What Kind of Job is Writing Mystery Novels, Anyway?

Jean De Mielot Works On A Manuscript

To those curious, but who’ve yet to write mystery novels for a living, it can seem intriguing, mysterious—a strange confluence of alchemy, pot-boiling and cryptic conjuring. How could it possibly be a real job?

Let me assure you, if not approached professionally, the results will be anything but professional. And it can be quite the undertaking. At first, even writing a 90,000 – 100,000 word mystery novel seems like a daunting task. However, in order to be a professional, once the manuscript is finished it must then be published.

And I thought writing the manuscript was the hard part—little did I know. Turns out to be a sunny stroll in the park next to publishing.

Traditional Publishing

As artists, we want to create our art. The business side of things seems a nuisance at best, and at worst, a horrific nightmare. The idea that our work is so important that we will be discovered and whisked away on the magic carpet of success by a large and benevolent publisher is a nice fantasy. Yet with the sweeping changes occurring in the publishing industry today, it is just that—a fantasy.

Still many professional authors-to-be dutifully submit their manuscripts to traditional publishing houses and literary agents with the steadfast belief theirs will be the one. Then they wait . . . and wait . . . and wait. It can take months to receive the generic rejection letter, if they bother to send anything at all. And while it is vital to believe, it is also imperative to take the bull by the horns. Trust me, I know—been there, done that.

Odds are not good on an unknown author receiving a large advance from a “traditional” publishing house. Much like winning the Power Ball jackpot, one wouldn’t want to bank on it. To top it off, even if lightning strikes and a new author is exceedingly lucky, she/he faces many of the same challenges to success that indie-published and self-published authors face. When the facts are closely examined, the “traditional” publishing route looks like no option at all.

And unfortunately, this is when a fair number of writers give up—discouraged, wondering why their work isn’t good enough. All too frequently it has little or nothing to do with their writing.

Fortunately, for both authors and readers, the publishing industry is changing. From my vantage point, it’s a heady mix of freedom, opportunity and excitement.

Bestselling author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an excellent series of articles on her website.

Real eye-openers.

Two Options, Really

To overcome the obstacles set up by “traditional” publishing houses, determined authors and inventive entrepreneurs have rolled up their sleeves and gone to work. These new ventures generally fall into two categories: Indie Publishing and Self-Publishing.

Indie Publishing

The Independent Book Publishers Association, a trade association representing independent book publishers, currently boasts 3,000 publishers with a growing membership. And while cautionary tales abound, new authors are finding success through indie publishers.

The best advice is to thoroughly research the reputation and results of any and all publishing companies BEFORE signing on. There is NO substitute for comprehensive due diligence prior to committing. If one is not paying full attention to all the fine print and legal disclaimers, a relationship with an indie publisher can turn out to be less than desirable or even a downright disaster. DO THE HOMEWORK. Or hire a reputable attorney who specializes in book publishing.


This is where the author is the publishing company and responsible for everything—either by doing it all, or hiring experienced consultants/independent contractors to assist in the publishing process.

Here are two examples of good reference books in this vein which are at opposite ends of the spectrum:

Peter Bowerman’s, “The Well-Fed Self-Publisher“.

Jason Matthews’, “How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free“.

There are virtually tens of thousands of books on self-publishing available on Amazon.

Writing Professionally

For me, writing is a better business opportunity than anything else I’ve considered. And I’ve looked at a variety of different endeavors since 2008. However, in my opinion, to approach it as anything less than a full-fledged business is setting oneself up for failure.

So . . . here I am, starting another business when all I really want to do is WRITE! Still, at the end of the day, where else can I do what I love and pursue it professionally?

In my Battle Plan, above the Targets for the Week, I keep a reminder: Imagination crafts the illusions we ultimately come to view as reality.

Today, new authors have the tools, the access, virtually everything they need to be successful—using imagination to create reality.

As always, your comments are most welcome.

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One thought on “What Kind of Job is Writing Mystery Novels, Anyway?

  1. Oh, writing is ALWAYS the easy part. Selling yourself is always hard, no matter the endeavor.

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