Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mr. Agent Man (or: Hey, Why Do I Need an Agent?)

As I go through the seemingly endless process of finding a literary agent, the devil sits on one shoulder and an angel on the other, going at it like prize fighters. “You don’t need an agent,” one says. “You’ll do just fine on your own. In fact, you’ll do better because you can keep more of your money!”

On the other shoulder is the voice that says, “But the publishing world is huge and so difficult to navigate for a writer. You need some help!”

I believe there is some truth in what both of these voices say. Sure, I got my first book, DIABLERO, published all by my lonesome by a small press in Atlanta, Georgia and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Nightbird Publishing is a quality publishing house with integrity and vision. They set me up with a book release party in Atlanta, helped get me some book signings, some publicity and were just generally easy to work with and enthusiastic about my book. DIABLERO was one of their best-selling releases up to that time, so I can’t complain.

Then, along came David Niall Wilson and Crossroad Press, who offered to release DIABLERO as an e-book. That deal was also done without the aid of an agent.

So why get an agent?

Well, let me put it this way: I believe I could get along in the publishing world without one, maybe eventually publish a best-seller at some point. I’ve always believed in being self-sufficient and self-reliant, so it would fit right into my philosophy.

But the thing is I don’t want to do it alone. Sure, my family and friends are supportive, but they aren’t in the publishing business and I want someone on my side that is—someone who knows the ins and outs, the loopholes in the publishing contracts, the editors at the publishing houses and the people that will review my book. I want someone on my side that believes in me and my work and will fight to get it out there into the world and make sure I get paid when it does.

I don’t think 15 percent is too much to ask for a little piece of mind.

Whenever I see my novelist friend and mentor Stephen March, the first thing he always asks me is, “Got any offers on that book, yet?” followed by, “Don’t give up and don’t stop believing in yourself.”

I can’t think of any better advice to give a struggling writer. So far I’ve had several agents request my full manuscript and right now it’s in the hands of one of the most influential agents in the world. Not bad.

But even if he says, “No thanks,” I will continue my quest, because eventually I believe someone is going to say, “Yes!”

For more info on my books and other craziness, visit my web site at Toby Tate Stories.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chasing the Fame Train

A lot of writers think that chasing the latest fads in the literary field is the way to a publishing contract. The misunderstood vampire, the wild-eyed zombie, the child-wizard, the gin-soaked, smart-mouthed private investigator—you know the ones—the tired, clich├ęd, overused characters.

Well, I used to be one of those writers. I was ready and willing to jump on that fame train.

But I have learned that if your writing doesn’t come from the heart and is instead motivated by the hope of an expanding wallet, you are headed down a rocky path and toward a perpetually empty bank account. Literary agents’ in-boxes are filled with queries from would-be authors following the latest trends or trying to copy the styles of famous writers. But those authors are traveling a dead-end street and they don’t even realize it.

I read blogs—lots and lots of blogs—by literary agents that receive anywhere from 30 to 100 queries a day and one theme that occurs throughout these blogs is this: Write in your own voice and don’t follow trends. So why try to be someone you’re not? Write what you love. Write what you would like to read, but use your own words and ideas, not someone else’s. Yeah, vampire stories are the schizzle right now, but that market could soon fizzle and you’re left standing with manuscript in hand and nowhere to turn.

Instead of trying to figure out what agents and publishers are looking for and writing for the market, write for yourself and try to find a niche—something that no one else is writing about. Make it unique and interesting, make your characters jump off the page, make your story crackle with excitement!

My latest manuscript has been requested by no less than five literary agents and I’m still waiting to hear back from several more because I chose not to follow trends. I read the latest books by authors who write in my field, not because I want to copy them, but to make sure I DON’T copy them. I try to keep an eye on the latest trends to make sure I DON’T follow them. My characters and my stories are unique because I dare to be different, and hopefully it will pay off in a big way.

