British author Rebecca Bradley, who writes the Det. Insp. Hannah Robbins mystery series set in Nottingham, England, knows her way around a police procedural. In fact, she draws from personal experience.

Bradley worked as a police officer for seven years, and then for a special criminal investigation department that dealt with sexual exploitation. “It was there I realized how dark and warped our world really is,” she says. “The reverse is also true: in that dark world are people who battle to make it right with everything they have.”

Bradley didn’t plan on becoming a writer. Instead, she cultivated an interest in law enforcement from a young age. “I have always been a reader of crime and always wanted to join the police,” she says.

Because of the height requirement for police recruits in the U.K., however, Bradley—who stands just five feet tall—thought she might never get a chance to join the force. But this isn’t the story of an author who lives vicariously through her characters. After Bradley’s first child was born, the height restriction was lifted and she began training.

“I already felt fairly settled as a wife and mother,” she says. “And moving into a job that was a career at this late stage, and to do something I had always wanted to do… It was thrilling and scary all at the same time.”

But, after a successful career as a police detective, Bradley was forced to retire because of a genetic condition. Though she felt “gutted” to leave the police force, there was a silver lining: in the final years of her police career, she had discovered a passion for writing—and now she had the time to focus on honing her craft.

“As a writer, [working as a police officer] has provided me the basis in which to ground my work,” Bradley says. “Though, I do have to be careful and remind myself that I’m writing a story and not a practical how-to book. There is a fine line between making it factually correct and boring a reader with too much detail. Police work isn’t at all exciting most of the time.”

Bradley initially looked into publishing her work traditionally and even acquired an agent. But after submitting her work to publishing houses, she parted ways with the agent and made the decision to self-publish the book that would become Shallow Waters, the first in the Robbins series.

And Bradley has found self-publishing success by cultivating a community of invested readers via social media channels. After publishing Shallow Waters, Bradley was approached by Audible and signed a book contract. Following the publication of the series’ second volume, Fighting Monsters, she signed again with Audible for two more audiobook adaptations. Her books are also now sold through major retailers such as Barnes Noble, and the former law enforcement officer is able to make a living from her writing.

Bradley describes her protagonist as “a pretty average woman who works hard and struggles to balance a social life with a demanding career. She’s dedicated and wants to do the best she can for the people she comes into contact with. She’s also loyal to her team and expects the same loyalty from them.”

Bradley has written a third book in series, Made to Be Broken, as well as a novella, Three Weeks Dead. In addition to the books, Bradley is using her knowledge of law enforcement to help other crime authors write authentically and offers a “Police Fact Service” for writers basing their work in England or Wales.

Bradley also offers some practical advice for aspiring self-published authors: “Make sure you are aware of the amount of work involved before you jump in. Because unlike traditional publishing where a lot of the process is done by the publisher, you are responsible for every single step. Including knowing when those steps need completing, where to go for the help, and all the extras that come with releasing the book.”

After all the hard work, Bradley defines her success in terms of how readers feel about her story, characters, and voice: “With each email or reader review on Amazon, be it a positive or negative review, I always feel that one step closer. Once you release the book it’s no longer yours. When they tell me they felt as though they were there, within the scenes, or the ending made them cry, that’s when I feel it. It’s all about the readers.”

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