How To Become a Writer of Thriller Books: An Interview With Ian Sutherland

Ian Sutherland Do you want to become a writer of thriller books?

Would you like to use Twitter or another social media platform to promote your work?

What kind of struggles are other indie authors facing today and how can you overcome them?

I recently interviewed Ian Sutherland, the author of cyber crime books Social Engineer and Invasion of Privacy as well as the non-fiction book Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors.

In this interview, Ian explains how he got started with self-publishing.

He also describes how he balances writing with the other parts of becoming a thriller writer.

And Ian explains why Twitter is great social media network for indie authors and thriller writers who want to promote their work.

Q. Can you describe the process of writing your thriller books?

Invasion of PrivacyI wrote Invasion of Privacy.

It was quite a long book, and I needed to cut down some of the words.

There was a prologue, a 10,000-word prologue, right at the beginning, which was a great scene, but all it did was introduce the main character of.

It didn't have anything to do with the rest of the book.

I edited it out and wrote a replacement scene instead, but I was still sitting there with this 10,000-word scene which I quite liked.

I ended up writing a sixty-page novella with this scene. The two stories came together, had a trademark twist, which is what I'm into, and seemed to work really well.

I suddenly had the prequel, which I hadn't ever planned to write when I was writing the novel, but there it was.

I was able to release both on the same day.

Q. Are you writing a sequel?

I've been outlining the sequel.

I'm quite excited by where it's going, and I just need to find time to write it.

Unfortunately, I diverted myself by writing the Advanced Twitter Strategies book, so I lost some momentum

I have a day job as well, like many people. I can get it done by the end of the year, but we'll see.

Q. Why did decide to write a nonfiction book alongside fiction?

Advanced Twitter StrategiesTwitter seemed a great way of talking to people and driving attention.

If you look at my fiction books, they're about cybercrime.

There’s a lot of technology in them and that's because my personal background is in IT.

I did a lot of research on best practices and found a combination of ways of using Twitter to get the word out about my books and myself.

I cracked it.

I was getting a lot of growth in followers; I was getting a lot of attention on Twitter…people were very grateful for all the retweets I was making.

I started talking to other authors.

When I explained what I was doing, and how I was doing it, quite a few people said, ‘Ian, it would be really, really helpful if you could write this down.’

‘Ian, it would be really, really helpful if you could write this down.’

Q. How do you use Twitter to market your writing?

Ten percent of the stuff I tweet is about my books, but 90 percent is providing good content for people.

This enables me to then drive people to my books on Amazon or to my landing page, to my website.

Most of it is automated, because otherwise I would spend all my life on Twitter.

I can't do that if I want to write the next book.

Q. When do you do write, in the morning or at night?

I've tried getting up at four in the morning and writing but that has a knock-on effect on everything else.

I write at least one day on the weekend, ideally both if I can balance it with my family commitments, and then most evenings after work.

It's a classic dilemma.

Being a writer is quite a solitary profession.

You can lock yourself away in a room and talk to nobody except the people that are in your head that you're putting down on page, which is not great if you have a family like I do.

The compromise I've come up with is to sit downstairs with my family who may be in front of the TV, but I'll put some headphones on and listen to film music because it doesn't distract me.

That is how I balance a day job, my family commitments and being part of the family, and…writing.

That is how I balance a day job, my family commitments and being part of the family, and…writing.

Q. How long does it take you to write a first draft of your books?

On the first book, it took me two years. And this time, I'm trying to do it in six months.

So that's a 75 percent productivity improvement! We'll see if I'm successful in six month's time.

Q. How do you track the progress of your writing projects? Do you go by word count, hours, or by finished projects?

I just can't get to the point where I could say, I'm going to write a thousand words a day. So for me, it's just steady progress.

I am lucky in that when I sit down to write, the words come. I've never experienced anything like writer's block. I outline my novels beforehand.

I come up with a lot of the creative ideas, the suspense and the twists and cliffhangers come during outlines.

By the time I come to writing a scene, I just get on with it and write, and it flows.

