I've been trying to decide whether or not to join International Thriller Writers and be a part of Killer Year 2008 with my debut novel. The only hitch is that Death Will Get You Sober is not a thriller--it's a traditional mystery with an amateur sleuth. It's much too gritty to be a cozy, and I'm told that ITW, like Crimespace, embraces a broad range of crime fiction. That phrase alone, "crime fiction," subtly indicates a distinction between whodunits--"malice domestic," if you will--and the dark side that ranges from cop and PI stories to courtroom drama to serial killer POV to "high concept" techno action stories with global stakes. Can I join whatever group I want to? Sure. Do I have to apologize or explain? Well, no, not if I don't feel like it. What I really want to know is what goes on inside the head of someone who identifies as a crime fiction or thriller writer when someone like me says, "I write mysteries." Do you think "one of us" or "one of them"? As an inquisitive character of Margery Allingham's once said, I only ask because I want to know. ;)

Views: 25

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Join as many organizations as you can.

Don't get bogged down in the terminology, at least when it come to things like this.

I get tired of the mystery versus thriller, hard-boiled versus cozy, techno thriller versus noir, PI versus yadda yadda discussions. Can anyone really tell me the definitive difference between a mystery and a thriller? And does it matter? Are we not all in the same boat, generally speaking?

Go ahead and join ITW. It's not that expensive. I assume that you are already a member of Mystery Writers of America. If not, please do sign up now. In addition to the standard benefits, both organizations provide a significant, if rarely-seen-by-the-public "presence" within the industry. (Full disclosure: I am on the board of MWA, a founding member of ITW, and a member of the Private Eye Writers of America.)
The only thing I'd say to that is that it actually does matter to some fans. I had the experience of being more closely associated with a different subgenre than my own, and learned it had deterred some readers because they had the wrong impression about my book and its style.

Also, this side of the border it really does matter, because thrillers are not shelved with mystery. Thrillers are put in general fiction and literature. Die-hard mystery fans, such as myself, rarely see them. It actually took me ages to figure out that it wasn't because authors such as Tess Gerritsen didn't have Canadian distribution, but what this means is that unless you're already on my radar, if you get classified 'thriller' here I won't find you. Fiction & Literature is so generic and such a big section I almost never wander through it. I'll methodically pull books down off the mystery shelves and read the back and buy authors I've never heard of, but it's because there is a general focus on my areas of interest, and from covers/styles I can eliminate subgenres I'm not interested in easily. It makes it possible for me to find what I like quickly.

The fiction/lit sections meander around the entire store and frankly, even when I go looking for an author I like in those sections, it can take a long time to find them.

There are specific differences between mysteries and thrillers, when you follow the purest definitions, and does it matter? To me as a reader, hell yeah. I had a lot of hit and miss in my reading 7-8 years ago (before I knew anything about subgenres) that kept driving me out of the mystery section, and part of that was hitting on things in subgenres I had no interest in. I don't read certain subgenres for the same reason I don't read romance - it's not my thing. That isn't saying one is better or worse. They just aren't my cup of tea. Once I understood the range and styles it helped me ID what I enjoy as a reader, which makes me a much happier book buyer.

So... join whatever you want. But if you're writing horror I don't recommend advertising in publications that favour cozies. My personal 2 cents is to focus on your target audience. Authors only have so much time and money to invest in promotion. If you've got plenty of both, more power to you. If you don't, use discretion. I know some people spending over $600 per year just joining organizations. Then you have other costs to consider for what you're talking about. It isn't long before a huge chunk of an advance has been eaten up joining one thing or another, duplicating efforts, attending conventions. I don't advise anyone to join anything casually. Think through every decision, and do a cost benefit analysis to see if it will be worth your time and money. There are some conventions I'll never attend, because they don't attract the readers who'd be interested in my work. That just doesn't seem like a smart use of time or money to me.

