Even my series novels are standalones

James Carol
Opinion - Books Thursday, 31 May 2018

James Carol reports on how he is taking advantage of tne variety of approaches offered by modern publishing


We all know that Stephen King is a horror writer. In fact, not only is he a horror writer, but he's got to be the most successful horror writer of all time. However, pigeonholing King like this is to do him a massive disservice. He's been in the book business for almost 50 years, and I don't think there is a genre he hasn't toyed with. The Shawshank Redemption was one of his, and Stand By Me, and Misery - the list goes on and on. The fact that he has been able successfully to span so many genres is perhaps his greatest achievement, because this is an industry that loves to fit its writers into boxes.

With my own writing, I've always strived to break new ground; I hate repeating myself. That's probably where King has influenced me the most. The fact that he has continually been able to reinvent himself gives me hope. As a reader, there are some series that I love even though I know I'm just reading the same book over and over again. As a writer, that would drive me mad.

That's why I approach each of my Jefferson Winter novels as a standalone. The location is always different, and there is a brand new cast of characters. This keeps things fresh and interesting for me, and I hope for the reader too. The series was published by Faber, which got 100% behind the idea. The first book was a serial killer novel set in snowy London; the second was a murder mystery set in sunny Louisiana. The two books couldn't have been more different, yet when I presented them to my editor, she didn't bat an eye.

The premise for my first standalone, The Killing Game, was simple enough: what if I wrote a thriller that took place in real time? Bookouture published this one, and working with them was a totally different experience from working with Faber. They were young, lean and hungry, and dealt solely in ebooks. The huge advantage of this was the speed they worked at. The book was a success, selling well and getting nominated for a CWA Steel Dagger. It also gifted me a brand new name - JS Carol. Why do that? Mainly because I didn't want readers to pick up The Killing Game and be disappointed that it wasn't a Winter book.

The most important result of this experience was that it paved the way for writing more standalones. Kiss Me Kill Me, the second of them, is with Bonnier Zaffre. This is another young dynamic company. Stepping into their offices you can feel the buzz, and that's a great thing to be a part of. The big advantage of this move is that there will a paperback version of the book. This was important, because there are still readers out there (myself included) who prefer books with pages. Like most writers, I just want to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Over the last decade the publishing world has changed beyond all recognition. There are more routes to being published than ever before. As a writer this means being flexible, and open to new ideas. Each publisher I've worked with has brought something unique to the table. This has helped me to grow as a writer and continue to reach new readers, something I hope will continue long into the future. It's unlikely that I'll be able to diversify as much as King has, but so long as I can keep writing books that are interesting to write, and for readers to read, that's good enough for me.

Kiss Me Kill Me by JS Carol is out from Bonnier Zaffre today (31 May).

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