But if not, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have integrity and will continue to have integrity because I write stories that come from my own heart and mind and no one else’s. If the fame train leaves the station without me, then so be it. I'll take the bus.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Time at Borders

I was a Borders, Inc. employee from about 1995 until 2004 and I have to say they were one of the better companies I have worked for. They purchased a large music store where I was employed (Planet Music in Virginia Beach) and when they sold the store two years later, I decided to stay with Borders and got a job at Waldenbooks, which they also owned.

They treated their employees well, and although I can’t say they always hired the best store managers, they did tend to hire some pretty knowledgeable, talented people. I had the time of my life working for Waldenbooks and made a lot of friends with other employees as well as customers.

The closest Borders store to me is the one in Virginia Beach, about 60 miles away. I played my music there once and they even sold my CD on consignment. Pretty cool. And their coffee was way better than Starbuck’s (sorry Starbuck’s fans).

One of the draws for me was the fact that they sold tons of multi-media, i.e., video, music and books. But not just in a little room in the back of the store—I’m talking aisles of stuff. They carried music that I just couldn’t find anywhere else without going online or to a specialty store. And as an employee, I got a really awesome discount.

At Planet Music, you could listen to any music before you bought it and we had a huge room that catered specifically to classical music fans. We sold new and used CDs and also had the biggest video and DVD selection you’ve ever seen. It was paradise.

But when they sold the company, I decided to stay with Borders and began as a bookseller at a little stand-alone Waldenbooks in Virginia Beach before becoming assistant manager. Then, writing called and I never looked back.

But I have to say that I will never forget my time working for Borders, shopping in their stores and making so many friends. They were a great company and I will miss them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing a good query letter

Since I am asked about it so much (well, okay, maybe two people asked about it) I have decided to post the query letter for my latest military thriller/dark fantasy, LILITH. So far, I have gotten full manuscript requests from four literary agencies and from what I understand, those are pretty good numbers. Two of the agencies are small, one-person operations, one is medium (three agents) and one is a large New York agency (about eight agents).

This letter has been through several revisions and could go through several more, but as of now, this is the one I’ve been sending out. It pretty much answers the questions agents want answered in a query in a short, succinct way. Feel free to peruse it and get some ideas for writing your own query, if you want. But please, no copying, or I’ll have to tell the teacher! Of course, I personalize each letter so it isn’t the exact same thing every time, but this is the gist of the query:

Before evil had a name, there was Lilith.

Something has come aboard the U.S. Navy’s newest state-of-the-art super carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford—a creature that has existed since the time of Adam and Eve is masquerading as a human and secretly taking over the ship and her crew.

Reporter Hunter Singleton and his wife, Lisa, are invited aboard the Ford as part of a media tour to witness training operations off the coast of North Carolina. Instead, the couple find themselves in the midst of a nightmare.

The CIA has an operative on board, someone who has been closely watching the creature, following its every move, hoping to find a weakness before it’s too late. But it possesses powers that defy the very laws of nature.

A hurricane materializes practically overnight, taking the ship and her crew by surprise and forcing them to go north. Soon the hurricane gains strength, following close behind the Ford.

The crew discovers that the hurricane, now a category five, is headed directly toward New York Harbor. The Ford is called to assist in the aftermath, but whatever has come aboard has other plans, a terrifying plot that could destroy the carrier and wipe out the entire population of New York City.

The true horror lies not only in the creature’s supernatural abilities, but also in its ultimate goal—to eradicate the human race and become the Earth’s dominant life form.

LILITH by Toby Tate

LILITH is a dark fantasy of about 80,000 words. I feel the target audience for LILITH would be 18-50 year-old men and women who enjoy a good scare, an intricate plot, lots of action and true-to-life characters. It is part of a series featuring man and wife team Hunter and Lisa Singleton.


My first novel, DIABLERO, was published in paperback by Nightbird Publishing in Oct. 2010 and in e-book form by Crossroad Press in March, 2011. It was endorsed by NY Times best-selling author Steve Alten (MEG) and is currently the #2 bestseller at Eagle Eye Book Shop, Atlanta’s #1 indie bookstore. DIABLERO has been nominated for the Southern Independent Booksellers Award (SIBA).

