10 questions with author John Marrs; From self publishing to a Netflix deal

Author John Marrs smiles at the camera
Author John Marrs

John Marrs spent 25 years as a freelance journalist in London where he specialised in interviewing celebrities and was published everywhere from the Guardian to the Daily Star. He self -published his first novel after 80 rejections and then his third attracted the attention of agents. The rest is history. Third book, The One, was chosen as the book of the month for BBC Radio 2’s Book Club and his fourth book, The Good Samaritan, was released in November 2017 and became a Number One hit world-wide. But it wasn’t until 2018 and book four – Her Last Move – he was able to start working as a full time author.

The One is being turned into a 10-part series for streaming giant Netflix and due on our screens next year.

Over to John..

1.What’s your name and where do you come from? 

I’m John Marrs, I’m 48 and I was born – and still live – in Northamptonshire.

2.Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?

I write fiction and am fortunate to have the opportunity to write in two genres. I write psychological thrillers for the label Thomas & Mercer. And I write psychological thrillers with a futuristic twist for Penguin. The latter are most often compared to the Black Mirror Netflix series, which is hugely flattering. 

3.Are you traditionally or self published and which route do you consider best? 

After my first book was rejected by eighty agents and publishers, I began as a self-published author. But in the week of release of my third novel, The One, it was spotted by an editor at Penguin and a TV production company who both made offers. In the same week, my first novel, When You Disappeared, was read by an editor at Thomas & Mercer who offered me a deal for that too. It was a very peculiar time. Now I’ve just started writing my ninth book and I have a TV series of The One starting on Netflix next year and What Lies Between Us has been optioned by Renee Zellweger’s production company. I owe my writing career to self-publishing and would recommend it without hesitation for first-time writers.

4. What’s your work schedule like when you are writing? 

Three years ago when I worked as a showbiz journalist, I’d write for 90 minutes on the train to London in the morning, then for an hour at lunch time, and a further 90 minutes on the journey home. In fact, my first five books were written on trains. Then I gave up journalism in 2018 and started writing from home full-time. Now I write for three days a week, 9am until 6pm. I try and write a minimum of 2,000 words a day – a very doable amount. Anything over than that is a bonus.

5. What advice would you give to budding writers? 

I was told to read out loud whatever I write when I start the editing process – and it has really helped me with pacing, grammatical errors and sentence structure. I’ve also learned that research is key – if you want to write a commercially successful book, then pick a genre that people want to read. You might know everything there is to know about Himalayan cattle farming, but it doesn’t mean other people want to read a book about it. And develop a thick skin. Not everyone is going to like your books, so be prepared for negative as well as positive reviews.

Author Johns Marrs posing against a glass office window
John Marrs

6. Who/what are YOUR favourite authors/ books? 

I like most genres, I’m not snobbish. My go-to authors are John Niven, Tom Rob Smith, John Boyne, Gillian Flynn, Cara Hunter, Peter Swanson, CL Taylor and CJ Tudor. And some of my all-time favourite books include The Heart’s Invisible Furies, The Beach, American Psycho, Daisy Jones & The Six and The Shadow of The Wind.

7. Are you a plotter or a pantster? 

I’ve only recently learned to start plotting books in more depth. I used to be a pantster. Once I came up with an idea, I was impatient and just wanted to get the book started and then deal with the changes required in the second, fourth and fifth rewrites. For my last three books I’ve plotted out each chapter and it’s helped immensely. But I don’t stick to it rigidly though, I like to keep a story fluid and mix things up as I go along if a better idea pops up in my head.

8. What helps you focus? 

Turning off the wifi at the plug! I’m very easily distracted so sometimes I have to rid the house of wifi and turn my phone off or I’ll end up in an internet black hole. Having worked as a journalist, I’m used to deadlines. So as the end of the day approaches and if I haven’t hit my target, I’ll start hurrying along until I complete whatever needs to be done.

9. How long did it take you to write your books? 

The first draft is usually around four to five months, followed by three months of re-writes. Then it’s submitted to my editor. I’m usually starting the next book when they get back to me with their critique so I return to that one and start another round of edits. My latest, The Minders, probably took me about ten months from start to finish.

10. Where can we find your books? 

They are available on Amazon and in all good book shops. You can find out more about John Marrs on his website.

Book cover of The MInders by John Marrs

John Marrs

If you are an author and would like to take part in ’10 questions with..’ please email me at nicolakadam@gmail.com in the first instance. The questions remain the same each week, for guidance.

All of these Q&As will later appear in multiple JPI Media (local) titles across the UK (think Lancashire Post/Edinburgh Evening News/Sheffield Star etc). To contact me in my role at JPI Media please email nicola.adam@jpimedia.co.uk

I also interview a small number of authors as a presenter at BBC Radio Lancashire and I’m particularly but not exclusively interested in northern writers with a back story for this. My email is nicola.adam@bbc.co.uk

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