SPS-193: How to Write About the FBI (and Get it Right) – with Jerri Williams

Retired FBI Special Agent turned crime fiction author, Jerri Williams, has plenty of stories to tell.. In this episode she discusses her career and details the myths and misconceptions of the FBI – useful for any writer out there looking for authenticity when it comes to referencing the organisation.

Show Notes:

• How real FBI cases become fiction
• Jerry’s disappointment with her traditionally published career phase
• How a podcast can be an effective lead magnet
• Jerry’s remarkable career within the FBI
• Hollywood fiction v facts about the FBI

Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

LIVE EVENT: Information about the SPF Live Event in March 2020

HANDOUT: Jerri Williams Free Giveaway: FBI Myths and Conceptions


JAMES BLATCH: On this edition of The Self Publishing Show.

MARK DAWSON: I’m telling everybody out there, if anybody offers you to be agent assistant, sounds good and it makes you feel like, ‘Oh, I made it’, but don’t do it. You can do it yourself, I know that for a fact.

JAMES BLATCH: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join bestseller, Mark Dawson, and first time author, James Blatch, as they shine the light on the secrets of self publishing success. This is The Self Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

Narrator: Hello. Yes, it’s The Self Publishing Show. It’s James Blatch-

MARK DAWSON: And Mark Dawson.

JAMES BLATCH: I almost said James and Mark and then I just bundled through and changed it. We used to do The James and Mark Show and now we introduce it fore frame, looking into camera, owning it, Mark. You look to the back of the lens, straight down into the back of the eyes of the viewer.

MARK DAWSON: That’s how I deliver my punches. I aim behind the head.

JAMES BLATCH: Is this your Lemmy from Motorhead story?

MARK DAWSON: Oh yeah, we’ll do that another time for that one perhaps. We’ll do that on The Self Publishing Show Live.

JAMES BLATCH: We should talk about The Self Publishing Show Live but I’ll tell you what, before we talk about anything, I am going to welcome our Patreon supporters. Is that okay?

MARK DAWSON: Yes, that’s okay. Is Lemmy one of them?

JAMES BLATCH: Lemmy is sadly no longer able to join us on Patreon for reasons of being in the ground.

MARK DAWSON: I know, it’s very true.

JAMES BLATCH: Poor Lemmy. Rest in rock. We have new Patreon supporters and we’re going to say hello to them. Thank you so much, indeed, for supporting the show. We’re going to say hello to Sidoni Bouvier and Christine Donnelly, and also joining us today, Alesia Antony from Ohio, United States of America, and Shay Blizzard. Thank you very much indeed. There’s some good names in there. Bouvier, I think, is Marge’s maiden name in The Simpsons.

MARK DAWSON: It is, yes. Before we get off this, I think there might be a couple more that were sent to you previously than from today unless you-

JAMES BLATCH: I think I’ve cleverly done them.

MARK DAWSON: Okay, fair enough. If you say so.

JAMES BLATCH: I’ve cleverly encapsulated them all. Yes, Shay Blizzard’s a good name. Do you think that’s an author name? Or you think it’s a real name?

MARK DAWSON: I don’t know. We should ask Shay.

JAMES BLATCH: Shay will have to let us know.

MARK DAWSON: Is James Blatch a real name or an author name?

JAMES BLATCH: Who knows? I’ve got a good interview coming up, actually, with Barry Hutchison, who we bumped into at The London Book Fair last year and I spoke to him about changing genre, about specifically choosing a genre to make money and finding that sweet spot between what you want to do and a genre that sells because he writes comedy science fiction, which I love his comedy science fiction but it’s a smallish area so he’s moved into police [inaudible 00:02:46]. I think he sat listening to L.J. Ross enough over the years, on his panels to think.

MARK DAWSON: He did. He was at last year’s London Book Fair. I think he was listening to me and I’m going to claim a little bit, a small slice of credit, for that as well but yes, he said to me he listened to both of us and decided he was going to go into a slightly bigger genre and, spoiler alert, he is making money.

JAMES BLATCH: He is, he’s doing really well.

MARK DAWSON: Quite a lot of it, I think.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah, he’s done really well. He’s a great writer but he was talking about his author name so he’s come up with J.D. Kirk and he researched it meticulously. It’s obviously a little bit of a not reference with science fiction passion and he almost came up with J.T. Kirk, which is the actual initials of Captain Kirk, but he went with J.D. Kirk and he looked at how they appeared on the books and how they sounded and he’s done all of this carefully. Some people, very, very poncey people on BBC2 in the evening would say, ‘Well, this is terribly….’


JAMES BLATCH: BBC2, which is a-


JAMES BLATCH: -channel, a cerebral channel in the UK, would say, ‘This is terribly tacky’, but of course it’s exactly the type of decisions that every other business on the entire planet makes every day of the week and maybe the traditional industry’s just been a bit clever at keeping authors away from that end of things so it feels like it’s not their area but it absolutely 100% is and it’s a good interview. Barry Hutchison’s coming up in the future.

JAMES BLATCH: Today’s interview is sensational. It’s with a brilliant woman who’s lived a brilliant life. Her name is Jerri Williams and she has been an FBI agent for her entire life. In fact, I think she says in the interview she was second or third black agent in the States and obviously she’s a woman as well so really pioneering for when she joined and she just knows the service inside out. She’s one of those people who, of course, knows it so well that when she watches TV and reads books and they get it wrong or they do things that just wouldn’t happen in the agency, people misunderstand what the FBI’s role is in these situations. Also, a little bit, so she’s done something about it and written a brilliant book on the myths of the FBI and it’s a book, if you’re writing in this area, if you set something in America as a major crime and the FBI are, at any point, involved, you really want to familiarize yourself with some of the stuff we go through in the interview and there’s a handout as well, which you get at which I’d thoroughly recommend.

JAMES BLATCH: Right, that’s coming up in a minute. Shall we talk about the inaugural Self Publishing Show Live?

