SPS-359: Nordic to Norfolk: Local Crime Fiction – with Jason Dalgliesh
After taking the Self Publishing 101 course (now called Launchpad), J.M. Dalgliesh has sold over 2 million books writing noir crime fiction. This is his story and how he did it.
- Creating the setting and characters for noir crime fiction
- Where J.M. Dalgiesh gets his book ideas
- Reader expectations in police procedurals
- J.M. Dalgliesh’s writing process for 4 books per year
- How J.M. Dalgliesh markets his books to sell million of copies
Resources mentioned in this episode:
SELF PUBLISHING LAUNCHPAD: Check out the course page before enrolment closes.
HELLO BOOKS: new promotion slots are open for a limited-time to help supercharge your book sales.
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show...
Jason Dalgliesh: Now as long as you've got a dead body, you're on picking their life and introducing all the people that they used to know to find out how they died. So I think that's more important maybe than trying to come up with something that no one's ever done before, because trust me, everything's been done.
Speaker 1: 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 indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author, James Blatch as they shine a 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.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is Friday, so it is the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch... and me James Blatch. Mark is dealing with some family issues. We wish him well with that. So it's just me for this week and I think this is the first time that I've done it solo. It's a bit like my old radio days if I can be a DJ for a bit.
Okay, so what have we got in today's show? We have an interview with somebody who I met quite early on in SPF career, 2016, I think maybe '17. And he lived nearby, about 45 minutes away. He'd done very well with the 101 courses as it was called then, Launchpad, as it's called today. And he volunteered to be interviewed to do a testimonial. And so I went along and met him, Jason, very nice guy and had gotten really well, so ordered himself, built his platform, which is exactly what Launchpad is all about.
And then I kept noticing in the charts him going higher and higher and higher. And then number ones and then book after book after book. He has had a phenomenal career. He writes regional detective novels. He writes as JM Dalgliesh, you can look him up, Sells mainly in the UK, set in Norfolk about where he lives.
He's a lovely guy. We are proud of anything because he's somebody who basically found the way to find his readers and sell books through our courses. And so I thought it was time we had a proper chat with him and heard all about this journey. So interview with Jason coming up just in a moment.
Before then, a couple of things to mention. So Self-Publishing Launchpad is open for business now. It's open until the end of the month. You can find out all the information you need, whether you want to be the next Jason, the JM Dalgliesh or not, find a way to find your readers and sell your books, build your platform. All the information you need is selfpublishingformula.com/launchpad. It's as simple as that.
We're going to have some webinars coming up as well. We're going to do a webinar on how to find and get your first 10 reviews. Also, I think we've got another webinar coming after that, but I'll keep that secret for now cause it's probably not confirmed.
Don't forget, you can support the podcast at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. Always nice to welcome new Patreon supporters each week.
We have a blog post out, of course on a Friday and it is Avoiding Comparisonitis as an Author, intriguing. I think that's been written by Daniel Parsons, Avoiding Comparisonitis. You'll find that on the website, selfpublishingformula.com. Okay.
It's also NaNoWriMo and I've been doing it for the first time since I wrote my first novel, the first draught of my first novel, back in 2010. I haven't actually done NaNoWriMo since, but we've decided to go big on it this month. It's a brilliant thing to do. Wherever you are in your writing, whether you're writing a 25th book like Mark is or his 35th book probably, or your third book, a novella, in my case.
I have to say for me it's been fantastic. I had not properly developed a writing routine. I just wake up in the morning and end up firefighting all the stuff in the various companies that I help run along with Mark and John. And somehow, of course my writing falls by the wayside.
I don't make time for it. I'm too tired in the afternoon, in the evening to do it. So I do write. So I'm not saying I don't write at all. But there has been days, weeks, sometimes without any writing going on. NaNoWriMo has shown me that it's just the matter of forming habits as habits is the big thing these days. Atomic Habits and all that.
And so every day so far, we're now on day 10. I've got up, I've tried to do no emails at all, almost impossible to do that. But I've sat down on my sofa in my living room and I've done a writing sprint just by myself. That's the other thing that's really helped me, these 25-minute, 30-minute sprints, which I didn't do before, got introduced to that this year. I know most of you know all about this and your old hands at it because probably if I'm going to say you spend more time just writing or think about your writing career, most of you I think. But for me it's something I'm going to have to make more of a priority.
So I do a sprint in the morning, then I have breakfast, and start the emails and all that stuff. And then I do another sprint at lunchtime at about 2:00. We've been doing them live, actually, into the Facebook community group. If you want to join me any day of the week, it's me, Mark, Tom, rotate some other guests as well. Come and join us. You'll see a clock going. I've got my pomodoro. I just packed it because I'm going to Vegas in a minute. Timer would do 25 minutes or 30 minutes, in fact, at 2:00. And after that, I've broken the back of my NaNoWriMo target for the day, which is 1,700 words. So I normally, I'm going at that point anyway. So I'll do another sprint and go ahead.
In fact, I can show you if you're watching on YouTube, I have got to the end of my novella. It's 32,000 words. That is the end. "The end," it says. 32,000 words are my novella. And I finished that, that's gone from about, I think 12,500 words on day one to this completed one. That is the first draft.
I have been saying I'm going to rewrite it. I'm now thinking I'm going to read this, mark it up, and then decide whether I just rewrite it fresh because it's in my mind now how the story's going to work or whether I copy and paste big chunks of this and modify it. I'll decide that having read it. So I've printed it out. I know it's a lot of paper, but I am somebody who, when I want to read something like that with a pen in my hand, I can't really make note. I know you can make notes on the Kindle, but I didn't enjoy doing that last time. So for me, that's what I'm going to do. Sorry, environment.
Now as I've been speaking, I've just been told that... Oh, no that is right. They're correcting me about what blog post it is, but it is Avoiding Comparisonitis as an Author. They gave me the incorrect one first, which I didn't read out.
So if you want to take part, it's not too late to start NaNoWriMo. It's halfway through the month but you're still going to get 25, 30,000 words done if you do it from now on and what difference will that make to your work in progress at the moment?