Full disclosure here is I don't currently belong to any organization. I may join MWA one of these days, possibly SINC but there are no local chapters for anything for me, and I haven't been persuaded that the benefits warrant the fees at this point.
Interesting points about readers possibly being turned off by a writer's affiliations. To me, that indicates you should join as many as possible. (Except for the obvious ones which don't apply like horror, etc.)

Also, I had no idea about Canadian bookstores shelving thrillers with general fiction. Does anybody know how they do it in England?

As to your reading life, I don't recall ever having a happy or unhappy experience buying or reading a book. Obviously, I liked some more than others but for me, reading and acquiring books was a way of life, not a hobby or something pursued for pleasure. I read for the same reasons I write. It's what I do.

During my formative years, a typical reading week might inlcude a Ludlum thriller, a Robert B. Parker PI novel, and a Hillerman mystery. The next week might include Travis McGee and Hercule Poirot. With the very occasional Danielle Steel from my mother's stack. (Please, don't kick me out of Crimespace for that last one. There's a reason she's so successful; she can flat tell a story.)

My comments about the similarities between thrillers and mysteries were in the most general terms.

Obviously, there's a lot of difference between a Carolyn Hart book and a James Rollins novel. Just like there is between a Carolyn Hart book and one by Ken Bruen. But if you start the labeling game, then Ken and Carolyn go on the same shelve while Rollins gets a different section of the store. It makes more sense to me to put them all in the mystery/thriller section.
"Also, I had no idea about Canadian bookstores shelving thrillers with general fiction. Does anybody know how they do it in England?"

In the ones I've been to at least, mysteries and thrillers get shelved together under "Crime Fiction." In my local Borders that's always the place I head for first. If by any chance I can't find what I want there then I have a quick check in general fiction.
"As to your reading life, I don't recall ever having a happy or unhappy experience buying or reading a book. Obviously, I liked some more than others but for me, reading and acquiring books was a way of life, not a hobby or something pursued for pleasure."

Well, personally, I'm not keen on spending money on anything I don't consider quality. We seldom go to the movie theatre now, because we can wait out the process, see the overall feedback, ask people we trust, and ultimately rent the movie or - if we're confident - buy the dvd. But then, I live 50 km from the nearest bookstore, which is a chain, so I don't just spend money on books, I spend it on gas too. And if I go that far, buy a book, get it home and don't enjoy it, it's a real disappointment. It's not like I can just run across the street or go a few blocks and get a different one. We spend easily four figures per year on books, and I'd be right pissed if we spent even half that on books that sucked.

Just because buying books and reading is what I do, I'm still not going to go buy The DaVinci Code and read it, and I think it's entirely fair to say 'these are my interests' and it doesn't lessen me as a reader at all.

Joining every organization? That's ridiculous, but hey, you guys want to fork out your money you go for it. Frankly, I don't understand the interest in cat mysteries but some people love 'em. They have that right, but I'm not going to join Crimebusting Cats (or whatever) just because. To me, that's dumb and a waste of money. Frankly, if a really wide range of writing makes up an organization, then it's a writing organization and really isn't part of any genre. Trying to be everything to everyone sometimes your nothing to nobody.

And I must admit, I'm left baffled at how a founding member of the ITW can't distinguish between thrillers and mysteries, and it really does call into question how you decide what's eligible for the awards. Having seen the long arguments over that last year I feel confident that the judges I know could make the distinctions between the two.
I took Harry's comments to mean not that he couldn't draw a line between mysteries and thrillers, but that in the context of Elizabeth's question, an author shouldn't limit themselves to a particular label.

As far as organizational memberships are concerned, I've been an ITW member for about a year and a half - first as an associate member, and then after my book sold this past January, as an author member, and I have to say that there are a LOT of benefits to an author membership that I wasn't aware of - in particular promotional opportunities that are open only to members.

I'd certainly encourage anyone who qualifies to join.
I think it's entirely fair to say 'these are my interests' and it doesn't lessen me as a reader at all.

My sincerest apologies if you took from my comments that your interests lessened you as a reader. That was not my intent.

