Here is the scenario. You have read crime fiction for some years. You have watched and enjoyed crime series on TV and you think you might write a best selling crime novel — or even series! What exactly do you need to know before you start your first novel?

What Makes a Book a Best Seller?

Here is a question to start with before you put pen to paper: having read a best selling crime novel, can you explain why it’s a best seller? What is it about this book that makes it popular with so many readers? The truth is simple: a best selling author connects with the hearts and souls of his/her readers. And isn’t it true that the most absorbing novels you have read — whether crime or otherwise — are concerned with the fascination of character. Let’s think for a moment about some of those writers. Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Colin Dexter, James Ellroy… Each one of them tells us, in fascinating ways, the story of what happens to the characters they have invented and in such a way that we never forget it. We read those novels and maybe re-read them because the characters obsess us.

Of course, there is a great deal more to it than that. And there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone is necessarily going to be a best selling author! But there is a chance that a novice writer might publish a crime novel if it is not at all like any of the other crime novels which appear on the shelves of large book chain stores.

What Makes a Successful Crime Novel?

Here are some of the elements which make up a successful crime novel.

  1. The writing must excite your reader and never bore him.
  2. The novel must aim to provoke and challenge the reader.
  3. There must be a sense of pace in your narrative.
  4. You must inform the reader but do this in a way that seems effortless.
  5. The prose should aim to be both simple but effective.
  6. You must have a story in mind which entertains the reader.

Sounds difficult… Yet with application and an awareness of how you are writing and developing your narrative, it could be easier than you might think. What every writer need before starting is an array of tools to keep in his writer’s toolbox.

Kelvin Jones

Kelvin I. Jones has been a prolific UK crime and supernatural fantasy writer for over a quarter of a century. Born in Kent in 1948, he is equally at home writing poetry, plays and novels. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes and the only definitive study of Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective (see R De Waal’s Universal Sherlock Holmes, online edition, 2000). Ed Hoch, the renowned American crime writer, has said of his Sherlockian work: “Kelvin I Jones reveals a sensibility and knowledge of 19th Century literature that extends far beyond the world of Sherlock Holmes.’ He is the author of the Stone Dead series, featuring the intrepid Cornish detective, John Bottrell, and the Inspector Ketch stories, which are set in Norfolk.

Recent publications: Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues of London, Sherlock Holmes: The Baskerville Papers, A Dogged Detective (DCI Ketch), A Grave For The Goddess (John Bottrell).

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