The 2018 Inkshares Mystery & Thriller Contest begins tomorrow. We’re prefacing it with “2018,” but it is also the inaugural Inkshares Mystery & Thriller Contest. As with other Inkshares contests, selections will be made both by readers (those projects with the most pre-orders) and by us (you can just submit your manuscript for evaluation).
In our first three years, Inkshares has focused predominantly in speculative fiction, chiefly science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. Books published in those genres have gone on to garner starred reviews in every publishing magazines, features in major book reviews including USA Today, and honors from organizations including the American Library Association. Those books have been licensed in foreign territories alongside top-of-market advances and are in development for television and film at top networks and studios (see The Punch Escrow, Mr. & Mrs. American Pie, and Kill Creek, amongst many others.)
And while this is our first mystery-and-thriller contest, it is not our first mystery or thriller release. This summer we released Christopher Huang’s A Gentleman’s Murder, which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, was featured in The Washington Post, and is in development for television.
In creating this contest we initially debated what we were seeking: detective stories in the lineage of Christie or Sayers? Spy fiction in the legacy of Robert Ludlum or John le Carré? Indeed, debate ensued about the taxonomy and genealogy of this diverse area of commercial fiction. Is the detective story a subset of the mystery genre or of crime fiction? Is a courtroom drama a subset of crime fiction or of thrillers? Egads.
We settled on the nomenclature of “mystery and thriller” because we thought these two words — independently and collectively — encapsulate what we are looking for. The mystery, in all its forms, concerns itself with the resolution of crime or other disruption (such as a disappearance). The arresting setting, the empathizable or memorable victim, the indelible crime, the tantalizing array of suspects — they all service a need for catharsis. Finding the facts — the truth — allows us to see justice done, to restore the status quo, or at least to realize some form of closure.
The thriller is broader, because it is defined less by the inherent nature of its subject matter and more by the feelings it is calculated to elicit: suspense, excitement, anxiety, surprise, anticipation. It thus extends from espionage and military settings that could otherwise be called “action or adventure” to psychological or legal thrillers that might simultaneously exist under the banner “mystery.”
This is a circuitous way of saying that we’re looking to select novels that satisfy one or both of these categories. The mystery may take place in 1920s London, modern-day Missouri, or on a future Martian colony. What matters is that we need — desperately — to know what happened. The thriller could follow attorneys, spies, physicians, politicians, or absolute nobodies. It could take place entirely in a small town, or across metropolises on five continents and reaching the highest corridors of power.
The first thriller I read as a kid was The Firm, John Grisham’s debut novel. When Thad and I were raising Inkshares’ friends-and-family round in September 2013, I remember walking into Random House (not yet Penguin Random House) and seeing a first edition behind glass in their lobby. Most of us know the story of Mitch McDeere and his perilous associateship at Bendini, Lambert, and Locke. Most people don’t know that John Grisham wrote the novel in early mornings before his day job as an attorney, then started his own self-publishing company in order to first bring the book to market.
As genres, mysteries and thrillers command some of the largest names in fiction, including—more than twenty-five years later—John Grisham. Some of those are newer voices like Gillian Flynn or Stieg Larsson. They breathed fresh life into the genre, their theatrical adaptations grossing hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of these, like Michael Connelly or Louise Penny, have been around for decades and are perennial chart-toppers. Some, like Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, or Agatha Christie, are deceased titans whose characters live on in works written by others under license from their estate.
If these are the names you love, if you aspire to intrigue and thrill audiences with your words, then I hope you enter this contest. Perhaps not-too-many years from now someone will walk into our lobby and see a first edition of your book.
The Inkshares Team