Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Featured Author: AJ Davidson

I wrote a couple days ago about finding the Smashwords authors who have a distinguished history, established bibliography and the marketing skill to show the rest of us how to do things. AJ Davidson is the Featured Author, and when you look at his profile and his website, you can see why I'm proud to have him here at SBR. Born in Northern Ireland, his books, both fiction and non-fiction, are written in clear concise prose that takes control of the reader from the first page. In the book I read, Churchill's Queen, we get a historical thriller, based on efforts to save the great cruise ship Queen Elizabeth from Nazi attacks. It opens with a scene aboard a U-boat, cruising near British waters, carrying a couple spies to their drop-off point. The action starts immediately, and kept me reading through two nights. I strongly recommend this, to anyone who enjoys Ken Follett, Harlan Coben and Jack Higgins.

We did a long distance Q&A, and you'll enjoy his well-thought out answers:

Questions for AJ Davidson:

You live and work in the UK, and yet write with settings in the US and Europe. Are you that well traveled?

I have done a lot of traveling, and I have also lived in quite a few countries. I have itchy feet and after a year or so in one spot I’m keen to move on. I believe that a man of twenty will be the same man at sixty except for the books he’s read and the people he’s met. Lee Childs and John Connolly are two writers from Europe whose books are set in the US.

For indie authors across the pond, are there different distributors besides Amazon and Smashwords?

Amazon is the big one in Europe, though there are others. Unfortunately, the e-book market is just getting started, but we’re catching up fast. It’s a little known fact that there are more books published each year in the UK than the US.

You have quite a list of books to your credit. Which are still in print, and which are eBook only?

My non-fiction books are all still in print. Kidnapped was a best-seller and has gone through a number of reprints. A Supreme Court judge wrote a two page review of Defamed! which was credited with changing Irish libel law. My fiction titles are e-books, but also available from CreateSpace in paperback.

You mention favorite authors at your great website. Tell us who inspired you to write and publish.

My biggest inspiration came from Roger Nesbitt, a high school teacher who opened my eyes to Dickens and Shakespeare. My agent, Jonathan Williams, was the first to see that I had some potential. He persuaded me to write the non-fiction books; often an easier path to a publishing contract. I admire James M. Cain, James Crumley, and Raymond Chandler. The more recent writers that I follow are Crais, Connolly and Coben.

What are sales like for you? Do you have book revenues coming in from many sources?

After a sluggish start my sales on Smashwords and its distributions channels are really starting to take off. I have immersed myself in marketing over the last six weeks and it’s paying dividends. Unusually, it seems, my sales are balanced fairly equally between Smashwords and Amazon. There does seem to be a preponderance of YA and Fantasy titles on Amazon’s Indie e-book list, probably because the young are faster to embrace new technology. My books probably appeal more to the thirty-plus age bracket.

Tell us about your family life, and how they feel about your writing career.

My wife has always been 100% behind me, encouraging me and at times being the main earner. My son boasts that he has never read a book in his life – though he is the Student Union president at his university so he must have opened one or two. My daughter seems keen to follow in my footsteps.

Some of your thrillers have historical and archaeological settings. What kind of research do you do?

I usually leave the bulk of my research to the end. I find that my plot often goes off at a tangent, so too much preparation was wasted. I have an anthropology and archaeology degree, so I suppose some of it was bound to creep into my writing.

What are you currently working on?

I have a thriller, Decoys, coming out on November 5th with Aspen Mountain Press, contracted before I made the decision to go Indie. It is based in the seedy world of Miami’s fidelity testing agencies. I’m also putting the finishing touches to Death Sentence, a crime thriller set in Clinton, Louisiana, a location I used in Piwko’s Proof.

Tell us about Churchill’s Queen. I understand it’s based on true events.

When war broke out in Europe, Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty. He had the foresight to know that the great liners the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth could move whole armies around the globe in a matter of weeks. But Hitler also realized the liners’ potential. The Queen Mary was safe in New York and out of reach. However the Queen Elizabeth was still in its fitting-out basin in Scotland. The book tells how two Abwehr agents attempt to destroy the world’s largest moving structure. I link their failed sabotage to the liner’s ultimate tragic destruction in Hong Kong harbor decades later. Several US customers have contacted me to say that they purchased the book for their fathers who had gone or come home from war as GIs aboard these magnificent vessels.

How are you reaching readers, both old and new? Your website seems well constructed. Do you join reader forums and writers groups also?

Marketing is still pretty new to me. I don’t think there’s any magic formula, you have to find what works for you and persevere. I try to bring a touch of humor to my blogs and it does seem to help. The big advantage with Smashwords and Amazon is the instant feedback so you don’t have to wait six months to know if a strategy is working. Occasionally I will be talking to a person in a forum and they make the decision to buy one of my books. The sale is credited within minutes. I get a real kick from that. I did join writer groups in the past, but couldn’t stand the BS. I remember one particular evening when I sat through a writer reading her latest epic poem – for eighty minutes – in Gaelic.

What’s it like to have a print bestseller and now go indie? Was it changes in the publishing industry that influenced you or is this something to fit some other goal?

I did a lot of soul-searching before I went Indie, especially as Aspen Mountain Press was interested in contracting more titles. But I like the closer contact with the readers that going Indie gives me – it makes me want to improve my writing. I’m not writing for some faceless customer, my readers are now more like an audience at a live show. I’m now trying to get back the digital rights to my non-fiction books. Technology has made a lot of this possible, and there’s still loads of good stuff to come.

What do you advise new writers, looking to get started?

Don’t ever expect writing to be an easy life. Most writers work long hours and earn relatively little. If you want to write to earn big bucks, forget it. Go train as a doctor or lawyer. Writers write because they have to, they have little say in it. And read, read, read, and then read some more.

Everyone, please check out the videos AJ has posted on Smashwords.com below his books, and use the wattpad.com link to find new readers and writers.


  1. This is a great interview with a wonderful author. So excited to see him profiled here
    - Nina

  2. Great interview!


  3. This was an awesome interview. Sounds like AJ's writing is right up my alley. Good to get perspective from the UK. Wondering how a novel that is on US Amazon, can get on UK Amazon?

  4. "Don’t ever expect writing to be an easy life. Most writers work long hours and earn relatively little. If you want to write to earn big bucks, forget it"

    yeah! wait — WHAT???

    this is actually an inspiring interview. saying (and hearing) crap like "persistence pays off" is cheap. seeing it in action is immensely valuable.

    some dope who was apparently tired of hearing me whine recently tried to compare the diligence and patience required to get a stream of book sales going to whats required in waiting for a garden to grow, that you spend so long just waiting on tiny things you cant even see...

    ...but thats nonsense -- patience is easy when all you're waiting for is the inevitable change of seasons. but it's good to see things paying off for someone so clearly dedicated to the craft. once i get some scratch of my own, AJ's stuff is going to the top of my list...