JD Nixon is the pseudonym used by the author of two series of novels written from her home in the "deep north" of Queensland, Australia. Although classified as detective/mysteries, Nixon's books defy simple categorization because they combine a large number of genres -- in her own words they are "mystery-comedy-drama-action-adventure-romances with a racy twist and a strong dose of relationships, all while taken on a roller coaster of emotions."
Her sales are taking off. In the month of July, JD Nixon sold over 9,700 copies at just one Smashwords retailer - Barnes & Noble. Smashwords also distributes her to Amazon, the Apple iBookstore, Diesel, Sony and Kobo.
Nixon spoke with David Weir the other day to share some of her writing and publishing secrets -- though not her real identity!
David Weir: You started writing indie ebooks in 2009. Did you have any previous experience with traditional publishing?
JD Nixon: Apart from co-authoring a non-fiction book released by a major university publisher, the closest I’ve come to traditional publishing is submitting a children’s book to two publishers. One didn’t respond and an editor for the other sent me a lovely personal letter advising me my book wasn’t “edgy” enough for them, but that she just loved my very tongue-in-cheek covering letter. It made me realise that children’s books weren’t for me, but I still might dig it up one day, dust it off and publish it for free. I thought it was a good read (and so did my child)!!
DW: Was there any moment of epiphany, when you just realized it was time to start writing adult fiction?
JDN: In 2009, I started reading a best-selling book that everyone had raved about, but I found it quite uninspiring and put it aside halfway through. I decided then that I was bored of reading other people’s stories – I wanted to write my own. So I did. And because I’d already ruled out children’s books, I naturally started writing adult fiction.
JDN: The Heller books have a huge cast of characters, some permanent, some transient. My main character, Tilly Chalmers, is a generous, warm, loving, fairly inept young woman who stumbles into a job in a security and surveillance firm run by Heller. Everything she does turns his carefully controlled, business-focused and rather emotionless and promiscuous life upside down. She also has a big impact on Heller’s ‘family’, a group of stray people Heller has gathered around himself, when she moves in with them. Tilly is forever getting herself into scrapes and then getting herself out of them again, sometimes with a little help from Heller and his team of men. And of course, a security and surveillance firm, full of huge handsome men and one trouble-making woman, is a pot of gold when it comes to plot developments!
I enjoy exploring the dynamics of this situation – of how the characters learn about themselves and teach each other. My characters are quite flawed and imperfect and that’s the way I love them! Although Heller is physically beautiful, he has a darkness in his soul, a ruthless streak and a shady past, all of which makes Tilly uncomfortable. And she finds a real strength inside herself without losing her vulnerability and openness. I like to think my characters are quite complex in nature and that they grow throughout the series. Nothing turns me off a book faster than a ‘perfect’ character or a character that never seems to reflect and learn from what has happened to him/her. No thanks!
JDN: Yes. I wrote almost five books in a row in that series before setting it aside to start my other series, the Little Town books.
DW: How did you find Smashwords and how easy or hard was it for you to self-publish here?
JDN: I was reading an article in an online newspaper about the demise of Borders and Angus and Robertson books chains here in Australia and in the comment section someone mentioned that he’d used Smashwords to self-publish. He also mentioned that he’d since sold more books through SW than he ever could have hoped for with a traditional publishing deal in Australia. I’d been complaining to my hubby about why couldn’t someone start a business where people could put up their books for the public to judge, so obviously I was thrilled to discover SW!! I really wish I could remember the name of that commenter – I’d like to thank him personally.
Publishing with SW is relatively easy if you carefully follow the Style Guide, but I must admit I still have a nervous flutter in my stomach every time I press the ‘publish’ button in case I’ve done something horribly wrong. But the only error I’ve had so far was when I accidentally put up a cover in the wrong file type and that was easily fixed.
JDN: Do I ever! My first review was a five-star review at Smashwords for “Heller” and I can honestly say, I was a little teary about that. (I was also probably teary over my first one-star review, but I seemed to have fortuitously blocked that from my memory!). I still remember my first reader email too and the thrill it gave me.
When you begin indie publishing, it feels as if you’ve sent your ‘baby’ off into a void, so good reviews and reader contact are very reassuring and maybe even validating.
But I must say that one of the most difficult lessons for me to learn is that not everyone will, or can, enjoy my books. Readers bring an enormous amount of personal background to a book and I’m no different when I pick up a new book. We all filter books through our own past experiences. A reader may dislike a particular aspect of a book because of their own background. There’s no way for an author to anticipate that kind of reaction and no way that an author should. I guess I’m saying that you can’t write to please everyone and bad reviews are just part of the territory.
JDN: The Little Town books (Blood Ties and Blood Sport – Blood Feud soon) revolve around the adventures of Senior Constable Tess Fuller and her partner, Sergeant Finn Maguire, a police team working in a small and isolated rural mountain town overrun by the beautiful and lawless Bycraft family. Tess has a lot of history with the Bycrafts, having grown up in the town with them. There’s a long-standing feud between the two families, which doesn’t stop her from dating one of them, causing even more tension between them all. She’s a bit of a renegade cop, balanced by the arrival of Finn in town, as he’s a by-the-books kind of officer. There are lots of other characters in these books, including one of my favourites, Fiona, the unbelievably crude and foul-mouthed senior officer of the district headquarters to which Tess and Finn report.
