I Don’t Usually Like Mysteries But…

It’s that time of year – about six months out from the next publication date – when the conversations around Team Burke become dominated by marketing talk. Some authors thrive on marketing, speaking openly about the “brand” they are trying to create, the value they place in their “product,” the placement of their product in the “market.”

I’m not one of those writers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no precious, anti-commerce, purist hippie. I like four-star dining and fancy shoes way too much to try to pull off any kind of starving artist persona. I’m all for the selling of the books.

My only complaint is that the rest of Team Burke – editor, publicist, marketing people, special online marketing people, the whole lot of them – look across the table at me as if I might be of some use. As if I might actually know how to get my books into the hands of the people who might enjoy them. As if I might know how to get those same people to then carry the book to a cash register. As if I have the remotest clue about why anyone likes what she likes, or buys what she buys.

If I knew any of that, I’d be the genius who came up with this:

Or perhaps this:

Plenty of sales there to support a woman’s restaurant and shoe preferences, without having to type out all those pesky words.

I do try, though. I make suggestions. Some of them actually go into the plan. Luckily, I enjoy some of the biggest parts of the plan – the touring, the facebooking, the blogging. In my academic life, I’m lucky if ten other academics read my writing, so talking with people who read my books is heaven as far as I’m concerned.

But, this time around, Team Burke has added a new layer to the usual plan: “We want to get 212 to people who don’t usually read crime fiction.”

Say what?

“So many people here love your books even though they don’t usually like mysteries or thrillers.”

Read that previous sentence again. There are so many things wrong with that sentence, I don’t know where to start.

Okay, I’ll start here.

1. Who the heck doesn’t like mysteries and thrillers?

Given that you’re reading this particular website, my guess is you’re not one of these people. Well, whoever they are, I don’t know whether to loathe or pity them. I guess it depends on whether they think they’re too good for the genre or just don’t know what they’re missing.

There’s no question, though, that these people exist. My pilates trainer just told me that she loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even though she didn’t “usually like mysteries.”

“You don’t usually like what?”

I’m sorry. I don’t understand.

Which brings me to…

2. WHY would anyone not like mysteries and thrillers?

To get some insight into this phenomenon, I did what anyone seeking to conduct serious empirical research would do: I Googled.

An initial observation: The quantitative data support the claim that there are actually people who claim they don’t like crime fiction, as evidenced by the number of results for the following searches:

23,100 “don’t like thrillers”
667 “don’t like mysteries”
22,400 “don’t read mysteries”
6,190 “don’t read thrillers”

On the qualitative side, I did find some explanations for these dislikes in my casual perusal of the search results (okay, not very scientific – whatevs):

Too much violence and death
Too suspenseful
Too improbable
Too predictable
Not enough character development
Bad writing

Now, that first reason is defensible, I suppose. If someone doesn’t like to think about the bad things that happen to people, well – first of all, they should never spend time with me. And they might justifiably stay away from the mystery shelves.

The second one? I won’t even pretend to understand.

“The suspense is making my eyes wide!”

And the rest? They strike me as complaints that there’s too many bad books in the genre. But there are bad books in all genres. There are bad books pawned off as so-called “literary” fiction. There are bad books. Don’t read them. Read good ones instead.

3. Now here’s where it gets interesting: Why does a person who doesn’t usually read mysteries or thrillers suddenly decide to like a mystery or thriller?

Back to the Google data:
12,300 “don’t usually like mysteries”
38,500 “don’t usually read mysteries”
22,700 “don’t usually read thrillers”
2,040 “don’t usually like thrillers”

And almost always, these phrases are followed by the word “but:”

“but this one kept me on the edge of my seat.” I’m sorry, but if you want your books to put you on the edge of your seat, we’re your people.

“but this book was so warped, convoluted, I just couldn’t help but be entranced.” Um…warped and convoluted? We are totally your people. (P.S. Kudos, Christopher Rice. That’s a review to be proud of!)

Here are some more typical buts (shame on you if you just snickered): but this one was very entertaining, but this book is awesome, but this one is killer, but I absolutely love this one.

Do you see a trend? Basically, people don’t usually like crime fiction, but then sometimes they suddenly like crime fiction. And if you think all these “buts” are for Michael Chabon and Stieg Larsson, you’ve got another thing coming. People who think they don’t like crime fiction like Jonathon Kellerman, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, and James Patterson. That’s some pretty genre-y genre fiction (and I mean that in the very best way as a person who loves the genre).

4. And, on the more personal side, why does a person who doesn’t usually like mysteries or thrillers like my books?

As I understand it, my new fans at the publishing house are young people living their lives in Manhattan, just like the characters in my Ellie Hatcher series. The books reflect their reality. The characters sound like them, watch the same TV shows, and share the same worries.

That’s all well and good, but these new readers of mine got the book for free from their employer. If they saw it on the mystery table at Barnes & Noble, would they even pick it up, let alone buy it?

5. Now, here’s the question for group discussion:

How do you get a person who thinks he or she “doesn’t like” mysteries and thrillers to give a book a try? Must it be a personal recommendation from a friend: “Trust me, it’s good”? Does it have to be the water-cooler book of the season? Must it appeal to some other interest?

Why does the non-genre reader read a book in the genre?

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