MARK DAWSON: Yes. Yeah, we’ve had a busy week, or 10 days, since we decided to do it. It’s all been fairly fast, as tends to be the case when we do things. We decided we’re going to do it. We found a venue. Tom and me, mostly, were looking at these potential venues and we found The National Gallery in London. It’s on Trafalgar Square, very, very nice. A lovely lecture theater with 328 seats there. Before that, it was going to be at Amazon’s HQ, but for different reasons, that didn’t happen, although Amazon are still sponsoring the show. We found the gallery and thought, ‘That will be good, we’ll do it there.’ We put tickets on sale and the first 150 sold out in five minutes and within … Closed the cart and we did a separate opening so that people in different timezones wouldn’t be disadvantaged and we sold another 100 tickets in 90 seconds and, at that point, I realized that probably there was a bit of demand for it. We had things like Google Analytics on the sale space so we could see that 800 people were trying to get tickets. We crashed the sales page because too many people tried to get in at the same time. We were getting angry emails from people who were annoyed with us because … I don’t know. They seem to think that we’re professional event organizers. Whoever would’ve thought that? I can understand why.

JAMES BLATCH: We should point out, this is our first rodeo.

MARK DAWSON: Yes, this is our first rodeo when it comes to doing an event. We had 300 tickets sold and we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll find somewhere bigger.’ Again, Tom, me and Lucy this time, spent another couple of days looking for other venues and we actually got some help from Sarah Weldon, who is a member of the community who has a connection at The South Bank Center in London, which is, for those who don’t know, is the very kind of the artistic quarter of London, on the Thames near Waterloo Station, a couple of big concert halls in there including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which has 900 capacity. We thought, ‘Shall we go for that? It feels a bit big. It wouldn’t be great if we only sold another 400 … If we had 400 or 500 tickets sold and we’d have half the room empty. Anyway, we bit the bullet and we put them on sale again on Friday, I think it was. Yeah, it was on Friday and as we record this, we sold out about six hours ago.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah, and it’s Monday today so we sold out in four days and we were down to double figures very quickly and down to single figures overnight, on Sunday night.

MARK DAWSON: We have 840 tickets sold. Actually, probably about 845 tickets sold now so the remainder is … Obviously, they’ll be industry guest speakers, us, what else? There’ll be Amazon staff. There will be other people coming in. I suspect we’ll have about 10 tickets at the end of that and there’ll be some people, I guess, who’ll return theirs who can’t come. I think we’ll have another sale of tickets next year, nearer the time of the event, and if people want to notified of that, they need to go on the wait list, which is … James.

JAMES BLATCH: We’re going to call it SPS Live Wait List.

MARK DAWSON: Yep. Go onto there and it will probably be on a first come, first served basis but we’ll try and be as equitable as we can about that. From now on, it’s the fun stuff now so I’m actually starting to think about programming, which, again, I’ve never done that before but it’s quite fun so we’ve got a couple of people already signed up and a couple of very big traditional authors who’s interested in coming, a very senior Amazon member of staff, I think, is coming. I’m speaking to Amazon on Friday about this.

JAMES BLATCH: Is his name Jeff?

MARK DAWSON: No. Not that senior but very, very senior. In the UK, top level management. That’s exciting and we’re starting to think about … We’re going to have a drinks night afterwards and then our weekly Zoom conference with the team this morning, someone pointed out that … I think Tom pointed out that there are 900 people now and we normally just hire a pub.

JAMES BLATCH: Yes. We don’t even hire it, we just go into a pub and we got a card behind the bar.

MARK DAWSON: We just turn up. We’ll still put a card behind the bar but we can’t have 900 people coming into a pub so we’re now looking at options for that. Someone had a great idea. It was me, what a surprise, that we might look in to hire a riverboat so we’ll see. It’s fun now, this is the fun stuff. We know we’ve got a lot of people who want to come so what we try to do now is to make sure they have the most unforgettable time that they can and they go away … For 30 quid, for God’s sake, it’s ridiculous. 30 pounds for what, I think, will be the best self publishing conference in the world. That is absolutely insane but Amazon want it to be cheap. We’re happy for it to be cheap. It’s cost effective. We’ll cover our costs and any profit goes to charity.

JAMES BLATCH: I haven’t crunched the figures yet because we’ve only just closed the cart but I think we’re into three figures, for sure, of people flying in from the States. We’ve got-

MARK DAWSON: And Australia, New Zealand.

JAMES BLATCH: Australia, yep.

MARK DAWSON: Two from Hong Kong. I’ve seen one from Taiwan.

JAMES BLATCH: The Middle East.

MARK DAWSON: It’s unbelievable. Really amazing.

JAMES BLATCH: It really is.

MARK DAWSON: It’ll be fun. We’re looking forward to it.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah, we’re going to be on stage. You and me together, it’s going to be our double act because this is a legendary double act. To see it live.

MARK DAWSON: Yeah. I said it’s got to be an unforgettable experience, for the right reasons though.

JAMES BLATCH: You know, there’s a person who goes onto our YouTube channel and says, ‘Interview starts at 41 minutes’, because he doesn’t like us.

MARK DAWSON: Oh, yeah. There’s a word for that kind of person.

JAMES BLATCH: Yes. Well, I want him to be there so he can stand up and say, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, get on with it.’ And we’re just going to carry on with our routine, Ernie and Wise.

MARK DAWSON: Ernie and Wise? Do you mean Eric and Ernie?

JAMES BLATCH: Eric and Ernie. Who used to dance and sing. I’m going to get all this organized and we’re going to be in rehearsals for weeks for the routines. Yeah, no, it’s going to be really good and we’re aiming big, aren’t we, in terms of speakers but we’re also thinking about making sure it’s pitched correctly. There’s no point in having massively
successful author after massively successful author. What you want to hear from are people who are a little bit ahead of you, people who have quit their jobs.

MARK DAWSON: Now, here’s another great idea. Oh, it’s me again. A bit of a spoiler for those who are coming, Jeff, in the letter to shareholders for 2018 to 2017’s results, pointed out that on KDP, a thousand authors had made over a hundred thousand dollars in that year so I thought it’d be interesting if we had some of those on the stage. I did a quick little post into the Facebook group and I’ve actually had about 17 authors who meet that criteria and who are going to be there and would like to be on stage. We won’t have all 17 but I think we’ll probably pick four or five and then either you or I will talk to them about their experience, where they’ve come from, where they want to go, what their lessons are, all of that kind of good stuff, and for most people, that should be something that feels achievable. Maybe their three or four steps up the ladder from where everybody else is but that will be something that people can go away from the conference feeling inspired and hopefully have picked up some useful information that will help them to get to that stage.

