Our next guest’s work has been described as a ‘five star thriller’ and competition for Tom Clancy. His very highly rated (4.6 stars) trilogy, Gray Justice has been very well received on both sides of the pond. The award-winning writer, Jeannie Walker said that he kept her on the edge of her seat, continuously reading. We are very fortunate to have Alan McDermott visiting with us today. Please, make him feel welcome!
Jim: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Alan: I’m in my mid-forties (no, that’s not my waist size) and live in the south of England with my wife and twin daughters.
Jim: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Alan: When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. Before I started writing Gray Justice I loved to watch movies, but I can’t remember the last time I watched one from start to finish.
Jim: Do you have a day job?
Alan: Yes, I’m a software developer and create web and windows applications for the National Health Service.
Jim: When did you start writing, and when did you finish your first book?
Alan: I started writing over twenty years ago, and wrote a couple of short stories and two novellas. Sadly, these were lost, but I re-wrote one of them, Recidivist (free on Smashwords) in 2010. In the years in between I didn’t even think about writing.
Jim: From where do the ideas for your stories come?
Alan: The idea for Gray Justice came from watching a cop show and seeing a repeat offender drive like a maniac for twenty minutes, endangering pedestrians and fellow road users. When caught, it was revealed that he had around forty previous convictions, yet for his latest crime he received just a community order. I saw that as no deterrent, and decided to write a book about a victim who felt the same way.
Jim: Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Alan: Yes, I’ve had a major block in each of my books. With Gray Justice it was a long one, and I didn’t even look at it for about two months. With the sequel I got stuck for about three weeks. Touch wood, I haven’t had a block with Gray Redemption (yet).
Jim: Do you outline or write “by the seat of your pants”?
Alan: I usually plot out the story three chapters in advance and then just see where it takes me. For Gray Justice I plotted out the whole story, but by the time I finished it bore no resemblance to the original idea.
Jim: What author or book influenced you most in your writing?
Alan: I love the way Tom Clancy can weave multiple threads and bring them together for an explosive finale.
Jim: What challenges did you face in getting your book published?
Alan: None, really. I learned a lot when I self-published Recidivist on Smashwords and the move to Amazon was quite easy. I did have some formatting issues as I was uploading my book in Word .doc format, but I was told by a friend that if you save your document as a Filtered Web page (and make sure the font colour is set to Automatic) before uploading it, the result is much better.
Jim: If you had to go back and do it again, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published you’d do differently?
Alan: Yes, I would get a proofreader in early. Gray Justice went live with about 200 typos, and that is a mistake I don’t plan on making again. I was delighted to be invited to Independent Authors International (iAi), which is a collaboration of independent authors who ensure that the works they publish have been proofread by fellow members or professionals. These books will be allowed to carry the iAi colophon. You can find out more about iAi here.
Jim: How do you market your work? What works best for you?
Alan: I spend a lot of time on Twitter and that has brought me a few sales. I’m not very good at Facebook, though I am trying. I think word of mouth is a key aspect, but the biggest help I’ve had is Amazon’s KDP Select promotion. I sold a grand total of 267 books in the first nine months after Gray Justice went live, but in the three-and-a-half months since I signed up for KDP in April I have given away 23,000 copies and had 3900 sales.
Jim: What was your favorite part of this story to write?
Alan: The battle scene. It took a year to write the book, but those pages were done in a day and a half.
Jim:Do your characters lead you on merry chases, creating new plots or do you have to pull it out of them?
Alan: In Gray Redemption, I put Abdul Mansour in a position to carry out a scary attack, but by the time I got to writing about it, I realized his character would have other (more deadly) ideas. This is just one example of me changing my mind halfway through a story.
Jim: Tell us about your writing environment. Is it messy or neat? Is there a cat on the desk or a dog at your feet? Do you use pen and paper, laptop?
Alan: I have my laptop on a kids table facing the TV. I can’t stand sitting in a mess, so it’s usually the laptop, TV remotes and maybe a drink, that’s all. The TV is just for background noise, as I rarely just sit and watch these days.
Jim: What about your process? Do you produce consistent daily or weekly word counts or do the words rush out all at once and leave you with a dry spell?
Alan: I work full-time and come home to my family, and by the time the kids are in bed and I’ve caught up with Twitter, I am usually shattered. That’s why I get up at 4.30 in the morning, so I can take a shower, get ready for work and then spend an hour on the book.
I don’t tend to write a lot of words, as I am not the kind to go back and do a re-write. I much prefer to write a few lines, make sure they fit with what’s gone on before, then move on. If I change the story at any point, I go back and make sure the previous pages match the new plot.
Jim: What project are you working on now?
Alan: I am currently working on the last book in the Tom Gray trilogy, Gray Redemption.
Jim: What was the toughest criticism you received as an author? What was the best compliment?
Alan: The best compliment was a lady who said she read Gray Justice in the morning, then on the bus on the way to visit her mother, and when she arrived she promptly ignored her parent and finished the book! I guess every sale of Gray Resurrection is a compliment, as it means they liked Gray Justice enough to read more of my work.
The toughest criticism? I’ve had a few 1 and 2 star reviews where the readers thought the plot was a bit far-fetched, and one reviewer accused me of lazy racism by having one of five repeat offenders being black, which I couldn’t quite understand. Having said that, I know that not everyone will enjoy my books. John Locke said it best with his bourbon analogy. He likes the drink, but his wife prefers wine and his young children hate the smell. That means just 1 in 4 people in his house likes bourbon, but that doesn’t make it a poor product: It just has its target audience.
Jim: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Alan: Be original! Try to imagine your book on the big screen one day. The music industry is constantly churning out covers and the film industry is giving us remakes of classics, yet there is so much original material to be tapped in the indie market. Come up with something never seen (or read) before and you have a great chance of making a name for yourself.
Jim: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Alan: First of all, I’d like to say a huge thank you for taking a chance on a new author. You can’t imagine how fantastic a feeling it is when someone tells you they enjoyed your work. That said, one of the best ways you can support an author is to leave a review. Only a small percentage of readers do this (50 Shades has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the UK, yet it has only 2800 reviews), but if people realized just how important a review is to an author, I’m sure more would leave a few words. It doesn’t have to be three pages of praise, just say exactly what you got from the book.
Jim: Where can we find you on the web?
Alan: Here are some links:
Gray Justice UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gray-Justice-ebook/dp/B005BSRAZO
Gray Justice US: http://www.amazon.com/Gray-Justice-ebook/dp/B005BSRAZO
My blog: http://www.jambalian.blogspot.com
Thank you a hundred thousand times for visiting with us, Alan! We wish you huge success with your writing, and hope you’ll come for a return visit!
- Author’s Roundtable: Alan McDermott (jbournesblog.wordpress.com)
Wow, he’s an inspiration! His advice for aspiring authors is surely a top notch. Thank you for sharing this, Jim. 🙂
Thanks so much for your kind words, Subhan!
Thanks, Subhan, I hope you find some of it useful!