Joining every organization? That's ridiculous, but hey, you guys want to fork out your money you go for it. Frankly, I don't understand the interest in cat mysteries but some people love 'em. They have that right, but I'm not going to join Crimebusting Cats (or whatever) just because.

Again, apparently I didn’t make myself clear and for that, I apologize. I think authors should join every organization which is appropriate. It’s up to each individual to decide which is appropriate. The original post was a question about joining ITW. I thought that in that particular instance the poster would be best served by joining both ITW and MWA.

a founding member of the ITW

I hope I used the right term. People who joined ITW in the first year and gave money are called one thing; people who joined in the first year without the donation are called something else. (FYI: I didn't give any money other than the initiation fee when I joined. Does anybody know the right terms? And does anyone know how to edit a thread after 15 minutes?)

And I must admit, I'm left baffled at how a founding member of the ITW can't distinguish between thrillers and mysteries, and it really does call into question how you decide what's eligible for the awards.

What I hear from this statement is that you think I have some influence in the awards process.

I don’t.

I’ve never served as a judge for any award (other than the Backspace Scholarship) so I have no idea how the process works. (If this was not what you meant in regards to me personally, I am sorry I took it that way.)

Also, I could be wrong but I don’t think I ever said I couldn’t tell the difference. (See my comments about Carolyn Hart, Ken Bruen, etc.)

I was attempting to ask a rhetorical question; that is, can anybody could tell me the real difference is between a “thriller” and a “mystery” in broader terms than noir versus cozy verus techno-thriller versus, etc. My point being, that in terms of the original question, it’s probably best not to get too bogged down in labels.
In the UK - libraries often shelve thrillers in the Adventure section,which is separate to the Crime section.
I will take your advice about ITW. I already belong to the other two. PWA has been wonderfully supportive and friendly, but frankly I cannot see any benefits for the published mystery writer coming from MWA and will drop my membership again (for the second time).
I think the definition of 'thriller' is really wide but, as a reader, I am less likely to pick up a book labelled 'thriller' than I am to pick up one labelled 'crime fiction'. I know it's wrong but the thriller label always makes me think that it will either have spies, politics, conspiracies, strange diseases that threaten the world, courtroom hijinks, or someone wandering round a hospital with a syringe full of botulism.

At its most simplisticm a thriller for me is a book where the shocking things that happen are important. In thrillers, the excitement is in the shock. There is lots of action and danger and there's often a hunt or a chase. They involve your emotions because of the action - your heart beats faster because you want to know what will happen next. With suspense, for example, the excitement is in WAITING for the shock.

Suspense is more internal, a thriller is more external. Suspense focuses more on the way people feel - the nervousness, the tension, when will it happen? what's going to happen? etc. The thriller is more descriptive about what's actually happening and the event itself and how it happens, rather than the build up.

For me in a traditional mystery the 'exciting thing' has already happened. Colonel Arbuthnot is already lying on the Aubusson rug in the library with the poison of the red kneed Patagonian spider injected into his brain. There's a puzzle with a solution which is logical and which the reader discovers along with the detective.

And a 'crime novel', for me is all about the characters. The action is not as important as the effect it has on the characters. Well, OK, that's simplistic, but it's just how I feel. Where thrillers are often black vs white, good vs evil, us vs them, crime fiction deals in shades of gray, flawed heroes and sympathetic villains.

And some books can be all those things. And none of the above are proper definitions, just how my instincts kick in when I hear those terms. I tend to call everything with a crime at its core "crime fiction" and not bother about the finer definitions.
Well, "crime novel" works for me, but in the U.S. that is always "mystery," and I no longer have all that much in common with the vast majority of mysteries, especially because I work with character and not with the puzzle.
As for "thriller," several of my books fit the genre and have once or twice been marketed as such, but it also is too confining. I notice that a number of mystery authors have turned to the simple "novel" description, and I may press for that in the future. Sigh.
The "crime novel" designation is British and used where Americans use the "mystery" tag. It is fiction, not true crime. Perhaps that clarifies the difference.

RSS

CrimeSpace Google Search

© 2021   Created by Daniel Hatadi.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service