The Agony of Genre

The Agony of Genre

I check agents’ sites occasionally, and yesterday I saw a note that a person had incorrectly classified her book as a ‘thriller’ in a query letter.  The agent said (quite correctly, I think from the query) that the book is suspense, not a thriller … but that’s okay, she said, because “thrillers are hard to sell these days.”

Ahhh, visions of my history with venture capital, when someone would have a Big Honkin’ Idea, would get funded and (shortly) acquired.  Within months there would be a dozen minor variations on the original idea looking for money, some of which would be funded.  Then the market would be saturated with look-alikes, and VC attention would turn to the next Big Honkin’ Idea.

So it is, I fear, with the thriller genre in commercial fiction.  I have two finished thrillers, one in rewrite and another in design.  So this is of some concern to me.

Once upon a time, the “thriller” plot turned on some big problem, something that would hurt thousands or millions.  Somehow the story’s protagonist, often an ordinary person (not cop, PI, lawyer, etc.), would discover some important detail and be pursued by bad guys until he or she was successful in exposing the bad stuff.  Then, sometime between Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (2006) and her Gone Girl (2012), her marketing department made Gone Girl a thriller.  After that, there were a lot of thrillers came out. Most were suspense (the general classification above thriller), but ‘thriller’ sold.

It’s looking more and more like I’ll self-publish at least my first novel.

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