Some of my favorite modern authors include Dan Brown, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Steve Alten, James Rollins, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, Clive Cussler, Lee Child, Stephen King and Bentley Little. Some of my influences include Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, Rod Serling, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am deeply involved in the marketing and promotion of my own books, with over 12,000 hits on my website, over 1,200 friends on Facebook and over 5,000 reads on my Scribd page. I am also on Twitter and have my own blog, “Here There Be Monsters,” which I frequently update. I have done internet radio and newspaper interviews and guest blogs. I have pages on,, and have created a YouTube video for DIABLERO, which has received nearly 2,000 hits. I post often on message boards such as Kindle Boards, Author Nook, Mobile Reads, Absolute Write, and on local North Carolina boards.

I have also done many book signings and question and answer sessions, where I sell anywhere from 20 to 30 books at a time.

I was a newspaper reporter for five years and have also been published in The Pedestal Magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Scary Monsters Magazine and other periodicals. I am currently a freelance writer and journalist with regular articles appearing on and other websites and newspapers.

I am currently working on my third novel in the series, NOCTURNAL, and have ideas for several more in the series and some stand-alone novels.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Toby Tate
Author of DIABLERO
Elizabeth City, NC
Phone # here
Visit for
an excerpt from the book, as well as links
to my writing on the publishing industry,
the music industry, and more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cashing In and Selling Out

I always hear people talk about authors who are sellouts, i.e. an author that becomes popular. A good example of this is J.K. Rowling. Before becoming a multi-millionaire, Ms. Rowling lived in what most would describe as poverty, eking out a living writing books that weren’t big sellers. The same with Stephen King, who mostly wrote short fiction and taught high school English; or John Grisham, who famously sold his first novel out of the trunk of his car. All of these authors would be considered successful by most standards, but to some, they are sellouts. Why?

People come up with lots of different reasons for thinking someone is a sellout. The biggest offenders are the authors who let someone else publish their books instead of doing it themselves. In the publishing industry, most self-published books are ignored, and for good reason—most have never had the advantage of a good editor going over the manuscript. Words are misspelled, punctuation is off, grammar is atrocious, the plot has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese, the characters are shallow and one-dimensional, or the story just plain stinks.

Don’t get me wrong, I have friends that have published some wonderful books, but virtually anyone with enough money can self-publish. And when it comes time to get an agent to sell your next book, guess what? Your self-published book, unless it was a huge seller, will be counted as a big zero. Unfortunate, but that’s the way the cookie bounces.

Another form of sellout is the writer who decides to write something, perhaps in another genre, that is a breakout best-seller. The loyal fans that had been following her for the last ten or so years are incensed that said writer could do such a thing—sell out to the big corporate publishers and actually—gasp!—make money! How could she?

But it’s not about authors following current trends, though that does happen. I mean, how many vampire novels have you seen lately? But often, an author will tire of writing the same old thing and go a different direction or simply write a book that has wide appeal. A good example of this is Walter Moseley, who writes everything from science fiction to mystery and even erotica. I have author friends with four or five unpublished manuscripts who were ecstatic when they were finally able to sell a novel. Sellouts? Hardly. I call it something else—patience.

I have been asked so many times why I bother trying to find an agent or why I decided to go with an actual publisher for my first book instead of doing it myself and keeping all the rights. But guess what? I retained all the rights to my book after it got published, albeit to a larger audience than I ever could have gotten, or would have had time to get, on my own. My publisher gave me a lot of encouragement and insight, edited my book, listened to my input, printed, distributed and then marketed my book. And they even paid me!

Guess that makes me a sellout.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Hybrids of Horror

I just finished my second novel and I’m in agent search mode once again.

