16 June 2024

Breaking All The Rules: Bestselling Author RR Haywood

Daily News
| The European | RR Haywood

Meet RR Haywood, one of Britain’s bestselling self-published authors. A global chart-topper many times over, he credits his success to one thing: a passion for reading.

Within the space of a decade, RR Haywood has risen to the status of one Britain’s bestselling self-published authors.

With nearly four million sales worldwide to-date and more than 40 books to his name, of which 25 are Kindle and Audible bestsellers, the Isle of Wight-based author has been able to achieve what many aspiring writers can only dream of.

For despite the unparalleled growth of independent publishing and insatiable public appetite for new books, the harsh reality is that most will never sell more than a few hundred copies nor be able to quit the day job and write full time. Haywood, however, was able to retire from his career as a policeman in 2019 after 19 years’ service, and has never looked back, earning a high six-figure sum each year from book royalties.

Asked about the secret of his success, the 47-year-old, who is also a Washington Post and Wall Street Journal bestselling author, credits one thing above all else: being a voracious reader. This, he says, has equipped him with all the tools and skills needed to write novels that hook readers and top the charts.

Haywood’s immense appetite for the printed word goes all the way back to his childhood, growing up in Birmingham. The gritty industrial landscape of Britain’s second city was in stark contrast to the science-fiction and fantasy novels he devoured, and which provided an escape from the real world.

“My earliest memory is being four years old, quietly reading a book,” he says.

“Looking back, it was a form of solace as I had quite a disjointed childhood, with my family moving around a lot running pubs and clubs. “And in school I was the kid daydreaming his way through classes, just waiting to get home to dive into something by Tolkien, Asimov, or Arthur C. Clarke.”

With a vast amount of reading under the belt – he suggests aiming for 1,000 books or 80 million words – expensive writing courses, the go-to option for many ambitious authors, are not required.

“Now that I’ve made it, I often get contacted by aspiring writers asking if they should go on a writing course, and I tell them matter of fact to save their money and time. “Instead, I urge them to get reading, widely and profusely. Unless you aim to be the next James Joyce or Italo Calvino, you don’t need to try and reinvent the wheel.

“Everything you could possibly need to pen a great novel, one that has the real prospect of becoming a bestseller, can be gleaned from what’s already on bookshelves. “Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, biographies, children’s stories – they’re all grist to the mill, along with every other genre you can think of.

“Personally, I love dipping into the more obscure corners of storytelling, from the the weird fiction of writers such as HP Lovecraft to hardboiled pulp crime fiction, but I don’t limit myself to personal preferences. “And those books don’t always have to be ‘good’ ones. When seeking to learn how to write effectively, ‘bad’ books can be just as instructive as timeless classics.

Having now sold nearly four million books worldwide, and with more than 25 bestsellers to his name, it can only be a matter of time before RR Haywood’s books are adapted for Netflix.

“It’s thanks to reading, and I must have read at least 1,000 books, that I’ve picked up how to create realistic characters and dialogue, structure stories, and mix in backdrops and backgrounds. “And I’ve done it without losing my own author voice or style, which is the risk when you go on a writing course trying to spoon feed the so-called golden rules of writing.

“Really, there are no rules other than to ensure that what you’re writing is entertaining.” It’s a cardinal rule that Haywood has followed to the letter since his first book, apocalyptic zombie tale The Undead Day One, was self-published in 2012.

It was The Undead series, which now comprises more than 25 books and has a huge and dedicated global fanbase, which made his name. Refreshingly for such a bestselling author, he freely admits that the first few entries in the series were less than polished, as he found his way around writing.

“I was inspired to self-publish after reading an awesome self-released novel called Three Feet Of Sky by Stephen Ayres,” he explains. “Initially, I intended to publish seven novellas (Undead Day One to Undead Day Seven) as a way of teaching myself to write.

“The first few were awful, not because of the storyline or characterisations but on account of them being full of typos and other elementary errors which have, thankfully, since been corrected. “By the end of the process I’d learned the ropes and I brought the seven novellas together into The Undead: The First Seven Days, which slowly took off.”

RR Haywood’s Fiction Land is a rip-roaring romp that takes no prisoners.

