Becoming a Bestselling Author

19th July 2021
3 min read
16th August 2021

Peter James shares his experience of the challenges a writer may face along the route to success, and the value of passion and persistence.

Peter James -  Dead if you Don't - photograph credit James Clarke

I am so pleased to have been invited to write this piece for the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, not only because it was the first place I turned to when I finished my first novel in 1967, but also because I want to share with all of you all to know that a successful writing career does not come overnight.

I guess it really started when my dad bought me a portable electric typewriter for my 17th birthday! Eighteen months later I set to work writing my first novel, Ride Down A Rollercoaster, in a garage converted into a bedsit on the Fulham Road, and when I finished I went straight out and bought Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook so that I could send my manuscript off to literary agents. After mailing countless letters, I finally received a reply from Kurt Helmer, a New York literary agent who said I showed ‘real promise’ and encouraged me to re-work the book and send him another draft. However, in the arrogance of youth, I insisted the second novel that I had written in the meantime, a zany sci-fi comedy, was much better.

Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2022

I decided to write a spy novel and wrote my first published book, Dead Letter Drop (W.H. Allen 1981). I would love to say this was a shining start to my career as a published author, but it was, as my teacher had predicted, a false start. I remember a particularly bad press interview where the journalist asked me how I had found Namibia, a location in my second published novel, and I couldn’t answer … because I had never been. I vowed then to never write about something I had not fully researched and experienced.

This is an abridged version of an article taken from the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2022, available to purchase now from

Peter James is an international bestselling author and film producer. His crime thriller series featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace has included 17 consecutive Sunday Times Number 1 bestsellers and he has won over 40 awards, including WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award and the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger. Born in Brighton, he graduated from Ravensbourne Film School, and worked as a film producer and screenwriter for some years before starting to write novels. His first book, Dead Simple (W.H. Allen) was published in 1981. His latest book, Left You Dead, was published by Macmillan in May 2021. Peter’s Roy Grace novels are now a major ITV series, Grace, starring John Simm and Richie Campbell.His website is; follow him on Twitter @peterjamesuk.

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