Hilley grew up in Grand Bay in Baldwin County. He graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky and the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. He began writing as a hobby while practicing as a criminal defense attorney. His first published novel, Sober Justice, was the first in a series featuring an attorney named Mike Connolly working cases along the Gulf Coast. It was published in 2004.
In 2008 Hilley was asked to write a biography of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Published as Sarah Palin: A New Kind of Leader, the book reached The New York Times best seller list during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Hilley and his wife, Joy, have two children, Laura Catherine and Jack.
- Hilley, Joe (2004) Sober Justice. River Oak ISBN 0739448056
- Hilley, Joe (2005) Double Take. David Cook ISBN 1589190327
- Hilley, Joe (2006) Electric Beach. David Cook ISBN 1589190750
- Hilley, Joe (2007) Night Rain. David Cook ISBN 1589190998
- Hilley, Joe (2007) The Deposition. David Cook ISBN 1589191013
- Hilley, Joe (2008) Sarah Palin: A New Kind of Leader. Zondervan Press ISBN 0310318920
- Hilley, Joe (2009) What the Red Moon Knows. Electric Moon Publishing (digital only)
- Alexander, Shaun & Joe Hilley (2011) The Walk. WaterBook Press ISBN 0307459519
- Bagley, Edythe Scott & Joe Hilley (2012) Desert Rose: The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press ISBN 0817317651
- "Joe Hilley" (January 7, 2014) Wikipedia - accessed February 6, 2014
- Joe Hilley website