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Crime thrillers and mysteries

One of the things the marketplace likes to do is put authors and books into a category. Bookstores are arranged by category. If you want a mystery, there is a section devoted to what publishers promise are “mysteries”. And thrillers, historical saga, romance, science fiction, chick lit have their own ghetto. Once you appear on the radar screen as an author of one category, you may not become a brand but you will be branded. It is in the interest of your publisher to do so. Like all businessmen, publishers find themselves mostly interested in what sells in large numbers. Small independent presses and university presses might march to their own drumbeat but it often isn’t the music of the marketplace they are listening to.

Crime fiction can either be a mystery or a thriller. It can also be commercial or literary fiction. But no publisher would risk using crime fiction alone. But a crime fiction novel is attached to a category. The agent pitches it to a publisher as one category or another. But it is the publisher decides how to “package” the book, meaning it fits a category that registers as “hot” and so if the agents quoted in the article below.

Sarah Weinman, with reporting by Ron Hogan have filed an interesting article in Publisher’s Weekly on battle between thrillers and mysteries in the market.

“David Hale Smith, of DHS Literary, is more blunt: ‘Thrillers are the most commercially successful category of crime fiction. When publishers are trying to move authors into the ranks of the bestsellers, they begin to package them more as thriller writers or suspense writers than mystery writers.’ He points to Michael Connelly's The Poet, published 10 years ago, as a prime example. ‘It elevated his game, brought in a serial killer with a high-concept twist and, all of a sudden, Connelly's a thriller writer. But then he goes back to writing Harry Bosch novels, and now his publisher is packaging them as Michael Connelly thrillers, even though they're still the same hardboiled police procedurals.”

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