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?

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Oh, God, yes. So right. And the real trouble is that you don't get any respect for writing what is in your heart. Anything but. They might buy the book. Cheaply. And then they treat you like summer interns.

It's all those others who write serial killer formula who get treated like super stars.

Still, it's the readers' fault. They are the starmakers.
Do readers actively choose to read the big names, or are they reading them because that is all they're offered....?
Which came first, the slaughtered chicken or the murdered egg? :)
They buy what is advertised. Those other people they've never heard of and don't trust. Just like any other product.
I.J. I agree with you the reader are the ones buying the books, but I thing the people doing the marketing are the ones selling the books through the hype of either advertisement or the art work info wirtten one the exterior of the book.

I think if you put a photo of a naked blond with a tantalizing write up on the cover, every man that walked past it would want to buy it, even though the content of the book was nursery rhymes.

Perhaps, but what does that tell you about the people who buy books?
Nah, if they're looking at naked blondes they will either get them on the internet or they'll buy a magazine that has naked blondes, brunettes, and redheads on the inside.
See, I don't want it to come to this. I don't want to have contempt for readers. I don't want to think of them as comfort-food consumers chasing the lowest and least challenging common denominator. If I do feel this way, then why do I want to be a mystery writer? Who do I want to write for? Forty million Jim Thomsens? (That's a far scarier thought than some bored homemaker stuffing the latest Mary Higgins Clark into her grocery cart with the Oreo Cookies & Cream and the 47 Lean Cuisines.)

And I disagree that men would buy books with such covers. If we want porn, we'll buy outright porn (and probably do so online). I think — and a lot of written and anecdotal evidence backs me up on this — that most of the consumers of "supermarket suspense" are women. There's a book-exchange shelf in the dayroom at my mom's new facility (which is two-third women, according to the facility director), and it is LOADED to overflowing with J.D. Robbs and Janet Evanoviches and D.W. Buffas and Harlan Cobens and Stephen Whites, etc. Not much romance fare there. (You want to know how reach the most readers? Study what old women read.)

But is gender really the issue here? Do we all agree that book-buyers today are overwhelmingly female?
I don't want to have contempt for readers. I don't want to think of them as comfort-food consumers chasing the lowest and least challenging common denominator.

Please don't, Jim!

Not ALL readers are of that "ilk".... not this one! :) But mysteries are, after all, for most people "recreational reading." They like formulas. They don't want anything too deep---just something to kill a bit of time, a form of escape. But although I read mysteries for those reasons as well, I demand a bit more of the ones I choose. Why?

Because I read all sorts of books---fiction and poetry that would be classified as "literature," and because my standards , formed long ago, in my youth, are high, even the books I read for "recreation" have to be something more than the "supermarket" best selling thriller. I want them to be as memorable as any other book I read.

Writers who don't write JUST for the mass market but for those who want good, intelligent writing----stand a better chance of attracting readers you can actually respect. And maybe you won't get rich, but then, few do. So who would you rather be?

If I do feel this way, then why do I want to be a mystery writer? Who do I want to write for? Forty million Jim Thomsens?

NO. Just one! :) If you like to write, and you like to write mysteries then you will write as though you were your ONLY audience. For instance, I'm a painter and I paint for myself---I create the images I want to see, for what else can I do? ---otherwise I couldn't do it at all , because I'd always be second guessing "the market," all those unknown viewers, some of whom might like what I do, others who wouldn't. But I can't allow either to direct my craft or my vision.

I think many mystery readers are female, but that shouldn't matter either. A really good writer can and will "get inside" the heads of both sexes.

Study what old women read.

Um..."senior" women, please! I'm a baby boomer, but not ready to be called OLD yet! :)e
As I always say, "What editors REALLY want is what they didn't know that they wanted before it was offered to them." And yes, short of that, they want more of the same.

Just writing from our heart does not guarantee best sellers. Chances are if you're good, you notice a trend early enough, and you can whip up enthusiasm to write it, it may get published. But it won't likely be a best seller ... unless it transcends the sub-sub genre. And by that I suppose I mean creates a new sub-sub-sub genre.

Let's face it, even for good writers getting to the best seller list, or even mid-list, is a crap shoot. If you're in it only for the money, figure out how much comes out of your pocket to get this job done and buy the big-bucks lotto tickets. You have a far better chance getting rich at that than at writing.
True indeed.
But I think the point is that you have a far better chance at getting rich at writing if you're writing what everybody else is writing and not reading what nobody else is reading.


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