Here are my top ten tips for writing crime fiction and thrillers that will please the reader and earn publishers start groping for chequebooks.
1) Know the market.
Read very widely. As much authors as possible, not as many books. In case you have read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then move ahead. You know their shtick. Discover what else is out there. Which means also reading the classics, learning the history of the genre, and reading lots of fiction in translation too. It also means reading the kind of non-fiction. If you're writing political espionage thrillers, by way of example, you need to know the political, military and security bacground Should you not, your readers will - and are caught out.
2) Understand in which the leading edge lies.
The most important names (eg: Coben, Rankin, Reichs) usually are not the most current. They built their reputations years back. Try to locate the sexiest (biggest selling, most praised, state-of-the-art, prize winning) debut novels. It is exactly what editors are buying today. That's the market you're competing in.
3) Don't just trot out the cliches.
You've got a serial killer have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough with yourself. These things are tired old cliches. They could work if you handle these questions new or dazzling way, though the old ways aren't enough.
4) Get complex. Your plot most likely needs a brain-aching level of complexity, along with a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Because modern crime authors have become really good at developing complex but plausible plots, and since modern thriller writers are getting to be so adept at delivering an endless chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you cannot afford to be less than devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple will no longer sells.
5) Keep with the darkness.
Your book has to be dark and tough. That's your entry ticket for the genre. What you do there may be very varied, but cute, cosy crime is a very limited market now. If you want to write cosy crime, then expect a smaller readership and meagre sales.
6) Make sure you remember jeopardy.
Crime novels now are also thrillers. It's not OK for the detective to resolve the mystery and explain all of it to a hushed and respectful audience. On the other hand, (s)he's got to stay fear of his/her life. It has to be white knuckle as well as intellectually satisfying.
7) Concentrate on character.
Crime and thriller plots are often forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters, conversely, never leave us: Holmes, Marlowe, Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter. If you find a strong character, and do everything else reasonably competently, you then quite likely have fiction that'll sell.
8) Write well!
Bad writing will in all probability kill your chances of success. And quite right too. You won't need to be flowery. You have to be completely competent.
9) Be economical.
Thrillers should be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraps for needless sentences, plus your sentences for needless words. Then do all of it over again. Twice.
10) Be perfectionist.
Excellent isn't good enough. Dazzling could be the target. Being tough on your own is the essential first ingredient. Getting another individual to be tough together with you is quite possibly the second.
I said ten tips, didn't I? What the heck, here's an eleventh:
11) Don't stop trying.
Be persistent. You improve by doing. You'll improve. Consider building your skills, engaging with the industry, or getting editorial advice. Dozens of things will increase your maturity as an author. Now write that thriller, polish it - then sell it. Best of luck!