MARK DAWSON: Then, of course, 2021, if we do another one, we can change the stage so there’s another five people who are also making a hundred thousand a year.

JAMES BLATCH: Well, it’d be nice if they were in the audience at the first one.

MARK DAWSON: Yeah, absolutely. That would be the aim.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah. And, of course, Amazon are going to be in the room so they’ll be there to help people at whatever stage they’re at and Darren loves talking to people who are just getting going. He finds the most value in his conversations at London Book Fair.

MARK DAWSON: And then, another fun idea, who had this one? Oh, it’s me again. We should get some T-shirts and Amazon has a T-shirt, or merch business, called Amazon Merch and maybe we can get a deal so everyone gets a T-shirt and then a very good number … If the will go, I will definitely do this, we will be at London Book Fair when it opens on the Tuesday and wouldn’t it be amazing if we had 500 indie authors turning up in identical branded T-shirts, saying something about, ‘Tell me about my 70% royalties’, or something along those lines. That would be just ridiculous.

JAMES BLATCH: 0800-70% Royalty.

MARK DAWSON: And we’d have to set up a camera somewhere so we could see these people coming
into the conference.


MARK DAWSON: And watch the reaction on the faces of all the staff members on The Titanic as lots of icebergs float around.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah, exactly. We do a lot of our thinking out loud but we should also potentially contact LBF and say we’ve got this conference.


JAMES BLATCH: Well, because they might do us a deal on tickets.

MARK DAWSON: Oh, yes. No, that’s true. I think that’s very possible, yep.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah. Good. Excellent. Well, all that’s to come. We’re looking forward to that next year. We’ll try not to bat on about it too much but those of you who missed out on tickets, sorry about that. Oh, yes, the final thing we should say is we are going to hopefully record this and we will have something available soon for you to sign up to so you can receive the videos or get it done professionally afterwards.

MARK DAWSON: That means we won’t do it.

JAMES BLATCH: No. I’ve done those days. Well, how professional does this look? A cut above the average podcast, I’d say. Now, we’re on speaker now. It’s Tuesday, not Monday, isn’t it? I’m about to fly to America with John Dye, you’re going to join us on Tuesday next week. Tom’s going to be there as well but that all of … When’s this going? It’s going on Friday so actually … No, it’s going out a week on Friday. It’s going to be too late for… Hopefully, if you came along to the drinks, that was great. Anything else we want to talk about before we get into this interview?

MARK DAWSON: No, I think that’s it. I was watching a Mind Hunter last night with Lisa. We watched the last episode of the second season so that’s all about the FBI so I’m definitely interested to see how or listen to what Jerri has to say.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah, Jerri introduced herself to us in New York at Thriller Fest and it was one of those moments where … To be fair, lots of people come up, which is great and we get probably once or twice a week, we get an email from somebody saying, ‘I want to be on your podcast’, and we look carefully if it’s going to add value and so on. I knew within about eight seconds that Jerri was going to be a good guest on this podcast. She’s a lovely woman but she’s lived the life. She has the knowledge but she also has that foot in the fiction camp so she understands stories need to have license and move away from stuff. It’s just understanding when you’re doing that and when you want to get it right forth and just for authenticity. It’s a really good subject. I’ll give the giveaway URL again now, which is, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and you can get a download there, a sort of a taste of the myths of the FBI that people frequently get wrong but Jerri also has a more comprehensive book on the subject. So, let’s hear from Jerri then. Mark and I will be back to have a chat off the back of the interview.

Narrator: This is The Self Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

JAMES BLATCH: Jerri, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. We have a real live bonafide FBI experienced officer. I should say former. I’m not under investigation as far as I know, at the moment.

JERRI WILLIAMS: No, you’re not and I am absolutely thrilled to be here.

JAMES BLATCH: Well, we should say that we met in New York. You came up and said hello to us whilst we were at Thriller Fest and as soon as you told me your background, you job and your purpose in life, which is to help those people writing in the genre to get the FBI details right or, at least, understand when they’re cutting corners, and I thought straight away, ‘That, my friend, is a Self Publishing Show episode.’

JERRI WILLIAMS: Absolutely, thank you. And I also want to let you know, I don’t think you know
this, but I am an … I better say it right, FPF 101 graduate. Everything that I’ve done, as far as self publishing, I’ve learned from your show and from the course so thank you.

JAMES BLATCH: Superb. Well, that’s great. It’s lovely to have you in the community, Jerri, and thank you so much for taking some time out. Now, you’ve written a book, which we’re going to be talking about, which is Myths and Misconceptions about the FBI and we’re going to go through some of those, which is going to be useful. I think, also, you said that you can put together a little takeaway for people listening, a little PDF.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah, I actually have, what I call, an FBI reality checklist and it goes through what, I believe, are some of the top 20 cliches and misconceptions about the FBI that I see in books, TV and movies and so I put those together. They’re basically the chapters in my book but I’ve put them together with a couple of sentences to help you get that misconception straight but, of course, there’s a lot more information about that in the book. But I’m also a fiction writer so I do crime fiction too. That’s how I initially started in this journey.

JAMES BLATCH: Okay. Well, look, let’s give away the URL for people to download the PDF now. If people go to, as simple as that, they’ll be able to download that PDF and we’ll get that sorted out between us after the show. Jerri, let’s start with you. I think it’s a really good place to start because you have transitioned into a fiction writer and then I know this is part of your remit now but, basically, you transitioned from being an FBI officer right to writing fiction.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yes, absolutely. During my whole time in the FBI, and I was in for 26 years, I always knew that I wanted to write a book. I’m a big crime fiction reader. I’ve read all my life and I knew that I wanted to write and during that career, towards the end, I found a case that I thought, ‘Okay, this is the perfect case.’ And so, my goal was, as I was leaving the FBI, to gather as much information as I could about this real case that I knew that I would fictionalize into a novel and I started working on it before I left the FBI.

