Q and A: With Sean Campbell

D.e.e.L: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?

Sean: St Patrick’s Day 2012. My brother Dan and I were having a debate about how much work goes into producing a book (a lot!). Most of our favourite authors release one book a year which is the release schedule most of the big publishing houses prefer.

But voracious readers don’t want one book a year. There are some genre readers, particularly romance and thriller readers, who would happily chew through fifty books from one author in a year – as long as the quality was there.

So we decided we’d write a book. Overnight we went from lawyer/chef to author. We both love crime fiction so our novel was always going to be some sort of crime novel.

D.e.e.L: In 2012 you’re 90DaysNovel challenge took place. What was it like trying to write, edit, and publish all within 90 days? What were some challenges you faced while trying to accomplish this goal?

Sean: It was pretty hectic. On day one we started with nothing so our first task was coming up with the high level concept (“People use the internet to commit murder for each other”).

Then we spent a few more days working out the logistics of the web of swaps needed for the plot to work. Our first instinct was for Edwin to deliberately try and orchestrate a series of swaps, but as we began writing we found it was more convincing for Edwin to dig himself into a hole.

Once we had those bare bones, we got going. We’d take it in turns to read the last bit written, then write the next section. At any given time, we’d have a rough ‘twice read’ bit followed by a fresh draft, and then a few lines of notes under that covering what we wanted to write next.

After the first draft was done (23 days in), we moved onto contracting art, editorial assistance and putting together a big ole marketing plan. The biggest challenge was getting the right people at the right price. At the time, our plan was just to write “a novel” but since publication (and after seeing initial sales figures) our ambition grew a little. We did reproof it later on – twice in fact, to try and weed out the lingering errors.

D.e.e.L: How has the way you approach your new stories evolved since working on Dead on Demand?

 Sean: We tend to plan a bit more. Cleaver Square required a lot of research on police procedure, getting the forensics right. Crime novels stand or fall on the plotting, so there has to be the appearance of truth. We do take some poetic license – we skip over the mountains of paperwork, and we do amend facts quite liberally but we try and get the law, the geography, police procedure and the forensics down pat.

On a few occasions, we’ve tried different programs to help us out – Scrivener, but we keep coming back to a simple word/ dropbox set up. I write  a bit, sync it, he takes it up and does a bit more, back and forth until it’s done.

I suppose we’re also more aware of the failings in our writing. We’ve built up a list of overused phrases to check for. We try to balance description with action with dialogue. Once you’ve published a book, you get a lot of feedback – I really appreciate it when readers take the time out to email, and all the feedback we get is objectively evaluated. We can’t please everyone – just this morning I’ve had two emails; one saying they loved the violence in Dead on Demand, and another appalled at it. There is a balance to be struck. We’re pretty comfortable that we don’t write cozy mysteries. Different strokes for different folks. It’s the main reason that we will give anyone who asks a free copy of the first book – then they can decide for themselves. To date, over two hundred thousand people have taken us up on that offer.

D.e.e.L: What has been your experience working with your brother on books as opposed to ones you’ve written on your own?

Sean: We argue. But we’re brothers, so we should. I think planning becomes more important with co-authorship. If one of you wants a story to go one way, but the other wants a different path then sorting that out in the planning stages saves a lot of headaches later down the road.

Playing to your respective strengths is important too. I love the research and I’m pretty good at devising marketing strategies so that stuff falls to me.

My one bit of advice for anyone undertaking a co-authored project is to get your version control right. The last thing you want is the other person reinventing the wheel.

If I saved a draft today it might be “WIP_Codename_V0.03_11March2014” or similar

By combining the date AND a version number, it’s easy to keep track. For revisions of each other’s stuff, we use word’s track changes feature so he can see what I change, and vice versa. Once he’s accepted/ rejected changes, I’ll go through and review his changes. That gives us quite a clean first try as all the obvious errors *should* be found pretty quickly. After that, we’ve got a team of staff doing content/ developmental editing, line editing, libel reading and proofreading. The whole thing is a team effort.

D.e.e.L: Your eBook Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell describes marketing techniques and helpful strategies, where did the idea for this book come about? What discoveries did you make while working on this book and how has your own marketing strategies changed since its publication?

Sean: Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell started life as a series of blog posts (which are still live on 90daysnovel.com). Some of it is from our own experiences – how we managed 55,500 free KDP Select downloads in one week back in 2012; what impact being number one had when we came off sales).

But while that’s all in there, we also think about how traditional business theory can be applied. We discuss some economic theory – long tail, zero gain, and how that all applies to a digital world.

The unit cost of an eBook is nothing. We don’t pay to create them. There are no warehouse costs. Our costs are broken down quite simply: 1. Sunk costs – production costs, 2. Transaction costs – VAT, file delivery, retailer cut and 3. Time costs (in writing, marketing etc).

So we know we can sell cheaply. Dead on Demand, as pointed out above, was done in <90 days. To cover production costs (which are outlined on our blog if anyone wants the specific numbers), we work out how many sales are needed at any given royalty, project a sales rate based on previous books and then try to get back in the black within six months.

Copyright lasts a long time – our lives plus seventy years. It’s much more sustainable to focus on getting a little here and there that adds up over time, than think of the big bucks of the top lists (though we have been lucky enough to hit some top lists as well).

D.e.e.L: Any upcoming projects in the works?

Sean: Yep – we’re in the early stages of DCI Morton book three which has a robbery-gone-wrong plot that has plenty of our trademark twists. This should be ready for a September/October release ready for the big Christmas rush.

Then we’ve got revisions to Can’t Sell, Won’t Sell underway (as the advice has become a little dated in the last two years).

We’ve also got some pen-name works underway. Diversification helps to even out the swings in sales. While we’ve had some huge sales days, we’ve also seen weeks without a sale – which is just part of the game. By spreading our time between multiple projects, we mitigate that rollercoaster a little to help make for easier planning.

Finally we’re working on a website to feature the best crime fiction – it’s on the back burner for now, but I think a genre-specific site which is well executed could help both readers and writers.

Sean headshot

Read the written Interview

View books by Sean HERE

Author Photo via Sean Campbell 

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