November 4 – 10: “Imagine you’re giving a two-minute ‘state of industry’ speech to ITW members. What would you say?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Stage fright aside, let’s imagine for a moment that you are invited to give a two-minute “state of industry” speech to ITW members. What would you say? Follow along by scrolling down to the “comments” section below to see what ITW members David Simms, Nick Kolakowski, Avanti Centrae, Lisa de Nikolits, T. G. Wolf and John Farrow would include in their speech.


Lisa de Nikolits is the international award-winning author of nine novels (Inanna Publications). No Fury Like That was published in Italian as Una furia dell’altro mondo. Her short fiction and poetry have also been published in various international anthologies and journals. She is a member of the Mesdames of Mayhem, the Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, The Australian Crime Writers, SMFS and the International Thriller Writers. Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits lives and writes in Toronto.


Avanti Centrae is the author of the international award-winning VanOps thriller series. The Lost Power took home a genre grand prize ribbon at the Chanticleer International Book Awards, and an Honorable Mention at the 2018 Hollywood Book Festival. Her work has been compared to that of James Rollins, Steve Berry, Dan Brown, and Clive Cussler. She resides in Northern California with her family and German Shepherds.


David Simms lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, working as a special education teacher, college English instructor, counselor, music therapist, ghost tour guide, book reviewer, and co-foundeder the Killer Thriller/Slushpile Band. He has sold several horror, mystery, and weird short stories to various anthologies. DARK MUSE is his MG/YA crossover that ventures into musical dark fantasy and celebrates the many students who’ve changed his life. FEAR THE REAPER is a thriller about horrors of the eugenics movement in America in 1933.


Nick Kolakowski is the author of Boise Longpig Hunting Club, the Love & Bullets series of crime novellas, and the short story collection Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me. His short crime fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, and various anthologies. He lives and writes in New York City.


T. G. Wolff writes thrillers and mysteries that play within the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong. Cause and effect drive the stories, drawing from twenty-plus years’ experience in civil engineering, where “cause” is more often a symptom of a bigger, more challenging problem. Diverse characters mirror the complexities of real life and real people, balanced with a healthy dose of entertainment. T. G. Wolff holds a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.


John Farrow is the Canadian author of six previous crime thrillers under his pen name, as well as seven literary novels under his real name, Trevor Ferguson. He has also had four plays produced, including Off-Broadway, and a film produced of one of his literary novels, The Timekeeper. As a crime thriller writer he has gained the most attention, being published in twenty countries and on every continent not principally inhabited by penguins. In both genres though, literary and thriller, he has earned an off-the-charts critical reception the envy of any writer. For his work as a novelist, he recently received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree (how about them apples?) from the Vancouver School of Theology and also a Life Membership in the Writers’ Union of Canada in recognition of “extraordinary contributions to the union and the lives of Canadian writers.”


  1. In two minutes, I’d quote Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

    Because I think that pretty much sums up the publishing industry right now!

    A good friend of mine and successful author, Melodie Campbell, tells her students at Crafting a Novel: “You better really love the writing aspect of the job, because believe or not, that is the fun part. Then the work starts.”

    And it’s so true! You want your regular readers to get excited about this new book and you want to attract new readers. You want to write the next novel and find a home for that book. It’s a juggling act from start to finish, a perilous journey to stay afloat in a time when so many books are available from so many different sources.

    It’s the best of times because there are other avenues available, should traditional publishing fail one but I have to admit, I am wary of going down the self-publishing route.

    I am wary not because of the ‘stigma’ of self-publishing but because it’s a business model and if you’re really going to make it work, you need to be (in my opinion), one-third writer, one-third businesswoman and one-third savvy marketer. And you need to be tireless and fearless and not be afraid to cold call – you also need to be a great salesperson!

    Now I’ll be honest, (which LOL, I know is a precursor to thinking ‘what is she hiding?’ but this is an awkward admission) – I am not a good salesperson. I hate selling! I can sell other people’s books but not my own. I just feel so cheap and sleazy. And the elevator pitch – I stumble and I see a glazed look cross the prospective agent or publisher’s face and then it’s gone, the moment is lost and I failed again.