And I, for one, am going to carry on with the two sprints a day minimum after NaNoWriMo. Here's my public pledge. So I'll do that in the morning, do another one at 2:00, and then, so I'll probably have maybe 1,500 words a day done and that will transform my writing career.
Anyway, enough about me. Just get involved in the community group if you want to join us. It's time for our interview, JM Dalgliesh, Jason Dalgliesh. Hear all about his success and how he writes, how he sells, and let's see what we can learn from him. And I'll be back for a quick chat at the end.
Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Okay, Jason Dalgliesh. JM Dalgliesh, which says your author name we know by now. I came to see you a few years ago. I think... Had you done our 101 course that's now Launchpad? Or had you done Ads for Authors?
Jason Dalgliesh: I'd done 101 and Ads for Authors by then. Yeah, yeah.
James Blatch: And you were trying to get it going, which is great. You were writing detective books. But I can't help but notice you have had phenomenal success since that time. And I keep seeing you in the Amazon charts and I see you in bookshops, I mean, JM Dalgliesh, it's been phenomenal. Just tell us about this ride you've been on.
Jason Dalgliesh: Well, it has been. It's been wildest dreams really. It really has. I think when we spoke, I had three books out, I think, and I was doing quite well. And even then it was really thought, "This is great."
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jason Dalgliesh: And I can't remember how many books I sold at that point, but three books. I mean, it must have been in the tens of thousands, which was great. But now what, that was 2018 I think, or early 2019, wasn't it, we saw you in 2019?
James Blatch: Yeah, certainly it was before the Pandemic.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, it was before Pandemic. Yeah, it was only 2019.
James Blatch: I should be able to time it because I went off to have a look at the F-35s at Marham after I spoke to you.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yes, you did. Yeah.
James Blatch: They'd only just arrived a few weeks before, so I think that probably was 2019.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, if you listen, they'll probably be over today.
James Blatch: Yeah, good.
Jason Dalgliesh: They usually go over and shake my window frames quite regularly, so listen out for that.
But yeah, I can't remember how many books it was at that point. But since then, I'm well over 2 million now, 2 million sales across the board, so.
James Blatch: Wow.
Jason Dalgliesh: That was between 2018 and now. So yeah, it's been crazy. It really is, absolutely.
James Blatch: Congratulations. And we know it's a really popular genre, quite a lot of very high profile... In fact, high profile writers in our SPF community are some of those who dominate the charts like yourself in the regional detective mode.
But there's lots of people writing in it as well and not having the same levels of success. So there's something about your books and those of Louise for instance, and who else, I'm trying to think. Oh, JD Kirk, of course, was at the-
Jason Dalgliesh: Kirk, yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jason Dalgliesh: Dave Gatward, Simon McCleave, Alex Smith.
James Blatch: Yes.
Jason Dalgliesh: We're all over, yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. But I say it can't be as easy as that, otherwise everybody would be doing it. So let's get under the skin a little bit.
So tell us, when you started writing, those early days, you chose this particular genre right from the beginning, and what tropes were you looking at to include?
Jason Dalgliesh: Initially, when I first started writing, yes, I wanted to go with crime fiction, detective fiction, and I went for the Scandinavian Noir because that's what I was reading. And I really enjoyed it. And I thought, Well, if I'm going to write something, write something. You enjoy, yeah?"
James Blatch: The Stieg Larsson era books?
Jason Dalgliesh: Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell-
James Blatch: What a day, yeah.
Jason Dalgliesh: ... books and I mean, there are a whole host of them.
So they're quite gritty. You don't necessarily get an uplifting view of the human race by the end of the book. You enjoy the book, but you get to the end and think, yeah, well I was a bit depressing, but I really enjoyed it."
So I pitched the Yorkshire books, which is where I was writing when I first started, very much were noir. So very dark, complex, plotting and, yeah, you get a bittersweet ending. And that's, I think, the main trope I say with noir, it has to be quite gritty, it has to be edgy, but believable at the same time. And then when you get to the end, you get a twist, which every crime book worth its soul has to have and you close it off like that. So you get to the end and you think, "Well, yeah, maybe the good guys win but there's always a cost" or something.
So that's why I pitched the first series out. So I wrote six books in those that Yorkshire series. And while I was writing probably book four, I thought, "There's a market for this" and it's a huge market and I was selling quite a lot of books. And I thought, "Well, I want to broaden what I'm writing."
And so I had to do that thing that I think a lot of indies do, which we do with a series that's successful, we think, "Do we branch off in that world with a character we've already got and try and take the readers with us or do we write something completely different?" And I agonised over that for months. And in the end I thought, "No, I'll write something different."
So still police procedural, still crime detective, but not so noir, not so dark maybe. I mean, I said to my editor, "I'm going to write something a bit more cosy." And she read the first one, she said, "This isn't cosy. I don't know what you think cosy looks like, but it's nothing like that." And I was like, "Okay, fine." It wasn't as-
James Blatch: You're too hardened.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, it wasn't as dark. So I made it more character-driven. Still complex, plotting all the things that maybe my name was getting known for, but just try to widen it and make it more character-driven, more character-based. And that was the Norfolk books, which well, they just blew the Yorkshire ones out the water. And it was like, "Okay, that works." So I went with that.
James Blatch: Yeah. So we should say you live in Norfolk, in North Norfolk. Lovely part of the world actually is where we take the dogs to the beaches up there. I'm probably about 35 miles, but an hour's drive from you because that's also Norfolk.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, I was going to say that's Norfolk, really. Yeah, I don't have motorways here.
James Blatch: No, no, no motorway. Okay.
Well, so first I do think that's interesting, the gritty, downbeat nature of those crime books because it's a relatively modern thing, I think. If you look back at crime, I mean, obviously Agatha Christie is the typical cosy mystery writer, but probably back in the 20s when she was first starting, her 20s, I think?
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah.
James Blatch: Her first writing, that probably counted as fairly violent reading about deaths and murders. But even when detectives got into their swing of things a bit later on, there were, I mean, I'm thinking probably the Morse era type thing, they were still likeable and something wholesome about the main characters and there usually was something satisfying and uplifting in there.
