Keri Beevis is an international bestselling thriller author.
We got together to have a chat about the best and worst things about being an author, and the joy (!) of book marketing.
So, firstly thanks for agreeing to the interview!
I know that you’ve been writing since you were very young, so my first question is was there a specific point where you decided to try to turn it into a career?
I was about nineteen and on holiday in Tenerife when I first toyed with the idea of becoming a published author. At that point I had only written short stories, mostly for fun, but with the intention of submitting them to magazines.
My holiday read was Misery by Stephen King and I remember being on the sun lounger by the pool and thinking about how much willpower and dedication it must take to pen something of that size. At that point, the idea of writing a novel seemed like the most terrifying thing ever. Somehow though, over the next two weeks, my mindset changed and by the time I arrived home I had a plot brewing in my head and I really wanted to give it a go.
I wrote my first book over several months and started submitting it to agents, though without success. A couple did get back to me telling me I had potential, which inspired me to carry on writing. I had penned five books before I finally got my break.
I guess the dream to have a writing career was ignited when I started working on my first book. It took a long time for that dream to be be realised, but I do believe everything happens for a reason. I wasn’t ready when I was younger and I don’t think my early work was good enough to be published. I am glad things for the way things have worked out.
That’s a really great way to look at it. I think a lot of people want immediate success, but sometimes the struggle is necessary. And writing short stories for magazines is very Stephen King, so you’re in great company there!
So what does your writing process look like in terms of outlining, your first draft, editing… the whole thing?!
Ooh, good question.
I am 70% pantser, 30% plotter. I start with a seed of an idea and work out a basic plot, generally with an idea of how I want the story to start, a rough conclusion and maybe a vague idea of how I will get from A to B.
Characters come next and I spend a good chunk of time getting to know them. While I appreciate a good story, I do like one that is character driven. You have to care for the people you are reading about for a story to really work. I don’t really make notes, but I spend a lot of time getting to know the characters in my head; not just what they look like, but how they talk, their quirks and personality traits. I can’t start writing about them until they feel like real people.
When it comes to actually writing the story I am a bit of a rule breaker. I know you are supposed to get the first draft down as quickly as possible then go back and fix things during the edit, but I can’t help but edit as I go along. This does mean my process is perhaps a little slower than other authors, but generally there is less work to do during the editing, so I guess it all balances out.
Yes, I know what you mean about getting to know the characters first. It’s interesting because I usually start with a concept – such as whether a person would actually die for fame – but in my last book I had a stronger sense of the characters than the story when I began outlining.
So how long does a first draft usually take you, given that you kind of edit as you go along?
With my previous books, it took about six months to write my first draft, but that was while working a full-time day job. Writing was always crammed into weekends and some evenings.
The success of Dying To Tell has allowed me to go part-time, plus I am currently furloughed, so I hoping to complete my current novel in half that time.
Six months while working full time is pretty good going!
Who would you say are your influences? And they don’t have to be authors, I know you’re a big Hitchcock fan!
Oh yes, Hitchcock is a huge influence. I love the subtlety of his work. He knew exactly how to slowly build tension, never losing the audience, and he was the master of the unexpected.
Another filmmaker I am impressed with is Mike Flanagan. I thought his retelling of The Haunting of Hill House was brilliant television. He never went for cheap scares, instead playing on the audience’s fears, knowing that imagination is far more frightening than anything you can see on screen. I loved his Netflix movie, Hush, too.
Although I haven’t read any Stephen King books in a long time, he was definitely an early influence and The Shining remains one of my all-time favourite books. When Jack Torrance went to investigate Room 217, my heart was in my mouth and I had to put the book down for a moment to steady myself. It is hands down the scariest piece of writing I have ever read.
It is not just horror that influences me though and my modern writing heroes include Tami Hoag and Nora Roberts. Both these ladies made me realise the importance of fleshing out your characters and connecting emotionally with the story. It was King who first made me want to become a novelist, but writers like Hoag and Roberts influenced the direction in which I wanted to go.
That’s a really good lesson about fleshing out your characters and connecting emotionally with the story. And The Shining is one of my favourite books, I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve read it!
So what part of writing a novel would you say is the most fun? And how about the most challenging?
There are several fun parts about being an author, from seeing your cover for the first time to holding a physical copy, to receiving reader feedback, but the most fun part of the writing process itself? I guess there are a couple of bits that spring to mind. I love getting to know my characters, naming them, building their personalities, and catching the essence of them on paper. That is always an enjoyable part of the process. But also those times (and it doesn’t always go like this) where your fingers are on fire and the words are flying onto the page. It’s so difficult to describe, but it feels as if the story is bypassing your brain and almost writing itself, while you are just watching it happen.
