My current project is a crime thriller. Maybe. I enjoy literary and action novels and this grew through elements of both. On one hand my main original concept was an exploration of morality with a few links to religion and with some other literary-typical elements (I think?) like a self-contained character development arc as the main thread, open ending, and possibly more lyrical/descriptive style. But it's not quite a great insight or deep philosophy. On the other it's definitely got crime--on the run from assassins, an unearthed mob connection to the death of the main character's father. But I'm not sure there's enough action to be truly thrilling or to compete among the high-octane market.
Now, I'm unsure about my target audience. The term 'literary thriller' came to mind, but since the top result in a google search is an article titled 'What is a Literary Thriller, Anyway?' I imagine it's not exactly a current working category. I like my mix but I don't know, do readers fall too cleanly on each side of this? What about agents, do I need to just go for those who rep both literary and crime genre or either or what exactly? Might one genre 'trump' another here, the crime drive incidental to the character-drive or the retrospective parts just icing on the plot? Will I just end up too slow and preachy for the crime market but not intellectual enough for the literary market?
And specifically at this stage, am I just over-planning and should leave it for a query stage decision or is this something I need to consider in edits, should I rework to swing it one way or another? Am I just being pretentious and uppity in thinking that a few moral messages puts me above the other thrillers, and should go to work on raising action and building suspense and toning back the brooding? Or should I pull back on the fights go deeper into the personal reflection? Do I have way too many question marks in this email?
Literary crime (the term to google rather than "literary thriller') is very much a working category and I rep one of the best guys doing it: Lee Goodman. I also rep one of the best guys doing commercial thrillers: Patrick Lee.
The difference is pretty simple. In the case of reading Patrick Lee you almost never stop to write down a sentence cause it's beautiful. You're too busy reading. Patrick's sentences are beautiful in that they tell a great story with no wasted words. His ideas are amazing. It's more an industrial beauty.
Lee Goodman (and Jeff Somers and Sean Ferrell), on the other hand, write books that I read with a notebook at hand to write down exquisite sentences. The enjoyment of their books is in the turn of phrase as much as it is in what happens.
Lee Child writes wonderful commercial fiction. Laura Lippman does too.
Catriona McPherson on the other hand must be read with a notebook at hand.
Whether anyone distinguishes these enormously talented writers by literary/commercial is almost immaterial. They write books people want to read.
When you describe your book, I want to run far and fast. Hearing about themes and an exploration of morality makes me hide under the duvet.
When you talk about your book, talk about the STORY. Write your query about the STORY. Let the agent figure out where you belong on the bookshelf.
It's sentences not story that makes a work literary or not. Most agents who work in crime fiction look first for good story.