Five years and 2m copies later, self-published author lands UK book deal | Crime fiction

Five years and 2m copies later, self-published author lands UK book deal | Crime fiction

In 2018, JM Dalgliesh was a stay-at-home father when he sent his first crime novel to six literary agents, only to receive polite rejection letters – or no response at all. Refusing to give up, he found inspiration in a friend’s suggestion that he try self-publishing. The advice could not have been better.

That novel, Divided House – the story of a detective’s path to redemption – was to become the first of 22 self-published crime thrillers, comprising three series of police procedural novels that have sold more than 2m copies in total.

Now Dalgliesh, whose first initial stands for Jason, has been taken on by a traditional publisher, and will be able to reach even more readers, partly via the sale of rights worldwide.

Bookouture, a division of Hachette UK, has acquired four new thrillers by the author that will be published in 2024 and 2025. Rhianna Louise, its commissioning editor, said: “I am so proud to be publishing JM Dalgliesh, an extremely talented author with an army of devoted fans. Jason and I have been brainstorming some very exciting, hooky thriller concepts and I know that in his hands, they are going to be utterly brilliant.”

Dalgliesh’s books have also been optioned by Elizabeth Fowler, head of Clear Pictures Entertainment, whose previous films include Official Secrets, the 2019 drama starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, based on the Observer’s exposé of US-UK spy operations against UN members before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Fowler said: “I was struck by his strong original voice and compelling characters … as well as the rich atmospheric geographical settings he chooses. Jason’s tremendous success does not surprise me in the least, and I’m incredibly excited to bring each of his series to the screen.”

Dalgliesh, 48, lives in Norfolk with his wife, Helen, and two children, aged 12 and nine. He had previously worked in various jobs: “Nothing particularly spiritually enlightening. I worked in retail management for many years, managing out-of-town shopping parks. When I wrote my first book, I was actually a stay-at-home dad. My wife is a chartered engineer, so she had a very good job. We didn’t want our children to be in nursery all day. So I stepped down and I left my work.”

When he originally contacted agents in 2018, he did receive some encouraging words. One wrote that it was not going to take him on but suggested that he write something else and come back to it in six months or the following year, he recalled.

“But I looked at it as a numbers thing. There were hundreds, if not thousands of authors, submitting to the same agents every week. And although I was getting feedback that was positive, for me that didn’t make logical sense because the odds were not stacked in my favour.”

He added: “Self-publishing put the odds back in my favour because it put it back in my control.” He spread the word by advertising on Amazon and Facebook and has topped bestseller lists on Amazon and Kindle.

Asked why he has now partnered with a traditional publisher, he said: “I’ve gone as far as I can go. I’ve got three series of police procedurals that are doing very well, but when you’re an indie and you’re advertising largely in the digital world, you’re closing off an awful lot of other avenues where readers are.”

Most readers still bought from bookshops, he said, so a traditional publishing house was another route to open up his readership.

He added: “Now I just have to focus on the writing, which is – let’s face it – the fun part.”

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