Something every writer has to do when searching for an agent or publisher is categorize their work in a certain genre, i.e. literary, thriller, science fiction, romance, young adult, horror, etc.

But it doesn’t stop there. There are also sub-genres like steam punk, supernatural horror, dark fantasy; descriptions that can help agents or publishers understand where a book is coming from. It also helps authors connect with the right agent or publisher. I definitely would not be a good fit for an agent who only represents children’s authors or romance, but for someone who already represents other writers in my genre, I probably would be.

My latest novel, CREATURE, is a story about a mythical being that takes over a U.S. Navy super-carrier. I describe it as something like Stephen King meets Tom Clancy, or a supernatural techno-thriller. It moves at a very fast pace, but it’s terrifying, so it also fits in the thriller and suspense genres. It could even be put it in the mystery genre because there is a lot of mystery involved.

Primarily, though, CREATURE is a horror novel. That’s what I love to read and that’s what I love to write: things with supernatural twists and dark undertones and characters that overcome, despite the odds. Bentley Little, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, H.P. Lovecraft, Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury—these are people I consider to be influences. But I also love a good Vince Flynn, James Rollins or James Patterson thriller.

To me, horror as a genre can incorporate many different elements and in my writing, it does. So as I search for agents and publishers, I look at other books they have represented or published and also at their interests, because the types of books I write may be something they have never done but would like to do: a fast-paced thriller with horrifying elements and true-to-life characters.

That sounds like something I would like to read, how about you?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mistakes happen…and happen…and happen…

I will admit I have many faults (yes, it’s true!) and I make mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. But my friends and loved ones are always there to help me pick up the pieces and rectify the situation.

But when I read a book from a major publishing house I expect to see near perfection; and why? Because they expect it from us, the writers! Don’t believe me? Try submitting a manuscript with grammatical and spelling errors sometime and see what happens. If you manage to get more than a form letter back, they will rip into you about the number of mistakes and ask that you “please edit your manuscript before you submit.” It usually says as much in their submission requirements.

Well, I’d like to make some publishing requirements: Please read your manuscripts before you publish!

Now I know publishing houses are extremely busy and short on staff and I can understand a missed comma here, an extra hyphen there and even a misspelled word or two, but when it comes to grammatical and spelling errors on every other page, it gets to be downright irritating and if I’m standing there reading it in Barnes and Noble I may even decide to not buy it.

Case in point: I was reading a book written by a NY Times bestselling author, published by a major publishing house, and found so many errors I actually had to stop at times to figure out what the word was supposed to be! (I won’t say the name of the book because I love this author’s work and don’t want to embarrass him). The writing was top-notch, but the copy-editing was obviously non-existent.

I’m finding that the small presses are doing a much better job these days of turning out quality products while the stuff from major houses seems to be going downhill. My own publishing company, Nightbird Publishing, puts out high-quality trade paperbacks and hard covers and their editing process is meticulous. My book went back and forth with my publisher several times before it was deemed ready for print. That’s the way it should be, even for e-books.

I think that if major publishers demand the best from us, the writers, shouldn’t we get the best in return? After all, it’s only fair.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rick Chesler steps up his game

First of all, Rick Chesler’s “kiDNApped” has nothing to do with the Robert Louis Stevenson book of the same name, though I can’t rule out any influence here since Rick’s books tend to involve the ocean in some way. After all, he is a marine biologist.

But Rick’s books involve science, as well. Where WIRED KINGDOM was a tale of a whale-cam (influenced by Herman Melville, perhaps?) that accidentally records a murder at sea, this one involves a kidnapping at sea which is also recorded, but in a rather ingenious way—with living DNA.

kiDNApped starts with a bang when a diver’s employer is murdered and the body sent down to the depths—right next to the diver. Then the boat is stolen, taking his air supply with it. Not a good situation, but he manages to save himself with some old-fashioned ingenuity.