And then the Scandi stuff came along. Did it come out of nowhere where it had this dire feel to it and there wasn't really a winner at the end of it?
Jason Dalgliesh: I would say so. I mean, I wouldn't perceive myself an expert on that, but I do think that's how that Scandinavian crime has become a genre of its own and I think that was the reason for it. I think it's permeated through into the Tartan Noir and I think Celtic Noir, which never quite took off in the same way as the Scottish books did.
James Blatch: I guess it has its roots in the old American Noir, doesn't it?
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah.
James Blatch: Which probably was the Raymond Chandler stuff, which he was glass half full character anyway, wasn't he? Yeah. But grittier and I love the Stieg Larsson books. Well, and I have to say cheated with Wallander because I only ever watched the TV series. I haven't read the book. They're supposed to be brilliant. But I love the Stieg Larsson books, particularly book one. And yes, but you are right, it is a particular thing people are reading and expecting.
So you moved away from it a little bit. Now, how did you change that tone? I mean, you attempted to change the tone, you were told you hadn't been successful. But is it a tonal change from Yorkshire to Norfolk?
Jason Dalgliesh: I would say assay because it might be more the style of writing that I used. In the Yorkshire books, it was all very much from the lead protagonist's view, it was his viewpoint. So every book was written from his viewpoint. You were never inside anybody else's head. So if he didn't see it, hear it, have it told him or think it himself, then it didn't happen in the books. Which I don't know whether... No, I didn't think about that when I first wrote the book and trust me, when you get to book five, it becomes quite tricky to really keep everything in one person's mind and keep the books fresh and entertaining.
So when I went to the Norfolk books, although I kept the complex plotting, I thought, "I'm going to introduce more characters" so you can have different characters, different viewpoints so maybe each chapter then is from a different viewpoint and then that each character takes on has their own personality traits and their own thought patterns. And so maybe that will change up how the book is read, how it comes across. So that's what it came about being more character-led.
So the same complex plot and that's very much similar in the Norfolk and Yorkshire books. They all have convoluted plots, which hopefully, I keep the reader guessing more or less till the end. It's quite hard when you start picking off suspects throughout the book because you can't have too many suspects, but throw enough red herrings in as you go along, which is the way I did it in both series.
But I think just that it is so character-led, it becomes slightly different and you get to know more about those individual characters and their lives and what happens to them. But you have to make sure you don't go too far that way to the detriment of the plot. So it's a real balancing act and I think I've pulled it off with the Norfolk-
James Blatch: Wow. The results seem to suggest that, don't they? It must be a lot of balancing acts I think in writing a mystery where you're talking about how much you reveal, how much you conceal and the red herrings, you don't want them to be too signposted and the reader thing, "Oh, this is obviously not him because it looks like it's him" type thing.
But at the same time, I suppose there's a sweet spot in that you want... I think, what's his name, the DaVinci Code guy, Dan Brown does this very well. There's a sweet spot in writing so that your reader is up and probably just ahead of the story because that's satisfying for a reader to get to the end and thought, "I did work this out." I think it's probably the sweet spot rather than it being a complete, "Oh my God, I never thought it was going to be them."
Jason Dalgliesh: Absolutely. I think if you don't drop enough in there for someone to figure it out, when you get to the end and you say, "Ah, here's this character you've never heard of before who's never been mentioned and it was him." I think you feel a bit cheated as a reader because you think, "Well, how am I ever going to figure that one out? That's terrible."
So you have to give some. And it is like you said, the balancing act. You can't give too much away. Some people will get it quite early on. But what I try and do is even if I did not choreograph it, that it is that person...
I wrote a book a couple of books ago and a lot of people guessed who it was, but when they came to me and said, "I knew it was him, I'd guessed that from about halfway through the book." I said, "But did you know why?" And I said, "Oh no, I didn't get that till the end." And "I thought, There you go."
James Blatch: Yeah, yeah.
Jason Dalgliesh: So there's two ways of looking at it, you can choreograph it a little bit but the motivation is another thing.
James Blatch: Yeah. And your Norfolk books are set in a fictional town or a real town or...
Jason Dalgliesh: No, they are set very much in the area. I don't have a fictional town.
What I did do, because I couldn't settle on where the town was going to be, which one I do... Because in the North Norfolk coast, which is where the books are written, they are quite small towns and they all have their own police stations. They all have their own small CID units, or the bigger towns will anyway.
But I didn't want the team to be restricted to one small town of about 5,000 people where everyone's dying every week. So I wanted them to be able to cover the whole of the North coast and come inland. So I didn't really announce where the team was based. Because you write historical fiction, so I'm sure you'll get emails from someone saying, "Oh, I think Mr. Blatch, that car that you mentioned, that wasn't in production until 1964."
James Blatch: "If I may..." Yeah.
Jason Dalgliesh: And I didn't want to get that happening. So I was very vague about where they were based so they could be based anywhere. I have settled on Hunt Stanton in the last couple of books and said, "Okay, that's where the space is." But I'm still having them go everywhere. And I will get some emails from people saying, "Well, I think that would've been covered by Sheringham."
James Blatch: Yeah.
James Blatch: But police constabularies, as we used to call them, they are organised in counties in the UK so I think that's feasible that somebody, they'll cover that area, and people do like to tell you.
I mean, I get conflicting emails. I'll get two emails from people who both served in the Air Force, so you both think would know, telling you exactly the opposite thing of each other. So you have to realise that people's own experience might not... One person may have done something one way and those people around them and someone else in another unit in the same organisation did it differently.
So at some point we're writers as well. I always put something in the back of my book saying, "Any mistakes is I've made up as fiction."
Jason Dalgliesh: It's fiction.
James Blatch: Yeah. I always quote James Cameron who gives the greatest answer ever on this subject. When people said to him and they always ask him press conferences, fans ask him, "Surely there was space for Jack on that bit of wood floating in the Titanic."
Jason Dalgliesh: Titanic, yeah.
James Blatch: And he said, "The reason Jack couldn't fit on that bit of wood is because in the script it said he drowned."
Jason Dalgliesh: Right.
James Blatch: And I think that's the perfect answer. You have to understand you're reading a story here.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, it's not real.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's not real. Yeah.