    And networking! Networking is perhaps the single biggest key to success these days when it comes to book publishing. It’s not who you know know but who likes you and how you can work the room. Now me, I’ve tried, believe me I have, but when it comes to networking, I’m not worth a damn.

    I’m currently extremely blessed to have a publisher who believes in me and my books and so you might wonder why I’m concerned at all – it’s because I have other book ideas that won’t fit Inanna’s mandate and those books will need to find homes.

    The other problem with me is that my books aren’t strictly genre, they don’t fit classic thriller or mystery shelves, but straddle them, bearing a good dose of noir, a twist of weird and even some magical realism.

    A total recipe for failure! But Harry Crews did it and I love Harry. And if I could write like anyone it would be Harry Crews – or Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden.

    So, dear Readers, if you are looking for the key ingredients to being a successful author in today’s publishing industry, here’s what you need (to my mind!):
    Be a great salesperson, be a great networker, write single genre, easily identifiable, trending works that agents and publishers will immediately recognize and understand. Know that the odds on people working with you are slim to none – you need to present them with the book they are looking for in that instant or they will move on.

    Oh, and one last thing! At ThrillerFest 2019, I was told I was damaged goods because I had limited sales with my indie publisher and so basically, my writing career was over. But, mused one agent, you could reinvent yourself, come out with a new name and a new work… but then, he continued, you’d lose your current reader base, small as it is. So, he concluded, I don’t have any solutions for you. Not my most optimistic moment in publishing!

    And I truly hope I don’t sound like I am venting here because that’s not my intention! I have NO intentions of giving up either but this roundtable is about the state of the industry and this is my five cents!

    I very much look forward to the insights from my fellow authors here today at the Roundtable and I do thank ITW for all the support – you respond to my tweets and posts and make me feel like I’m not invisible, so I thank you for that! And, in these tough times, it’s all about community.

    There are enough readers out there that we can share! Let’s read one another’s books and share the love! Because clearly, we all love what we do, so let’s keep on supporting one another, it’s the only way forward! That, and hope for a dash of good luck!

  2. To use an old cliché, it’s the best and worst of times for thrillers, I feel. Those select few are doing very well, and for good reason—they’re producing dynamite books. I love looking forward to whatever Gillian Flynn or Lee Child produce next, for example. Plus, when a bestselling thriller tackles a big social issue, you have the chance to make some real change—just look at how Rob Hart’s “The Warehouse” has sparked discussion over the exploitation of e-commerce workers.

    But as with everything, there’s also a more difficult side. For many thriller-writers, it’s a struggle to generate a sustainable amount of attention to their work. It’s disheartening, to say the least, to spend a year or more working on what you think is an innovative thriller, only for it to be lost amidst the noise and chaos of modern publishing. Which is a tragedy, because I feel that midsize and indie publishers are producing more innovative work than ever, with diverse protagonists and genuinely thrilling/scary situations.

    If I had to describe a challenge the industry is facing—at least from my limited perspective—I’d say it’s figuring out a way to expose a bigger audience to all those diverse and interesting voices out there. I love plowing through bestselling thrillers, but I’d also love if there was a better way to discover stuff from authors I’d never even heard of. That would translate into better sales for everyone.

  3. Dear Nick, it seems we’re on the same page! I couldn’t agree more: “I feel that midsize and indie publishers are producing more innovative work than ever, with diverse protagonists and genuinely thrilling/scary situations.” Well said!

    And yes!! I have a review site: to showcase “treasures you might have missed” I showcase all kinds of books from experimental poetry to thrillers and crime novels.

    I run it off a bit of a dinky website provider though which makes it hard to catalogue the books properly. I’ve tried WordPress but I’m a graphic designer on InDesign so WordPress feels awful!!

    I was thinking of expanding The Minerva Reader into a quarterly review magazine next year – but I have a full time job too!

    I’ve heard that if you link to Amazon, you get a small percentage of books sold – but I want to support smaller publishers, not Amazon! BUT if it helps getting more books read, then perhaps that’s the way to go!

    1. Yeah, affiliate links via Amazon will earn your website a bit of revenue… I guess it supports smaller publishers because they also get their revenue cut, and of course you’d also get some cash to help keep your site running…

  4. Let’s have some fun with this. On a starless night, a slight Turkish spy dressed only in black steals a USB stick from the heart of the Publisher’s Weekly building in New York City. On the file are details of the statistics that spell out how to profit from current market trends and use them to upend the world order of books. The fate of millions of readers is at stake.

