For the next interview in our self-publishing series, we talk to Kerry Wilkinson, the bestselling author of the Jessica Daniel series.
Talk us through the time between having that very first idea for Locked In (the first book in the Jessica Daniel series which went on to become a No.1 Amazon Kindle bestseller) and that moment when, all of a sudden, you realised ‘Wow. All of these people are buying my book!’ It must have been quite a journey…
It was but it wasn't. I'm different to many authors in that this was never something I set out to do, and I never harboured a long-held desire to write fiction. I'd been working as a journalist in the eight years since I left university and writing a book was, in many ways, just something to do. It was something that stopped me plowing all of my time into Fallout: New Vegas.
Locked In did take off pretty quickly but I'm quite laid back in life. I carried on going to work each day, I have the same friends now, and so on. I didn't really think of it as a big deal.
And has it been difficult since then? From manuscript to an e-book format; from design work to marketing yourself – need this be something for others considering self-publishing to worry about, or something they should embrace?
I didn't find it particularly hard. I taught myself how to create an ePub file and I bought a Kindle and played around, trying to think about how I would find a book I'd never heard about. People generally browse, not search - and so on. Lots of people wonder why their books don't take off - but the writing is a small part of it when you're self-publishing. Most people who've had any degree of self-publishing success have found their own way of doing things and they've looked for their own opportunities. Of course, then your book(s) have to stand up because readers will shout up if they don't think the actual story or writing is any good.
When I was self-publishing, I made an effort to understand things but I never concerned myself about it too much. If the books hadn't have taken off, I wouldn't have worried.
Had you tried to enter the traditional publishing route before you decided to self-publish? Did you have manuscripts turned down by agents?
I read up about it - three chapters to an agent, wait for six weeks, etc - but I figured life is too short. I sent stuff off to a couple of agents, largely because it felt like I should, and then I thought "sod it" - and self-published. It all seemed as scattergun as self-publishing. I was never fussed about publishing deals or money.
How about now? Are you currently represented by an agent and are you working with a publishing house?
I ended up with an agent pretty quickly, almost by accident. An agent downloaded and read my book, liked it, then emailed me. After it took off, I had more than two-dozen offers from other agents, ranging from full representation to "would you like to meet for a coffee?" If only girls had been that forthcoming when I was a teenager...
There were a few names on that list who represented some very famous people, not just authors, but I'd already been working with mine for a couple of months by then. She contacted me because she liked the book; they contacted me because they saw pound signs.
I am currently signed up with Pan Macmillan for 13 books in all. Five of them are out, including three that were originally self-published.
Back to your most successful protagonist; if you could pinpoint one thing that has grabbed readers about Jessica Daniel, what would it be?
Generally speaking, she's pretty normal. Everyone wants to stand out with a first book, so their protagonist has something horrific in their past, or they're an alcoholic, and so on. Life's not like that. Jessica has two parents with whom she gets on and a best mate that she lives with. She drinks a bit, eats too much, and so on. Instead of saying that a character's life is a mess because of something that happened off-page in their past, with Jessica, a reader gets to experience her triumphs and mistakes over the course of the series.
What’s next for Jessica? We’ve reached Book 6, but is there more to come?
Thicker Than Water, the sixth in the series, is out in October. After that, I'm contracted to Pan Macmillan for three more. There'll be another out in 2014. Probably more after that, too.
And can you tell us a little bit more about the Silver Blackthorn series?
I've never been a crime reader and you wouldn't need all of your fingers to count the number of mystery books I've read in my life. I like science fiction, fantasy and comic books. Jessica was an idea I had that I built upon, but Silver Blackthorn is firmly in the young adult / fantasy vein. It's set a little in the future, with a teenage girl as the main character. There are mad kings, underclasses, boy-girl angst, big set-pieces, and, essentially, everything I grew up watching and reading.
Under the Jessica contract, Pan Macmillan get first dibs on anything I write. My agent sent it over and they bought the trilogy a few weeks later. The first book is out in 2014 and I'm really looking forward to it. As a whole, it is the best thing I've ever done in my life. Well, if my wife is reading this, marrying her was the best thing...
Finally, back to some questions on self-publishing. We’re fascinated by the sense of community within the industry. Are you in regular contact with other authors who have self-published? And how often do you take the time to get back to your fans/aspiring authors? Is this important?
To a degree. I've met, and been out for drinks with, a few of the others and everyone is really nice. I email back people who email me. It's always nice when someone does OK. I don't immerse myself in "the scene" that much because I have other things in my life. I play cricket, I travel, I go out on my bike, and I write. A lot. Some people really enjoy the festivals, panels, launches, lunches, drinks, and so on. I'm just not that sort of social person. I wasn't before I wrote and I'm not now. While everyone else is mingling, I'm the one in the corner making sarcastic remarks, or generally being grumpy.
Finally, if there was one piece of advice you would give to an author thinking of self-publishing, what would it be?
Have realistic expectations.