Interview: Screenwriter Turned USA Today Bestseller, Jamie Lee Scott

Interview: Screenwriter Turned USA Today Bestseller, Jamie Lee Scott

I've been a Jamie Lee Scott fan for quite some time—captivated not just by her writing but also by her incredible work ethic and business savvy. I finally had the chance to pick her brain, covering everything from screenwriting to her decision to opt for self-publishing over the traditional route.

Jamie Lee Scott, the creative brain behind 17 books in less than 10 years, seamlessly woven into three gripping crime thriller series, is not just an author but a seasoned horsewoman with victories in barrel-racing. A native Californian, she's worn multiple hats throughout her career—former restaurant owner, barista, website designer, catering to authors' needs, and a skilled screenwriter. Let's not forget, she was a co-founding member behind the genius of #scriptchat—a weekly screenwriting chat, created back in 2009, on the original Twitter.

With a move to Texas, alongside her husband, I was thrilled to welcome her for a lively and inspiring chat over Zoom.

Lisa: You started out as a screenwriter. Did you write crime thriller screenplays?

JLS: Yes. I wrote a pilot about a DEA agent, and it got onto the desk at NBC, and then NBC became NBC Universal, and it got lost. But it had gotten to an executive's desk. It was really bad timing. Then I wrote one [a script] called Life Sentence, which was about human trafficking. Then I wrote a short screenplay that got produced, then picked up by DIRECTV. The story was about child abuse. I don't know why I write dark stuff.

Lisa: What inspired you to write a short film?

JLS: We were talking about writing short films on #scriptchat, and someone said it's like looking through a window at a short piece of somebody's life. What I took from that was, ‘What if you looked in the wrong window?’ It’s called No One Knows. You can get it on Amazon. It's a good feeling to say that my film is for sale on Amazon.

Lisa: You make the shift from screenwriting to novel writing look easy. How did you go about it?

JLS: I had some amazing mentors in screenwriting and my aha moments have come from Syd Field and reading his books. Screenwriting is external. If you can't see it visually, it doesn't belong on the page. I used to judge [screenwriting] contests. I saw novelists trying to write internal dialogue using voiceover. Don’t do that. My thought process is, ‘OK, I have it all here. Now, all I need is to describe the things I would notice walking into the room.’

Lisa: What inspired you to create your lead character, Kate Darby?

JLS: Kate Darby was the easiest character I ever came up with. I was in New Orleans at a writer’s conference, and I met the chief of police for Thibodeaux, Louisiana. He invited me to come and do a ride-along. I asked if I could do it from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., because that's when it's the most fun. I rode with an officer named Rebecca, and her Sergeant, Chris—I absolutely fell in love with it. That's how I came up with the character.

Lisa: Are you a reader of dark thrillers as well?

JLS: Yes, predominantly. I like fantasy. I'm not big into vampires and werewolves. I like the world of voodoo. One of my characters, Azizi, in Check Six is a voodoo practitioner in Louisiana near my fictional town, Peculiar, Texas. I put a little bit of fantasy in the book. If I was going to write in another genre, I would probably write fantasy with some sort of mystery in it.

Lisa: You’ve published 17 books. What does your daily writing practice look like?

JLS: I write three to five hours a day. I type fast, so three hours gets me close to 6,000 words. I write probably 1,800 words in an hour which isn't fast typing, it's fast writing.

Lisa: That’s an interesting difference. Can you talk more about fast writing?

JLS: I've had to put out books. I've been on deadline because I said, OK, I'm going to have a pre-order on this day. Then I didn't start writing till three weeks before the pre-order, and I still have to send it to two editors. Then I'm begging my editors with I need to get this out on this date.

Lisa: Do you have an outline already, or are you pantsing at all?

JLS: I usually have the premise in my head, maybe the title. I'll do a rough outline. Sometimes I come up with the aha moment in the outline, and sometimes I don't. If not, I'll come up with it when I’m writing. Then I decide how many suspects there will be. I pick them out at the beginning, but I don't decide who it is until the last two chapters. While writing one of my books, I got to the end and realized my killer didn’t have a motive because he wasn't the original person that I had planned to have as the killer. I had to go back and put in a few red herrings to show what the motive could have been. If someone figures out who the killer is before they get to the end, then they're doing pretty good because I don't even know.

