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25 Feb 2016
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Here are my top ten tips for writing crime fiction and thrillers that may please the reader making publishers start groping because of their chequebooks.

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1) Know the market.
Read very widely. As numerous authors as possible, less many books. Issues read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then go forward. You know their shtick. Discover what else is out there. Which means also reading the classics, having the history of the genre, and reading a lot of fiction in translation too. Additionally, it means reading established track record non-fiction. If you're writing political espionage thrillers, for example, you need to know the political, military and security bacground Should you not, your readers will - and are caught out.

2) Understand where the leading edge lies.
The largest names (eg: Coben, Rankin, Reichs) usually are not the most current. They built their reputations in the past. Try to locate the sexiest (biggest selling, most praised, most innovative, prize winning) debut novels. That is what editors are buying today. That's the market you're competing in.

3) Don't merely trot out the cliches.
You've got a murderer have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough yourself. These things are tired old cliches. They are able to work if you handle these questions new or dazzling way, nevertheless the old ways shall no longer be enough.

4) Get complex. Your plot probably needs a brain-aching level of complexity, plus a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Because modern crime authors are getting to be really good at developing complex but plausible plots, and since modern thriller writers have become so adept at delivering a never-ending chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you can't afford to be under devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple will no longer sells.

5) Keep with the darkness.
Your book must be dark and tough. That's your entry ticket for the genre. What you do there can be very varied, but cute, cosy crime is certainly a limited market now. If you wish to write cosy crime, then expect a smaller readership and meagre sales.

6) Don't forget jeopardy.
Crime novels now can also be thrillers. It's not OK for the detective to fix the mystery and explain all this to a hushed and respectful audience. To the contrary, (s)he's got to stay fear of his/her life. It's to be white knuckle along with intellectually satisfying.

7) Give full attention to character.
Crime and thriller plots are easily forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters, on the other hand, never leave us: Holmes, Marlowe, Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter. If you find a strong character, and you must do everything else reasonably competently, you then quite likely have fiction that'll sell.

8) Write well!
Bad writing will likely kill your chances of success. And quite right too. It's not necessary to be flowery. You do have to be completely competent.

9) Be economical.
Thrillers must be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraps for needless sentences, as well as your sentences for needless words. Then do it all over again. Twice.

10) Be perfectionist.
Excellent isn't good enough. Dazzling may be the target. Being tough yourself is the essential first ingredient. Getting another person to be tough along is quite possibly the second.

I said ten tips, didn't I? What, here's an eleventh:

11) Don't surrender.
Be persistent. You improve by doing. You'll improve. Consider building your skills, engaging with all the industry, or getting editorial advice. Those things will increase your maturity as a writer. Now write that thriller, polish it - then sell it. Best of luck!


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