Thanks to the popularity of The Undead, Haywood secured a three-book deal with publisher 47North for what would become his Extracted trilogy, which went on to become a global bestseller. Since then, he has continued to release books at a rapid pace, from epic sci-fi trilogy DELIO and stand-alone, high-concept thrillers such as A Town Called Discovery, to, most recently, satirical action-adventure Fiction Land.

While the stories are vastly different, all of Haywood’s output is marked by his ability to blend tension with humour, and to create relatable and deeply human characters. Surprisingly, given his status, Haywood continues to mix self-publishing with traditional publishers.

Fiction Land is a case in point. The paperback edition of this laugh-out-loud blockbuster adventure, whose premise has been described as “Imagine John Wick wakes up in a city full of characters from novels”, has been self-published under the 1899 Inc imprint.

The audiobook edition, however, which topped the Audible pre-order charts in the weeks prior to release, has been published through W.F Howes and features former Game of Thrones star Gethin Anthony as narrator.

“I’ll always self-publish select titles, including all The Undead books, as I like the total creative freedom it provides, as well as the immediacy it brings, connecting me with readers in a way that’s much more difficult when an author is 100 per cent traditionally published. “I buzz off that relationship. Scoring a bestseller is, of course, a delight but it’s abstract.

“There’s nothing better than hearing the feedback of readers, knowing that they’ve really enjoyed what you’ve written. It’s the fuel that keeps me going.”

Bestselling author RR Haywood’s latest novel, Fiction Land is out now on Amazon in paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats and priced £8.99, £3.99, and £18.72 respectively. Visit www.rrhaywood.com or follow RR Haywood on Twitter or Facebook.

Q&A Interview With RR Haywood

We caught up with bestselling author RR Haywood to find out more about his approach to writing, his new novel, Fiction Land, and why he believes that independent publishing is needed now more than ever to preserve bold and exciting storytelling.

Q. You launched your writing career in the zombie horror genre. What drew you to this genre, and what do you find so compelling about it?

A. The post-apocalyptic genre has always fascinated me, as it has many others. What happens after society has collapsed? How do we survive? We all moan and berate our countries, and the laws and the rules we have to live by, while thriving in a time when disease and crime in developed countries are at the lowest ever.

My fascination was always about what happens when you strip all of that away. I’d seen first-hand many times from my career as a police officer how great people are in an immediate crisis, and how we are nearly all hard-wired to offer aid within the immediacy of a terrible event, but then also how quickly we turn on each other straight after. I was devouring everything I could in the ‘post-apoc’ genre, but finding the lack of detail frustrating, plus the bland editing stripping originality, was leaving me wanting. So, I set out to produce a raw, unedited, and often unflinching hour-by-hour account of global catastrophe within a British setting.

Q. You write in genres that are popular with readers but typically sneered at by critics. What do you make of this criticism?

A. Ha! I love it. I’ve always found that snobbery equal parts fascinating, horrific, and strangely challenging. I love putting the types of deep characterisation and emotional exploration only normally found in literary novels into an extraordinary setting of time-travel, post-apoc, or people living on spaceships.

It does get frustrating, though, with the London-centric university grad middle classes dominating the book publishing world in the UK and how they, often inadvertently, look down on genre writing while many successful genre writers like me are earning far more money and gaining reviews that a lot of literary novelists just don’t achieve. Look at the TV world. Stranger Things, X-Files, Lost. Squid Game, The Walking Dead, Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, DC – they’re huge! And they’d all be classified as genre fiction.

Q. Zombies have been a part of popular culture for decades, and have exploded in popularity in recent decades. How do you approach the challenge of keeping your zombie stories fresh and unique in a genre with such a long history?

A. Great question because zombies have been done to death. Boom! The short answer is that I now don’t read anything in the zombie genre, and I don’t generally watch anything either. I’m also lucky (sometimes cursed) with a very active imagination and I never run out of ideas. In fact, I have to fight to reduce the amount of ideas I put into a book to stop it becoming overloaded with themes.

Q. You have also established yourself as one of the UK’s most popular sci-fi authors, with series including The Hive and Extracted trilogies. Where do you get your ideas from?

