Tag Archives: thriller

Genre marketing

I recently enrolled on a writing course, Exploring Genre’, run by prolific writer, editor and teacher, Tom Bromley, at PWA. Why?

As readers of this blog may have noticed, genre is something which has been taxing my mind for some time. Genre, for me, is a doubled-edged sword. I’m a marketing professional by trade and the logic behind any good marketing campaign is the same, and always has been.

Why genre fiction equates to smart marketing

Marketers talk a lot about market segments and quantifying them. You know, roughly, who your audience is, but in order to engage successfully with them, you need to narrow it down. Normally competitive analysis and positioning helps to sort out which market is not only the best fit for you product but also the one likely to be easier to compete within. So then (as any good marketer knows) you test the theory to end up with a proof of concept. And what any marketing person worth their salt will ascertain from looking at the publishing business is that awareness of genre equates to smart marketing in the world of book sales. Ask any best-selling indie author, and they will tell you that. This blog ‘Write to Done’ hammers this point home very well.

My test-run novel, Borderliners

BorderlinersTake my novel, Borderliners, as a case study. Borderliners was released in February. About a troubled psychotherapist who must uncover what is behind a string of deaths in her village, Borderliners was a story I thought would classify as a thriller – but it isn’t really. The process of self-publishing and getting right up close to my audience showed me that hard-core thriller audiences got fed up with the more reflective elements of the book, whereas readers of YA – surprisingly – quite liked it. Since its publication, I’ve played around with the book a lot, placing it in several categories within Amazon. It got lost very quickly in ‘thriller’ but rose in ‘occult’. I tested it in ‘fiction’ (as in general, not literary), but it got lost there too, so currently it’s in ‘juvenile fiction’.

Borderliners was supposed to be my proof of concept, but I don’t think it is fit for that purpose. I made it as good as I could at the time, but in terms of writing for a specific audience, it hasn’t ticked the boxes. That’s OK though, as the marketer in me finds the Borderliners test a fascinating one. It will soon be followed by my second novel, Split Symmetry, which, as a  mixture of adventure thriller and metaphysical love story, is similarly cross-genre. Effectively, Split Symmetry is also a proof of concept experiment.

Genre as classification

pride-and-prejudiceIn some ways, it’s true that all fiction is, to an extent, cross-genre. As the writer of this Guardian article about genre fiction and classification says, Jane Austen didn’t consider herself to be writing literary fiction. I did snigger a bit at the writer’s re-classification of literary fiction in today’s terms as ‘LitSnob’ – ain’t that the truth. There’s some fantastic story telling and writing within so-called genre fiction, and yet some people feel they are letting the side down if they aren’t constantly reading prose-poetry, not realising that literary fiction is just another marketers’ classification of general fiction.

For me, the answer lies somewhere in between. I’m a big fan of CJ Lyons’ smart approach. She writes thrillers which would be considered cross-genre as they contain romantic elements. So rather than just allow her books to sink and dwindle in the nether regions of Amazon and the like, she used crossroads positioning to find her niche – ‘Thrillers with heart’.

Now, that’s what I call smart marketing. But in order to execute this kind of positioning in your chosen market, you must first know what your market reads, and why. You must know what else your market reads and find your competitive space, and you must be sure your competitive space is wide enough for you to enter – and not too crowded! Early competitive advantage is key.

So that’s me back to the drawing board. Back to school, as it were, to study genres and their audiences and hopefully afterwards, back into the field armed with knowledge which will help me execute my own killer positioning.

Comments Off

Filed under Novel writing

Charismatic leaders

One theme which interests me in literature is the power of the charismatic leader. Scratch the surface, and often you find an extremely powerful and dangerous individual who has a potent and toxic influence on those around them. How does a person become so charming within their chosen social circles or community that eventually they become revered, a status which gives them licence to commit all kinds of wrongdoing on the unsuspecting people around them?

Among the ‘villains’ listed in the Telegraph article, the 50 greatest villains in literature, my favourites are:

  • The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
  • Voldemort from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
  • Iago from Othello, by William Shakespeare
  • O’Brien from Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
  • Fred from The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

My book, Borderliners, looks at the influence a charismatic leader has on her community, and how she succeeds in hoodwinking large numbers of people – with disastrous consequences.

Psychological traits of cult leaders

In his article about cult leadersJoe Navarro, a former FBI Counterintelligence Agent, says the following:

They demanded perfect loyalty from followers, they overvalued themselves and devalued those around them, they were intolerant of criticism, and above all they did not like being questioned or challenged. And yet, in spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features.

Often, those who decide to ‘follow’ such people can suffer a range of psychological ill effects, including mental breakdown, and the idea of a vulnerable person who treads a precarious borderline between reality and illusion, health and mental breakdown is central to my novel.


Max Weber, a German sociologist and philosopher best known for best known for his thesis combining economic sociology and the sociology of religion, defined charismatic authority as:

The external or internal rule over man made possible by the faith of the ruled in this supernatural power of the leader.

Such leaders tend to be:
These characteristics are:
1) Self-confidence and self assurance
2) Need for power and low authoritarianism
3) Expert power
4) Referent power
5) Communications and rhetorical skills
6) Assertive, dynamic, outgoing, and forceful

I’m particularly interested in the article’s statement that they often arise because of ‘cultural unrest’ which leads to a situation in which followers think of the charismatic leaders ‘as “prophets” or “saints”’ who will provide them with a route to salvation.

This would certainly be true of my very own villain, and she is hopefully not somebody I will ever come across in a dark alleyway.

Comments Off

Filed under Novel writing

My top five thrillers and spooky novels

Borderliners, the first novel in my trilogy, is a psychological thriller set in the autumn of several different timelines.

As I prepare this novel for publication at the end of 2013, some of the key themes of the story are uppermost in my mind: dreams and reality, the mysterious nature of time, ambiguity of human relationships and the destructive nature of isolation and the vulnerability it brings to its subjects.

Inspiration for some of my themes comes from my love of thrillers and some of my favourites are listed here:

  1. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
  2. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
  3. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  4. Blackwater, Kerstin Eckmann
  5. The Landscape of Love, Sally Beauman

For me, Gillian Flynn is the current queen of the plot-driven suspense thriller, but almost nothing beats the way I felt when I first read Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ over a decade ago. I was a student at the time and spent several days and nights immersed in the story. Kerstin Eckmann’s Blackwater is one of a longer list of nordic thrillers I’m very fond of, but the one which stands the test of time in my memory. The Landscape of Love is a peculiar novel, which I found both disturbing and compulsive at the same time. The use of changing points of view from the reliable to the unreliable narrators was one which I loved and has followed through to my own work. Finally, The Master and Margarita contains a masterpiece of a scene where Margarita, the Master’s mistress, is invited to a ‘Walpurgis Night ball’ , an event associated with the occult and the supernatural.

Happy reading!

Comments Off

Filed under Novel writing