Jason Dalgliesh: Although I do have readers contact me asking me what happens to dogs that I mentioned by passing.
James Blatch: Oh, yes.
Jason Dalgliesh: I think, "Well, what happened to the dogs? Did you look after them?" I'm thinking, "That was just to throw away one section, not even important."
James Blatch: You can never kill a dog.
Jason Dalgliesh: No. You got to tell them what happens with the dog. I've learned that once.
James Blatch: North Norfolk's dog's paradise.
Jason Dalgliesh: It is.
James Blatch: We've got Golden Retriever and our Labrador. We fit right in when we go to North Norfolk. And the beaches are very dog-friendly there as well.
So yeah, by the way, if you don't know where we're talking about most people listening in America, in East Anglia, the Bulging East Anglia, where the old Angles come from, we are the original fighters, aren't we? We fought the Romans. The north and hump of that on the eastern side of the country is beautiful. I mean, they are stunning sets of beaches. And if I can remember to send John Stone across, I'll send him some of our photographs so he can put them on this podcast.
You can have a look right now at what those beaches. And that's just a stone's throw from your house, isn't it? Because you are-
Jason Dalgliesh: It is very much five minutes in the car and I can be on 10 miles of golden beach. It's fantastic.
James Blatch: And I mean, that's one way of doing it. And I think LJ Ross, Louise, has done the same thing. She's chosen a nice part of the world, Northumberland part of the world she knows well, it's beautiful, people like being there. So that becomes a character in the book, classically. And I think JD Kirk's done the same thing in Scotland. But actually Mel Schertz has chosen a more grimy town to write in.
It's important that the place is a character. But what seems to be working well at the moment is that it's a nice character, the Lake District or something, that seems to be working really well.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, I think that's true. You're right, the environment and the area where the characters exist does become a character in its own. Because from my point of view, I mean, even the Yorkshire books are the same because you have the wild, the moorlands and the coast as well in Yorkshire, it's a massive area.
And in Norfolk, obviously you've got sparsely populated towns, lots of agriculture, so open fields and so you've got big skies. And then you're on North Sea coast as well, so you get an awful lot of changeable weather. And I think JD Kirk would say the same in Scotland, the weather's very changeable up there. So it's very, very changeable, it could change three times in a day. And it does become a character itself and you're right, I think.
I don't know whether it's that readers like to picture themselves or reading a story in areas they've been to, because Norfolk is a very big holiday destination, so is Yorkshire, Scotland is, the Late District, obviously. So a lot of people travel there. Or maybe if you haven't been or if you live in a city, you quite like hearing about wide open expanses of beach. And I don't really know, but it does seem to work.
But then I think there was a time when crime books, in particular, were really set in London, big cities, big grimy... And I don't know, maybe if you live in a big metropolis, you quite like the idea of being somewhere else. And until you go there and then you've got to a half-hour round trip to get to a supermarket but that's a negative.
James Blatch: Well, the setting seems to work. It says now let's talk about writing, is always fascinated by the writing process. In terms of the stories, do you scan newspapers? Do you pay attention to the news to real life murders? Or have you got a stack of ideas in your head at any one time?
Jason Dalgliesh: I have a stack of ideas in my head that come about. I mean, sometimes I'll hear a news story and I'll think, "Well that would be quite good." But I think these days everyone listens to news stories, certainly.
There was one recently you will have heard about it, it was all over social media, in New Zealand about an auction house where a load of suitcases were sold by auction. And when the people bought it, they got home, they opened it up, and they were found they were human remains in the bag. I thought, "Well, that's great, I'll do that in a story." But then I saw other authors popping up and saying, "Oh, that's the start of a new book." I thought in about 18 months time they're going to be a dozen books hit the shops, all with the same backstory. So I thought, "Okay..."
So I don't tend now to look at news events. I tend to just imagine them myself, which is slightly disturbing for my wife and friends because they do think where on earth I get these ideas from. But quite often they just come into your head.
I mean, the books by their nature are quite formulaic, so you've got your set of characters and you've got to introduce new characters who are going to be the suspects and you have to find a body somewhere. And then it's about exploring the backstory to how that person ended up where they were. So I don't think you need to spend too much time trying to be really imaginative or really creative as to where the body was found or... I mean, it helps a little bit and some of that might be tied in with the plot.
But as long as you've got a dead body and a case to investigate and they've got a backstory and they're an interesting character in their own right even though they're already dead in the book. But you're on picking their life and introducing all the people that they used to know to find out how they died. So I think that's more important maybe than trying to come up with something that no one's ever done before. Because trust me, everything's been done, at least once.
James Blatch: This is such a great theme isn't it? That people always try and reinvent the wheel or try to do something different. And we learn from readers that actually what they like is their old pair of slippers that they put on, that's why they buy the books in big numbers and so delivering that.
And these suspects... Mentioned red herrings earlier, which is an important part of any of these detectives, some of the funner bits, trying to work out who's done it and you're going to be misdirected a little bit. And I think there's a skill there. And I think I quoted this on a previous podcast episode. We're watching Mare of Easttown, a Netflix or Apple, I can't remember which platform it was on, but quite a good series. I think with the Titanic connection wasn't she? No, it wasn't... Was it her? I can't remember who was in it. It was her, wasn't it? Care...
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, sure. Yeah, yeah.
James Blatch: What's her name, her?
Jason Dalgliesh: I think so. Someone is going to let us know if we're wrong.
James Blatch: Yes, yeah, yeah. No I think it was her.
But there was a red herring, one of the many, you'd expect it in that. It was a whodunit, basically. And I think it was her ex-husband who was a teacher and had given money to the victim in the past, a schoolgirl, to help her out. And she was quite an attractive young school girl. So it was obviously very suspicious. But there was no plausible reason why he continued to lie about it. When it was finally uncovered in one of the later episodes, and Jill and I talked about it, just thought, "Well, it's got to be the perfect red herring, is somebody who has a really strong reason for not giving up the information, the connection they have with the dead person." And then you think, "Ah, okay, so you thought you would be arrested or your marriage would fall apart or something like that?" And so you have to work at that and I think we get quite a lot of these stories now that readers and viewers like me are becoming slightly more savvy to that misdirection. I imagine that's quite a hard part of your story crafting.
