Hello World’s Greatest Aspiring Thriller Writer. Have you checked out your New York Times or Amazon bestseller rankings for the tenth time today? Completed your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and author’s posts and addressed your never-ending social media obligations? Read the latest Readers Digest or Huffington Post publishing article or the latest book on How-to-Become-a-Mega-Bestselling-Author? Attended yet another costly writers’ conference or short-course peddled by literary snake oil salesmen? Have you driven your agent, editor, publicist, therapist, or significant other crazy rambling on excitedly about your latest marketing strategy or book signing? In short, have you been spending a significant time today on anything but writing and editing your Great American (or insert here) Suspense Novel?
This guest post is by Samuel Marquis. Marquis is the bestselling, award-winning suspense author of a World War Two Series, the Nick Lassiter-Skyler International Espionage Series, and the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series. His thrillers have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Best Book, Beverly Hills, Next Generation Indie, and Colorado Book Awards), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). His website is samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact Marissa DeCuir at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the answer is yes, then wiser souls than me will point out that you’re on the wrong track and wasting your time. Unless you’re a 1% author—and the chances are 99.99% that you are not—then the only thing you should be consumed with is writing and editing (or, should I say, re-writing and re-editing?) your book until you have actually created the Great American (or insert here) Suspense Novel.
And what do I mean by the Great Suspense Novel? I am talking about a thriller so riveting that it forces readers to stay up late at night against their will the night before that career–defining company presentation and to literally not want to put the book down until they’ve finished it. A novel so seductively addicting that it holds its readers hostage. As in figuratively chained to a reading chair, bed, or bathroom seat.
You scoff. But trust me, when you are dead and gone, all that is going to matter is that you have left behind a memorable thriller for the ages. And you can’t write a timeless classic if you are engaged in endless tweeting, Facebook posting, and passively reading about or listening to other people drone on about how to write the next mega-bestseller, as if it is a simple formulaic process that doesn’t actually require invaluable world experience, passion, and raw talent. Quite simply, you cannot write your literary masterpiece unless you are actually committing yourself 24/7 to the nuts and bolts of writing and editing your page-turner.
I know what you’re thinking: social media and book promotion are absolutely critical to success, and writing is a highly subjective enterprise in which one reader’s masterpiece is another’s scathing one-star review. But I politely counter that great is great (think of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s characterization of pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964: “I know it when I see it”). I further politely counter that the seemingly lofty and unreachable goal of greatness should be the primary focus of every author. Despite some of their other, admittedly less-than-riveting works, Grisham will a thousand years from now still be remembered for The Firm, Follett for The Pillars of the Earth, Rowling for the Harry Potter series, and Capote for In Cold Blood. These novels are timeless and so are these authors because of these masterpieces.
“But you’re a nobody!” you snarl. “Where is your timeless masterpiece?” You’re right, I have not written it. Not yet. But I am striving for that admittedly far-reaching goal with every book I write and, with good old-fashioned hard work, I am, slowly but assuredly, making progress in that direction. In the last year and a half alone, I have managed to have two #1 Denver Post bestsellers, two Amazon Top 40 historical thriller bestsellers for three months running, and five novels garnering national book award winner or finalist recognition (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Book Awards, Beverly Hills Book Awards, Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and Colorado Book Awards). From reviewers and readers alike, my six suspense novels are being compared to writers as diverse as John le Carré, Silva, Follett, Clancy, Forsyth, Baldacci, Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, Lee Child, Tony Hillerman, and the irreverent Edward Abbey. Kirkus Reviews had this to say about my latest WWII thriller: “Altar of Resistance is a gripping and densely packed thriller dramatizing the Allied Italian campaign…reminiscent of Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War.” That’s Herman Wouk the Pulitzer-prize winner.
Not bad for a year and a half’s worth of being a published novelist. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t mean all that much since I have not yet written the truly Woukian or Fitzgeraldian Great American Novel. You know what I’m talking about: the book that cannot be put down by literally everyone. A book where word-of-mouth and word-of-tweet are organic processes that bring about massive exposure due solely to the book’s impeccable quality.
Penning such a masterpiece should be the sole reason to write any kind of novel; there is simply no other valid reason to do so except the pure enjoyment of writing. Unless you’re a mega-bestselling author, there is certainly no reason to do it for the money. Telling compelling stories, then, is the sole justifiable reason to write books that meets every litmus test. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you’re in the wrong business. It’s about the art of great storytelling and nothing else. It’s about the idea that somebody a hundred years from now will read your carefully crafted words and hopefully be inspired, or at least wildly entertained.
Personally, I will not give up until I have either written such a timeless classic or met my Maker. Ultimately, suspense readers don’t care if you received your Creative Writing degree from Oxford or Yale, are a mega-bestseller, or are close friends with Sue Grafton or Lee Child. They just want a great story, an addictive page-turner with memorable characters. They just want a truly great novel.
And by God, one day I’m going to write one. Hopefully, so will you. And together we will become immortal—at least on paper.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.