Are you an aspiring thriller writer?

If you answered yes to the above question, then life for you just got a whole lot harder. When my first book, “A Hell for Heroes”, (Heroes) an autobiography, was published in 2012, as you can imagine, I was over the moon, and both my editor and I were looking forward to my long, and hopefully profitable career as a writer. A month later, following a very successful morning spent promoting my book at the BBC, we met for a working lunch where we established the parameters for my first novel, which was to be a Cold War thriller based around actual historical events, and utilising the experiences from my military career.  Free Climber

Six months later, and halfway through the first draft of the new book, I was informed that everything had changed. The reason, apparently, was that men were no longer buying or reading books! How had this situation come about, and why had it happened so quickly?

It was suggested that after nearly twenty-five years of war in the Middle East, and the publication of countless books retelling the exploits and hardships of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, our nation had become somewhat war weary. But it still didn’t explain this sudden change in direction. It was time to do some investigating of my own.

First I spoke to some of the once avid male readers of these so called “boys books”, and I’m not talking about close friends and family who may have felt that they owed me some sort of loyalty. I’m talking about ordinary members of the public, people who were kind enough to share their time with me on the street, at railway stations and in cafés. Without exception, their answer to my question, “why do you think men are no longer buying and reading books?” was always the same. “Because nobody is publishing the type of books we want to read anymore”.

It was time to talk to people in the industry who might be willing to share their views with an outsider. Those that either knew or had their own theories, as to why this sudden turn around had occurred in what, up until quite recently, had been an extremely lucrative market.

Apparently, one of the major underlying factors is that the Boards of the larger publishing houses are becoming increasingly female dominated. Not necessarily a bad thing I hear you say, but as a direct consequence, the acquisitions teams of these publishing houses, including my own publisher, Hodder and Stoughton were now being instructed not to purchase or commission any more military-type thrillers – so called “boys books”.

To quote one editor: “Market research is telling us that the majority of books are now being bought and read by women and that they have no wish to read military-style thrillers. So unless your work can meet the new guide lines, immediately appeal and connect with a female audience, it won’t even make it onto the desk”. It was at this point that a quiet voice inside my head uttered the words I had heard over and over again from male readers during the previous four weeks. “Because nobody is publishing the type of books we want to read anymore”.

To add weight to my findings, a few weeks later I read a piece stating that over eighty percent of children’s writers today are women in their fifties; that in today’s publishing market, the likes of Roald Dahl and his children’s classics such as, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and The Enormous Crocodile, would no longer be considered suitable for publication, as Dahl’s work was now seen as being, “far too dark and sinister”.

A publisher will always tell you “you should write about what you know”. But for some of us, especially those, like me, who have come from a military background, given the current state of affairs within the publishing industry, it’s easier said than done. And as usual, just when you think you have it sorted, someone will go and move the goalposts yet again.

However, I am a firm believer in the saying “if we build it they will come”. Although we may have to adapt, design and build it slightly differently, make some allowances, I believe that getting “boys books” published is still possible.

With regards to my own efforts in achieving this, the learning curve over the past few years has been long, and at times cliff-face steep. Reaching the point where I am now, about to publish my first thriller, “The Apprentice”, still highly motivated and extremely enthusiastic, would not have been possible without some serious professional help from my agent, who it must be said has the patience of a saint.

I am also a great believer in the “win-win” philosophy – the one that says you should always leave something on the table for the next person. So, with that in mind, over the next few weeks I will be sharing what I have learned about novel writing for today’s publishers, with anybody who is interested.

The pieces will be published on my blog, www.theodoreknell.com and if you would like to be informed by e-mail whenever a new piece appears, then simply visit the site and click “Follow”, you can always “un-follow” it later.

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