Jason Dalgliesh: I mean, I don't find it that difficult, but I think that's because my stories, I try and approach them, make them really plausible. All the characters have to be plausible. So suspects have to be plausible, they have to have the right motivation and like you say, they have to have a reason to keep quiet if they're not saying something or giving something up voluntarily.
And what I would do is often there'd be maybe an example they would be keeping their mouth shut because if they said that, then there's something else that would come out and that's what they're trying to hide. So it's not that they're trying to hide that they could have killed this person, they're trying to hide something else in their life which would be exposed if they point out. Which sounds a bit complicated but it's not that difficult to do.
James Blatch: No, no.
Jason Dalgliesh: And if the character's plausible and their motivation is plausible, then it comes across as to the reader as you won't do what you did there where you said, "Well, gosh, that wouldn't happen in real life."
So with a bit of artistic licence, I try to make sure that what happens in my books would happen in real life. And I think that's what's relatable with the readership is because I think... I don't know exactly why my books are successful, but for me it would be because you could read it and every character you think, "I know someone like that" or "I've met someone who's been like that" or not that they've killed someone, but everything that happens is a plausible scenario and with people that you can identify people or work with or you've met. And if you can do that, then I think you've not got it made but you're most of the way there because someone can read it and they won't think this is too fanciful, this is too outlandish. But at the same time, you don't want it to be boring because it's a distraction from people's lives. So there is a balance. I don't think I find it too hard, haven't done yet anyway
James Blatch: No, that's because you're obviously good at it, Jason.
Jason Dalgliesh: Well, perhaps.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's beautiful.
Jason Dalgliesh: I'll let you say that, James, that's what I think.
James Blatch: Must be what it is.
Yeah, I mean I think back to my BBC reporter days when I used to do quite a lot of crime cases. I mean, I've sat in many court cases usually just for judgement day because the day we used to cover. But colleagues from local radio would be there for the two weeks of a murder trial and you get all sorts. But what struck me most of the time in those cases was how stupid a lot of the people who committed these crimes were. And the only difficulty the police face is in a court environment, the defence lawyers can make really what looked blindingly obvious to everyone suddenly sounds suddenly murky the waters a little bit. So I think the court cases are quite interesting.
Do you get into the court cases very often or are you all about solving it?
Jason Dalgliesh: No, I'm all about the investigation.
James Blatch: Is that a different genre, court stuff?
Jason Dalgliesh: I'm all about the investigation and I think possibly one thing that anyone could throw at me is at the end when they work out who it is, quite often the person will confess but maybe they're forced into a confession, they realise there's no point in denying it. So then you find out the motivation of exactly what happened and why, which maybe in real life most killers will keep the mouth shut until they're convicted. Even after they're convicted they'll still attest their innocence. But I think that's part the reality when you're writing these books, you have to have... Or a TV series or whatever. How many times have we seen on television where they sit the guy down and within 10 minutes they've given him the evidence and they hold their hands up and say, "Oh, yeah, okay it was me." That wouldn't happen in real life.
James Blatch: Because in real life they're doing no common interview, don't they? And throw their cards up in the air for the jury. But yes, every Scooby-Doo episode, every Agatha Christie, there's usually this confrontation at the end of the episode, isn't there? And-
Jason Dalgliesh: You have to an end, you have to be able to do that. So I don't get into the court case. I think if you were doing that, if you really wanted to focus on the court case, then I would say write a crime drama that's based in a courtroom and make that the book because you can get plenty and there's a whole book in there, easily on a court.
James Blatch: Yeah, different genres. Which brings me onto the authenticity side of things because courtroom dramas must have to be quite slavish to procedure and it's very annoying for anybody who knows even anything about how courts will operate to see them misportrayed. But you are writing police procedural. How do you keep up to date with police techniques and so on, procedures.
Jason Dalgliesh: I think that there's a bit of a hot debate on this within crime writers as to how authentic you have to be. I was on a panel just a few weeks ago with some other crime writers who were also quite successful. And the main guy there was an ex-DCI, he worked many murder cases. I think he had been on the Yorkshire Ripper case back in the 90s, I think. And he was very adamant you had to be absolutely bang on with your procedure and a hundred percent accurate, and some people write like that. And then there are others who are a bit more like me are a little bit more flexible and we will bend it a little bit. And my murder cases will usually take place over a week maybe and by the end of the week they've worked it out. Whereas real life, most murder investigations might take two or three years and they'll be working three or four different cases at the same time while they're doing that, and that-
James Blatch: And it takes three months to get stuff back from the lab. Presumably in your book it comes back fairly quickly.
Jason Dalgliesh: Oh, I think minimum six weeks and that was pre- all these austerity cuts. So I have no idea how long it takes now, but they'll probably lose it in the post as well.
So I think some people are more procedurally-based than I am. I mean, my father was a policeman so I grew up around policeman. He wasn't a detective but I did know a lot of policemen so I have an idea about how the police worked anyway. Granted this is going back 30 years. I mean, things have probably changed quite a lot.
But I do have a lot of serving and former police officers who read my books and drop me emails and something I speak to on a fairly regular basis and they love my books and they think it's great, because they know the difference between fiction and reality.
And you can have a book that is totally a hundred percent procedurally correct and that's fine. Personally, I choose not to do that because I'm more interested in telling a story rather than reenacting what the police do in real life. So I do stick to some of it, like the forensics, I'll do quite a bit of research from forensics. I won't just make up something that they could figure out. I will stick to real science and that's just a lot of internet research.
And now I have quite a large readership and I can go to people who are forensic pathologists and say, "Is this...?" And they'll say, "Yeah, you can get away with that" or maybe not and I will change it. Now I'm not saying everything's a hundred percent perfect, but I try to, again, keep it realistic.
So I don't get hung up too much on procedure because I just think it would make it quite dull. I'm about the pace of the storytelling. I want people to sit down for an afternoon or a couple of evenings or however long it takes them to read my book and just be entertained but keep it realistic. So I don't get too obsessed about that. And I don't get that many emails saying, "That's ridiculous." So I must be doing that okay.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I think that's right cause actually even if you watch a true crime, there's quite a good series in the UK, in fact, most of them are set around here and Cambridge Police Force... Excuse me, I can't remember it's called now. It might be 24 Hours in Police Custody, something like that?
