Advice and Consent?


Since beginning my mystery novel project two summers ago, I’ve learned a lot (The Long, Steep Learning Curve), and I’ve gotten lots of advice—from writer friends and colleagues, from books on the craft of writing, from magazine and web articles, from writers’ conferences, workshops, and professional organizations. I’ve listened to all of it. I really have. Much of the advice has resonated with me and has already been incorporated into my manuscript, at least to the best of my ability. But some of the advice I’ve gotten has been, frankly, contradictory. What, then, do I act on? 

            Recently I started reading a mystery by a well-known author, the winner of several prestigious awards. I like the story. I want to keep reading. And while I wouldn’t  call the plot exactly riveting (so far), I’m being gently drawn in. I want to see what happens to the protagonist, a young girl from Boston with no money and no family ties. And I am eager to see how the author provides motivation and rationale for her to involve herself in the investigation of a murder. So far so good. The goal of every author is to keep his or her audience interested enough to keep turning the pages. 

But nowhere yet (I’m several chapters in) do I see the element that all the current advice says is “absolutely necessary” if one wants to be published today—tension. Oh, maybe there’s some mild tension in the fact that the protagonist finds herself at loose ends in a foreign country. And yes, her grandmother did leave a last request that she look into her heritage. But this is nothing like the kind of tension I’ve been advised is a must in today’s mystery market. Things are going pretty well for the protagonist. There’s not even a body yet.

And there’s something else. I can’t count the times I’ve heard or read something like this: “Don’t make the mistake of explaining too much at the beginning. Slice and dice the backstory, dropping it in only when necessary. Cut to the chase. Pose questions that simply must be answered.”  

I’m sure that’s right, and yet the mystery I’m reading has quite a bit of back story at the beginning. And it’s taking its own, sweet time getting to the murder. No jumping into things in medias res. No puzzles to pique the reader’s interest. But, to repeat myself, I like it. And obviously others have as well, since it’s gotten very good publicity. 

Here’s my take-away—at least for now. Listen to advice but act on what seems right. So, I will finish this revision. Then I will give the manuscript to a few beta readers, after which I will revise again. And then I will begin the process of sending out queries and synopses and sample pages. Will there be an agent out there who loves my writing? Will there be someone who believes in it enough to pitch it to publishers?  

Now that really is a mystery.

3 thoughts on “Advice and Consent?”

  1. Well, I left a comment – but where did it go? Off to wordpressvilleland I suppose! I really related to your post, Connie – seems like we newbie authors have to do everything perfectly and still have to struggle to get published while some of these books we read – they break all the rules! Seems like so much of success in this industry is based on connections and luck. Ah well, I know you’re a really good writer and that you have a great story. I truly wish you the best. I, for one, will be the first in line to buy it.
    Now, onto a question – where did you get these beta readers? That’s the road I need to head down next…

  2. Beta readers are so important, aren’t they? I am using the resources available to me through my local Sisters in Crime chapter and the chapter of Mystery Writers of America to which I belong. Also, I know a few published authors. The issue with using someone you know is that they may hesitate to give honest feedback. Only honest feedback is helpful, as painful as it can be!

    1. Yeah, it’s time I join some clubs – thinking of Figment – they have some good groups. Must be a bit easier since you have such a well defined genre. I always seem to fall just between things – even between young adult and adult! And yes, you need honesty – how better than someone that doesn’t know you or the story.

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