Monday, December 18, 2006

The Mystery Market

In The Narrows, Michael Connelly joins characters from his Harry Bosch series, Blood Work (featuring FBI Agent Terry McCaleb), and his serial killer book, The Poet. It’s like a Marvel or DC comics crossover event. This book is also interesting because it acknowledges the movie version of Blood Work as having happened—the Buddy character in particular resents being turned into the villain. The book is fun because it embraces the reality of the modern thriller writer—that they are writing machines.

Michael Murphy, former publisher at William Morrow, once told me something about writer Sparkle Hayter. Hayter had come up with a great character—a low-level producer for a 24 hour news network in NYC—and had written a couple of very entertaining humorous mysteries featuring this character. Murphy advised her to write a new one every year—a yearly book being a requirement to have a successful franchise in the mystery book world. He was disappointed that Hayter couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do it. Perhaps Hayter preferred not to become a writing machine.

It is astonishing how much mystery and thriller writing conventions are dictated by market requirements. Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin can churn out new thrillers every year or so, and Sparkle Hayter can’t. Connelly and Rankin are successful, Hayter not (in this field, at least). All of these writers are quite good at what they do, but apparently only Connelly and Rankin have what it takes to be commercially successful.



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