Jason Dalgliesh: Yes, yes, yeah.
James Blatch: One of these reality series. But I often think about that is that they're heavily edited. So they'll show a murder investigation from beginning to end, but obviously they're not going to show you 24 hours a day. So they show you in an hour what happened over three months or four months and it can be really interesting.
But that's the same thing you are doing for people who are critical about, "Oh, it takes longer than that." So even watching it factually, it's impossible unless you want to stand around in a police station for three months to understand, or who would be interested in that length of time? So you are doing the same thing, aren't you?
Jason Dalgliesh: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. You have to remember what we're all trying to do is entertain. Well, certainly when you write fiction, I think you're all trying to entertain people and if you're doing that you just can't keep it total realism because it would just be really, really boring. I know my dad, he found his job very, very dull.
James Blatch: Yeah, a lot of police work is though, isn't it? I mean, that's the thing.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yes, it is.
James Blatch: And I think my thing with historical fiction is particularly with aviation, which is quite geeky, is basically to know when I'm departing. So in fact, I have things I've been watching on YouTube. This is the Venom Mark 4 pilots' notes, which is useful for their checks that they sit in the cockpit and run through some checks. And I get that exactly right because I've got the old... But for other stuff, where he lands on a dirt strip, they just simply wouldn't countenance of landing on. But for the story, I need it. At least I know I've made that up, it's not realistic. If someone writes me afterwards and I said, "Well, I said, well that's part of the story," that's the old James Cameron answer, "But I did get that checklist right, if that makes you feel better."
So I think being caught out by something you genuinely thought was authentic and actually wasn't, that is something which has happened to me and probably has happened to you. That's something probably to learn from and avoid, I would say.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, you will make some mistakes and you will have someone point it out.
James Blatch: Gleefully.
Jason Dalgliesh: But then, like what you said earlier, sometimes we've got an interpretation or they remember something a bit differently. Being in Norfolk, I've driven route, so I took a route and I drove it to make sure I've got it authentically at that time of day so I knew how long it would take, more or less, sometimes that would be different. And I did, I got an email from someone on that street route saying, "You can't do that in that time." And I thought, "Well, do I go back to someone and say, 'Actually, I did do it?'"
James Blatch: You should definitely do it.
Jason Dalgliesh: Or do I just say, "Well,-
James Blatch: Give them GPS track.
Jason Dalgliesh: "Yeah, thanks very much for your feedback" for the one one-star review. So that's what you do.
James Blatch: That is annoying, isn't it? But I'd love you to have been pulled over by the police on that journey and then to explain that you were just casing out a murder, a body dump.
Jason Dalgliesh: What a warning, yeah.
James Blatch: A journey to a deposition site, as one of those expressions I learnt when I was a BBC reporter, deposition sites. Words you don't hear unless you're a crime writer, crime reader or a BBC reporter. Okay.
Let's talk a little bit about the practical writing process. We're actually recording this interview on the 1st of November and it is NaNoWriMo. I'm actually doing it this month because I'm trying to get my third book done and I'm ahead, I'm 45 words ahead of the game.
Jason Dalgliesh: Fantastic.
James Blatch: That's not even 3:00.
So what is your writing routine, Jason? I can see since I interviewed you, and by the way, you had a broken arm last time I was at your house, that's fixed. And you are out of the house and in the shed in the garden as I-
Jason Dalgliesh: I am in the shed. Yes, I am out of the house in the shed now. But it is a warm shed. I think I went out into the shed after you visited and I was in there over a warm winter with no insulation and just an electric heater and with gloves and a woolly coat on. I thought, "No, I'm not doing that." And come lockdown, I thought, "I'll insulate that and I'll do it up and it'll be great." And I finished it about two weeks ago, hence no furniture in the background. So I've only just come out here, so I'm not quite settled in yet, but I'm writing.
What I do is I try and write every day. When I've got a book on, I will write every day and I will aim for, well, minimum 2,000 words. And when I'm in full flow, anything between 2,000 and 5,000 words, now that does vary and it depends. I still do everything I used to do with school runs and drop the kids off in the morning. So I'll take them to school and I'll come back and hit the keyboard. And yeah, I'll be there all day until I go and do the school run again.
When I'm really into a book, I'm quite obsessive so it will be pretty much every day until I get that book written. And I aim for four books a year, which it is doable. It's about three months per book, including editing and rewrites and that type of thing. So I'm not doing 2,000 to 2,000 to 5,000 words every day of the week. It just wouldn't be possible, I don't think. Some people maybe, but not me.
But yeah, it's quite full on to do four books a year. For me, that's quite full on. Whether I'll do that every year, I don't know, but I've certainly done it since 2018 and I'll do it again this year. And I've got plans for next year as well because I've got another series I'm planning for next year right on top of what I'm already doing. So yeah, I'm pretty full on. But yeah, if I hit 2,000 words a day, I'm happy. If I don't, I'm not.
James Blatch: Yeah, yeah. Well that's two-thirds of a book a month, isn't it? Which is about right for where you need to be. And obviously there's a certain amount of plotting that goes into your book. Is that done, you write that stuff down, mostly just plot it in your head before you start writing or...
Jason Dalgliesh: No, what I do is I'll know how the book starts and I'll know how it ends. And what I'll do is I'll sit down and I'll do a... I'll know the story and it will just be bullet points, what happens in the story. And I will do a chapter plan, but each chapter might be paragraph, it might be a sentence, but I know in that chapter. And it is flexible, I'll move it around. But I'll know the beginning, I'll know the end, and I'll have a rough chapter plan for around 30 chapters. And it might increase or decrease, I'll move things around as I go. But I know roughly what I'm going to do and then from then it's just straight out my head onto the page.
James Blatch: And do you write in Scrivener or Word?
