The Times and Sunday Times's monthly newsletter dedicated to crime and thriller fiction has just published its 50th edition. Karen Robinson explains why the first rule of Crime Club is - you have to subscribe to Crime Club
In the spring of 2015 Andrew Holgate, literary editor of the Sunday Times, had a brilliant idea: our readers should have a monthly newsletter focusing on crime and thriller fiction. And he asked me if I'd run it.
Sure, I said, considering myself something of an expert in the field - after all, didn't I drop everything when the new Lee Child came out? And I knew my Mankell from my Larsson, couldn't get enough of Sara Paretsky, and would quote you Philip Marlowe one-liners verbatim. Well, that enthusiasm certainly helped, though I now know an awful lot more about the amazing variety and sub-categories within the literary genre that now outsells all others.
The sales of crime and thriller fiction began their serious climb at more or less the same time as the launch of Times and Sunday Times Crime Club - though I'm not claiming all the credit for the fact that they increased by 19% between 2015 and 2018, overtaking sales of general and literary fiction. But we were definitely betting on a favourite when we launched Crime Club and invited subscribers to the digital editions of the Times and Sunday Times to sign up.
Unlike some of the crime blogs and websites, Crime Club is 'publisher blind'
The first rule of Crime Club is: you have to subscribe to Crime Club. It's one of the specialist newsletters, covering everything from sport to politics to recipes, that are a perk you get when you sign up for one of the Times/Sunday Times subscription packages, for either or both papers. You can then tick the box that delivers Crime Club to your inbox once a month.
Crime Club now has 17,000 subscribers, and an open rate hovering just below 50%, which demonstrates a "loyal, highly engaged audience" according to Nathan May, growth editor in TNL's digital strategy & development department. So who reads Crime Club? 45% of readers are over 65, and 60% are male. In a recent survey, Crime Club achieved a particularly high "sentiment" score of 8.49 (out of 10). Only Red Box, the daily political update, scored significantly higher.
So what do readers get in the newsletter, which is mailed out on the last Thursday of the month and simultaneously published on the Times/Sunday Times website? Its core feature is my pick of about a dozen new books coming out the following month, with a link to read the first chapter, and a link to Amazon to buy the book (we have an affiliate deal with Amazon, and while commercial sensitivity precludes me from sharing the financial details, I think it's safe to say our share of the deal contains rather fewer 000s than a Lee Child book deal - but every little helps).
In other regular features, many of the biggest names in the business have submitted themselves to the Q&A - Alexander McCall Smith, Hideo Yokoyama, Walter Mosley and Pierre LeMaitre among them. And many more have written a Crime Club mini-feature, for which the brief is an intense 350 words that will make us amazed, amused, informed or terrified. Philip Kerr confessed to planning a robbery, Peter James shared his research on using poisonous reptiles as murder weapons, and MC Beaton offered a "Glasgow kiss" to anyone who called her "cosy".
The newsletter features about 20 new titles a month, which I reckon is about 30 to 50 per cent of the output - inevitably good books have to get left out, but I have the luxury of considerably more space and scope than newspaper review pages.
Unlike some of the crime blogs and websites, Crime Club is "publisher blind" - utterly uninfluenced by any compulsion to include News Corp stablemate HarperCollins titles unless I think they're among the month's best - though I do relish the opportunity to recommend the work of brilliant writers from around the world published by under-funded, small independents. And I've been delighted to bring the work of the brilliant new British Asian thriller writers - including AA Dhand, Amer Anwar and Khurum Rahman - to our readers' attention. Over the past four years we've also entered into the big debates, with terrific contributions from writers about finding the right way to write about violence towards women.
I'm very grateful to the authors who contribute their beautifully crafted mini-features to Crime Club, and to the enthusiasm and generosity of publishers and festivals who offer me wonderful access to authors, and books for Crime Club's reader competitions. As a general rule, the more books in the author's backlist, the more entries you'll get (several hundred is usual) - and if you throw in a bottle or two of quality booze the numbers skyrocket well above that.
Thanks to the whole "crime community" - famously the friendliest, most collegiate and supportive in all literature - the newsletter has become an established brand among writers and readers, with Crime Club review quotes now regularly emblazoning new books. Which just goes to show that Andrew Holgate was right - Times and Sunday Times readers do love crime fiction, and welcome a newsletter that tries to show them the best of the bunch. But don't forget the first rule: you have to subscribe to Crime Club.
Karen Robinson is supplements editor of the Sunday Times and editor of Crime Club.