    When laying out the mission, the director tells the team that some of the details on the file include:

    • Unit sales of print books rose 1.1% in the week ended Oct. 26, 2019, over the comparable week in 2018, although adult fiction sales fell 3.5% in January–September 2019 compared to the first nine months of 2018.

    • According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 8-Feb. 7, 2019, roughly seven-in-ten U.S. adults (72%) say they have read a book in the past 12 months in any format, a figure that has dropped from 79% in 2011.

    • That same PEW report shows audiobook listening up to 20% from 11% and e-book reading up to 25% from 17%.

    In addition to the trend towards digital, the team is also aware of a new surge of independent bookstores, which they plan to use as safe houses. After uncovering initial clues left at the scene of the theft, the heroes learn they must also determine the root cause of decreasing attention spans, which have led to the rise of short stories and even poetry. Against incredible odds, the heroes risk their lives to delve into the darkest secrets of the publishing industry. Can the VanOps team track down the deadly covert agent and prevent a publishing apocalypse?

  5. Things are never as they seem, folks. I have a few years on me, into my seventies, and have been devoted to writing since the age of sixteen. The industry has changed frequently during that time and it continues to be rocked. True in the past, and true today.

    It’s been a great ride and I really have no complaints. But the industry is in continuous flux and that’s difficult for all but a few. Digital was supposed to take over completely, right? Yet physical books are on the rise again. Self-publishing has put money in the pockets of many writers, totally a good thing, but how do those writers develop when they don’t have every chapter and line examined? They may learn marketing very well, better than I have or ever will, but what do they learn of writing? I read one writer bragging that he produces a book in 200 hours. I’m proud to take 2,000. A better book is wrought that way. It’s symptomatic: the book itself has become less important than the ability of the writer to be a snake-oil salesperson. If that’s where the money is, why not? This is why not — because nothing is what it seems for long in this business.

    Publishers change seats or are consumed often, editors are released or move elsewhere, agents have become an uninspiring homogeneous entity, readerships move along, and if a writer finds a home it might not be for long. A few years ago, I landed with a publisher with a reputation for stability. In the blink of an eye, everybody was shipped up, down, and mostly out, writers, editors, janitors, whoever. Stability? Pfft.

    No one should assume that a burst of enthusiasm for one form will parlay into an eternal pipeline. Pipelines leak, and enthusiasm die off or go elsewhere. The state of the art right now for crime fiction? Good and amazing work is being done. Lousy work is also being done. Both are being fortified for the time being. One upholds the other. One deflates the other. It’s a contest to see what will shakedown, but either way there will be those who bow out. Good writers will bow out I’m sure, as well an army of also-rans. That’s inevitable. It’s a sand-beneath-our-feet-type deal, for things are not what they seem, not now, not ever.

  6. The rapid change in technology in the last twenty years has changed the landscape in many industries; ours is just one. When we look back through the lens of history to other periods of renaissance or revolution, the change from one state to another is always creates winners and losers. Consider the industrialization of manufacturing which forced traditional producers and suppliers to keep up, sell out, or go under. In the process, we lost those skills and workforce at an “every town” level, while we gained access to products previously outpriced for the masses, like ceramic plates. Cars replaced horses for transportation, eliminating horse drawn wagons and the position that shoveled the streets. The drivers, the Teamsters adapted, trading wagons for trucks and still drive strong today.

    In the publishing industry, what was once funneled through a few, narrow channels has exploded outward. It is like the dam has broken and the wealth of voices, stories, and ideas available is unprecedented. There downsides are now there are so many voices, the industry can sound like noise. Numerous studies have explored how, as humans, our ability to make decisions decreases when we have too many choices.
    Because there are so many voices, it can be hard for a new writer or one who doesn’t come into the industry “connected” to be heard. Additionally, the money being spent by readers is being split across more platforms, publishers, and writers. Being a writer can feel like at uphill battle where the prize waiting at the top is a stack of pennies.

    I imagine it is the same for musicians, artists, actors, speakers, and others.