A. I’ve got oodles of stories in my head. Childhood was hard; sometimes brutal. We moved a lot and I escaped into books, and, I guess, I developed neural pathways that enhanced and later ramped my imagination. I think being naturally curious helps, and even after two decades of policing I’m still fascinated by human behaviour. Put all of that together, plus a love of the extraordinary that is firmly rooted within the very ordinary, then add the discipline needed to sit down and create and write, and that’s it.

Q. Your latest novel, Fiction Land, satirises the action genre. Why did you set your sights on this genre in particular?

A. There are just so many action stories! And it’s always a guy of a certain age that is an ex-assassin/agent/soldier/spy, and with a short name: John, Jack, Jason, James. I mean, could there be any more action revenge thrillers all following the same storyline? But then I really love the John Wick movies. Keanu Reeves is just so cool, and it’s great he trains for months but isn’t a steroid muscle-bound Instagram fitness model. So, I guess, I roll my eyes every time another one comes out while also really enjoying them. The Jack Reacher TV series is awesome, too. Fiction Land isn’t a biting parody. If anything, it’s a respectful nod to the genre while poking some gentle fun at the usual tropes we see so often in fiction of all kinds.

Q. The audiobook version of Fiction Land has secured former Game of Thrones actor Gethin Anthony for the narration. How did you settle on Gethin and what do you think he adds to the listening experience?

A. Having the right narrator can make or break an audio book. I spend months creating the novel with the narration style in my head, and because I’ve always done very well with audio books, for the most part the audio book producers let me choose the narrator(s) to work with for each project. Or, at least, I have a great deal of input and am included in the discussion. It’s only happened once when I wasn’t, and, sadly, that book hasn’t performed as well as my others.

As for Gethin, we’d worked with his talent agency before, with Colin Morgan, who narrated my CODE trilogy. United Agents put Gethin and a few others forward this time and his sample narration blew it out of the water. We realised instantly that he was perfect for the role. His range of voices, his comedic timing and delivery, and his ability to reflect sadness and poignancy are just incredible. I’ve heard Fiction Land and he is brilliant.

Game of Thrones star Gethin Anthony narrates the audiobook version of RR Haywood’s latest novel, Fiction Land.

Q. Some readers are put off reading books by self-published authors because they feel there is no assurance of quality. What would you say to them?

A. I understand that view, but, sadly, our trust in the mainstream publishing world to handfeed us great novels has become overwhelmed by executives only looking at profits. In turn, they only look at the top-performing books and then decree that all novels must be edited in that same fashion. That feeds into the creative writing schools and then into the industry editors who eventually form stupid rules that strip originality away. I’ve had top-level industry editors changing my dialogue between characters because they were not speaking perfect English. I replied that people don’t speak perfect English, but they demanded the changes to satisfy that middle band of readers who only want the same thing.

It’s a weird paradox because fiction, above all else, is meant to be unique and beautifully diverse. That said, as with any industry, self-publishing did become flooded with a lot of very poor writers and awful books. Keep an open-mind and show tolerance, that’s all I’d say.

Q. Within the space of a decade you have established as one of the UK’s bestselling self-published authors, being able to leave your former job to write full time. What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

A. Advice is a double-edged sword. What worked for me might not work for other people. But the principles of success are the same for everyone. Work hard, focus, and have discipline. It’s a mindset, isn’t it. If you want something badly enough, you’ll get up early and be hungry for it. The road to success is filled with people who gave up for any number of excuses.

Q. You continue to self-publish The Undead series while releasing your other books through traditional publishers. Why is this?

A. I look at each novel and think what do I want from this? Do I want the creative freedom and ability to work under my own pace, release when I want, choose my own narrators and cover art, and accept what level of editing is applied – while also accepting responsibility for the gruelling task of finding ways to market and promote without the deep pockets of a big publisher – or do I potentially lose all of that freedom in exchange for the reach those publishers have?

If you get a good agent, editor, and publisher, that method is a dream, but sadly that isn’t always the case. Just one bad egg in that process can turn it into a nightmare, and our industry is littered with toxicity on a level I never experienced in the police, which has its faults, but, at heart, is filled with people trying to do the right thing and serve others.

Also, I enjoy doing things myself and pushing boundaries. I hate boring processes that exist for the sake of it. It’s thrilling to self-publish. The buzz is insane. I love it.

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