Thursday, February 2, 2012

How To Write A New York Times Best Selling Crime Novel

Try to be as pretty, hollow, manufactured and safe as possible
1. Write about America. If you want your book to be a hit then it's going to have to be set in America or about Americans in trouble overseas. American readers largely don't care about the rest of the world and don't buy books set in places they can't easily understand. Publishers know this and encourage it and won't publish your book unless your locale conforms with an easy to grasp set of stereotypes. The exceptions prove the rule. Nordic crime fiction is hot right now because the image of Scandinavia is easy to grasp: snow, Ikea, Volvos, attractive people speaking with a cute accent. English period mysteries are also always in vogue because again we've got attractive white people in lovely costumes. Very occasionally a mystery from say Africa (The Ladies Detective Agency) will break through but crucially those books are written by a nice safe Scottish man. 
2. Write about the rich. American society is aspirational. The rich are envied, but the poor are hated. No one wants to read a depressing mystery novel about people in trailer parks struggling to get by or worse about black people in some housing project in the South Bronx.
3. Move to Brooklyn Heights. Your debut novel has no chance of getting reviewed in the NYT unless you live in Manhattan or Brooklyn Heights.
4. If you are man grow a hipster goatee. If you are a woman try to be very pretty.  Why? See rule #3 above. 
5. Write about a lawyer. There are two big misconceptions that propel books about lawyers to the top of the best seller lists: 1) lawyers are more intelligent than the average citizen and 2) lawyers mostly work in criminal law. Neither of these is true but editors and readers think they are. 
6. Your lead character should be a rebel, but a completely safe rebel who doesn't question the status quo. 
7. Don't try to be funny. Funny is very difficult and hard to pull off. Better to play it straight and occasionally slip in the odd gag here and there. Saying that though irony plays well. Post irony plays even better. Ironing however is passe. 
8. Have a twist a third of the way into the book and again four pages from the end. Doesn't matter what the twist is or how ridiculous it is, this is what the punters want so this is what you must give them. Everyone will mention the twist in the review. 
9. Don't criticise the status quo. I'm serious about this one. If you start bad mouthing The New York Times or big American corporations or doubting the stereotypes that everyone believes in you are in big trouble and your book won't find a publisher.  
10. Make it very clear in your letter to potential agents/publishers that this is only book 1 of at least a 12 part series. Publishers will not invest a dime in you unless they see the words FRANCHISE or SERIES emblazoned on your forehead. In other words DO NOT kill your character at the end of the book. Good Luck!