FBI Agent Tara Shores from WIRED KINGDOM marks her return as she tries to solve the riddle of what happened to a scientist who creates something almost as incredible as the cure for leukemia. Some not very nice people would like to get their hands on that creation and they’ll do anything—including murder, and lots of it—to gain singular control.

But the scientist left clues to his fate in a place no one but his own scientist daughter would think to look. You guessed it—inside a DNA sequence.

After her high-profile case in the first book, Agent Shores is transferred from Los Angeles to Hawaii, where she meets the family of the missing scientist. Like any good mystery, there are a lot of plot-twists that will leave you wondering who’s on which side. Suffice it to say that everyone in the family is not what they seem to be.

The thing about Rick’s writing is that he has the knack of putting you in the story. As a marine biologist, and I would imagine also an experienced diver, you’re right down there in those claustrophobic ocean depths. The descriptions of Hawaii are strikingly detailed and really made me want to go there for a visit.

WIRED KINGDOM was a great techno-thriller and with kiDNApped I think Rick stepped his game up a notch. Fans of Michael Crichton would probably enjoy this book. He has a new publisher this time out (Chalet Publishers) and some really great cover art by Stan Tremblay. I look forward to seeing more from Rick Chesler.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Author Rick Chesler: Writing for the thrill of it

Rick Chesler, author of the techno-thriller WIRED KINGDOM and the just-released kiDNApped talks about my favorite subject: What it takes to write a good thriller!

First of all, many thanks to author Toby Tate for having me as a guest on his blog!

So I’ve been asked, what does it take to write a good thriller? Good question. I try to write something I would like to read myself—a story that has some familiar elements culled from the books I liked, but with a unique premise, plot, style, and a voice of my own. But how to actually get there?

First of all, I think it takes a solid premise of some kind, or maybe a what-if scenario, that has the potential for lots of serious conflict. Sometimes these are inspired by real-life events. For example, several years ago I read a news report about a team of researchers who successfully encoded the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner into the DNA of living cells, essentially turning living bacteria into a data storage medium, just like your hard drive--except that they’re alive, and every time they reproduce, they reproduce your message. From there I read about how some companies with potentially valuable gene patents were encoding their patent numbers right into the genetically engineered cells. I kind of put those two things together and came up with:

What if a scientist working on some ultra-lucrative applied genetics was kidnapped and held for ransom…and the only way he could send a message for help was to encode it into the DNA of the very cells he was working with? That was my starting point. I had to ask and answer a lot of questions along the way (How would he get into that situation? Who would kidnap him? What exactly was he working on? What happens to him in the end?)

The result was kiDNApped, and starting March 1, 2011, it is available for purchase here:

kiDNApped on

The process was similar for my first novel. One day, many years ago, I had a thought:

What if a whale tagged with a webcam were to broadcast a murder at sea?

That’s the premise of my debut thriller, WIRED KINGDOM, which was published in May of 2010. I started with that simple premise. From there, the questions multiplied like rabbits: who gets murdered? Who kills them and why? Why does the whale have a web-cam tag on it? How would that kind of technology even work? Who would be tasked with solving the crime? The answers to each of these questions lead down multiple paths of their own, and once I realized I could no longer mentally keep track of them all, I had to start typing them into the computer. After a few months of thinking about it like this, I had a solid opening, a general ending, and a couple of stepping stones in between. With that I began the first draft. The end result can be seen here:


Characterization and setting are also extremely important: believable personas with palpable motivations battling it out in exotic settings is what I shoot for, but there’s no one correct way to handle it.
Of course there’s more to writing a great thriller than only the premise, plot, characters and setting. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and so the execution of your idea needs to be as flawless as possible. Give ten writers the same short descriptions like those I started with above, and you’ll get 10 different books. The importance of exactly how it’s executed is what truly makes it your book.

