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Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? by Kathryn McMaster

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Here are my top ten strategies for writing crime fiction and thrillers which will please the reader and make publishers start groping for chequebooks.

1) Know the market.
Read very widely. As much authors as possible, less many books. If you've read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then go forward. You know their shtick. Learn what else is out there. This means also reading the classics, learning the history of the genre, and reading plenty of fiction in translation too. It also means reading the appropriate non-fiction. If you're writing political espionage thrillers, for example, you need to know the political, military and security bacground If you do not, your readers will - and you will be caught out.

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

3) Don't merely trot out the cliches.
You've got a serial killer have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough on your own. These things are tired old cliches. They are able to work if you handle them in a new or dazzling way, nevertheless the old ways are not enough.

4) Get complex. Your plot almost definitely needs a brain-aching level of complexity, and a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Because modern crime authors are becoming really good at developing complex but plausible plots, and also, since modern thriller writers have grown to be so adept at delivering a continuous chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you cannot afford to be under devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple not sells.

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

6) Remember jeopardy.
Crime novels now are also thrillers. It's not OK for the detective to solve the mystery and explain everything to a hushed and respectful audience. However, (s)he's got to stay fear of his/her life. It's to be white knuckle and also intellectually satisfying.

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

8) Write well!
Bad writing will almost certainly kill your chances of success. And quite right too. You don't need to be flowery. You have to be completely competent.

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

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

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

11) Don't give up.
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 an author. Now write that thriller, polish it - and sell it. Best of luck!