JAMES BLATCH: What was it about this particular case that jumped out at you and made you realize it could be a fiction story?

JERRI WILLIAMS: Well, actually, two of my close friends in the office, two female FBI agents, very attractive women, were investigating corruption in the Philadelphia strip club industry. And so, they were going after a corrupt commissioner who dealt with the entertainment area and they were out every day talking to strip club owners and strippers and the patrons and when they came back to the office and they would tell their stories, I just was mesmerized and it really was a huge case also in the paper. It was covered everyday in The Enquirer and in The Philadelphia Daily News and I thought, ‘Oh, this is just too sexy to skip. This is the case.’ And so, what I did is I created my own female FBI agent who had a troubled past and some flaws and I put her in this situation and just kind of watched her go a little off and so it’s a different take on an FBI investigation. I like to say that I look at my stories as, not just covering the investigation, but covering how that investigation affects my female FBI character and the targets that she’s after. It’s really fun.

JAMES BLATCH: Sounds great. Do you know, I think most TV producers would also think straight away, there’s an episode there, which will bring us onto how they might cover that in the cliches they might fall into then maybe-

JERRI WILLIAMS: I can tell you one already.


JERRI WILLIAMS: Okay. When I was pitching, I was actually pitching this book at Agent Fest, at Thriller Fest, several years ago and I remember sitting down and talking to one agent and she looked at it and she thought, ‘Yeah, send me a few chapters.’ And then she said, ‘Have you ever thought of the FBI agent actually going undercover as a stripper?’ And I was respectful and I just said, ‘No, I don’t think that would work.’ But come on, what kind of credibility, as a law enforcement officer, would this FBI have after she’s investigated the case where she has to tell the jury that she spent her nights taking off her clothes and doing lap dances.

JAMES BLATCH: Well, it brings a new meaning to the expression ‘undercover’ because obviously she’d be-

JERRI WILLIAMS: It certainly does.

JAMES BLATCH: But do you know what? Most producers, I think, would have that same thought. They would think … Because the way you described the two very attractive young agents, ‘Let’s put them undercover in the strip scene and let’s let that work.’ Now, why do we fall into that? Where is this whole mythology about the way law enforcement operates? Why is it so different from the reality?

JERRI WILLIAMS: Well, I think it perpetuates itself. There have been so many books, TV shows and movies where they get it wrong and so a lot of writers, when they do their “research”, they’re looking at some of those same books, TV shows and movies and so they keep putting in the same cliches and misconceptions. One of the biggest ones is that the FBI doesn’t play well with others. I can’t stand to see that and if I’m reading a book and there’s that type of language, I basically take it and throw it across the room because it’s just so totally different than what the truth is, what reality is, that it’s just one of those cliches that unfortunately keeps continuing.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah. I’ve been reading you book and there’s a really interesting chapter on that and you paint this picture of local law enforcement dealing with a homicide or a complex serious crime and then having a discussion with the FBI as to whether it’s going to be useful to send it to their guys at Quantico and how they can help each other. It’s not, as you say, as it’s always portrayed on the TV. It’s just, ‘Oh, God, here come the feds. Let’s get these guys away, this is our jurisdiction.’

JERRI WILLIAMS: And I think, in most cases, the local and state law enforcement agencies welcome the FBI because we have the resources, we have the training, we have the manpower, and if you’re working on a case that is very complicated, to have us come in and partner with you is one of the best things that can happen. Police agencies have a limited budget and so if we can come in together and work as a team, it’s a win win situation for everybody.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah. I think I’ve mentioned before on The Self Publishing Show that I found myself unable to watch a series called Silent Witness in the UK. I’ve covered murder cases for the BBC and I know the guy who goes in and does the forensic pathology on the body produces a very sober, very detailed, often very brilliant, but scientific report, and that’s pretty much his involvement in the case.


JAMES BLATCH: You watch Silent Witness, she’s knocking on doors, she’s getting involved in people, she’s dragging children out of cars, and I’m thinking, ‘On what planet does the forensic pathologist go round solving crimes like that?’

JERRI WILLIAMS: Well, if you look in my book, that’s chapter 17, a forensic examiner does … The myth is that a forensic examiner does it all, collects evidence and investigates, and that certainly is the myth. That just is not the way it is.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah. And there’s so many boundaries crossed. Virtually all the evidence would be inadmissible and thrown out of court as soon as it got there. Before we come onto the myths, and I am excited about that aspect of this interview, going down this list of myths, but let’s talk a little bit more about you. You had this story, you got this book written, and then what happened?

JERRI WILLIAMS: Well, I went to Thriller Fest and I won the jackpot. I got an agent with Curtis Brown Ltd, which is one of the most respected and oldest literary agencies in the country and in the UK too and so I thought I had it made but nobody ever tells you that getting the agent is just step one and it can take you a while. It took me two years to get an agent and I didn’t realize that now the agent has to go through the same thing that I did of trying to find an editor, to trying to find a publisher for your book, and he did a great job but wasn’t successful and I tell you the grief … I went through a period of grief because once you have an agent and they’ve pitched that book, it’s dead if nobody buys it because it’s not like there’s going to be another publishing agency that comes up. There might’ve been some small ones but I wasn’t interested in that. It was over but I’m a trooper and I just said to myself, ‘I know this book is good. I have the backing of one of the most respected literary agencies that says this book is good. It’s been copy edited, it’s been developmentally edited, it’s tight, it is good, it is interesting.’

JERRI WILLIAMS: They just didn’t like the fact that my female FBI agent wasn’t the typical type. She’s had affairs and she’s done some things that people didn’t like and they couldn’t handle it and so it was rejected and I decided, ‘You know what? I am not putting this book in a draw.’ And so I self published and thank you again for helping me with that.

