I didn’t start out writing thriller fiction.
My first written novel was entitled “Man o’ War” and was set in the 18th Century, following the crew of a Royal Navy sloop sent to hunt pirates in the Caribbean, who themselves turn pirate and are hunted down. My second was entitled “Frontier”, and followed a street urchin ‘pressed’ into service aboard an East Indiaman bound for Calcutta in 1838, and from there into the First Afghan War of 1842.
Both were good stories and could have done well. Why didn’t they? Partly because I was still learning my craft ( though agents commented encouragingly on my opening chapters for both novels ) but mainly because I didn’t understand that the publishing industry ebbs and flows in niche revenue much like movies and music: things come in and out of popularity. At the time, historical fiction just wasn’t moving, and so neither did I.
Had I known this I would have researched it further, and perhaps succeeded earlier than I did. Exhausted after such research-heavy endeavours, I spent the next five years writing screenplays for TV / movies. These are even harder to market than debut novels, but I learned a great deal about story-telling whilst doing them.
It was only a few years ago that I began studying the publishing industry, whilst at the same time taking a look at my own bookshelves to see what I was reading, and thus what excited me. Thrillers dominated by far, especially the work of Michael Crichton, along with Lee Childs, a bit of Wilbur Smith and some Jeffrey Deaver. Clearly I needed to write thrillers and my market research revealed that, by and large, thrillers always sell regardless of more general shifts in public interest.
Writing in differing genres can deliver a great deal of perspective on how to produce great work, but if you’re aiming to see your name on the shelves you must be passionate about your subject material and genre, otherwise your lack of enthusiasm will show through no matter how hard you try to conceal it. Find your true focus, let all of your talent rush into it, and spectacular results can occur. It may sound simple, but it took me years to find what I REALLY wanted to write about.
Write what you enjoy, and keep a weather eye on the publishing world. Eventually, work, luck and timing can help you produce the perfect novel at just the moment when publishers are looking for your kind of work. And when they’re looking for something in particular, they’ll approach literary agents, who’ll search their slush piles for just that kind of book…..