Every week we feature a Q&A session with one of our Crime Cymru authors. This week, Graham H Miller gives us a unique insight into the business side of writing.
Give us a brief introduction to you.
I’m Graham H Miller and I’ve been writing literally as long as I can remember. As a teenager (a long time ago now) I played proper, paper and dice, role playing games and had a couple of scenarios published in national magazines. Then at university I graduated from that to writing novels. There was a moment where I realised that I could write a book and that was it – I was off!
What’s your connection to Wales?
My connection to Wales is my lovely wife, Ellie. We met at the University of Kent in Canterbury and then lived in Kent for the next twenty or so years. But I wanted to escape the South East and she wanted to come home so we’ve been here for the last nine years.
Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
I wasn’t particularly good at English at school and actually went to university to study maths and then went into a job as a computer programmer. I think that having a logical, mathematical brain gives me a definite edge to my writing, once I’d persuaded myself that my lack of formal English qualifications didn’t matter!
Do you read other novels while you’re working? If so, what is your preferred genre?
I always read, all the time, whether I’m plotting, writing or editing. I read a lot in my genre, just to see what the market is doing now – what’s popular, what other people are writing. For a break from that, I read a wide range of contemporary women’s fiction (are we allowed to say chick-lit any more?), some historical, some sci-fi and fantasy and occasionally I steal YA books from my boys. I used to be scared that if I read crime novels I’d somehow end up copying ideas or styles. But then I realised that my main asset as a writer was my voice and my imagination. Once I got my confidence, I just read voraciously and wrote in my spare time.
How important is organisation and time management to your writing career?
Since COVID-19 started in March, I’ve found it really hard to get the time to write. In normal times, I’m the house-husband, the boys go to school and Ellie works in London four days a week, so I had a bit of time to myself. Recently, in the last few weeks, I’ve started a new routine and ring-fence one hour each night to write, usually with noise-cancelling headphones on. So far, it’s gone really well as I’ve got back into the story and now I look forward to my daily dose of writing. (I’m actually using one of my slots to write this!)
What did your submission package look like? Synopsis, chapters, letter, bio?
I’m going to go off on a tangent from the usual “business of writing” questions here because I bashed my head against the wall of agents and submission letters and publishers for far too long. If you keep on doing it, eventually you will either get worn down or get signed up. I did sign up with a digital first, smaller press back in 2017 but after one book decided to jump ship for reasons I don’t want to go into here.
Instead, I’ve gone into self-publishing. I’ve stopped seeing it as the option of last resort and instead now view it as a viable way to build a business around my writing. A lot of the things that I’ve had to learn are things that would stand me in good stead if I ever go back to mainstream publishing. I’ve had to establish myself as a brand, get a decent website, start to build a mailing list and learn about advertising and marketing. From what I’ve heard from other authors, there are very few authors who get this done for them by their big-name publishing houses. So, they are skills that every writer ought to master.
The real turning point for me was when I started a course on how to self publish your novel. The big takeaway from it was that your writing should be a business. So, for every book that I release (four so far and counting) I pay for a professional editor and a professional cover designer. I honestly believe that if you picked up one of my books you wouldn’t see any quality difference between it and an offering from one of the big houses, or from one of the smaller presses.
The other big difference is the speed of self publishing. If I get my editor and cover designer lined up, I can comfortably go from finished manuscript to released book in around two months, whereas mainstream authors are lucky for that to happen within six months.
Most writers think getting an agent is the golden key to traditional publication. Would you agree?
I think an agent would be an enormous help in getting a traditional deal, but as I’ve said before, I don’t see this as the be all and end all of getting my book out there in front of readers. I know there are many Crime Cymru authors who’ve got an agent, who have a good deal and are very happy with their career. But I also know other writers who’ve either got disillusioned with all the rejections or have encountered poor sales or a poor relationship with their publisher once they had a deal.
Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people?
I am definitely influenced by the news and by events that have happened in the past. Since I became serious about my writing, I tend to record true crime programs on TV and actually concentrate while watching them. If anything catches my attention then I’ll go off and investigate it. Recently, and I think it does show through in my work, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that there are so many high profile cases where the police got the wrong person. I guess as a writer it feeds into creating characters that are fallible and can make mistakes. I find those are often the most compelling characters as we can relate to them better.
Do you do your research strictly online, or talk to professionals in the field or a mixture of both?
I am lucky to have a couple of friends, one a current police officer and another who’s ex-police who both answer ridiculous questions and are happy to check read anything that needs checking. In addition there are Facebook groups for writers to fact-check their work. For my Angel and Haines series, one of the two main characters is Emma Angel who’s 25. (The other, Rob Haines, is a grumpy man in his 40s so I’m fine writing that.) But for Emma I reached out to my contacts on Facebook and found a really helpful writer who’s female and in her twenties so she check reads every novel. Thankfully, she doesn’t have to suggest many changes.
The other factor in this is that a lot of popular and successful crime fiction, both in print and TV has huge holes in the technical details to make the plot move forwards. So, I make sure, without sounding too pretentious, that my characters have emotional truth, rather than being obsessed about the make and model over every handgun they pick up.
Why did you pick your genre?
I have to confess that I chose my genre quite cold-bloodedly. I read in many genres and experimented with writing in fantasy and sci-fi and cross-genre books. But then I realised that if I wanted to be successful I needed one clear genre so that I could communicate to industry professionals and my readers who I was and what I wrote. So, with my logical, crossword type mind, I plumped on writing crime. I tend more towards traditional whodunnit style books where the reader has to work it out from the clues. I’m not that interested in writing (or reading books) where you know who the killer is at the beginning.
Can you tell us about your work in progress/next book idea?
I’m currently working on two series. The Jonah Greene mysteries are set in South Wales, in and around Cardiff. Jonah is a coroner’s officer – this is a serving police officer whose job is to investigate any suspicious deaths in his area. He helps the coroner and is caught between his police boss and the coroner. It’s great having a character whose entire job is dealing with suspicious deaths and the locations around Cardiff give a lot of scope as well.
The other series is Angel and Haines, which is set in the fictional county of Wootenshire, which is between Bristol and Somerset (you can see Wales from the coast on a clear day). This is part of a project that I’m really excited about – I want to create a fictional world that has an independent reality that other authors can join me in writing stories in other genres.
Read more about Graham H Miller
To discover Graham’s books, follow the link here to his Amazon page
10th July 2020