The most frustrating part is when it doesn’t happen. When you are looking at a blank page and knowing what you need to say, but the words just aren’t coming out in the right order. On days like that, writing can be a chore. There is always a moment of mild panic too, when the red herrings and the twists don’t seem to be pulling together. It happens with every book and for a few days I am walking round with a frown on my face, convinced I am not going to be able to pull this story off, and frantically searching for that ‘Aha’ moment.
Back to fun parts and I admit to being a bit of a weirdo in that I enjoy the editing process. I actually like getting the full edit back from my publisher and working hard to make the book as tight as possible.
Oh, I am exactly the same on both counts. There are days when you have to almost bleed to get any words out, but then that ‘flow state’ is incredible. It’s a similar feeling to doing stand-up when everything just comes together.
So turning to, I guess, the ‘business’ side of things, how do you promote your work or find new readers?
Ah, marketing. The fun side of writing (she mutters, tongue in cheek).
I know a lot of wannabe writers who think the hard part of being an author is writing the book and getting it published. Oh no, that is when the difficult work begins. Just how do you get your novel in front of readers, especially in such a saturated market?
When I first started out I didn’t have a clue and I will be honest, I am still learning all the time. I do think being social media savvy helps.
A lot of my engagement comes through my Facebook author page. That is a medium that works for me, but it may not necessarily be the same for other authors. I think engaging with potential readers is key though. Many have stuck around because they know if they talk to me and ask me questions I will always try to respond. I try to post regularly and, although a lot of my stuff is filler, there are self-deprecating anecdotes too. I try not to go too hard on the promo side of things, as no one wants to see repeated posts of ‘please buy my book.’ Keep them entertained and, in time, many of them will, hopefully, check out my books.
I am fortunate that my publisher, Bloodhound Books, takes marketing seriously and they do a fair bit behind the scenes with paid ads. I am quite certain that without them behind me, Dying To Tell would not have been such a huge hit.
Yes, definitely, having a publisher take some of the strain certainly helps, although I think engaging with people on a personal level – as you do – is incredibly important too.
So what was the process in terms of finding a publisher?
It took me years to find a publisher. I started submitting to agents and publishing houses when I was in my early twenties and, although I had a couple of almost breaks in my mid-twenties, unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I actually became so disillusioned, believing I wasn’t good enough, that I gave up for a while. Looking back I realise how foolish that was and if I can ever pass on any advice to aspiring authors it is that perseverance is key. Don’t do a Beev. Keep believing and keep trying, even when it feels you are getting nowhere.
My break eventually came in the form of a competition. A friend had seen one advertised in a magazine, where the prize was a publishing contract, and she decided I should enter. It became a bit of a battle, as I had moved on and didn’t want to risk rejection again, so every time she left the magazine out for me, I would ignore it and shove it away in a drawer. The next day it would be back on my desk. This pattern continued and I do believe I actually threw the magazine in the bin at one point. She’s very persistent though, this friend of mine. Luckily so for me. She eventually wore me down, I entered one of my old manuscripts, and it was a winner.
From then I guess I was incredibly lucky. The book sold well enough that the publisher offered to publish my next two. They were a very small press though and offered no publicity at all. Once the books were out there, it was completely up to me to find readers. After I wrote Dying To Tell, I approached Bloodhound Books (with my old publisher’s blessing). They were my first choice and I was thrilled when they signed me into a two-book deal just two weeks later.
It’s amazing you went from no publisher, to essentially being accepted by two. Bloodhound Books are great too, a friend of mine is signed to Bombshell Books and I’ve only ever heard good things.
And I think it’s natural to become disillusioned creatively. There is that great quote that ‘You only ever need one Yes‘, which is good to remember.
So what do you do with negative reviews or comments about your work? I’m asking as I discovered a bad review for one of my books and can’t get it out of my head..!
Bloodhound Books have been great. They’ve now merged completely with Bombshell, so we’re all under the same umbrella. One of the pluses is getting to work alongside some lovely and very talented writers.
Negative reviews are tough and I honestly believe that any author who pretends otherwise is not being completely truthful. It’s going to sting. What we do is so personal, digging deep and putting our innermost thoughts on paper for everyone to critique. I don’t know about you, but whenever I have a new book out and it’s awaiting initial feedback, I feel incredibly exposed. So when someone kicks in with negative feedback, it hurts.
It’s par for the course though and negative feedback has to be expected. It’s important readers are honest and you can only hope that if they didn’t like your work, they will at least be kind with their criticism.
I remember my very first negative review. It was a corker. The guy didn’t just dislike my book, he hated it with a passion, and he had a lengthy rant about it, saying he had been duped into buying it because of all the positive reviews, which all had to be fake as there was no way anyone could seriously like it.
