Only One Reason to Write Suspense Novels: To Spin A Great Yarn
Hello World’s Greatest Aspiring Thriller Writer. Have you checked out your New York Times or Amazon bestseller rankings for the tenth time today? Completed your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and author’s posts and addressed your never-ending social media obligations? Read the latest Readers Digest or Huffington Post publishing article or the latest book on How-to-become-a-Mega-Bestselling-Author? Attended yet another costly writers’ conference or short-course peddled by literary snake oil salesmen? Have you driven your agent, editor, publicist, therapist, or significant other crazy rambling on excitedly about your latest marketing strategy or book signing? In short, have you been spending a significant time today on anything but writing and editing your Great American (or insert here) Suspense Novel?
If the answer is yes, then wiser souls than me will point out that you’re on the wrong track and wasting your time. Unless you’re a 1% author—and the chances are 99% that you are not—then the only thing you should be consumed with, and I mean truly consumed with, is writing and editing (or, should I say, re-writing and re-editing?) your book until you have actually created the Great American (or insert here) Suspense Novel.
And what do I mean by the Great Suspense Novel? I am talking about a thriller so riveting that it forces readers to stay up late at night against their will the night before that career –defining company presentation and to literally not want to put the book down until they’ve finished it. A novel so seductively addicting that it holds its readers hostage. As in figuratively chained to a reading chair, bed, or even bathroom seat.
You scoff. But trust me, when you are dead and gone, all that is going to matter is that you have left behind a memorable thriller for the ages. And you can’t write a timeless classic if you are engaged in endless tweeting, Facebook posting, and passively reading about or listening to other people drone on about how to write the next mega-bestseller, as if it is a simple formulaic process that doesn’t actually require invaluable world experience, passion, and raw talent. Quite simply, you cannot write your literary masterpiece unless you are actually committing yourself 24/7 to the nuts and bolts of writing and editing your page-turner.
I know what you’re thinking: social media and book promotion are absolutely critical to success, and writing is a highly subjective enterprise in which one reader’s masterpiece is another’s scathing one-star review. But I politely counter that great is great (think of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s characterization of pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964: “I know it when I see it”). I further politely counter that the seemingly lofty and unreachable goal of greatness should be the primary focus of every author. Despite some of their other, admittedly less-than-riveting works, Grisham will a thousand years from now still be remembered for The Firm, Follett for The Eye of the Needle, Rowling for the Harry Potter series, and Capote for In Cold Blood. These novels are timeless and so are these authors because of these masterpieces.
“But you’re a nobody!” you snarl. “Where is your timeless masterpiece?” You’re right, I have not written it. Not yet. But I am striving for that admittedly far-reaching goal with every book I write and, with good old-fashioned hard work, I am, slowly but assuredly, making progress in that direction. In the last year alone, I have managed to have two #1 Denver Post bestsellers, an Amazon Top 15 historical thriller bestseller, and three novels garnering national book award winner or finalist recognition (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Book Awards, Beverly Hills Book Awards, and Next Generation Indie Book Awards). From reviewers and readers alike, my four suspense novels are being compared to the works of John le Carré, Silva, Follett, Patterson, Forsyth, Baldacci, Vince Flynn, and the irreverent Edward Abbey. Why old James Patterson himself even praised my third book, The Coalition, for having “a lot of good action and suspense” and compared the novel to The Day After Tomorrow, Allan Folsom’s classic thriller; and Foreword Reviews’ said of the political thriller, “Perfect for fans of James Patterson, David Baldacci, and Vince Flynn, The Coalition is a standout thriller from an up-and-coming writer.”
Not bad for a year’s worth of being a professional novelist. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t mean all that much since I have not yet written the Great American (or insert here) Suspense Novel. You know what I’m talking about: the book that cannot be put down by literally everyone. A book where word-of-mouth and word-of-tweet are organic processes that bring about massive exposure due solely to the book’s impeccable quality.
Penning such a masterpiece should be the sole reason to write suspense novels; there is simply no other valid reason to do so except the pure enjoyment of writing. Unless you’re a mega-bestselling author, there is certainly no reason to do it for the money. Telling compelling stories, then, is the sole justifiable reason to write suspense novels that meets every litmus test. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you’re in the wrong business. It’s about the art of great storytelling and nothing else. It’s about the idea that somebody a hundred years from now will read your carefully crafted words and hopefully be inspired, or at least wildly entertained.
Personally, I will not give up until I have either written such a timeless classic, or I can no longer physically sit at a desk and hammer away at a computer keyboard with my two calloused index fingers. Ultimately, suspense readers don’t care if you received your Creative Writing degree from Oxford or Yale, are a mega-bestseller, or are close friends with Sue Grafton or Lee Child. They just want a great story, an addictive page-turner with memorable characters. They just want the Great American (or insert here) Suspense Novel.
And by God, one day I’m going to write one. Hopefully, so will you. And together we will become immortal. At least on paper.
Samuel Marquis is a bestselling, award-winning suspense author. He works by day as a VP–Principal Hydrogeologist with an environmental firm in Boulder, Colorado, and by night as the spinner of the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series, the Nick Lassiter International Espionage Series, and a World War Two Trilogy. His thrillers have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Best Book, Beverly Hills, and Next Generation Indie), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). His website is www.samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact Chelsea Apple at firstname.lastname@example.org.