I learned as I wrote my first novel was that I was too busy tinkering with the plot.

I would write a scene and then sit down the next night with a great plan to write the next scene, but then go back and read what I'd written the day before and lose two hours just playing with that and kind of self-editing

I'm trying to resist the urge to do that so I can get to the end of the first draft more quickly.

Q. How did you find the process of getting a book cover designed?

Social EngineerFor my book cover, I ended up with a guy called Peter O'Connor.

He's got a website called

I came across him through a friend, and he came up with the covers for Invasion of Privacy and Social Engineer.

I just had the covers redone by the same designer. I really did like them, but they were very dark, and that's reflective of the genre, but as thumbnails, they were just too dark.

I asked my designer to rework them, and they're more colourful and bright now.

I'm convinced that improving the cover in this way is a big thing.

When it came to the Twitter book, I used 99designs and had lots of people compete.

I had something like thirty-four different entries to choose from to then take to the final round and ended up a cover, which I'm very pleased with

Q. How did you find an editor for your books?

I knew about Elance from years ago in a different part of my life.

Elance is a website where freelancers advertise themselves and people can then go and search for freelancers, and editing

I narrowed it down to three or four interesting editors, approached them, talked to them about the job, and I ended up hiring an editor who lives ten miles from away.

Q. Did your editor proofread your book?

No, so she did the full edit.

I then applied all the changes, and then I had a few friends lined up as proofreaders, one of which happened to be my wife, who…turns out to be an excellent proofreader.

She has eagle eyes that spot everything,

Occasionally people have still picked up on the odd misspelling or whatever, and so the great thing about e-books…is you can put them right as you go.

Q. How do you balance blogging with writing fiction and writing non-fiction?

I’ve not been a good enough blogger all the way through all of this. I've been sporadic as opposed to regular, and I've done less and less blogging as time has gone by.

One of the things I've been wrestling with over the last couple of months is, what is my identity?

Am I a fiction writer? Am I a nonfiction writer? Or am I both?

My website right this minute is a bit of a hybrid.

I'm going to make sure that my main website that you see from all of the stuff to do with Invasion of Privacy and my fiction work is just about that.

I’m probably to set up a second website for the Advanced Twitter Strategies stuff because the audience there is other authors.

Q. Are you going to publish your future fiction and non-fiction books under separate pen names, or are you going to keep them under one pen name?

My name as a fiction writer is Ian Sutherland, and my name as a nonfiction writer is Ian H. Sutherland.

It was a nod to one of my favourite authors who has sadly passed away now…Iain Banks.

He had his contemporary fiction under Iain Banks, and he had his sci-fi fiction under Iain M. Banks.

Q. What's productivity tips or advice would you give to someone who wants to write faster?

Stop being distracted!

If you allow yourself, you can spend all of your time just on Twitter or on social media or on your website.

Be really hard on yourself or compartmentalise the different roles you have as an indie author.

An indie author is someone who writes…but [he or she] is also someone who publishes and markets their books. They're three very different roles.

An indie author is someone who writes…but [he or she] is also someone who publishes and markets their books. They're three very different roles.

Q. What would be your best tip for selling books?

If you're writing any kind of series, have something available for free, whether it's a whole book or a novella, or even a short story.

Have something for free and do everything you can to build a mailing list.

If you've got a mailing list, you've got a bunch of people who've chosen to be interested in what you've got to say and will be waiting for you whenever you've got a new book to launch.

Q. Do you have separate mailing lists for fiction and non-fiction?

Yes, my audiences are very different.

I can do a little bit of cross-promotion but I'm not looking to cross-promote.

Having a mailing list for other authors doesn't necessarily make them want to be necessarily readers of my thriller books and vice versa.

Connect With Thriller Writer Ian Sutherland

You can get a free chapter of Invasion of Privacy by joining Ian’s email list at

His cybercrime thriller books Social Engineer and Invasion of Privacy and Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors are all available on via his Amazon author page.

You can also ask him questions @Iansuth.

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