After writing so many Heller books, I decided I wanted to write something more serious in nature. I tried with the Little Town series, but I still came up with comedy-drama. I’m not sure I can write anything else!
DW: When we chatted on the phone, you said you caught a bit of flak for the ending in the first title in Blood Ties; can you explain?
JDN: I thought I’d made it obvious in Blood Ties that it was the first of a series, so a number of long-running storylines weren’t resolved, although the ones specific to that book were. Some readers were really annoyed to be left (as they thought) high and dry at the end of the book. I’ve just replaced the covers with wonderful new ones that clearly state the book is number 1 in the series. But I’ve also copped some flak in my books for the bad language, the violence and the sex scenes. I’ve started wondering if books should come with warnings?
DW: You're generally classified in the detective/mystery genre, but how do you view your writing in terms of genres?
JDN: Detective/mystery books are my favourite genre of all. My personal reading is mostly in this genre, with small forays into horror. However, my own books cross genres so they aren’t traditional mysteries or police procedurals – there are no “body in a locked room” type of puzzles in my books. I think my books are mystery-comedy-drama-action-adventure-romances with a racy twist and a strong dose of relationships, all while taken on a roller coaster of emotions. I don’t know if a genre has been invented for them yet, but there’s something for everyone in my books!!
I do think indie pubbing allows more cross-genre authors to have their work read, though it’s still not easy to categorise.
DW: Do you market your books in any conventional way, or only via social media (Facebook, blog, website)?
JDN: I’m not a big self-promoter, but that’s probably just my personality type. I really only use my own platforms (Facebook, my blog and my website and occasionally Twitter) to self-promote. For a long time I was blogging to nobody but the overseas spammers and had only a handful of friends on Facebook, but things are now really picking up across the board.
DW: You're known for answering every email or comment from readers -- how has this helped your books to sell?
JDN: It amazes me when a reader tells me I’m the first author who has ever answered an email! I think that if someone has taken the time to tell me that they loved my books, I should acknowledge that. It also builds goodwill with readers and that’s a valuable asset, because loyal readers will go into bat for me, particularly in recommending my books to others. I know that from experience.
DW: I understand your sales have really taken off this year; do you have any explanation for why this is, beyond the obvious high quality of the writing?
JDN: Perhaps a lot of people received ereaders for gifts and found my books while trawling through the free ebooks? Perhaps readers are recommending my books to their family and friends and I’m starting to see a snowballing effect from that? I wish I knew for sure!!
DW: What can you tell us about your audience, in terms of demographics, geography, age, gender? Any surprises here?
JDN: Lots of surprises! I’ve been incredibly (and pleasantly) surprised by the number of male readers I have – I never expected that. They probably slightly favour the Little Town books more than the Heller series, and perhaps vice versa for my female readers. But there are equally those who love both series.
Another surprise is the age span of my readers. I’ve had emails from people in their early-teens right up to their eighties. I’m very happy to have written books that appeal to so many demographics.
The bulk of my readers are in the US, which was also a surprise as I wasn’t sure if my sense of humour would translate. I do have Aussie readers but it’s a small market so far. And of course I would love to hit it big in my own country, but I have a lot of fun chatting with my international pals.
Another minor thing I’ve noted is cross-genre readers. I’ve had a few readers tell me they’ve never normally read in my genre, but were attracted by the free books and wanted to read more of my books after reading those. Now, that’s also an honour – especially with the sci-fi readers!
DW: You write under a pseudonym; have any of your friends and family found out about your writing success yet?
JDN: Not really. I put up “Heller” and “Blood Ties” before I even told my husband! I had two main reasons for using a pseudonym: the first reason is my “real” job – it can be incredibly sensitive at times, impacting on people’s lives, and I didn’t want my writing to interfere with that; the second reason is purely egotistical – I wanted to be able to cut and run without embarrassing myself if my books were a complete flop. I might get around to telling more people one day, but it doesn’t really bother me if my family and friends don’t know. My husband is dying to tell people though!
DW: What are some of the keys to success for indie ebooks, in your experience -- concrete things like pricing, distribution, marketing, promotion, design, etc.?
JDN: I’m no good at concrete things! But having a series where the first book is offered for free seems to work for me. As an unknown writer, I thought it only fair to offer readers a good sample of my writing style (ie a whole book) and hopefully get them hooked with my characters and storylines.
After reading Mark’s stats on pricing, I recently bumped up the prices of my non-free books from $1.99 to $2.99. I certainly don’t think that’s an unreasonable amount to ask for books that are all over 100,000 words long.
As for distribution, the more places you offer your books the better. That’s why I love Smashwords. As a non-US author, it really makes it so much easier for me to access big ebook retailers and SW compiling stats and payments is also useful to me.
But really, the most important thing is to have good stories with characters and plots that engage your readers. A good story should always find its own audience, no matter how big or small.
DW: So what's in the pipeline going forward?
JDN: Writing, writing and more writing!!! Life has been so disruptive for me for the past few months and my writing progress has been horribly slow, but I’m still hoping to have a book out in each series by the end of the year.
DW: For those would-be authors who haven't yet tried to write an indie book, what's your advice?
JDN: Have lots of self-belief and don’t wait for someone to give you the green light. You now have the ability to reach readers directly through indie publishing, so there’s never been a better time to give it a try. You finally have control of your writing career so take advantage!
DW: Thank you!
Smashwords distributes JD Nixon to the following retailers:
Barnes & Noble
Diesel eBook Store