JAMES BLATCH: We’re delighted that Mark and we were in the right place at the right time for you. It’s really stark, isn’t it, without self publishing being an option? To think that people have that book and, as you say, once it’s gone through that one agent, that’s it really because all the agents then know it’s been through them and it hasn’t been bought and the same publishers are just going to say no to somebody else.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah. Well, there’s another part of this story that I almost forgot to mention, that I did stick with Curtis Brown. So, Curtis Brown has a program called Agent Assistant, where they will self publish your book for you and you get the Curtis Brown logo on your book and you can say that they published it and I thought, during my grieving period, that I needed that. And I probably did because, again, I had traditional publishing in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul, and so when that didn’t happen, I was like a piece of jelly like, ‘Oh, God, what am I going to do now?’ And so, when they offered to publish it through their program, I said yes. And I can tell you, don’t do that because you’re paying them 15% for every book that’s sold. They still get their commission off of your royalties and then your book is on their dashboard. You have no control over manipulating prices or changing covers so it’s all the “prestige” of traditional publishing but there’s all these disadvantages that come along with it and so I’m telling everybody out there, if anybody offers you to be agent assistant, sounds good and it makes you feel like, ‘Oh, I made it’, but don’t do it. You can do it yourself. I know that for a fact. I’m starting on my fourth book now, self published.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah. Good advice from experience there, and how has it gone then, since you took the self publishing route?

JERRI WILLIAMS: It’s gone great and I think one of the reasons that it’s gone great, again, and we haven’t mentioned this, is because of the podcast. The podcast that I do, FBI Retired Case File Review, is a great content marketing lead magnet kind of for my book so I’m talking to people every day. Each episode is averaging about ten thousand downloads within the first month or so and these are the people that I’m talking to every day and these are the people that are buying my books and so that was a brilliant move by me.


JERRI WILLIAMS: A brilliant move that I didn’t know was a brilliant move and it’s worked out well.

JAMES BLATCH: And just to clarify, that audience, the lead magnet, is for the fiction books or for the non-fiction book?

JERRI WILLIAMS: I have found, since I just published it, the non-fiction book, it’s only been out for a little over a month, that it is working much, much better for the non-fiction book but it does pretty well for the fiction too.

JAMES BLATCH: That’s really interesting because I’m going to be giving a talk at NINC about doing a podcast and whether authors should do a podcast and I’m talking a lot to people at the moment and in the fiction space, it’s a really finely balanced decision whether it’s going to be worth your time and effort to do a podcast to bring readers in. For some areas, it does seem to work and it seems like you’ve hit upon one.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah, and I think it’s also because from the very beginning, from my very first episode, I talked about sharing case reviews from retired special agents with some of the biggest cases that the FBI has ever investigated, but I also said that this podcast would talk about the FBI in books, TV and movies and so many of the agents, over 50 of them that I brang on, had their own books, whether it’s non-fiction or fiction or true crime or memoirs and so we do talk a lot about books throughout so I have a part of my audience who are readers and writers as well as, of course, people who are interested in pursuing a career with the FBI.

JAMES BLATCH: Superb. Well, I might tap you out for a little bit of a case study to include in my talk in NINC, in that case, after we’ve done this. Okay. You’ve had success, which I’m really delighted about, really pleased, and ultimately, from a financial point of view, you should be grateful that you didn’t get that publishing deal.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah, and I know that now. Boy, do I know that now. I was actually, of course, … We met at that Thriller Fest and a number of people still don’t get it and this is what I can say. The people that I have met, early when I was attending Thriller Fest, and I’ve gone seven times, that were looking for a publishing deal when I was looking for a publishing deal, are still looking for a publishing deal and I just don’t get it. If you truly believe in your work, why would you wait? It’s really eight years because I skipped one of the Thriller Fest. Why would you wait eight years to get your book published? If you truly believe in it and you try, you want to go traditional, I can understand some people don’t have the business skills that you need to self publish and we’ve got to admit that, but if you truly believe in your book and it’s just not happening, eight years?

JAMES BLATCH: Crazy. Okay. Right, Jerri, I want to move onto the fun … This has been fun so far, but to the bit I’ve been looking forward to most about this interview, which is to go through some of the myths and bust some of them and help people who are writing and, of course, it’s not just procedure and crime, the FBI can come into romance books, into all sorts of genres.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Absolutely. When I’m talking about creative license and creative compromises, I understand the need for that. Sometimes, even if you know what you’re writing is not necessarily accurate, you need to manipulate it in order to tell the story. I’ve actually done that myself in my crime novels. I cringe but I have to do it because, say for instance, in the reality, a piece of evidence in a court scene is authenticated before you can talk about the evidence, but if it doesn’t work that way, I need the person to show the evidence before they bring on the person to authenticate it, then I’m going to switch it around. I’m just going to do that but the great thing about it is I know that I have made a creative compromise and so what I’m saying in my book and in this checklist is at least know that you’re making a mistake or at least know that you’re manipulating the accurate way of doing it instead of being ignorant of the fact that what you have in your book is just not the way it’s done.

JERRI WILLIAMS: When we talk about cliché number two, which is that FBI profilers are hunting serial killers, I can’t tell people to write how it’s accurate because then there would not be a serial killer genre because all of those books show the FBI profiler running down a dark alley or into a dark basement chasing a serial killer and profilers are really academics. They’re sitting back at the FBI Academy receiving reports and files and going through them trying to help police officers around the country, and FBI agents around the country, solve unsolvable cases but they’re not out there in the field investigating them.

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah. Well, we have Thomas Harris to thank, I think, for the explosion in-

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yes, I blame him along with Jodie Foster and the whole gang.

JAMES BLATCH: And the whole premise of those books and particularly, of course, the film with Hannibal Lecter’s compelling ability to work out the profile of the person that Agent Starling’s after and subsequently, every TV episode does seem to have the profiler turning up at the scene and then telling them this is what they’re going to do next and this is why they’ve done it. And so, you’re telling us it’s just simply not like that.

JERRI WILLIAMS: It’s simply not like that and I have lots of episodes with profilers, FBI profilers, retired FBI profilers, and agents who have actually worked alongside local police departments on serial killer cases. I interviewed Dan Kraff, who was the FBI agent who worked in Wisconsin with the police there on the Jeffrey Dahmer case and he interviewed him four times but he’ll be the first one to tell you that that Jeffrey Dahmer case is a … They’re local murders, they’re state murders, and although he participated as a local FBI agent, not as a profiler back in the field. Those were cases that were under the jurisdiction and the leads were the police officers and the detectives and not the FBI.

