But is it criminal?

This article was first published by the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook blog. http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/2012/05/but-is-it-criminal

At the moment, crime is the most popular genre among readers in the UK: of the top ten books borrowed from libraries in 2011, all were crime or thrillers. A 2012 survey by the Crime Writers’ Association showed crime sales rising steadily over the past three years. So if you’re an aspiring author, and you want to be published, writing crime seems like a good idea. But you’re passionate about what you write. You want to tell the story you have inside you, not just what you think will sell – and besides, you don’t know anything about police officers or pathologists. But don’t dismiss it yet. Even if you’ve never had a criminal thought in your life, you might be surprised to find that your book could still fit into the genre.  

When I started writing The Fall, I was in a state of what I like to describe now as ‘happy ignorance’. I was just telling the story I wanted to tell, with no thought to market or genre or what the finished product might look like. When it came to selling the book, and the publisher said they were buying it as a crime novel, I was shocked. I’d never considered it as crime (even though it features a police investigation…and a trial). I’m sure you’re much more clued-up than me, given that you’re reading this website and consulting the Writers and Artists Yearbook, so you’ve probably already given some thought to what genre your book is. So to help you out, I’ve compiled a few pointers to see if your book can fit into crime, and if so, which sub-genre.

Is something a bit sinister going on?

There doesn’t strictly speaking have to be a crime to fit into the crime genre. If your book is dark, mysterious, and filled with dodgy goings-on which put your characters in peril, then generally speaking you’re in. You don’t have to include detectives, lawyers, or even the ubiquitous stomach-churning morgue scene.  

Could it conceivably involve a vicar?

If yes, you might be writing a cozy (or cosy). This is the name given to the softer end of crime, usually light on gore and violence, and often featuring amateur sleuths and humorous elements. You might be surprised to find that crime can be funny, but much of it is. Comic crime novels that aren’t ‘cozy’ can also sometimes be described as ‘capers’.  

What’s the blood-count like?

If there’s lots of blood and guts, you might be writing a serial-killer novel. This is often combined with a police procedural, the detectives taking one narrative strand, and the killer the other (for some reason they often narrate in crazed italics).  You don’t have to stick to one sub-genre or the other.

Are there gangsters, private eyes, and other shady types?

You could be writing hardboiled crime. This is also sometimes called noir, and can be gritty, violent, and sexy. The characters may operate outside the law, and no actual investigation needs to feature.  

Is there a hard-bitten detective?

If the novel covers an investigation through to unmasking the villain, it’s probably a police procedural. These usually run in series, with a popular lead character, who is very often an alcoholic maverick with a disintegrating personal life. If you’re writing this kind of book, you should think about whether there’s a sequel, as you’ll most likely be asked this by potential agents and publishers.

Do your characters spend a lot of time running?

You might be writing an action thriller. These often involve international espionage, life-or-death situations, spies, and yes, lots of running in a race against time. The action thriller is strongly linked to the spy novel, which is less common nowadays.

Is the main character female?

The psychological thriller is very popular at the moment, and these are often (though not exclusively) written by women, with female lead characters. Again they may not involve an investigation or any actual crime, but more often dark secrets, the past coming back, and the characters in terrible danger. In something of a backlash against the loner male cop character, more and more police procedurals are also often featuring female leads.

Is there a court case?

If so, it’s safe to say you’re writing a legal thriller. These are currently less common in the UK than in America.

Is it set in the past?

Historical crime is also having something of a heyday at the moment. The setting can be as recent as the sixties, or as far back as medieval times. Setting your crime story in the past may give it that something special which publishers are looking for.

As you can see, crime is a very broad and varied genre and if you fit into it, this could help you market yourself effectively.  But what if you still don’t fit under any of these labels?  Then use them to show you’re familiar with the genre, but don’t get bogged down with names. The most important rule with crime fiction is to tell a good story. Write the book you want to write. You don’t have to stick to any of the rules. What you do have to do, as with any genre, is write a good book.

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