Thanks for reading,


Twitter: @rickchesler
Facebook: Rick on Facebook

Friday, January 28, 2011

Guerrilla marketing and the publishing battle

DIABLERO is kind of a modern-day adventure/horror novel about a group of people chasing a demon-possessed Blackbeard the pirate from North Carolina to Virginia to South Carolina and then to the Caribbean hoping to prevent him from literally opening the gates of hell. There’s a lot of great character development in there, so it’s not just plot driven. It’s getting five-star reviews on Amazon and selling pretty well online and in some independent bookstores mainly in the southeast.

The number one thing is to write a book that people will want to read. Everything else you do hinges on that.

Even if you have a publisher, if they’re small like mine, they will have limited resources. But even large publishers can’t do everything. Your book is only going to sell as much, or as little, as you want it to. Besides obvious things like e-mail and advertising, there are tons of things indie authors can do to promote themselves.

I think one of the factors that help sell my book is having the endorsement of bestselling author Steve Alten who wrote the MEG series and the apocalyptic GRIM REAPER: End of Days. Favorable reviews on Goodreads, and a few blogs don’t hurt, either. If you can get reviews on websites that are relevant to your particular genre, that really helps make people aware that your book is out there. You really should figure out who your core audience is and focus on them.

But a writer’s best friends are social networking sites like Facebook, because you can go on there and search for people that have similar interests and friend them. You can also create a page for your book and an ad campaign that will reach thousands of potential fans for a couple of dollars a day. Facebook can be linked with Twitter, MySpace and a host of other sites that will post any messages you put up on Facebook.

Another great tool is a blog. You should try to blog about subjects related to your book, which in my case would be horror, sci-fi, fantasy, Blackbeard, pirates, writing and things like that. That gives people a reason to stick around plus you’re not always talking about your book all the time. You’re giving people something that interests them. Guest blogging on other blogs is a great way to spread your name around, too. Oh yeah, and podcast interviews!

Besides Facebook and Twitter, there are also writer’s websites like Writer Face, Filed By, Authors Den, Book Hitch and tons of other places where you can hook up with readers and other writers. If your book has local appeal like mine does, you can also get on some message boards. Try to get interviews or reviews in your local paper, as well, because lots of people will support local authors.

Get your book in some local book stores, set up some author signings and talk to people who come to the store. Being nice and talking to people will sell your book faster than anything. The introverts who sit at the table waiting for customers to come to them are usually going to be disappointed. Build a local following that can eventually branch out into a bigger following.

Also, most computers have built-in video editing programs like Windows Movie Maker and I highly suggest creating a book trailer and putting it on YouTube. You can find plenty of free music, photos and videos online to create your own video. Or pay someone to do it. I’ve had over 1,300 hits on my YouTube channel in the last month alone.

But all the promotion in the world can’t sell a bad book. If you don’t get good word of mouth, you’re sunk before you even set sail.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Researching a horror/sci-fi/fantasy/technothriller

When I was preparing to write my first supernatural thriller, I wanted to learn the best ways to do research, but there weren’t really any books out there on the subject. I just had to jump into the fray and figure it out for myself.

Writing my first novel took a lot more research than I thought it would. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to guess at things, especially technical details. I want to know what kind of boat it is, what kind of engine it has, how fast it can go, who built it, how far it can go on a tank of fuel, how many compartments it has—well, you get the picture. I hate for people to read my books and go, “Whoa, dude—those boats don’t have diesel engines, they have gas engines. Epic fail!”

Right now I’m researching my next thriller and believe me; I’ve had to go around a lot of roadblocks. It’s what I call a supernatural techno-thriller; a Tom Clancy meets Dean Koontz kind of thing. People get a little nervous when you start asking about classified information, though I haven’t really gotten into anything quite that heavy, but so far I’ve found some cooperative people who are glad to help. Not only will they be getting their names in the acknowledgements, but they’ll receive a first-edition signed copy, as well.

The first thing I have to do for this type of book is figure out the basic story from beginning to end. You really have to know the ending, or at least I do, in order to figure out how to get where you want to go, whether it’s character driven, plot driven or both.