Lisa: So many writers emphasize knowing the ending before beginning any project.

JLS: I've never decided how it's going to be solved until the last two chapters. I've done this in every book. Outlining too thoroughly can make you feel like you've got to go down this straight line, and you can't make any detours, because if you do, you’ll have to rewrite this, and then that, and now this part of the outline doesn't work ... That's why I figure it out later.

Lisa: How do you prepare to continue writing each day?

JLS: Every night when I'm finished with whatever I'm writing, I write down maybe a dozen sentences of what I plan to write the next day. Because nothing is worse than sitting down to a blank page or a new chapter. I try not to start a new chapter, ever. I try to end in the middle of a chapter because I already know what that scene is. Then I know what I want my next scene to be. Even if I have 50 pages written already, when I sit down again, and it says chapter whatever at the top of the page, it's like a blank page again. But if I sit down, and I'm in the middle of a chapter, I'll read those first few pages, and it gets me back into the story. Then it's super easy to finish.

Lisa: Do you have an editor or two?

JLS: I've changed editors over time. I have one that's been with me from the very beginning. She is kind of a hybrid between a developmental editor and a line editor. I also have a proofreader. I have my books go through two or three editors, depending on how close I am to my deadline. Once it gets past that point, and they fix all my commas, because I love commas, I have Word read it to me. That electronic voice doesn't miss anything.

Lisa: Did you ever consider or go down the traditional publishing route?

JLS: We would never have been able to sell our restaurant if I had gone the traditional publishing route. I would have been a midlist author. I don't think people realize that most authors that are midlist still have full-time jobs. I didn't want to be that. I wanted to be a six-figure author, and if I didn't have that, we would still be running a restaurant. I had to make enough money to be able to justify selling it.

In the beginning, I had the choice to publish with a traditional publisher or indie-publish. I got an offer on Let Us Prey. It was going to be a small, four-figure advance. I think the thing that people don't understand is, unless you are getting a six-figure advance, they are not going to do any of your marketing. They are going to publish your book. The way I saw it was, you can take your advance and the book will come out in two years, or you can self-publish it and it can be out next month. By the time Let Us Prey would have been published traditionally, my fourth book was already out, and I'd just hit the USA Today bestseller list with my first book.

Lisa: You have a strong reader following. How did you build it?

JLS: It's changed a little bit because a decade ago you would put the newsletter sign up in the back of your book and people would sign up, and then I would give them a free short story. Then they'd be on my mailing list so they would be the first to know about a new book coming out. Then my writing friends and I would swap newsletters. In doing so, we were able to gain a bigger readership and also had Facebook author pages. Later on, Facebook stopped circulating author pages. Also, if I didn't put out at least one to two books a year, I would lose readership. I took off 2020 through 2022. I think my first book was American Justice released in February of 2023. Even though it was one of the most well-received books that I've written, the release wasn't as big as what I'm used to because I let my readership languish.

Lisa: How about reviews? A lot of writers avoid putting their work out there because they’re afraid of what others will think about it.

JLS: This is for anybody who has a book published, as soon as you get your first one-star review, you have made it. I mean it. Go read the one-star reviews of any of the big-name writers. They're no different from the ones that you're getting. Then, have a glass of wine, stick your tongue out and move on.

Lisa: Wow! Now I’m looking forward to getting my first one-star review.

JLS: There you go! You know, most people who give a one-star review on a book; that just means they weren’t my target reader. It doesn't mean it wasn't a good book. Then there are the people who will read every book you’ve written and give every single one of them one star. But they read the next one. I have a reviewer who's read all 13 books in my Gotcha Detective Agency series and every single time it's a one or two-star review saying, "I am not going to read this author anymore," and then she reads the next one!

*Feature photo of Jamie Lee Scott

Lisa McFadden is a freelance writer, screenwriter, filmmaker & future novelist. In her Sign My Book podcast, she interviews writers of all ilks. Her short film was a finalist at the USA Film Festival.
More posts by Lisa McFadden.
Twitter icon Twitter Facebook icon Facebook Pinterest icon Pinterest Reddit icon Reddit
Click here for our recommended reading list.

An Invitation

To a global community of creatives.

All Pipeline Artists members are eligible for monthly giveaways, exclusive invites to virtual events, and early access to featured articles.

Pipeline Artists
Thanks for Subscribing