Traditional Publishing

Thrillers, Yes—Join the Genre

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Sunday February 26, 2023

5 Ideas for Finally Making BIG Money

Don’t say I told you this, but Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide is listed by Amazon as one of its big sellers already this year. It’s also a thriller. The book is from Simon and Schuster.

Wouldn’t we all want to have published a similar book with one of the few remaining major traditional publishers? By the way, this one’s comedic, so don’t really kill your employer.

I’m not saying read the book—oh, OK, read it. But I’m saying write a thriller that makes a similar splash, and that in this current hard-to-sell-novels era, thrillers remain a space you can wedge yourself into. Thrillers are BIG—not that mystery still isn’t (and write a series while you’re at it), but if you can come up with a BIG concept, thriller may be the place to go.

Why a thriller? Why BIG? Well, fellow writers, look around you. It’s snowing in L.A.; we have a nasty war ongoing in Europe; and the United States seems on the verge of splitting up between North and South (well, we hope not, but I’ve really heard it mentioned on TV).

So quiet little books may not be the thing these days. When reality goes HIGH, we might have to come up with MORE EXPLOSIVE to flag publishers’ attention, never mind the interest of the anxious reader.

Other new thrillers and what they’re up to, according to Amazon and reviewers:

Stone Cold Fox. Take heart. This is a debut novel, so it can be done. (Of course writer Rachel Koller Croft is a Hollywood screenplay grad, but we all must have some background or other.) The publisher is Berkley. The protag targets wealth as her future, and she’s dangerous.

The House Guest by investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan, called a thriller lover’s treat, is a domestic thriller from Forge Books. (I personally adore Hank. Yes, it’s personal.)

The Drift by C. J. Tudor from Ballantine, is a psychological thriller. A terrible accident has happened. People are dead. It’s damn cold. A storm is moving in.

Observer from Fiction Studio Books by Robert Lanza, M.D. and science fiction writer Nancy Kress takes readers deep into hard/imaginative science and the nature of the cosmos. Can you challenge reality?

Here are a few ideas as to how you can go there.

1. Generate that high concept idea. Yes, that’s the key—hit upon the idea. Do you know something other people don’t know? The definition of thriller takes in a wide swath of knowledge and feelings, from military threats to survivalist nightmares, to psychic onslaughts. Find the idea that no one else has and that you can specialize in. Maybe it takes place where you live and you can detail local action—a little countryside town where (God forbid) a train jumps the tracks dumping toxic materials.

2. Give readers a sympathetic heroine/hero who has specialty knowledge. You don’t need to know all that since you can buy the handbook. But if you do have the answers, your dropping in of hints will hold up all the better in print. Does he/she have flaws? Has something just gone terribly wrong with this person’s life but now the protag has to put all that aside.

3. This may seem big, but something bigger is involved—a meeting that someone must make overseas, the international (some-kind-of) markets are about to destroy most of the economic health of the globe—plus another plague is heading our way, and the scientist who can save us has to be saved first.

4. Don’t forget the climate. Describe a storm that goes from here to way the hell over there (it’s happening this week, right in the U.S. of A.). Animal species are being lost by the dozens. A scouting troupe is in the middle of it, and lions and bears, oh my, are on the loose.

5. A thriller is nothing without a little romance. Well, a BIG romance would be better. Revered and VERY handsome (and NICE, don’t forget NICE) actor Jess Sparks in on the, well, maybe it’s a boat... and so is premiere scientist Linda Hawks who is involved in a serious mission here, wondering how Sparks wormed his way onto the sinking boat… Well, you know, you’re a writer, so fill in the gaps.

Just be sure to go over the top. You watch TV; you read books. You can do this. As I just said, you’re a writer, damn it. It’s about time for your turn to make the BIG bucks. Try a thriller.

About the Author

G. Miki Hayden, who sold an action-adventure trilogy this past year, has a thriller class starting even as we speak at Writer's Online Workshops from Writer's Digest at Her two writing instructionals are Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional and The Naked Writer: A Comprehensive Writing Style Guide . One won an award, but buy them both.