Jeffery Deaver: 'My biggest fear is disappointing my readers. It keeps me awake at night'

'I do look at writing as a business. I read the numbers and demographics,' says the American thriller author Jeffery Deaver.

Jeffery Deaver says his success comes from formula and audience data. Sarah Dea / The National
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When Jeffery Deaver made his maiden visit to Dubai three years ago, he returned with more than a few souvenirs.

The American author’s experiences, including a visit to the Burj Khalifa, planted some seeds for his next blockbuster.

“I just fell in love with Dubai,” he recalls. “There were some amazing locations and the landscapes were breathtaking. I knew I had to set a scene here – this was before there was a book.”

This was not long after Deaver was tapped by the Ian Flemming Estate to pen the 37th James Bond novel, 2011's Carte Blanche.

Deaver says his decision to allow Bond a few thrilling hours in Dubai, chatting with an old friend and tracking down his nemesis, was dictated by the limited time spent in the city.

“Rule No 1 is, you don’t write about a location unless you’ve been there,” he says. “Research is critical to the kind of intricately plotted books that I write. I didn’t want a reader sending me a letter saying: ‘Nice book, but the Burj Khalifa has this many storeys more than what you wrote’.”

Deaver's penchant for deep research served him well for The Kill Room, his 10th thriller featuring the quadriplegic investigator Lincoln Rhyme and his assistant, Amelia Sacks.

Dubai’s skyscrapers have now made way for the oceans of the Bahamas and the White House as Rhyme investigates a cold--blooded murder with political implications.

Getting Deaver to speak about the content of his novel is a minefield. Such is the precision of the plot that giving away even a little information could ruin the story’s numerous cliffhangers.

Deaver says The Kill Room is his most topical book.

“I didn’t set out to write it in this fashion but it just kind of ended that way,” he says.“I always try to add a bit of depth to the typical genre story. Here, I think, we ask a lot of questions about some of the characters. The readers’ feelings will change as the book goes along. It is definitely not a moustache-twisting villain intent on world domination.”

It is this balance between delivering the thrills and plot depth that’s responsible for Deaver’s acclaim.

Over a two-decade career, the former journalist and lawyer has published more than 30 titles that have sold more than 20 million copies. When you have been riding high on the bookselling charts for so long, you tend to become familiar with your audience, he explains.

Deaver, 63, is not precious when describing his artistic process. Deaver’s successful career is not marked by life-changing epiphanies; it is, instead, built on the same ingredients used by film and music producers: formula and -audience data.

“I did a lot of work to get to know my audience because I do look at it as a business. I read the numbers and demographics,” he says.

“They mostly consist of high school-educated people holding professional jobs – although some are working class – and predominantly women. They make up about 60 to 62 per cent.”

Deaver explains his books are a hit in American high-school libraries because of the lack of salacious content, drug use and “the fact that most of the violence occurs off-screen”.

Surely, such minute information about fans would rob any inherent pleasure from the writing process?

“None at all,” he scoffs. “It is all about pleasing my readers. My biggest fear – and I have done all kinds of things such as scuba diving, driving racing cars and skiing – is disappointing my readers. It keeps me awake at night and gives me a cold sweat.”

Ironically, the same sensations are also responsible for Deaver's big sales. The Kill Room continues the Lincoln Rhyme tradition, setting a feverish pace with at least three cliffhangers before the final payoff.

“They are meant to be read in a few days,” Deaver says. “If someone takes a week, a month or more than that, I think, maybe, I did something wrong.”

Deaver says each book undergoes an eight-month period of research and plotting.

“It’s done full time, eight hours a day. I need to know where every character is introduced and where every clue is seeded. It is arduous work that requires lots of Post-it notes on a large board,” he says.

“I know some authors say that my way is artificial or anti-creative but I can’t sit there in front of a blank screen and wait to see what happens. I have a bad memory and this system works for me. When I get my plotting done, I can write 10,000 words a day.”

However, the trademark pace of the Lincoln Rhymes novels is not all to do with audience research. For Deaver, it’s also the way he enjoys experiencing the world, and  he says Amelia Sack’s buzz phrase in the series is his approach to life. “Sacks says: ‘When you move, they can’t get you’.

“It says something about me, too. I wake up every morning fearing that I may stumble and my readers would get that. That keeps me on my toes. I am always working because I don’t want to disappoint them.”

The Kill Room is out on Thursday. Read our Scene&Heard blog for Deaver’s tips for aspiring writers

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