Mug Shot: Jerri Williams
After 26 years with the FBI, specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, Jerri Williams called on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write Pay to Play, her debut novel. She has also served as a media spokesperson and is currently the host and producer of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast. She joined the MWA in 2016.
What made you decide to be an author?
I've always been a big reader. When I heard that former colleagues, two attractive female FBI agents, were investigating a sensational strip club corruption case, I thought to myself, this could be a novel. I decided I wanted to be the one to write it. So I did. Now, I hear and see great stories all around me.
Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants?
I'm an outliner. I love to write multiple POVs and find it easier to sketch out each character's story arc and figure out where it fits in with the overall structure of the novel. Maybe my attachment to this method is a holdover from preparing arrest plans. I'm flexible and will adapt my outline as I write, but “Prepare for the unexpected” is my motto.
What non-crime books do you enjoy reading?
Is it a bad thing that, at this time, I only read crime novels? My favorite books are The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Corrections, Beloved, and The Garden of Last Days, all literary novels. But right now I'm immersing myself in the crime genre and discovering what makes a good procedural.
How do you handle rejection or bad reviews?
Initially they sting. But I try to find the constructive points and use them to make my work better. When I first started podcasting, I received several negative comments about the quality of the audio, so I bought a better microphone and a pop filter and fixed it. I was grateful for the honest critique. I'm always disappointed when a reader rates a book poorly, not because of the quality of the writing or lack of a plot, but because it was about infidelity or had too many curse words. But then again, that type of a review could end up being a great marketing tool to pull in readers who like bad behavior and bad words.
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Be selective when showing your work to others. Find impartial beta readers who are also authors or people who enjoy books in the genre your writing. I let a friend read my first draft and he said he didn't think it was any good. He even suggested that I consider hiring a ghost writer. I was crushed. He failed to mention until several weeks later that he hadn't read a book in 20 years and that reading wasn't his thing. Trade manuscripts with writers you meet at writing conferences. An honest critique from a stranger is always easier to accept than from someone whose opinion really matters to you.