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Q: Publishing a Mystery Novel ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Publishing a Mystery Novel
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: tess-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 29 Apr 2002 14:59 PDT
Expires: 29 May 2002 14:59 PDT
Question ID: 6588
I am looking for information on the best way for a
first-time writer to get a novel published. The novel
in question is a mystery, and it's envisioned as the
first in a series (the next one is already in
progress). The author is my mother, and I want to help
her out, but I'm not familiar with the mystery genre
publishing world. She's joined a mystery authors' club
that meets once a month, and is getting advice there,
but now that she's almost done editing her book she
needs to start seriously looking for an agent, and I
want to make sure she goes about it in a way that
won't waste her time or money. She's an avid user of
the Web but isn't that experienced at searching, so a
list of relevant sites would be great. Personal
experience would be even better. Thank you in advance!
Subject: Re: Publishing a Mystery Novel
Answered By: katwoman-ga on 29 Apr 2002 18:01 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hi tess,

Although I'm not as far along in the process as your mother, I'm
working on my first novel too and I've spent the last few months
devoting much of my time to meeting published and aspiring writers and
learning about the book publishing industry.

I recently volunteered at a small publishing company.  Here's what
I've learned from my research on the web and my experience at the
publishing house:

The first step to getting published is finding an agent.  Because of
last year's anthrax scare, most of the major publishing houses will no
longer take unsolicited manuscripts.

To find an agent, your mother must research, research and research
some more. Before sending any query letters, she should try looking
for the names of agents in the acknowledgement sections of mystery
novels that are similar to the one that she's writing. Even more
importantly, she should look in industry books like the Writer's Guide
to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agent. matches:

Once she has a list of agents who specialize in mystery novels, she
should submit a query letter that tells the agent who she is, what her
book is about and why it's salable. She should mention that her book
is similar to others that the agent has sold. The more specific she is
and the more that she shows the agent that she's done her research,
the better.

Here's a sample query letter by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks:

It's important that she makes sure her query letter is direct, well
written and properly formatted.  Agents receive hundreds of query
letters a month and it won't take much for them to find a reason to
discard yours. I found this book, written by an agent of many
best-selling authors, to be incredibly enlightening:
I'd suggest send out query letters in batches of 20 or so and saving
the most important ones for last so that she can make adjustments to
her letter based on any feedback she might get. She shouldn't be
disappointed if she doesn't hear back from an agent right way or if
she don't provide personalized feedback and she should watch out for
con artists who try to dupe first time writers:

How to Get a Real Agent by Mark Blanchard

This site provides a very nice primer of the process of finding an

However, they're 100 percent *wrong* when they say that you should
find an agent first before writing your book. The rules are slightly
different for non-fiction pieces, but no agent worth his or her salt
will accept first-time writers who haven't completed their novels.

Self-publishing is always an option, but she should avoid doing so --
it may take a couple of years, but if her book is good, it will sell.

Writer's Q&A:

Here are a couple of more antidotes from Nicholas Sparks on getting
published and being a successful writer

From my experience at the publishing house, I've noticed that the best
writers aren't always the most success.  The most successful writers
are the ones who market themselves and their book.  They take
advantage of every opportunity they have to perform public readings
and signings and they work to build a buzz around their books two to
four months before it's available to the public. Sometimes that means
they have to pay for their own press tour, but in the long run, from
what I've seen, it's worth it.

Here are some additional links that will help your mother: 

Mystery Writers of America

Independent Mystery Booksellers Association - Mystery - Become a Mystery Writer - How to Write Mysteries

Writers Write - A Novel Writer's Guide to Rights

Search terms used:
"how to publish" guide and book OR novel

Clarification of Answer by katwoman-ga on 30 Apr 2002 08:59 PDT
Hi tess,

My apologies for the sloppiness -- that just goes to prove that every
writer needs a good editor (and that the grammar and spell check in
Word doesn't always work). You can use those two mistakes as examples
of what *not* to do when sending a query letter. ;-)

Thanks for the well wishes,
tess-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Very complete answer. Thank you, and best of luck with your own quest
to be published!

Just as an aside, you may want to check your spelling/word choices
prior to submitting -- not that it takes anything away from the
completeness of your research -- but a couple of things were a little
confusing and I needed to read through them again to make sure I
understood what you were trying to say. ("Antidotes" should have been
"anecdotes", "most success" should have been "most successful".) That
aside, I thought you did a good job of answering the question, "How
does one find an agent?" -- with just enough emphasis on the specific
task of finding a mystery agent to make your answer relevant to my
question, but also with enough detail that it could be helpful to
anyone looking to find a literary agent of any kind.

Subject: Re: Publishing a Mystery Novel
From: jengod-ga on 29 Apr 2002 23:40 PDT
Here are some more resources which may help your mother out:

TITLE: Murder Must Advertise
DESCRIPTION: "An email discussion list for every author who wonders
about the best way to promote a new mystery book."
NOTES: Maybe be getting a bit ahead of where your mom is, but it might
be something she'd like to keep an eye on.

TITLE: Sisters in Crime
DESCRIPTION: "We are authors, booksellers, editors, agents, 
librarians, critics, teachers and readers who want to promote the work
of women mystery writers."

TITLE: Cluelass
DESCRIPTION: "The definitive site for mystery events, book releases
and other mystery related news."

TITLE: Deadly Serious Press
DESCRIPTION: "The Deadly Directory answers all of your mystifying
questions: Where is the nearest mystery bookstore? Which mystery
magazines include short fiction? When is the next mystery convention?
What special gift can I get for my favorite mystery fan? Who are the
important mystery reviewers?"

TITLE: Yahoo! Groups: Mystery Writers Corner
DESCRIPTION: "A place for mystery writer's and readers to chat."
Subject: Re: Publishing a Mystery Novel
From: tess-ga on 30 Apr 2002 00:11 PDT
Thanks, jengod -- she's actually already a member of Sisters In Crime,
that's the mystery authors' club I mentioned -- but I will send her
the rest of the links. I appreciate your assistance.
Subject: Re: Publishing a Mystery Novel
From: guerillajill-ga on 28 Jul 2002 10:27 PDT
Hi, Tess--
Has your mother's novel been critiqued by an editor with credentials
in this genre? The unfortunate consolidation of the publishing
industry into a handful of conglomerates has produced a number of
excellent freelance fiction editors who know how to help from having
been behind the editorial desk.  The time to invest in this kind of
editorial help is now, not once the novel has been circulated and
rejected multiple times.

Novel evaluations can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few
thousand dollars depending on the manuscript's length, the editor's
credentials, and where he or she is located, with New York editors
tending to charge the most.  Each evaluator (editor, critic) will have
their own take on the novel's strengths and weaknesses, but any worth
her salt should be able to identify basic plot, character and dialogue
 problems, giving your mother a chance to polish her work to a high

You can find New York fiction editors at  More
reasonable prices and equally good evaluators are at my site,, and I'll give you a free 15-minute consultation,
as well.

I'd also check out the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's
Association at, which has excellent articles on many
aspects of publishing and novel writing which apply to most if not all
genres of fiction.

Good luck!


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