Once I’ve outlined the story and figured out who my characters are, it’s time to start writing. Personally, I prefer to research as I write, that way I learn whatever I need to know to move the story along. If I research first and then end up changing the story around because I don’t like the way a certain thing is working, then I have wasted time researching for nothing.

Most of my research is done on the Internet. You can find out almost anything you need to know from Yahoo, Google or any of the other search engines. If it’s not there, then the local library is the next best place. In fact, some may even like it better than the Internet—it’s a personal choice.

It’s also helpful to find people who have been in the situations that you’re writing about. If you’re writing about a Navy ship, find a Navy sailor who has served aboard the same type of ship that’s in your story. You can’t beat real world experience.

That brings me to my next point. If you can actually spend time in a place like the one you’re writing about, such as a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, for instance, or a certain city like New York or wherever your story is set, nothing will make it more real to a reader than first-hand experience. I happen to live in the place where most of my first book takes place and I’ve visited the other places, such as Charleston, Williamsburg and the Caribbean.

If you need to find out technical details about certain types of guns, or DNA, or animals, or glass blowing, find someone who sells guns, or works in a crime lab, or is a veterinarian, or makes glass bottles. And don’t forget to give them credit.

But whatever you need to do to make your story believable, do it. It will only be made all the better for it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writing the perfect thriller

What is it makes the perfect thriller? Is it the suspense? The violence? The unpredictability of the plot? The character development? Or a combination of all of the above?
I have to admit I don’t know the exact formula, but it seems to vary book by book. Even authors like James Patterson or Stephen King can have their hits and misses, so it’s probably a good thing they’re so prolific, right?

I read a lot of thrillers. I’m in the midst of a Steve Berry novel and it’s quite engrossing. He puts a lot of detail into his stories…a LOT of detail. Maybe a little too much detail. Tom Clancy is usually guilty of that. If I want to know how to operate a nuclear submarine I’ll read the manual. Some people like that, though. To me it bogs down the story. If the reader doesn’t really need to know, why tell them? I only put in my stories what readers need to know in order to keep the story flowing. Maybe that’s why I’m not a bestselling author yet, I don’t know.

Brad Thor is a guy who only tells you what you need to know to keep the story moving, yet I still come away knowing more than I did when I started, which is a good thing. Same with James Rollins, Steve Alten, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and most of my other favorite writers. What I like about James Patterson are his very short chapters. I tend to write my stories the same way. I like a fast-paced novel with short chapters. I could attribute that to my ADD, but I think telling a story is more important than giving geography lessons or teaching you how to build your own pyramid.

One thing I love about Nelson DeMille are his characters. I can really get inside their heads, probably because he writes a lot in first person, as does James Patterson. I write in third person, but I still get inside my characters’ heads. I like to show their flaws so readers can identify with them and say, “Hey, they’re imperfect, just like me!” The super-agent who speaks five different languages or the master criminal with the degree from MIT gets a little old after a while. That’s why I usually make the characters in my books regular people in extraordinary circumstances, i.e. the journalist and his wife, the park ranger up against an evil being at war with his own humanity. That’s why people like my characters—they’re real people, not super-humans.

Some authors overdo the blood and gore. I don’t need to see some guy get dissected alive to know the bad guy is pissed. Get on with the story. I don’t want to have to hold a barf bag while I’m reading or have to go for counseling later. Some people get a little too much into the violence. Maybe their editor told them to add more, who knows? Sometimes Stephen King is guilty of that, or Dean Koontz. But they are both master storytellers, so I’m not going to presume to lecture them. I almost always love the characters in their books and the plots are first rate.

My next book has lots of suspense, supernatural overtones, intriguing characters, a compelling plot and great settings. There is also some violence, sex, language and other things that some may find questionable, but it all adds to the story—it’s not just thrown in willy-nilly. I think my current book is the same way. Basically, I write the types of things that I like to read. Isn’t that the way it should be?

For more of my writing and to order my latest supernatural thriller, DIABLERO, go to: Toby Tate Stories