The Crime Readers' Association

SJI Holliday -From Crime Reader to Crime Writer: How I Got Here

1st May 2015

One of the first things I did when I got my book deal was to join the CWA, so it’s a great honour for me to be writing here as May’s author of the month. I’m still very much one of the new kids on the block, so what I plan to share with you throughout the month is the story of where I am now, how I got here and where I’m planning to go next.


My journey to publication wasn’t as long as for some. I know of authors who have tried for years to get published and written many books before one was picked up. I’ve always admired those who never gave up, and these are the kind of authors I look up to now. Most people write a full manuscript and send it off to several agents, while writing another and another, battling the inevitable rejections along the way. This was the route I expected to take, until something unexpected happened.


From 2009 onwards, I attended several writing conferences and festivals as a reader and a fledgling writer, and it was at one of those that I met my agent. We got chatting, and he gave me his card – asking me to send him something when I was ready. A few years passed, and I was never ready. I was (and still am) guilty of starting and stopping, being dragged away by other ideas. During this time, I finally decided on a story I was going to stick with. A competition was advertised, asking for a prologue – the prize being a crime-writing day with two top authors. To cut a long story short, I entered my prologue and it was one of the runners up. I tweeted my delight… and later that day received a message from the agent I’d met at the festival. ‘Congratulations. When are you going to send me something?’ it said.‎


I debated this. I hadn’t finished the book, but I had a well-polished 10,000 words. I asked if he wanted to wait and he said ‘No, send it now.’ So I did. You could’ve peeled me off the ceiling when I got a phone call the very next day. ‘I love this. I want to represent you. When can we meet?’ We met a few days later, on the 28th June 2013. I signed up on the spot. I said I’d deliver the completed clean draft on 31st July. What was I thinking?!


Clearly pressure agrees with me, because I delivered it a day early. After a whirlwind of submissions, which resulted in lots of great feedback, many ‘maybes’ some ‘almosts’ and several bouts of painful self-doubt, my wonderful agent sold it. My debut novel, Black Wood, was ‎published on 19th March this year. I had launches in Waterstones in London and Edinburgh, and it reached #1 in the Amazon psychological thriller and Scottish crime charts. This summer I’ll be attending festivals not as a reader, but as a participating author. I still can’t quite believe it.


What’s the moral of this story? Keep writing, of course. But don’t underestimate the power of networking – both on social media and at literary festivals – because surrounding yourself with the right people can only help you get where you want to be. Then you can join the CWA like I did – and pinch yourself when you realise that you’re part of an organisation that is filled to the brim with all the authors you’ve always read… and now you’re one of the gang.

Read more about SJI Holliday on her CRA author profile page


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