JAMES BLATCH: Okay. What we can have, and the detail of all of this is in the book, so we’re not going to go into a huge amount of detail on each one of these, but what you can have is that information being fed into the investigators, whether it be locals or an FBI led investigation, rather than having this person who’s, as you say, running down the dark alley at the end.


JAMES BLATCH: Superhero stuff. Okay, let’s go to another one. Another one we always see in the FBI, the most FBI agents are white males and female agents are always single.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yes. Oh, that really irritates me and that’s one of the things that I did in my book, of course. My lead is a black female FBI agent and I gave her three kids. Not one, I gave her three kids.

JAMES BLATCH: Because in Hollywood, you’re only allowed one kid.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Well, I think it complicates the story if you’re going to have to include these kids in it but that’s the reality of most veteran female FBI agents, are married and have kids just like their male counterparts. They’re only about 20% of the workforce is female and when it comes to black females, it’s like 1% so it’s a cliché and it’s not a cliché because the majority of FBI agents, 70% are white males, but it’s changing and the FBI … I can do a recruiting message right now but the FBI is always looking to bring more women and minorities into its ranks because for all law enforcement agencies, diversity is the key. They need to have agents in the field that represent the community that they serve.

JAMES BLATCH: You joined a long time ago, Jerri. You must have been somewhat of a pioneer or it must have felt like that for you.

JERRI WILLIAMS: I was the 23rd black female that came into the FBI and I know that by fact because I have the EEO stats from a few months after I entered and it was like, ‘Oh, there’s 24. Well, I must be 25 because there’s somebody who came in behind me.’ Yeah, it was an interesting time and I’ve got some more stories to tell on that one but I usually keep those to myself because things changed. Oh, things changed as I gained more experience and as more women came in and more minorities came in and by the time I left, there were no war stories to tell, only a fabulous fascinating career that I use to write my books.

JAMES BLATCH: Well, yeah, I can well believe that you were there during that transition and there must have been some hard … I guess we’re going to call it character forming early years, but you must be tough, Jerri, to get through that and to grow?

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah. Most of my career, I worked fraud and corruption, what we call Economic Crime, Ponzi schemes and Banksy schemes and business to business telemarketing cases. I was extremely successful. I had a case that made it to American Grade, the big TV show on CMBC, and got lots of awards and I think most interesting thing about my career is that somebody who came in kind of unsure of themselves, in the last five years of my career, I actually was the spokesperson for the Philadelphia FBI Office. My full time job was to deal with the media, TV producers, movie producers, writers, making sure that they got the perception of the FBI correct. This is not something that I’m doing now that I just made up, I was doing it in the FBI in my last five years and so I really feel that I’m coming to readers and writers with a strong knowledge of the FBI. I think my book is the only one out there that is FBI procedures for writers.

JAMES BLATCH: Okay. Well, let’s carry on. I’m going to skip a few of the myths and go to number nine, which is that agents use intimidation and threats during interrogations and the reason I pull this one up is because it’s a very common portrayal when the interview starts. You get this kind of bullying, pushing, sometimes physical confrontation and, of course, that’s great drama.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah, it is great drama but it is totally untrue. One of the things about the FBI is that every FBI agent is mandated to have sources, informants, cooperating witnesses, assets, and so whenever you go into a situation, you’re always thinking, ‘Hey, I’m talking to this person, I’m interviewing this person today, I might be able to get him to cooperate and become an informant for me.’ You’re never going to treat anybody poorly and the most important thing is if you coerce somebody into providing you information, that evidence could be thrown out in court in a minute, if that can be proven. The FBI actually, in an interview situation, is going to go out and ask the guy if he needs any coffee, ‘Can I get you anything? Can I get you any coffee? Water? You want a soda? Are you hungry?’ We are going to set the mood, we are going to build the repertoire, we are going to have it so that the person wants to cooperate. It’s that old honey versus vinegar situation. If you let the person know, ‘Hey, I’m here for you. I just want to work this out, I just want to hear your side of the story’, boy, that’s when they start, as they say, vomiting information.

JAMES BLATCH: Singing like a canary, as they say in East end London.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah, exactly.

JAMES BLATCH: And I certainly have seen that before when you … The less glamorous side of sitting through Crown court cases in the UK, as I used to do, is the bits where they start contesting the evidence and very often if they haven’t, in the UK, is something called PACE, Police And Criminal Evidence Act, and it sets the timetable, the framework, how long you can hold someone, the rest of it. The police officers kind of hate it because they have to live their life by it but you make a mistake under PACE at a critical stage in a big investigation, it will come back and haunt you very quickly in a court case because the-


JAMES BLATCH: They’ll get all that stuff thrown out, as you say.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah, absolutely, and do we truly believe that if you have this bad guy, this criminal, who’s been committing crimes, especially violent crimes all his life, is going to get scared because somebody pointed their finger in their face and threatened them? ‘Oh, okay, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you.’ It’s so laughable sometimes but it does create drama so as long as you know the reality, if you really want to put that seed in your book, go ahead, put it in your book, but the reality is it’s just the opposite.

JAMES BLATCH: A good way to put in your book is to have it in there and then have the evidence thrown out and have the guy in trouble because of it so then you can get both the accuracy and the fun.

JERRI WILLIAMS: There you go, see. That’s what you call innovation.

JAMES BLATCH: There you go. There’s always a way around it. Okay, I’m going to pick another one here and this kind of is a jurisdiction thing. I can see it obviously riles a little bit with you is that people portray the CIA hunting spies in the United States. Is that an FBI role than?

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yes. Yeah, the FBI is the lead agency when it comes to domestic intelligence and I know people work and counter intelligence hate when I say this but the reality is, at the CIA, they’re our spies. We send them out to other countries to gather evidence, intelligence and information so when people come into our country to do that same thing, it’s the FBI. We’re the law enforcement agency. The CIA has no law enforcement capabilities at all so when a spy comes in, we may work with them in helping to identify who the people are, but when it comes to the investigation and the arrest and any type of court action, that’s the FBI.