    But there are positives, important ones. The flood gates were once managed by a small, select group who published a small, select group. This was great if you were one of either small, select group but a thick concrete wall if you weren’t. If you didn’t fit into a mainstream demographic, good luck finding a lead character that looked like you. A positive of the current renaissance is that voices of all demographics are telling their stories. People can find hope, inspiration, entertainment in pages with characters of the same race, gender, orientations, professions, traditions, lineages, etc., etc.

    Because the financial implications are challenging, markets previously dismissed for being too small are now part of the business plan with publishers looking to grow. This has opened doors for authors and stories previously considered too far on the margins to be a good investment.

    The continuously expanding realm of platforms is a positive, again increasing the number of people who have access to stories. There are a number of quotes floating around about the number of leaders who are readers. These are most often referred to by people who prefer paper-in-hand books. Reading electronically is just as valid as way to be exposed to new ideas. As is listening to an audio book. As is listening to a podcast. As is watching videos. Now people who do not like reading or are poor readers have the same access to information as their book loving friends. This is a good thing.

    With the renaissance we live in, imagination appears to be the only limitation. For as much as some parts of “the good old days” may be lamented, there is no going back. Living in such a rapidly expanding space can be daunting, but the opportunities for readers and writers are vast. The question really is how you going to fit in? Are you going to be a Teamster and adapt with the times…or stand on the side of the road, waiting for a horse that isn’t coming back?

  7. All great points! Yes! When I started out as a layout artist on a magazine, I was sticking stuff on paper with a glue gun! Now it’s all Mac and InDesign. And there was Quark along the way… Yep… that’s how old I am!!

    So you’re right! No more waiting for the horse that won’t come back!

    I love what Avanti says: “Against incredible odds, the heroes risk their lives to delve into the darkest secrets of the publishing industry. Can the VanOps team track down the deadly covert agent and prevent a publishing apocalypse?” Yes, we can do it!

    So we need more indie magazines and reviewers!

    Where do you guys stand on bloggers? They seem to have replaced print magazine reviews – do you think we reap rewards? Do blog posts lead to sales? And, what are you experiences with things like BookBug and the like?

  8. BLOGGERS are the new life’s blood of genre fiction. How I admire these men and women. So much to read, so little time. And they are being pressured from every quarter. I once had a regular column for small press books in a city daily (The Gazette, Montreal) and the pressure from every small press writer in the country to include them was intense, and disheartening over the long haul. Bloggers must be experiencing that. I have no clue how their work affects sales, but can’t imagine they don’t help. Good on them, I say. I salute them all.

  9. I love them too! I do a regular blog tour every year with Partners in Crime and I recommend them very highly! I am also doing a tour with Silver Dagger Tours this year, in Australia. I only ask because I’ve heard some authors say blog tours don’t boost sales. But I love the interaction of a blog tour and I love feeling connected to readers that way too. For me, this has largely replaced print reviews. Also, I love the way some bloggers go the extra mile to do great photo shoots on Instagram – so much creativity! Of all the social media sites, Instagram is my fav!

    1. I’m sure you’ll have a great tour!! I’ll check it out!

      My publisher did an audio book of The Nearly Girl and it did pretty well – but it wasn’t inexpensive to produce. I’d love to do more!

  10. Has anyone tried Kindle Publishing Direct? I’ve heard a lot of great things but it sounds like a lot of work. Also, I fear my work is too dark! But there’s a huge pool of readers out there? I might try that – under a less clunky name too! Why I didn’t go for something easier, I have no idea!
    Anyone tried publishing under different names? Thank you!

  11. After a few novels and several short story sales, I’ve seen the best and the worst like everyone above. I’ve also had the pleasure of friending most of my favorite authors through the Killer Thriller Band (which sounded wonderful when people were hammered).
    The industry was a much better time then, too.
    What I’d propose to ITW members is that unless you’re on the Titanic (which is what happened to horror authors in the late 80s to nearly present day), most ships will right themselves. I’ve several cycles of trends hit the genre and while it’s been getting tougher, one things stays steady – sticking together.
    The bonds in that band hold true today (even though we were ousted from Thrillerfest for damaging eardrums) and that networking/friendship has helped both me and several other newer authors pull themselves out of obscurity and onto the positive side of decent sales.
    How does the newbie compete with the Lee Childs, Heather Grahams, and James Pattersons in this brutal market?
    What those people and my bandmates have told me was simple: keep the writing solid with characters who so many forget about developing.
    Then make sure someone reads the book – network like hell.
    It’s a deviled prong as we don’t want to annoy everyone for blurbs and a shout out but by developing organic relationships, that network grows without having the biggies throwing heavy objects your way.
    It’s tough but I’ve seen so many rise and fall and the one constant is staying true to who you are. People in this business can smell bs a continent away. Reach out – we have the most helpful writing community out there.
    Use it.
    There’s my two cents.
    PS. Take all the others’ advice as well and cull from it what fits you best.

