Writers' Newsletter

Issue #240
March 2023

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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 is a short story Edgar winner. She teaches a mystery writing and a thriller writing and other writing classes at Writer's Digest online university. The third edition of her Writing the Mystery is available through Amazon and other good bookshops. She is also the author of The Naked Writer, a comprehensive, easy-to-read style and composition guide for all levels of writers.

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Some of this month's news for writers from around the web.

Sheppard leaves DHH to establish new literary agency

Sheppard leaves DHH to establish new literary agency – Wednesday March 15, 2023

Hannah Sheppard is leaving the DHH Literary Agency to launch a boutique agency with a focus primarily on commercial adult fiction and children’s fiction from middle grade through to YA. The Hannah Sheppard Literary Agency (HSLA) will be opening to submissions from 14th March 2023.

While at DHH, Sheppard worked with authors Dee Benson, Sarah Bonner, Abi Elphinstone and Chris McGeorge among others, and will continue to represent the majority of her client list at her new agency. With HSLA, Sheppard aims “to consciously build a community of authors who celebrate diverse and joyful representation and also commits to opening the agency’s virtual doors to aspiring authors for a monthly Zoom drop-in to help demystify publishing”.

[Read the full article]

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  • Over 1,500 markets for writers
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Why Would Someone Steal Unpublished Manuscripts?

Why Would Someone Steal Unpublished Manuscripts? – Tuesday March 14, 2023

Filippo Bernardini has been accused by the government of stealing over 1,000 book manuscripts. In court filings, he said he was motivated not by money but by a love of reading.

For more than five years, someone was stealing unpublished book manuscripts from editors, agents, authors and literary scouts. The question of who was behind the scheme baffled the publishing industry, but just as perplexing was another question: Why?

Most unpublished manuscripts would be almost impossible to monetize, so it wasn’t clear why somebody would bother to take them. Filippo Bernardini, who has pleaded guilty in a fraud case in which the government said he stole more than 1,000 manuscripts, offered an explanation on Friday in a letter addressed to a federal judge.

Bernardini said he stole the books because he wanted to read them.

[Read the full article]

Daughter turns father’s 11-year-old thriller novel into a bestseller with viral TikTok

Daughter turns father’s 11-year-old thriller novel into a bestseller with viral TikTok – Friday March 10, 2023

Lloyd Devereux Richards spent 14 years getting up early, staying up late and working weekends to write his first novel as he juggled his job as a lawyer for a life insurance company while raising three children.

After finally becoming a published author, his serial killer thriller garnered almost no sales over the next 11 years. But success was never the goal for Lloyd, who was "tremendously happy" just to be published and continued to dedicate himself to writing.

Then his fortunes changed literally overnight. A 16-second video of him went viral hours after his daughter Marguerite Richards posted it, almost immediately skyrocketing his book to the top of Amazon's bestseller list.

[Read the full article]

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A selection of the new listings added to this month.

New Publisher Imprint Listing: Basalt Books

New Publisher Imprint Listing: Basalt Books – Tuesday March 14, 2023

Welcomes proposals for book projects anchored in the Pacific Northwest, particularly those focusing on the people, places, and cultures of the greater Northwest region. We encourage both established and first-time writers to contact us with your ideas. We are committed to publishing well-written and well-told stories.

[See the full listing]

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New Literary Agent Listing: Edwina de Charnace

New Literary Agent Listing: Edwina de Charnace – Tuesday February 28, 2023

She loves stories centring on relationships and group dynamics and will read anything promising answers to the question of belonging (a start will do). Has a soft spot for writing from or about East Asia.

[See the full listing]

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New Literary Agent Listing: Chelsea Hensley

New Literary Agent Listing: Chelsea Hensley – Friday February 24, 2023

In general, here are some of the things I love to see in a manuscript: Intricate plots and complex emotional arcs; Whipsmart protagonists who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. There’s nothing I love more than a main character who throws themselves into the thick of things and doesn’t look back; Female friendship, partnerships, rivalries, and everything in between are high up on my wishlist. Girls, girls, girls basically. I prefer narratives to be female driven, and I’d love to see more F/F romantic pairings; I’m a big fan of spies, assassins, thieves and other rogue-ish characters; I love, love, love heists; and I’d love to see some great antiheroes or characters embarking on redemption arcs.

[See the full listing]

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Click here for more of this month's new listings >


Some of this month's articles for writers from around the web.

Words of wonder: A look behind the scenes of Ireland's thriving literary magazines

Words of wonder: A look behind the scenes of Ireland's thriving literary magazines – Wednesday March 15, 2023

The Moth may be departing, but there's no shortage of other outlets for writers seeking publication. Here are profiles of a few of them 

Who, in their right mind, would start a literary magazine? Plenty of people, it would seem, if the growth in publishing outlets for new writers, particularly online, is to be believed. While they’re often seen as a kind of cottage industry, small literary magazines are part of a bigger picture.

 They provide a temperature check of the cultural climate, they’re a resource for talent-scouting publishers and a first stop for the big names of the future. Sally Rooney’s work, for example, first appeared in The Stinging Fly (see panel) so their influence is often way out of proportion to their size.

We spoke to three journal editors at varying stages of the process to find out what possessed them to enter the perilous world of literary publishing.

[Read the full article]

Do we still need the Women’s Prize for Fiction?

Do we still need the Women’s Prize for Fiction? – Friday March 10, 2023

Nine debut books were among the 16 novels to make the cut in this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction long list, announced this week. But what relevance does a gender-exclusive award retain when women dominate the contemporary world of publishing? 

When the Women’s Prize for Fiction was launched in 1996 it was badly needed. Back then, female writers found it hard to get their work published. If they did succeed, their work was, all too often, unappreciated by critics and under-acknowledged. It’s clear that is no longer the case.

Women buy 80 per cent of all novels. At the time of writing, the New York Times top 15 bestseller list features 13 female writers. One global survey found 60 per cent of literary agents to be female; another poll, in the American publishing industry, found that 78 per cent of publishing staff overall were female, including six in ten at executive or board level. According to figures from the Bookseller, 629 of the 1,000 bestselling fiction titles from 2020 were written by women. By 2021, female-authored books sold more copies on average than those written by men. 

[Read the full article]

Women's Prize for Fiction nominee Maggie O'Farrell shares her writing tips

Women's Prize for Fiction nominee Maggie O'Farrell shares her writing tips – Friday March 10, 2023

Irish novelist Maggie O'Farrell won the Betty Trask Award for her first novel, 'After You'd Gone'. Her novel 'Hamnet', about the life of William Shakespeare's son, received international acclaim and also won numerous awards, including the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. This year, she is longlisted for the same award for her novel, 'The Marriage Portrait'. Here, she shares her advice on writing...

Beginning isn't easy

What I wish someone had told me when I was starting out is this: you don’t have to begin at the beginning. Openings are hard. The blizzard-white emptiness of the page, the empty document with the patiently waiting cursor, the idea that you are about to inscribe the first of many thousands of words, the knowledge that you are embarking on a project that will take two or three years. All this can conspire to give you such awful vertigo that it’s hard to put down anything, let alone a defining initial sentence.

I have found, again and again, that it’s rarely always immediately apparent where in its timeline your narrative should start. It took me a while to work out that a writer doesn’t have to begin at the beginning. You can start wherever you like in the story.

[Read the full article]

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