LJ Ross: The self-published crime writer making a killing

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Louise RossImage source, Gareth Iwan Jones
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Louise Ross has self-published more than 20 books since 2015

Seven years ago, Louise Ross swapped her career in financial law for a life of crime (writing). She has eschewed the traditional model of agents and publishers deciding instead to do it all herself, selling more than seven million copies in the process. Howdunnit?

A young woman brutally slaughtered in a ritualistic killing on Holy Island. A skeleton concealed by a murderer in Hadrian's Wall. A robbery of ancient artefacts from Durham Cathedral.

While most visitors to the picturesque landmarks of north-east England enjoy the views, it would seem Louise Ross spots an opportunity for crime.

"I'm not sure what it says about my personality," the 36-year-old from Northumberland laughs, speaking via phone from a family holiday in Cornwall where, funnily enough, she has also set a mystery novel.

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Louise Ross has recently published The Cove which is set in Cornwall

"Once you get bitten by the writing bug it's hard to shake it," Louise says.

"Everywhere we go I find little bits of inspiration from the landscape, although I'm not always looking for places to commit crimes.

"That only really happened once when I was on Hadrian's Wall and I did think, 'hmm, you could hide a body here'."

Since 2015, Louise has written 18 books in the DCI Ryan series, four novels chronicling the exploits of forensic psychologist Dr Alexander Gregory, a short story anthology and the Cornish cove crime thriller.

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The covers are designed by artist Andrew Davidson

For the previous 10 years, she had been a financial services lawyer in London which involved tackling white collar criminals and "trying to stop people perpetuating fraud".

"When you have invested a large amount of time training in something, you feel an obligation to commit to that for a long time," Louise says.

"I found after a few years I was not loving it and I could not say my heart was fully in it."

Deciding to take a sabbatical, Louise, who by this time was married to a barrister called James, set her sights on studying forensic psychology.

But her work-break soon became a "lovely surprise" maternity leave as she discovered she was pregnant with the couple's first child.

At around the same time, the couple were on a train bound for Edinburgh when, travelling up the Northumberland coast, she had a flash of an idea that went on to change her life.

"We saw Holy Island," Louise says.

"It was miserable weather but so atmospheric and I remember looking at the island and thinking it would be a great place to set a story.

Image source, Getty Images
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Seeing Holy Island from the train inspired Louise Ross to start writing

"I suppose tentatively I did always want to be a writer, my mum has found books I wrote when I was kid.

"I was a big reader, I loved books, but it was always a giant leap to think you could go from being a reader to a writer."

With the time offered by her sabbatical and the germs of a story, Louise decided to write a book.

Image source, Gareth Iwan Jones
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Louise's pen name LJ Ross combines the initials of her and her husband's first names

"At first I wasn't thinking of crime writing. Originally I wanted to do escapist fiction, a story people could fall into and not think too much," she says.

"But as I started it took a different shape."

Inspired by her love of the "golden age of crime writing" encapsulated by the likes of Agatha Christie, as well as her childhood passion for the good versus evil narratives of the Christopher Reeve Superman films and Star Wars saga, Louise found herself creating a new detective - Det Ch Insp Maxwell Finlay-Ryan.

His first adventure is on Holy Island, where he has gone to recover from his own recent trauma when he is confronted by the gruesome murder of a young woman whose remains are found in the priory ruins.

Image source, Getty Images
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Det Ch Insp Ryan's first adventure sees him trying to solve the murder of a woman whose body was found in the remains of Holy Island's priory

Louise spent 18 months writing it around getting to grips with motherhood, before starting the hunt for an agent and publisher.

"With breath-taking naivety I sent it to 12 or 14 agents and publishers thinking that would be enough. I only later learnt JK Rowling sent Harry Potter to hundreds.

"I did have one offer from what I would call a midsize publishing house which was exciting, but when the contract came through and I was supposed to feel elated, I just didn't.

"I thought, 'I'm handing over an awful lot here, my intellectual property in perpetuity'.

"It just left me feeling very anti-climatic."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Louise and her husband James formed Dark Skies Publishing to publish her works

Unsure what to do, Louise's husband suggested she look at publishing her book herself through an Amazon-owned service called Kindle Direct Publishing.

"I didn't know anything about it, I thought it was just vanity publishing, but it actually meant I could be in charge of my book and what happened to it.

"So I said, 'OK, let's give it a go'."

Holy Island was published as an e-book on 1 January 2015 and sold 25 copies, all to family and friends, while Louise also printed a few copies to sell in local bookshops.

But by May it was number one in the Kindle store, knocking Paula Hawkins' Girl On A Train off top spot, with daily sales of about 4,500 for which Louise credits "word of mouth".

Amazon's algorithms also helped, with the more copies sold resulting in better promotion and more copies selling.

Image source, Getty Images
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Louise's second novel Sycamore Gap is set on Hadrian's Wall

The majority of her seven million plus sales have been e-books although printed copies produced by Dark Skies Publishing, the firm run by her and her husband, can be found in mainstream and independent bookshops with audio books also available.

Her first book was written for herself so how has she found having fans to please?

"I would not say I feel pressure now," Louise says.

"I approach every new book as if it's the first book just to remind myself what it was like.

"When you have a long running series, just like in the individual books themselves, there are peaks and troughs of action - so some books have more going than others and people are not just reading the the same story over and over again."

Image source, Getty Images
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The 16th DCI Ryan book centres around a theft from Durham Cathedral

Louise does all the planning in her head, only starting to write when she has already plotted out the story and characters.

She tries to do her writing while her son is at school, and will constantly re-read and edit as she goes along, writing chapters like cinematic scenes.

"Some people stick to a very formal routines, I am not that person," she says.

"I'm fairly no-nonsense though so can get on with it."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Louise worked as a lawyer in central London before turning to writing and moving back to her native North East

Louise acknowledges she is in a fortunate position to be able to have the time and support of her family to write and publish her books, with James effectively operating as the publishing director.

"Independent publishing is not for everyone, it does depend on what your support network is like," she says.

In November Dark Skies Publishing will publish its first book not written solely by Louise - an anthology from more than 50 authors to raise money for homelessness charity Shelter.

She has launched several philanthropic endeavours - a photography prize, a reading campaign for children and writing award for adult crime writers - all of which are designed to support and promote people and places in the North East.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Louise Ross said the North East was home to beaches, castles and mysteries

"It's home," she says, having grown up in Ponteland and now with a new home near Hexham.

"We have got a bit of everything up here, there is a feel to the place. The people are a big factor, they are friendly and warm, the warmth is the key.

"There is also so much history, castles, and beaches, we have a bit of everything. I love the texture."

Now she is expecting her second child, due to be born in November, and is already working on her next books.

What, then, is the secret to her prolific writing and working?

"Chocolate and coffee," she replies with a laugh, shortly before heading off to enjoy her holiday on Cornwall's Lizard Point.

Expect to see a story of a murder at the most southerly tip of mainland Great Britain soon.

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