  12. Very much on-side with David’s “two cents” for which I’d pay a helluva lot more. I built my career on a simple ethic: keep writing the best books I could write. Cut no corners there. I’ve had upside success — mid-six advances, a movie made, many books optioned, published in a couple of dozen countries, and even though I never attended university I ended up with a professorship teaching writing. That success probably undermined my networking ability, as there was never much need. So from my old man’s perspective: I’d keep the desire to always excel to the best of one’s ability, but I wish I’d done the networking thing, as it’s gaping hole now. I did a lot of work with and for writers, don’t get me wrong, chaired the Writers’ Union of Canada, for instance, but that was never meant to bump books sales, nor did it. The best thing about a long career has been the friendships; don’t knock it. Good advice, David.

  13. What are you all seeing related to genre specific trends? Looks to me like female leads are hot right now, and somehow I caught that wave with Maddy Marshall in THE LOST POWER. Do you all agree and what other thriller trends do you see?

    1. I agree with you, Avanti. I think female leads are very popular right now in thriller books and in movies. Most of the popular films recently have featured a woman in the lead role. My character Rachel West (a CIA agent who appears in her own novel, KILLING WEST, and is also featured in several of my J.T. Ryan Thrillers) is now much more popular than she was a few years ago.

    2. Avanti,
      I definitely agree. My next thriller has multiple female characters (protagonists and significant other players). Not because it’s the cool/in thing to do but because it works and the novel works so much better this way.
      However, the trend made it that much easier to write this, knowing that people are loving reading about great female leads. I just hope that I wrote her (my main character) well enough to do her justice.
      Other trends?
      The domestic thriller (ie family-based) story that is gaining steam. Darker stories bordering on horror are re-emerging (might be a sign of the hell we’re going through now!). Also, genres are mixing up more and more which used to be a no-no in thrillers. That makes for a much more interesting read, mixing in elements not typically there in the “stock” thriller/mystery.
      I hope this breaking out of the box “trend” continues!

  14. Without a doubt, Avanti, female leads are empowered. Witness the number of titles that include the words “the girl”. In “mystery” female leads have enjoyed a lengthy legacy, of course, all the back to Miss Marple, as one example, but in thrillers they are really stepping up. As for other trends, I can’t put my finger on any, but then, I’m a writer who does his best not to be in step with trends, other than to strive to be original within the form, and I think that that might be a trend, or at least a subset of trend, if less popular: the tale that’s less familiar. In terms of our discussion, re “state of the industry”, there is one interesting development over the last decade or so, and that’s the rise and often sudden popularity of books from specific geographic areas. The Scandinavians, the Icelandic novels, the Australian, etc. I suspect that that will continue, with different spotlights from time to time.

  15. IS ANYONE LISTENING IN? Feel free to join in. If, for example, you’re emerging as a writer, do you see opportunities ahead, or roadblocks? Do you have strategies to take advantage of one and to overcome the other? Is your first choice self-publishing or the old fashioned way? I wonder what level of frustration is felt by writers who are striving toward publication. When I was teaching Creative Writing, I had always to remind my students that this was not like med school. It was much harder. In one, if you pass, and certainly if you flourish and your marks are stellar, you will be a physician; in the other, none of that matters in projecting your career. One’s resilience, and willingness to persevere no matter the struggle and the disappointment — something no teacher could determine — ultimately decided who became writers and who chose other fine careers. It would be interesting to hear how those who are preparing for a career in writing are finding the landscape today.

  16. These are all great insights and valuable, encouraging insights. Write the best you can, know that it takes resilience to stay in the game and network along the way. Thank you, All, this has been worth far more than two cents!

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