That review really shook my confidence and made me doubt myself for a long while. It didn’t matter that it was one bad one in fifty, the words stung and made me feel like an imposter.
In a way, I am now grateful for getting a really bad one first. It toughened me up quickly and I can now laugh at that review to the point I have actually shared it on my author page a few times. It was an epic rant and is actually quite amusing.
I’m not going to lie. Negative reviews still sting, but they no longer linger. If someone says the story wasn’t for them or they simply didn’t enjoy it, I think that’s fair enough, while I figure those that are just spiteful, calling my work ‘drivel’ or saying ‘my five-year-old could write better’ say more about the reviewer than they do about my books.
Ultimately I think it’s important to remember that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
I will share with you one thing that does help me, and will hopefully help you get past your negative review. I go on to the pages of my favourite books, and also the most successful books in my genre, and read the one-star reviews. They all have them and some are just horrible. It helps put things into perspective and I usually end up getting so incensed for the poor authors, I generally forget about my own negative reviews.
That’s a good tip. A nice way of reminding ourselves that even the most successful books aren’t loved by everybody.
So what are you working on at the moment? And do you keep a file of ideas for future books or characters?
There are lots of exciting things planned for the future.
I am currently working on a new Norfolk based standalone thriller, which is due to be published by Bloodhound Books in November. I can’t say too much about it at this stage, other than it’s a story of revenge.
Then there are half a dozen ideas I want to work on, so I will have to prioritise. I do keep an ideas file on my Mac. Sometimes it is a full-blown plot with characters already in my mind, other times it is seeds of ideas as they come to me.
I definitely want to continue with more standalone thrillers set in Norfolk and I already have three ideas to flesh out. I also want to return to Purity Island for a sequel to Deep Dark Secrets. A lot of readers have asked me to write a follow up book and the story was one of my personal favourites, so I am keen to return.
There are also two other projects I am considering. One is a romantic comedy, so a complete switch of genre, the other is co-authoring a book with my good friend (and fellow Hound), Patricia Dixon. We have a possible idea in mind, so watch this space.
That sounds really exciting, definitely loads going on. And I’d definitely read a sequel to Deep Dark Secrets! It’s always nice when people ask for that, a few people have asked about a sequel to my novel Victim Mentality so I’m toying with that idea right now. It’s also listed as a ‘series’ on Amazon for some reason, so maybe they know something I don’t…!
So, lastly, which of your books would you say is your most personal?
Well, if it’s listed as a series, I think that is a sign.
I have been asked this question before, which of my books is my most personal, and I always find it really difficult to pick just one. There are two that mean a lot to me and they are Deep Dark Secrets and Dying To Tell.
I think with Deep Dark Secrets, it was a story I was desperate to tell. I had been working on a third book in the Angell series, and really struggling. As I soldiered on, another idea was pushing its way into my head and getting stronger and stronger. Eventually I scrapped the Angell book and decided to write my new standalone idea. I think it’s the quickest I have ever written a book.
Purity Island was real to me, as were Nell, Alex, Michael, Jenna, Luke and Tommy. They were characters who had barged their way into my head, and I missed them all so much when the story ended. Nell’s journey was also incredibly personal. I have a good friend who has been in her shoes, plus I walked away from a mentally abusive relationship myself. Some of those scenes were too easy to write. I wanted to tell the story of a woman who had been knocked down and her fight to get back up.
Dying To Tell was also very special. I became really invested in Lila and Jack’s story. Again they felt like real people to me. It was also the first of my stories that was set in my home county, Norfolk. I love living here and really hope I managed to bring it to life for readers.
Ok, I know I said ‘lastly’ with my previous question, but what you mentioned about Deep Dark Secrets is too interesting for me not to ask a follow-up…
How difficult – or easy – was it to scrap the new Angell book and write a totally different one instead?
It was surprisingly easy.
I had really struggled with the third Angell book and although I wasn’t working to an official deadline with my then publisher, I overshot the one I had set myself. The story just didn’t feel like it was coming together and characters who had previously been so easy to write, felt stilted and they weren’t coming alive off the page. I struggled with that book for over a year and realised for the first time in my life that I wasn’t enjoying writing. That was when I decided to set it to one side and try my new idea.
Once I started writing Deep Dark Secrets, everything slotted into place and the story pretty much wrote itself over just a few months. I felt homesick for Purity Island and the characters became friends. It was really difficult to say goodbye.
That’s great that it all slotted into place at that point. Enjoying the process of writing is so important, if not always attainable..!
Well thank you so much for talking with me, Keri. It’s been really interesting getting to know more about how you work.
Thanks again for inviting me to take part, Angelo. I’ve really enjoyed this interview.
You can find Keri Beevis at: