The AWMonline Writing Race went off with a bang last night, with Special Guest JJ Cooper. Most of us already know that JJ’s successful debut thriller The Interrogator was published by Random House earlier this year, and that he has plenty of life experience to draw on as a former Australian Army Intelligence Corps member. What I didn’t know until last night, however, is that he is also an incredibly generous and insightful mentor to other writers!

picture of author JJ Cooper

Author JJ Cooper

Top Tips from the Interrogator

On writing:

Tip from my interrogating days:

Generally, our thinking process can be broken into two groups of people – those who can ‘Mind Map’ and those who think ‘linear’ (logical sequence of events). If you know someone who contantly changes subjects and is always able to get back on track somehow – they’re mind-mappers. If that confuses you – you’re a linear thinker.

This is important to know for how you write.

I can’t follow books that jump all over the place and I lose interest relatively quickly because I think in a linear fashion. Now, mind mappers are also able to follow a linear fashion, but will jump ahead more unless they are glued to the pages. This is good for writing like mine because it is very fast paced and has plenty of twists for the mind-mappers (because they enjoy trying to guess the ending). Hence, I’m able to accomodate most readers with the way they think. Linear thinkers enjoy following the timeline and soak up the detail whilst mind-mappers feel the rush with the pace and the twists send them into a good spin.

Maybe it’s something you’d like to consider.

On editing:

My chapters are deliberately short. Each has a beginning, middle and end, and finishes on a ‘teaser’ that aims to have the reader wanting more. I aim for around 1,500 words per chapter.

After ten chapters I edit. Because I don’t outline, I find it good to go back after ten chapters to ensure my plot is on track and any sub-plot are set up right or ready to tie in. It also helps me track the characters and ensure they have the right amount of time on paper. This style of editing as I go has worked well for both my books as they are written in a linear fashion.

At the end of the books there is really not much editing required. Maybe two or three light run throughs and it’s good to go to my publisher. Working with my editors is a great experience and very positive if you are not afraid of taking great feedback and suggestions.

On publishing:

Firstly, consider trying to secure the services of a reputable agent before heading to a publisher. Here’s why – a reputable agent knows the industry and knows what traditional publishers are looking for. They know how to manage authors and the publication process. They’ll secure you a better deal than you’d be able to get. They have the industry contacts. Also, if you try for a publisher and are rejected, an agent would be unable to submit your project to that publisher should you land an agent.

If you are submitting to publishers, follow their guidelines to the letter. Spend a lot of time on researching that publisher and what they specialise in. Have the MS gleaming before submission and write a cracking query.

Use the resources of your local writers centre – they’ll point you in the right direction.

Start marketing yourself before submission. I have a blog (free) dedicated to my writing and talking about my process before submission. My agent checked it out before offering submission and commented that she knew I’d be handy at self-promoting my books (which we all need to do). My acquisition editor checked my blog and used it as a tool to ‘sell’ my book to her marketing department – they knew I’d be doing my bit to sell my book/s. In the end I received a two-book deal. That’s fairly rare in the industry and I believe my self-marketing added value to the process.

But, ensure anything you put on the net under your writing name is professional and never write negative stuff about the industry in general or of individuals.

 Thanks for inspiring us by sharing these insights into the craft and business of your writing, JJ.

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