JAMES BLATCH: Okay. It makes sense when you explain it like the CIA are the people who send, as you say, the US spies out. Okay. This is one that surprised me. You say this is a myth, right? Number 16, FBI agents investigate murders. Don’t they?

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yes, but no. Initially, there was no federal violation that involved murder at all. I think somewhere in the 1990s, there became federal violations when you had murders that involved a criminal enterprise or investigation or something like that, but in most cases, the types of murders that the FBI investigates are those murders that occur on federal property. If there was a murder on a military base and it was committed by a non-military person, the FBI would investigate that. If there was a murder on the High Seas and the FBI would investigate that. A murder in a federal building, a murder in an Indian reservation, in a federal park, those would be under the FBI’s investigation but a lot of movies and TV shows have a local murder. A house is bombed and the FBI’s investigating it. Now, it may be associated with a case of theirs, but that’s a local murder. That’s a state homicide that’s going to be investigated by a local police department or state police. There are very limited situations where the FBI involves murder. This is the way to remember it. There’s always another federal violation in play when the FBI is involved in a murder. Of course, a murder of a federal officer is something that the FBI would do but there’s always another federal violation in play.

JERRI WILLIAMS: For instance, in a hate crime, when we investigate the murder, a racially motivated murder, it’s not the murder we’re investigating, it’s a civil rights investigation, it’s a civil rights violation that we’re investigating.

JAMES BLATCH: That’s interesting, which begs the question for me about how the FBI grew. Law is very localized in America. Every state seems to have its own law. The courts run differently from one state to the other. Each county and district has its police and its investigation departments. Where in history of the United States did somebody think we need a police force, if you like, a law enforcement that sits above them all?

JERRI WILLIAMS: Well, the FBI was actually created in 1908 so it’s been around for a very long time but it was initially involved in handling those cases that involved interstate commerce. The interstate aspect of it, the nationally focused aspect of crime, is where the FBI comes in. When it comes to big things like organized crime or with terrorism, we are a nationally focused law enforcement agency, but in many times, there is a joint jurisdiction but in many of those cases, the FBI is the lead person because the federal penalties are much higher.

JAMES BLATCH: Okay, that does make sense and I think in the UK, we’re seeing a bit of … There’s cross county lines, county lines drug dealing and gangs going on at the moment and it’s a problem because they deliberately exploit the fact that there’s a bureaucratic difference between the regions so I can see how the FBI was founded to combat that. Okay, I want to go through a couple more of these and we’re racing through the time, which is great, but I am loving this and I think it’s quite gripping, regardless of what you write actually.


JAMES BLATCH: This is another myth that jumped out at me from your book, bomb tech is a dangerous job. You stated that as a myth.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Well, yeah, and you know, that was one for me that kind of ding, ding, ding, the light bulbs went off when I interviewed Kevin Miles, who’s a retired agent and a master bomb tech with the FBI and he said that and I was like, ‘What do you mean by that?’ And he’s explaining that on TV shows and books, they talk about hand manipulation, where they untie the red wire from the green wire. He says that doesn’t happen anymore. Everything is automated. They have the robots that go in and so, for most situations, they have, again, a robotic handling of that bomb to detonate it or to look at it and assess it and the main job of the bomb tech is the post blast investigation. The bomb has already exploded. They come in and now they’re looking for the evidence to prove that it was a bomb and how that bomb was made and see if they can relate what they find in the evidence back to the person who did the bomb and so their job is not dressing up in that big Hurt Locker type uniform and going out and actually disarming a bomb. They just don’t do that anymore. Isn’t that interesting?

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah, that’s really interesting and, I guess, the military depiction of, you mentioned Hurt Locker there and the EOD stuff, I guess that’s played into people’s minds and they just think that’s their take on bomb disposal.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Right. And theirs, of course, is more immediate and they’re not going to have some of that equipment that I talked about with them as they’re driving the Humvee along the desert road but definitely in the United States, when you talk about a bomb tech, even for a police department, they’re not sending somebody in, ‘Okay, Joe, go take care of that bomb.’ It just doesn’t happen that way so, yeah, I found that fascinating too.

JAMES BLATCH: That is interesting. Your last myth that you’ve titled … And I have skipped lots of there, but your last myth here is the FBI agents are perfect and never get into trouble, and when I think about it, you’re right, that is how they are … When the FBI’s rather one dimensionally portrayed quite often, they come in, there’s a jurisdiction argument at the beginning. In the end, ultimately, they use the magic psychoanalysis to solve the crime and not many of them are flawed.

JERRI WILLIAMS: No. And I will say this, that the FBI really has this unbelievable culture and this unbelievable code of don’t embarrass the bureau. That is ingrained in you and so were, at times, where you were hearing secret service agents always getting in trouble with prostitutes and all of that stuff and you never heard that about the FBI and that’s because this don’t embarrass the bureau culture is ingrained in you. The FBI has been around for more than 110 years and our reputation has been built by every single agent and so when you diverge from the pure image, you’re smacked pretty hard. And so, we have had people who have done some really bone headed things, terrible things like Robert Hanson who, of course, sold secrets and gave them to the Russians and caused many deaths from military people and some of the CIA’s informants and FBI’s cooperators, and we’ve had FBI agents who have murdered their informants and, of course, what’s happening now? Even though I don’t necessarily consider a lot of that the way some people do.

JERRI WILLIAMS: I don’t think there is a conspiracy in leadership in the FBI to take down … It just can’t happen, which is what you have to look at when you talk about a conspiracy theory. But, yeah, the FBI has, in its past, done some things that the American public have taken a second look at but for the most part, you just don’t hear of those things about the FBI because we really believe in fidelity, bravery, and integrity, and that integrity part is deep in every FBI agent’s DNA and their mindset.

JAMES BLATCH: You better just spell out to people, Jerri, where people can get the book, what it’s called, and also your podcast.
JERRI WILLIAMS: The book, again, is FBI Myths and Misconceptions. I don’t even know the title of my own book.

