From self-published to the New York Times Bestseller List — an interview with author Emma Jameson

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emma-jameson
By Marie Frankson

Campus News

When I first went off to college, I didn’t know anyone but I decided to try to meet new people based on my interests. I came across a Facebook group dedicated to various genres of writing, and I got to meet and interact with authors from various walks of life and various levels (amateur, professional, etc.) and various genres. One of those authors I met was Emma Jameson, the author of “The Lord & Lady Hetheridge” trilogy, and she agreed to do an interview for Campus News to talk about her life, her works, and give some advice to college students who are thinking about a career in writing.

Hi Emma. Can you share with the readers a little about yourself?
I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, but currently reside in Tennessee. I love living in the south, mostly because I dislike harsh winters, and gardening in a temperate zone is easier. However, I often fantasize about living in London. I’d definitely settle for a vacation home there!

In my non-writing life, I’ve had several day jobs, but what shaped me most was working in the Department of Ophthalmology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I assisted the surgeons and cared for eye patients, which was tremendously rewarding.

What can you share with everyone about your books, without divulging too much information?
The Lord & Lady Hetheridge mystery series is set in present-day London. The lead is a baron (that’s the lowest rung of England’s aristocratic class) named Lord Anthony Hetheridge. A lifelong bachelor at fifty-nine, he’s a chief superintendent for Scotland Yard who has been married to his work a very long time. In book one, “Ice Blue,” he meets Kate Wakefield, a beautiful young detective who clawed her way up from penury in London’s East End. Kate is smart, willful, and almost half his age. Along with Detective Sergeant Deepal “Paul” Bhar, Hetheridge and Kate solve a case and become much more to each other than just copper and guv. “Ice Blue” is followed by book two, “Blue Murder,” and book three, “Something Blue.”

Why did you want to become a writer? Was it a struggle working on your books? Was it a struggle getting published?
I have been writing since I was about seven years old. I’ve always loved fiction, and at some point in my reading career, I started imagining different possibilities for the books I read. I would disagree with a subplot, or a character’s actions, or how the author described an event. I would “improve” movies in my head and dream up new characters for stale TV shows. The best outlet for this creative frustration turned out to be writing my own books. The experience also taught me how much practice writing really takes! In my twenties, I did all the usual things—went to college to prepare myself for a “real” job, took writing classes on the side, read advice books like Lawrence Block’s “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.” In my thirties, I wrote several books, one of them over two thousand words long. (That taught me a lot about self-editing.) But it wasn’t until I was thirty-nine that I managed to get an agent, and had my books shopped around to traditional publishers. And it wasn’t until I learned about Amazon’s program, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), that I finally became a published author. After that, it was another two years before I could afford to write full time.

Was it a struggle working on my books? Yes, sometimes. I always try to write the best book I can, and sometimes for me that means deleting false starts, extensively rewriting, or putting a story away for months at a time. Frankly, I hate working that way, since I know other writers who seem to generate fiction as easily as I’m typing the answers to these questions. But I’ve finally learned to stop wishing I had some other type of creativity and just embrace reality.

As for struggling to get published, well, the “trad world” never made me an offer. In retrospect, that was one of the luckier things that ever happened to me. If my former agent had succeeded in getting me signed with “Ice Blue,” it’s easy to imagine what would have followed. I would have received no advance, or a token one of about five thousand dollars. My book would have been shipped into failing bookstores, like the now-defunct Borders, and given three months to succeed or fail. Best case scenario, I would have sold enough to get the next two books of the series out, again for little or no advance, and with no advertising or promotional effort from the publisher. Even if they did well, I would have received royalties of about twelve percent, four times a year. So I’d still be working that day job, and the publisher would own the rights to all three books for my lifetime, plus seventy years.

Emma Jameson is your pen name, and you were very open about sharing that information on your blog as well as stating your real name. Why did you choose to use a pen name to publish your books as opposed to your real name?
I like to tell this story because I think it’s instructive to new authors. After traditional publishers declined to publish “Ice Blue,” I thought the book must be a dud. Why else would they pass? I wanted to try out KDP and Smashwords and Nook Press, but I didn’t want to “sully” my own real name, which I was saving for future books, which would presumably be better. So I spent two seconds thinking up a phony name as part of this grand experiment. And then “Ice Blue” started to sell, and sell, and sell, while a different sort of book I published as Stephanie Abbott did absolutely nothing. And that, boys and girls, is how a trusting writer with far too much faith in the trad world ended up renaming herself Emma Jameson forever.

Your Lord & Lady Hetheridge trilogy recently made it on to the New York Times Bestseller List at number 19. How did that make you feel and what does it mean for your series? Do you have any plans to write more books for this series?
I was overjoyed. More than that, I was thrilled. I can’t lie, I had hopes of making the USA Today Bestseller list, but due to various factors, I mistakenly thought I hadn’t sold enough books. Trying not to mope, I fired up my Kindle and starting reading George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. The phone rang—my friend C.D. Reiss. She cried, “You made a list!” Astonished, I said, “USA Today?” She told me no, the New York Times. Then she had to repeat herself about three times, and let me go so I could call my mother.

I’m not yet sure what it means for my series, but I’m hoping greater visibility, and more readers willing to take a chance on an author they haven’t heard of. And yes, I absolutely intend to keep writing them. Book four, “Black & Blue,” is admittedly overdue, but it’s definitely coming. I have the series planned through book six, and then we’ll see. But I don’t foresee ever saying goodbye to Lord Hetheridge.

Are you currently working on anything not for the L & L H series?
Yes, I’m so glad you asked! My next book, which I am finishing up now, is called “Marriage Can Be Murder.” It’s the first in the Dr. Benjamin Bones mystery series. These will be set in England during World War II in the imaginary village of Birdswing, which is close to the port city of Plymouth. Dr. Bones is that rarest of young men—in a “reserved occupation,” meaning he’s considered more valuable to the war effort at home instead of overseas. A resident of London, he’s shipped off to serve the small villages of Birdswing and Barking, and assist with triage in Plymouth, should German bombers strike there. In the midst of this upheaval, his wife is murdered, turning the doctor into an amateur sleuth. Like the Lord & Lady Hetheridge books, these will be cozy mysteries, full of humor, eccentric supporting characters, and more than a touch of romance. I hope my readers will enjoy them.

If you could give any advice to college students who want to pursue writing as a career, what would you tell them?
Read all you can. Seek out critique partners you trust, preferably writers so much better than you, you feel honored to know them. If you feel like you’re the most talented person in your group, you’re in the wrong group. Stay on top of the changing marketplace, and ignore any piece of publishing advice more than three years old. I can’t think of a better time to pursue a writing career than right now.

Keep on the lookout for updates from Emma Jameson on her blog at www.emmajamesonbooks.com. You can also follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/emmajamesonbooks as well as on Twitter @msemmajameson. She gives excellent advice about the writing process on her blog as well as allowing other authors to discuss their works and writing processes, which in turn allows fans to find something new to read.

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