Jason Dalgliesh: I do write in Scrivener. I used to write in Word and everyone talked about Scrivener, I thought, "No, no, I'm just keep doing what I do." And anyone who's written 90,000 words in a Word document, it gets really laborious by the end and it crashes and oh, it's a disaster. So I eventually... Because I'm quite a slave to my routine, so to change from Word. I mean, even to change from typing to when I had the broken shoulder when we spoke, I was using dictation software then and I wrote three books I think that year with dictation software. Because it was a 12-month period when I couldn't type very well or used my arm very much, so I used dictation software. I've never used it since because I'd had enough of that.
James Blatch: Really, that's interesting.
Jason Dalgliesh: I think it's tied in with that I couldn't type. It worked for me because I had, I had to work, so it did work. But after that I've never used it since. But then I did go to Scrivener and I find Scrivener really useful. For those who don't, you can lay out your plan and you can drag it around the page and change things very, very quickly. And it's really fast and easy. I haven't got any shares in Scrivener or I don't get any affiliate links or anything. But if you do get used to it, it's really useful. I like it.
James Blatch: Oh, I love Scrivener for that. I was the same as you. I mean, everyone writes in Word because you don't know anything else exists when you first start writing until you get into all the community.
I think my first novel though, which eventually became 196,000 words, but it certainly got well over 130, 140 in Word and you'd sit there for one minute waiting for it to load when you first open it and then it became completely unwieldy to do anything. And I don't know people, but people do. Some people still have that. Maybe the people write 60, 70,000 word romance books and they're neatly formulaic so they know... I don't mean that negatively, formulaic, I never mean that negatively. But they know where the beats are back in the manuscript, it might be a bit easier. But anyway, yeah. And then your editing process, Jason, you have the same editor for the books or...
Jason Dalgliesh: I have the same editor. She's a freelance editor. She's great. I mean, she's a writer in her own right. And I will deliver her quite a clean manuscript. It's not too much for doing. And she goes through it, she looks at pacing and plotting, not so much on punctuation and grammar and that type of thing because I have a whole team of beta readers and proofreaders to do that.
So I finish the book, I send it off to my editor, she looks at it for pace and tension and maybe comes back with some suggestions and then I do a rewrite. Then it goes off to my beta team and proofing team. And it passes to about a dozen hands really before it then goes out to my ARC team for price publication. So probably 12, 13 people go through my book before it actually goes out to the ARC team and is published. And even then, some of the ARC readers come back with, "Well you missed this or you missed that." And I think, " Great." So there's always going to be something.
But yeah, it is pretty polished now .the people I have, they're great. I do rely on them. Many of them have just come by way of being fans that have got in touch and pointed out errors and I think, "Well, that's a pretty good eye for detail there. Do you want to carry on reading my books?" And some of them have said, "Yes" and some have come and gone over there over the time.
But I have a core group who are fantastic. And the way technology is these days, they're in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, all over the place. And they're really helpful and very enthusiastic. And I think if they're really enthusiastic about your work, they'd really want it to be good and they want to pay attention. So I'm really indebted to those people.
But it is quite a simple process. I do it the same every time. No one is, they have to do it and they have to do it by a certain time. I give them plenty of flexibility and if they're busy with the lives, they don't do it. So some maybe drop out for one particular book because they're busy or what have you. But yeah, they're really great bunch and they really helped me deliver a book that's fit for purpose.
James Blatch: Great, brilliant team.
And in terms of marketing, Jason, first of all, are most of your sales in the UK or do you do well in the US and other countries?
Jason Dalgliesh: I do... Yeah. My biggest market is the UK. That's not surprising, it's UK regional crime fiction. I'm about 65%... I might get my master on here. I'm about 65% UK, 20-22% US. So it's significant in the US and it used to be bigger. But I've started the translation process. So I think the Norfolk books, the first 10 Norfolk books are now out in Germany. And that is now worth probably about 16% of my overall revenue, just on those 10 books, no audio books, just purely Amazon-based. And that's-
James Blatch: Translated into German?
Jason Dalgliesh: Translated to German, yep. So that's a slightly different process. I use a translation company and they have two editors, two linguists, who one translates it and the other one proofs it. But how it works in reality is that the two of them translate it together and iron it out as they go along rather than go from one to the other. So that's gone really well. I mean, fantastically well, that's growing. I think the revenue there went from 3% I think in Germany to now 16% plus, which is just incredible and so they're doing really well there as well.
And then Canada and Australia. But I'm surprised, really, because Canada and Australia, I don't do any advertising for it all. So it's just organic for people finding my books or being on my mailing list or whatever. I only advertise really in the USA, UK, and Germany.
James Blatch: The expense of translation is prohibitive I think to quite a lot of people and obviously you're doing well enough that you can fund it, but you've paid off those initial costs now? I mean, how much do you think you paid 7,000 pounds on a book or...
Jason Dalgliesh: I pay more than that. I mean, I do use, I think it would be described as a premium service, I don't know. But you can pay around 7,000 pounds and that would've got me... When I was exploring it, around 7,000 pounds would've got me one linguist or one editor if you like, who did the translation. So I pay extra to have the two and then they pick each other up on things and I just think you get a cleaner manuscript. Because I don't speak German, I can maybe fly in and order coffee and food and that type of thing, but I certainly can't pick up any errors in a book. So because I can't do that, I have German friends, but obviously they've got better things to do than reading all my books and proofreading them for me. So I pay the extra for it. So for me, it's about 10,000 pounds. I think it's 10 to 12,000 pounds. But it's a series, so I get a series discount. Yeah, so it's-
James Blatch: But still the best-
Jason Dalgliesh: It's a lot of money. It is a lot of money and it does take a long time to pay back. And I didn't start with the translations until I was already very well-established. Primarily for that reason because it was still a gamble. I have no idea how popular English regional crime will be in a German market or Germany, Austria, and German-speaking countries. So it was a bit of a gamble and it is expensive gamble. But like you say, I was established, I could take a punt and see what happened. And for me, it's worked. So yeah, I think it's great.
James Blatch: Yeah. And in terms of the copy for adverts, you said you run adverts in Germany?
Jason Dalgliesh: I do, only-
James Blatch: You get back... Go on.
Jason Dalgliesh: In Germany, I only run Amazon ads.
