “What if?” situation and that's why a lot of my hooks begin with this. What if, so for The Perfect Lie, we've got “What if you are framed for a murder you didn't commit?” And that's literally the first thing that popped into my head is, you know, what if that were to happen, that was, that was what was there long before, you know, any characters are in my mind or any kind of plot points or devices or anything like that.
Howard: Right, right. Well, what can you tell me without spoiling anything, about your main character, Amy Walker? What is she like, why is she interesting?
Adam: I probably can't tell you a whole lot without giving it away.
Howard: Okay, Gotcha.
Adam: I mean, it's a very old thing actually because, I'm often told by readers that my characters are very interesting, very compelling, very real. But I always find it very difficult to know why, because for me, I might be raising a lot of eyebrows amongst other writers when I say this, for me, the characters are often very much secondary things to the plot. And it's the plotting for me which is the fun of writing. And maybe that's why the characters are real, I don't know, maybe because I'm not putting too much thought into them. I'm not, you know, consciously inventing them. They are just kind of fairly well rounded, fairly normal individuals that everyone else can relate to. I feel maybe I'm, maybe I'm not overthinking it. Maybe that's the key.
Howard: Well, they're normal people reacting to extraordinary situations.
Howard: Right. So, you know, there are so many murder mysteries and psychological thrillers out there. It's a very crowded genre, but you seem to have found the right formula for success. What makes your stories or your mysteries or your characters stand out from the rest?
Adam: Well, it is a very crowded genre. It's a very popular genre and I think for that reason, the difficulty really and the challenge is standing out. So, I think the fact that the book's largely or certain ones have been most successful are the ones that have had very compelling hooks and ones that appeal to readers. So, you know, could you murder your wife to save your daughter? What if you discovered your husband was a serial killer? They're all, they all shout domestic. They all ask a question of the reader. They will make you think, “Yes, I've got to read this.” So I think, I mean, yeah, you know, the books are popular, so I presume they must be good as well. But at the same time, there are a lot of good books out there that don't do well.
Adam: And there are a lot of not so good that do do well. So I think, it's probably not the best kind of creative answer, but I think a lot of it is in knowing how to market things and make them stand out there. It's not to say that marketing a bit where we'll make it a success because it's got to be a good book anyway, but I think in such a crowded genre, doing something a bit different and standing out from the crowd helps. When I wrote my first psychological thriller, I didn't even know what psychological thriller was. I hadn't heard the term before. I just had this idea for a book, which was essentially a crime novel, but for various reasons had to be written in a first person voice from the main person being the effective point of view.
Adam: And I didn't really know what this was and it was only when I sent out to some early readers and they came back and said, “Whoa, this is a great psychological thriller” And I was like “Well, if that's what it is, that's what it is.” And it turns out it's the most massively popular genre I'd never heard of.
Howard: Yeah. Right. And you're taking ordinary people and putting them in extraordinary circumstances. And I think that probably resonates. I hate to use the word relatable since that's such a cliche, but it sounds like, it's about as relatable as you can get, even though most of us, hopefully, we'll never have to go through anything like you put your characters through.
Adam: No, but it does happen though. You know, it's, you know, there were lots of, sort of, kind of miscarriages of justice and there were lots of very bad people out there. You know, in the first book, Her Last Tomorrow, the guy, Nick Connie's daughter is kidnapped by somebody, that happens over the time. Turns out it's, you know, not for those kinds of nefarious reasons, but because somebody has a grudge against him, against his family and that's why they want him to murder his wife before they could have the daughter back, the other child is purely just collateral. And you know, these things happen. It's not all pie in the sky stuff and it happens.
Howard: Yeah. Well, can you give us a sneak preview into what you're working on next?
Adam: I can, yeah. It's actually a little bit different. It's a series that I started writing back in 2011 and I last wrote a book in that series I think in about February 2015 so it's been more than four years since I've had a book in it. It's my fifth Kempston Hardwick mystery. It's a little hard to describe sometimes. I guess the best way to describe it is it's a traditional murder mystery series, in the kind of the golden age style, but set in the modern day. And it's from my point of view it's a deliberate kind of Pastiche and tongue in cheek look at the golden age of detective fiction. So there's lots of kinds of tropes popping up in there, plenty of humor as well. Very, very lighthearted.
Howard: Well, we look forward to it. Well, thank you very much for taking the time to talking to me. I appreciated it, Adam.
Adam: It was a pleasure. Thanks for asking me.
Thank you both for this podcast. It comes at such an opportune time for me. I’m off to search for “Be the Gateway,” as the connection between my readers and me will be one of the key measures of the success of my soon-to-be released series, The Drinnglennin Chronicles. Orna, hope to connect in Leicester in April!