JAMES BLATCH: I think that’s it, isn’t it? FBI Myths and Mis-

JERRI WILLIAMS: Yeah, but it’s a Manual for Armchair Detectives, is the subtitle and that book is available everywhere. I know that Mark talks a lot about Amazon. Now, I decided to put it everywhere and I mean it is everywhere that you can get it and it’s, again, doing very well. My website is and the podcast is FBI Retired Case File Review and I have 178 episodes that you can listen to of retired agents talking about every single violation that you can imagine. If you’re working on a novel about organized crime, I probably have 10 interviews that you can listen to there. If you’re doing something on spies and counter intelligence, I probably have 10 there. I’ve done an interview on every violation of the FBI that I could think of and they’re all there and they’re free.

JAMES BLATCH: What a fantastic repository for history as well, not just for use for authors. Fantastic, Jerri. Thank you so much for that. I’m already starting to think back to everything I’ve seen that involved the FBI and I’m thinking of Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks and now I’m wondering, why did he turn up to investigate a murder? A local murder. All these things, of course, we just took-

JERRI WILLIAMS: I said the same thing when the show came out. Can I add one more thing that I’ve done?

JAMES BLATCH: Yeah, go ahead.

JERRI WILLIAMS: There’s a new TV show … Most people know about the FBI from TV shows and books and there’s a new TV show that came out last year called FBI on CBS channel and last year, I did a blog post on every single episode. There were 23 of them, which I was shocked because I was hoping that it was only going to be 12 or 13 so it became a part time job but for every episode, I went in and I reviewed what they got right and what they got wrong and, again, I shouldn’t say right or wrong but where they took a creative compromise and I said, ‘This is the way they show it on the show, this is the way it really would happen.’ And so, I think that would be also something that would be very helpful to people writing crime fiction involving the FBI, to take a look at those blog posts and I’m going to do it again this season.
JAMES BLATCH: Fantastic. What a brilliant way of using your knowledge and people learning from you. Jerri, that’s what we’ve done, we’ve learnt from you. I knew from the moment you spoke to me in Grand High in New York that this was going to be a good interview so I’m really pleased you’ve come along. Remind people they can go to to get your handy PDF takeaway and they can go find your book and I want to wish you success with your books-


JAMES BLATCH: -going forward and I also want to say thank you for your service in law enforcement and the dedication. That’s decades of service to your country and we appreciate that.

JERRI WILLIAMS: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Narrator: This is The Self Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

JAMES BLATCH: There you go. Very impressive, Jerri. Lovely woman as well and I found that really interesting. It’s an interesting area. You operate in your books in the sort of semi-fictitious world where spies are not as easily understood how they operate so you have license to kill, you have license to move a little bit away from procedure when it suits you. People who write police procedurals in the UK and the United States of America, part of the appeal of that is they do replicate or follow actual real life. It’s more important for them, less important for you perhaps, and somewhere in the middle for most of us, to have the authenticity.

MARK DAWSON: Well, remember, I am writing a police procedural at the moment so I am very much into that world right now and I have a separate little Facebook group with about 10 experts in it with mostly police serving or retired UK police officers and what else? I’ve got a criminal barrister so there’s a lot of court room drama as well so, obviously, I am a lawyer but I’ve never practiced criminal law so I wouldn’t know my ass from my elbow when it came to most of that so I’ve got someone helping me with that. He’s been very useful. I had a scene at the start of the book with a multiple murder is found, bodies are found in this isolated farmhouse, and although it’s based on a real life story, so I could read about what actually happened 25 years ago, the way I wrote it, I sent it to a fairly senior detective, a sergeant in the Met who’s done a couple of well known cases, and he said, ‘Well, armed response is turning up because if they think someone is still in the house with a gun, you’re going to wait until the armed response comes.’

MARK DAWSON: For American listeners, our police aren’t armed so if something like that happens, they have to have forward armed response car turn up. And so he was giving me lots of procedure on who they would call, which officer would be in charge for effectively authorizing lethal force, all of that kind of stuff, which was quite hard to find that out so it’s very useful to have those kinds of connections who can point me in the right direction.

JAMES BLATCH: Is it the Bamber case you’ve based you-

MARK DAWSON: It is the Bamber case, yes.

JAMES BLATCH: That’s a really interesting real world case as well.

MARK DAWSON: Yeah. I think it’s coming to, annoyingly … I only realized this about three months ago, ITV are making a dramatization of it.


MARK DAWSON: Which is very, very annoying because it hasn’t been … No one has-


MARK DAWSON: No, I said to people, ‘Have you heard of Jeremy Bamber?’ And a lot of the times, they’re like, ‘Nope.’ Now, of course, a lot of these people are younger than us but this was ’85, I think, it happened so I wasn’t that old but it was a big case. It was a very big case because he’s a very handsome chap and he’s quite glamorous.

JAMES BLATCH: And he’s the son and he was on TV making the appeals and it was quite a long time before he was arrested and police, to this day, call it ‘Doing a Bamber’ when you’re at a crime scene and you’re missing the really obvious thing. It’s the one person you’re talking to, who looks completely innocent as one of the victims, actually was the perp.

MARK DAWSON: According to them, which is weird, 30 years later, he still protests innocence, which is obviously interesting but it’s a very interesting case. Anyway, that’s my jumping off point for the house in the woods, which is what called and I’ll be … Yeah, it’s fun. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I came up with some good ideas on dog walks over the weekends as I used to do so that was good.

JAMES BLATCH: Thinking about Aticus.

MARK DAWSON: Yes, Aticus Priest, that’s him.

JAMES BLATCH: Excellent. Good. Well, look, I want to say thank you so much indeed to Jerri Williams for her interview today and a reminder, you can go to to download a free PDF that she’s created just for us with the things that people get right and wrong about the FBI, to help you with that side of things. And that’s it. I will give out the wait list. URL again, I guess, which is, all one word type thing, and if tickets become available for the show in March, we will roll them out to people on that wait list in order. That’s it. Good. I’m getting on a plane. I shall not. we’re going to record another episode.

MARK DAWSON: We’re doing another episode. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

JAMES BLATCH: We’re going to batch two together so I shall say goodbye properly in a minute but for now, because we always do this, I’m going to say it’s goodbye from him-

MARK DAWSON: And it’s goodbye from me. Goodbye.


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