James Blatch: Okay, so you don't need copy? Yeah.
Jason Dalgliesh: Of course, there isn't any copy to use. I did run a few Facebook campaigns. I employed some freelance marketers in Germany to run some Facebook ad campaigns, which worked well. But I did fall foul of the Facebook algorithm over there, which put me off doing it again. It was a nightmare, I won't go into detail. I think you can run ads obviously on Facebook in Germany and it's fine. And there was nothing particularly untoward I thought in my... But I think many of us indies are falling foul of Facebook's algorithm on trailer ads. So yeah, I just thought right from there I'll just stick with Amazon, whereas I use Facebook in the US and UK as well.
James Blatch: Yeah. So in terms of your split... Actually, first of all, your income split, if you don't mind me, you can as much or little as information as you want, but I'm always interested in split between audio, which we haven't mentioned yet, audio, paperback and Kindle. Do you roughly know? Are you in KU?
Jason Dalgliesh: I'm in KU, yeah. All my books are in KU. It runs about 55% just ebook sales. Kindle is 40. And then audio and paperback split between. And maybe KU is a little bit less than that now and audio and paperback is more, but they're significantly less.
Although, like you said, I do have paperbacks in shops now, not as many as I'd like. Partly I think that's prohibitive because it's all still print on demand. I'm looking into doing print runs and getting them into distribution centres, which will make them more affordable. Because obviously, print on demand is quite expensive per copy and for shops to sell them to make a profit fair enough. It's not great for them.
So the shops I am in, fantastic, thank you very much. And some of the local independent book shops are very keen to have my books in. Certainly local ones here, I always organise for them and I give them signed copies and that type of thing just to... I don't know how much they sell them for or how much money they make, but they seem quite pleased with me doing that. But that's just an extra thing I do. I wouldn't put stock in that and saying that's that's going to be the difference between success and a flop. It's just something I like to do.
James Blatch: In the past... So the vast majority of yourselves are the electronic version either through KU or ebook?
Jason Dalgliesh: Yes, absolutely.
James Blatch: Yeah, which you'd expect, I suppose. And in terms of your marketing, so you say you do Facebook ads and Amazon ads in the US and the UK, probably your two biggest markets. Is that evenly split or you favour one over the other?
Jason Dalgliesh: It tends to go in cycles. For a while I was doing mainly Amazon and I used Facebook for launches of new books. So where I did big campaigns across multiple ad sets, people who know us will know, multiple ad sets and big campaign for a week or two just to really hit the charts as high as you can. And then I'd scale back the Facebook and just leave it on in Amazon and run Amazon ads as a background option for the whole series to keep my profile up.
That's changed now because Facebook, I found it to be a bit more responsive. So we do tend to... I say we because I have guys who do this for me now. I used to do it myself and it was just... You know what it's like but-
James Blatch: Oh, I do.
Jason Dalgliesh: Now I can pass it off to somebody else's headache, they can-
James Blatch: Is that an agency or do you employ virtual assistants or...
Jason Dalgliesh: It's a marketing specialist who does primarily books and then he has a contact who does Facebook. So he looks after the Amazon and the other guy looks after Facebook and together they work it out. And I just have had them on a retainer on a monthly basis just to take care of it. So they know what they're doing, they're data analysts and they crunch numbers much better than I would. With me, it's always lick your finger and hold it in the air and think, "That looks like it will work." Whereas they're more responsive with what they do. So I let them get on with it. But now certainly we do run Facebook ads all the time now, not just around launches but in the background for the series as well, yeah.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Wow. It's been a pretty thorough grilling, Jason. You've stood up well to it. You haven't wilted under my... But I need to know everything obviously when I do these interviews. I'm so happy for you, so pleased for you. And it was really nice coming to see you all those years ago. We should say you broke your arm wrestling an alligator, didn't you?
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah, I was. It was two alligators, actually, a really big one.
James Blatch: Yeah, well done.
Jason Dalgliesh: Yeah. And you wouldn't believe what they looked like afterwards.
James Blatch: No. Yeah, you did well with that. No. Wasn't it football? Was it something like that?
Jason Dalgliesh: It was playing football with my children on a slightly damp, very frozen surface in January of 2019.
James Blatch: Surely the ref should have called that off, that game.
Jason Dalgliesh: Well, you'd you think. But it was right at the beginning of the game. I just running on a straight line and ended up pitching forward and landing awkwardly. I've been skydiving, rode motorbikes, I did all sorts. I've never broke anything and I got into my mid-40s and fellow running in a straight line. Can you believe it?
James Blatch: Welcome to Grownup Land.
No, I'm so happy for you, really excited and it's been brilliant to see you grow and grow and do so well. Look forward to next year's series. We'll have you back on the podcast because there's so much to talk about I think with this. And maybe you'll leave and at some point be able to afford some furniture in your office?
Jason Dalgliesh: Maybe, I hope so. Yeah. I'll be more than happy to come back. I appreciate it.
James Blatch: Thanks, Jason.
Jason Dalgliesh: Thank you having me.
Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There he is, Jason Dalgliesh. Thanks very much to Jason for joining us. And you even saw some pictures of my gorgeous dogs if you're watching on YouTube, on those beautiful beaches. Brancaster Beach is our favourite beach. It's full of Labrador in North Norfolk.
I'm so, so pleased for Jason. He's such a nice guy and success has been... It's been a happy site to see particularly. And I didn't mention it in the interview. I said to him after, "We forgot to talk about the courses." I'm not very commercial. But it is, I promise you, I'm not making this up, he will tell you it's because of the Launchpad course as it's now called that built his platform and enabled him to get to where he is today. He's also a brilliant writer by the way, that's the other thing, of course. But you are as well.
Okay, right. I think that's it from me flying solo. Hopefully, Mark will be back next week. I am literally about to fly. This is my passport in my hand. I'm driving down to the airport straight after this. I'll be in Vegas next week. This will go out I think maybe next Friday while we're still there just, you might be able to say hello if you're around. But otherwise, retrospectively, I hope you said hello to me in Vegas. That's it. All that remains for me is a goodbye from him and a goodbye from me.
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