Simple. Just make it conform to this theoretical jacket copy.
He wants to play.
Twenty years ago, The Media-Friendly-Handle Serial Killer cruelly snuffed out the life of her mother/sister/best friend and left behind a poetic taunt to police. Sixteen-year-old Meg/Kate/Alex was there. Saw his face. And barely escaped into the night woods.
He is back.
Now Meg is a reporter/detective/police chief trying to put the shattered pieces of her life back together. But pretty young girls are dying once more. Snuffed out in the same shocking manner. And each piece of poetry points to his next intended victims — Meg and her own teen daughter.
He is waiting.
Now, Meg is reluctantly teaming with FBI profiler John Handsome, her ex-husband/ex-lover/love interest, to track the most horrifying monster in bureau history. But then her daughter disappears on a camping trip while Meg and John no longer let themselves ignore their long-simmering animal attraction to one another. The latest taunt arrives. And Meg is forced to venture back into the same night woods that terrified her twenty years before ... that painted her dreams with blood and screams and the glint of a knife in the moonlight. To venture back for a life-and-death showdown with the most terrifying evil imaginable ... for the highest stakes imaginable.
He wants to play.
This time, for keeps.
I recently helped my mom move from her home into an independent-living facility. In cleaning out her home, I found hundreds and hundreds of paperbacks by what I think of as "supermarket suspense" authors. You know the ones, face-out in the racks by the checkout aisles: Tami Hoag, Lisa Gardner, Lisa Scottoline, Sandra Brown, Alison Brennan, Catherine Coulter, Rick Mofina, Kevin O'Brien, Karin Slaughter, et cetera, ad nauseum.
And at least 40 of these books — no exaggeration, I swear — had this basic jacket copy. Always the woman with the tragic past. Always the handsome FBI profiler. Always the serial killer with a cinematic signature. I wish I'd thought to keep track of them before I hauled two trunkfuls of them to Goodwill.
Every single one of these authors is a NYT bestseller. Every single one, I'll wager, has a multi-book contract and makes a comfortable living. And there is, seemingly, a relentless appetite for this same plot among mystery/suspense/thriller readers.
Every time I go to a writers' conference, I hear agents and editors say, "Don't write for the market. Write what's in your heart." But would those same agents and editors tell me that each of these authors, and dozens of others like them, all wrote independently from their hearts ... and just happened, totally separate from one another, to write essentially the same story?
Who's most full of fecal matter here? Is it us, for insisting on being "better" than this?