A cursory glance at Amazon’s Most Read Fiction chart, unsurprisingly, reveals JK Rowling at the top. But in August of this year, a self-published author from Northumbria knocked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix off the top spot. Back in 2015, Louise Ross was a London lawyer with dreams of writing her first book. In 2019, her 13th bestselling novel, Penshaw, became both the most read and most sold book on Amazon.co.uk, and Louise (writing as LJ Ross) flies the flag for independent writers everywhere.
Louise reminisces about the nail-biting day when she published her debut novel, Holy Island, via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) on New Year’s Day 2015. “At first all my sales were from family and friends,” she laughs. But she held her nerve, and the labour of love that she’d written whilst on maternity leave gathered word-of-mouth momentum. By May of that year, she was number one on the Kindle bestseller chart on Amazon.co.uk. Her decision to change careers and dedicate herself to her passion had paid off.
Since then, Louise has continued to write at a prolific rate. Her DCI Ryan series is 14 books strong and has a loyal following. All of her novels have been top three global bestsellers, and twelve were number one in the UK. At the end of this year, she’ll launch a new dark psychological thriller series about Dr. Alexander Gregory, “a very reluctant international criminal profiler,” and next year she’ll focus on writing “standalone novels with strong female protagonists,” she explains. But Louise also wants to support other writers: she’s a judge for the Kindle Storyteller Award, which recognises the best in independent writing; as well as sponsoring her very own Lindisfarne Prize for debut crime fiction writers who have never been published before.
“For me, it’s just been life changing,” she beams. “I want to share this experience with everyone and say to anybody else who thinks they've got this passion in them - just go for it!” Here are Louise’s top tips for aspiring authors.
1. Inspiration is everywhere
“A lot of the inspiration for my DCI Ryan series comes from the landscape where I’m from and grew up in the North East of England,” Louise says. “History has also played a major role - quite a few myths and legends from Northumbria have influenced my writing.” When it comes to building characters, she explains, inspiration is everywhere: “It comes from everyone you meet over the course of your life. Music also helps: I’ll hear a good song and imagine a character liking it, sharing its vibe.”
2. Find your story
“Everybody has a story. It’s old advice to say ‘write what you know’, but I think it’s true. It could be about characters you’ve met, your home community, your childhood. Storytelling is about drawing on elements of reality and magnifying them.”
3. Never stop reading
According to Louise, if you’re going to be a writer, you must be first and foremost a big reader. “I’m always reading, and I think that’s what keeps the love of the writing alive.”
4. Take a break
“When working on a new book, I try to get a walk in every day. It’s good for the creative process to take a breather and come back to things afresh. It’s also important for your wellbeing - your writer’s tools are your hands and your mind. You need to look after them.”
5. Consider self-publishing
“I chose to self-publish my first book, rejecting a traditional publishing deal, because I wanted to be in control and protect the originality of my work – while a traditional publisher would have the right to change almost anything about it. KDP’s terms and conditions offered me the autonomy I was looking for, and allowed me to make a living out of my writing. Now that traditional barriers have come down, you can give yourself permission to be creative and put your work out there, letting readers be the judge.”
6. Trust your instincts
“I was always told that crime and romance should never meet. I broke the taboo with Holy Island: I straddled the two genres, managing to draw in fans of both. Don’t be afraid to dare.”
7. Relish the feedback
“With self-publishing, the reader is king. There is no better or faster feedback than that of your readers, and listening to it is a great and quick way to improve.”
8. Take the plunge
“You can always find a reason not to do something. But the best remedy to this is to just start writing. You never know what the reaction will be until you put yourself out there. There’s a misconception that writing is this rarefied world that only a chosen few should enter, but I think it’s open to absolutely everybody who’s got a story inside them. Just be brave.”