Publishing Mystery Stories


Nearly a year in the writing and the manuscript was finally finished.  It was official, I was a mystery writer and I felt good about it.

Next Step, Get It Published

Mystery stories are, for me, a great source of entertainment.  I normally have a pile of mystery books on my headboard, reading three or four at once, a chapter or so each, until I fall asleep.  I felt certain my book would entertain readers—my main goal in writing it.  The problem?  How to get it into readers’ hands.

I knew from the beginning, the job of writing a mystery novel is not done until it’s published, marketed and in the hands of readers who can enjoy it.  This appeared to be a daunting task, one I knew nothing about, one I was dreading.  Dread verged on despair when I looked back at years of writing and the huge stack of rejection notices I’d accumulated.  It seemed impossible.  The only scrap of hope—others have done it.  And if others can do it, so can I.

How Does it Happen?

I remembered a SouthWest Writers workshop I attended in the late ‘90s where Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch gave pointers on writing and getting published.  Dean talked about submitting a manuscript directly to publishers—the traditional rules and methods.  (Submit to one publisher at a time?  Wait for months for a rejection slip before you can submit to another publisher?  Who would come up with such stupid rules?  Is this any way to treat artists?  Sounds like imperialist oppression in the first degree!  Who the hell do these publishers think they are!?!)  Then Dean heartily suggested breaking all the rules by making multiple submissions—lots of them.

Dean’s advice?  Get your work into the hands of as many editors as you can, through whatever means you can.  From slush piles to one minute pitches in elevators, just get it out there.   He was asked about finding an agent and responded by telling us, agents are not interested in unpublished writers.  And until we had interest from a publisher, don’t bother.  He added that once we had a publisher on the line to call him, he’d refer us a reputable agent.  Sounded good.  I kept his contact info in anticipation.  I never had the opportunity to take him up on his offer.

At the time, he was right.  However the publishing industry has since been hit by a Tsunami.  Everything has changed.  With the advent of new technology, internet access, ebooks and print-on-demand (POD), publishing continues to change rapidly.  And I’m sure Dean Wesley Smith would be the first to tell you.


After exhaustive due diligence, I determined that given the current state of the publishing industry, I’d need a literary agent.  It looked to me as though one of the more successful methods of engaging an agent was through one’s connections.  I read several accounts of authors referred to an agent by an author friend, or a friend of a friend of an author.  Problem was, I didn’t have any connections in the writing and publishing universe.  All my business connections were in the world of commercial real estate.  No help there.  I racked my brain—nothing.

It wasn’t until a chance meeting at a lecture on advanced business management techniques that I found a way in.  The speaker was partners with a well-known author.  I imposed upon him for an introduction to John Truman Wolfe and he graciously paved the way.

John Truman Wolfe has published both non-fiction and fiction.  He’s the author of one of the finest works of investigative reporting around, Crisis by Design.  It’s an excellent expose of the banking industry’s culpability in the financial crash of 2008, as well as practical solutions on how to protect yourself going forward.  Well worth the read.  Additionally, his Tom McKenna private-eye series is internationally acclaimed.  I screwed up my courage and gave him a call.

I asked him about agents and if he would refer me.  He ran down his experience with the literary agency industry as I listened intently.  Turns out, he prefers to take matters into his own hands—more control over his own destiny, more A-to-B.  Instead of an agent referral, he gave me contact info for a small independent publishing house.  I was grateful for his time, but I didn’t think it would work for me.   I was still determined to find an agent.  What the hell did I know?

More on agents and publishing, coming up.

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