Q&A: From Army Captain to Cozy Writer with Steve Higgs 1

When Steve Higgs wrote his debut novel, Paranormal Nonsense, he was a Captain in the British Army. He would love to pretend that he had one of those careers that has to be redacted and in general denied by the government and that he has had to change his name and continually move about because he is still on the watch list in several countries. In truth though, he started out as a mechanic; no, not like Jason Statham, sneaking about as a contract killer, more like one of those greasy gits that charge you a fortune and keep your car for a week when all you went in for was a squeaky door hinge.

Nowadays, he writes cozy mysteries and crime thrillers. He will talk about what mystery and urban fantasy readers crave, how he earned 50k on his books while holding down a full-time job, and how he releases a book weekly.

Q. Do you go by Steve or Steven?

A. Steve. Or Captain Steve to most people.

Q. Captain Steve? Why?

A. 25 years in the Army. Joined at 17 and got commissioned from the ranks.

Q. Oh, yes. Of course, it says so right on your Amazon author bio. That sounds interesting.

A. It was something.

Q. Why did you join at 17? And this is the British army we are talking about, right?

A. British army, yes and 17 because it was there for me. My mother wasn’t very nice and there were generations of my family in uniform so it was almost expected.

Q. Speaking of British…you are the first author I have interviewed on Greenwich Mean Time. I think of that time zone all the time with my pre-orders. So…how does a Captain in the British army go on to become a published author?

A. I like writing. I have a head full of stories. I won my first literary award at 10 and would have pursued it as a career had there been someone to believe in me. Throughout my career I wrote stories, magazine articles and even had my own column in a forces magazine for a while. My attempts at producing something publishable as a book are all rubbish though until, finally, at 41, I stumbled across a new idea for a character and started writing what became my first book.

Q. And who was that character?

A. Tempest Michaels. The antithesis to the TV trend for supernatural series like Buffy, Charmed and Supernatural. He is a paranormal investigator by accident, taking on cases to find the ordinary explanation and vanilla criminal beneath.

Q. Wow, he sounds multi-layered. My first book was paranormal and so I am partial to them! Why did you gravitate towards paranormal?

A. It has always fascinated me. I read urban fantasy, that particular genre ticking a certain box for me. Wizards and such living amongst us. I am writing a new series now, overlapping, intertwining characters all fighting separate battles but coming together at the end to prevent a cataclysm. I plan a major launch in a few weeks time.

Q. That sounds exciting! I write books that fall under the clean and wholesome category, so this blurb under one of your Patricia Fisher books caught my eye. You wrote, “If you like clean and funny cozy mysteries by authors such as Hope Callaghan, AR Winters, Ivy Dawson, Cee Cee James and others, then you will love Patricia Fisher!” Is this true of all your books?

A. So far yes. I see no reason to use harsh language despite my life to date. I want my books to be accessible to all so there are murders and crimes and sex but no graphic descriptions are required. In fact, for bedroom scenes, I feel the author can do better job by setting the scene and closing the door; the reader is then able to fill in the blanks. With murder, the body is found, I would never describe arterial blood spurting. I have witnessed it too many times myself to wish to inflict it in detail on others. So Patricia and Tempest and Amanda and Jane/James (my gender neutral character) and all the others to come have adventure and terror and Adrenalin but in a gentle PG13 way.

Q. I love that philosophy. I would imagine you did some market research into the urban fantasy / paranormal / cozy mystery market. What have you discovered readers love, as you have published 21 books to date?

A. Mostly what I have found is that there are a lot of authors writing almost exactly the same thing. This is an observation not an accusation but I must say that I feel a need to challenge each genre. My cozy mysteries take a 50-something woman, ruin her life and then allow her to realize that her life had become a shroud for her to hide inside. Over the course of 10 books, which I fill with mystery, murder and hilarity, she ascends from the ashes of her failed marriage to become the powerful Phoenix she was always meant to be.

Q. Ha ha ha, “ruin her life.” An author’s prerogative. On being funny…what is the key to writing mysteries funny? It seems naturally grim, and yet…

A. The key? Now that would be a million dollar formula. I try to create surprising situations that will be unexpected in an amusing way and I put Patricia into daft circumstances that could happen to any of us. Tempest will try to act cool and walk into a water cooler because he is paying attention to the pretty girl. Patricia, a cleaner until the books start, will wear a $1000 ball gown and walk around at a party blissfully unaware that static-cling has left a pair of knickers on the back of it.

Q. Flawed and funny. I read your post in a Facebook author group where you showed your earnings on 21 books at 50k for the year and said you are on track to earning 150k next year. Those are amazing numbers.

You wrote, “I advertise constantly, FB almost exclusively and spent $60 ish per day. I do lots of promotions on Bookfunnel, Story Origin, My Book Cave and Prolific Works plus NL swaps with authors whose books are very similar to mine.” What per cent of that 50k went towards expenses? Towards marketing?

A. My cost of sales is constantly changing but my ROI is generally 200% or better. I think this month will be more like 300%.

Q. What was astounding was that you wrote books weekly for a 10 book series. You wrote, “Mostly, my recent gains have been about volume of production; writing a book a week or close to it which allowed me to churn out a 10-book cozy series since July plus 2 more books in an ongoing urban fantasy series and 3 books in a series yet to be released. Having a new release with a few hundred pre-orders each week really pushes the income upward. Adding to that I have box sets at $0.99 which get 10k plus page reads each day by themselves.”

How do you stay on task? How do you manage such a rapid release and what are your book word counts on the average?

A.Book words range from 45k to 65k generally which seems on point for the target audience. As for staying on task: I refuse to allow anything to distract me. I give time to my wife and son but I get up early and I stay up late and nothing is going to stop me or distract me from my chosen course. Work ethic is important if a person wants to succeed. In the army I had the privilege of being awake for several days straight at times so my perception of what is hard is skewed when compared to most people.

Q. Hats off to you. That is an admirable work ethic. This has been fantastic, Steven. We’ll wrap up with this last question…

What would be your top three tips to an author who wants to level up their publishing income?

A. 1. Constantly ask yourself would I be better off writing? That’s not my tip, I got it from someone else but you don’t need to check your income, you don’t need to go on Facebook and you really don’t need to watch TV.

2. Set a word count target and if you haven’t hit it, don’t go to bed. Discipline will get you there. Get up at 0500hrs. That’s what successful people do. It’s not forever, but to get where you want to be. This year, while still in full time employment and trying to get to where I wanted to be, I wrote 12 books in 8 months by grabbing every moment I could.

3. Market and advertise. It is the hardest part in my opinion but utterly necessary so commit and learn and keep going until you are its master. Nothing is impossible, if you think it is, you are telling the world about your limitations.

4. Be polite, be gracious, and have clear plan for how to kill everyone in the room.

Q. LOL Fantastic advice. Thanks so much Captain Steve! I really appreciate you taking the time to chat and wish you continued success!

A. No problem. I hope it proves helpful to someone.

Visit Steve Higgs’ website and check out his books.

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