Wendy Cartmell, author of the Sgt Major Crane thrillers, talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I’ve always written. First of all at work, composing press releases, writing articles for the in house newspaper I edited, writing documents and such. Then when I had my children, I wrote stories for them and when I qualified as a primary school teacher later in life, I wrote stories for use in my classroom. Since taking early retirement due to ill health, I’ve had time on my hands and turned to creative writing. After many false starts, I found my niche in crime writing.
Tell me a little about your books.
They are set in the British Army, inspired by my husband’s 22 years service. They follow the investigations of Sgt Major Crane of the Special Investigations Branch. Steps to Heaven is the first book in the Sgt Major Crane series. Crane is a Special Investigations Branch Detective in the British Army, based at Aldershot Garrison. He is disturbed by the horrific case of a soldier called Solomon who, after recently returning from Afghanistan, murdered his wife and 6 year old son and then committed suicide. It seems Solomon was attending a local Church, which encourages people to join by offering salvation to its members. But as Crane investigates and the body count rises, events take a darker turn and he wonders what the Church is offering – salvation, or slaughter?
40 Days 40 Nights is the second Sgt Major Crane book. Accidents, thefts, murders, terrorist plots….they all plague Sgt Major Crane who is not happy with his babysitting job of looking after Team GB as they prepare for the Olympic Games and Paralympics on Aldershot Garrison. He likens it to 40 Days and 40 Nights in a personal wilderness before he can get back to his real job of investigating; but it turns into 40 Days and 40 Nights of chaos. Aldershot is besieged by elderly Gurkhas, Crane’s pregnant wife has health problems and the Intelligence Corp keep sticking their oar in. Will Crane be able to keep the athletes safe or will the terrorists win?
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Many of the British crime writers including Ian Rankin and Peter James. I have read all the Stephen King novels and am also a fan of Jodi Picuolt and Lee Child, so quite a wide variety of authors. But they all have one thing in common, they’re great storytellers.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
I firstly write a complete story arch and then break this into chapters to work out what needs to happen when and why. Once this is in place I then write the first draft. I wish I could write everyday but my energy levels are limited by my illness, so I write when I can.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
I actually tried to get an agent for two years! I had some interest and a couple requested a complete manuscript of Steps to Heaven. However, although it was well received by the agents, I was told that the crime market was very crowded and they would have trouble placing yet another crime series.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
Selling is important, but only in so much as it means books in the hands of readers. To this end I participate in Amazon’s Select programme so I can promote my books by making them free periodically. I measure success by the reviews I get, which luckily have been great so far!
How have you marketed your book(s)? Have you used social media (Twitter, Facebook etc)? Have you paid for any advertising (Facebook Ads, Google Ads etc)? And how did it go?
I use Facebook and have set up an author group which now has over 500 members. I am also on twitter and have over 2,000 followers. I have met some really lovely people this way, authors that support each other and help cross promote. After all authors are readers too. I have not paid for any advertising as I simply do not have the budget for it.
Have you signed up for KDP Select? If you have, how has it gone for you? Do you think free promotions are helping with your paid sales? If you haven’t signed up, why not? Are you worried about the exclusivity clause?
What I really need is books in the hands of readers. Because of this I participate in Amazon’s Select programme so I can promote my books by making them free periodically. I have not had thousands and thousands of downloads that some authors claim but some of the promotions have worked well. I conducted a sort of un scientific experiment and didn’t do any free promotions for my children’s books. As a result I sold zero copies. After doing free promotions on two of them I am now selling them and garnering reviews. I see the Select programme as another marketing tool, without which people would never hear of me. I am not worried about the exclusivity clause as Amazon has been good to me.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
To start with I was on Smashwords as well as Amazon and through Smashwords on Barnes & Nobel, Apple etc. I did not sell any books at all in these outlets! Not one. I think that speaks for itself.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
No. I am happy to be involved with the largest distributor of ebooks. I do understand the argument that authors should be able to market to all outlets and they can if they want to. As an unknown author I feel Amazon is the best marketplace for my books at the moment.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
My third Sgt Major Crane book is outlined and ready for me to start writing. I would also like to write more in the Professor Letters series and perhaps another Wilhelmina the Witch story. So I should be busy! It gets very hot here on the Costa del Sol in the summer, so I am happy to stay indoors where it’s cool or on the shady terrace and write.