You want to be a published author. Perhaps you have written your first murder mystery novel and you think it’s pretty good. Don’t be shy! Pat yourself on the back! Writing an 80,000-90,000-word book is no small feat.
There are three basic ways to go: self-publish, independent publisher, or look for an agent who might get you into the door of a big-time publisher.
Here are some of my thoughts on the topic. I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments, so please chime in.
Define Your Goals
What is it that you want? Are you happy to see your book listed on Amazon? Do you want to make a profit? Do you want to win awards?
It’s become popular to say, “I write for the love of writing” eschewing money like it’s a dirty word. That’s a nice sentiment. I write for the love of writing too, but I publish to make money. And why shouldn’t the author make some money on her book? Everyone else is, I assure you.
Book Publishing is a Business
Amazon takes the lion’s share of a book’s sale. If you have a publisher, they will get the next largest bite. Then your agent. Then you. But get this: you’re the one who cares about your art. Everyone else in this food chain has their eyes on the profit margin.
One thing to consider is how much control you want over sales, pricing, and promotion. If you want that control, consider self-publishing.
Should You Self-Publish?
Self-publishing will give your more control over your book and a larger share of the sales receipts. It’s a great alternative if you have the time and focus to get the book ready for publication and promotion once it’s released. There are a number of self-published authors in the murder mystery genre who are happy being on their own.
If you’re thinking about self-publishing, you need to consider a few things. First, you need to have the book copy-edited unless you are confident in your own skills. Second, you need a cover design. Third, you need the book formatted. Fourth, you need to get an ISBN number. Then you’re going to have to figure out how to get it listed with the distributors such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram.
You will also need to learn about promotion: Bookbub, Goodreads, Amazon, blog tours, Facebook ads. Bookbub and Amazon will only deal with the publisher so if you go with an independent or even one of the big houses, you will have no control over your advertising. One thing I hear from self-published authors is that they enjoy having that control and they directly attribute the success of their books to that advertising.
If you want awards, though, self-publishing isn’t the best route for you in the murder mystery genre. Edgar awards are nominated by the book’s MWA-approved publisher. Other awards, such as the Lefty, Agatha, and Anthony, are nominated by fans. Unless you already have an established fan base who frequent the conventions, it is unlikely to get any traction. But, you can nominate yourself for the Killer Nashville award.
Fret not! There are awards for unpublished books. You might consider entering one or all of these contests before you publish. Short-listing or winning an award is good no matter which route you choose. It looks great in the query letter to an agent or independent publisher. On your website and advertising, it proves that people already read your book and liked it.
Getting Noticed: Enter Contests
Once your book, say a murder mystery, is finished, there is one great way to get attention and that is contests for unpublished novels. That worked well for me. Winning and short-listing in these contests is a great way to build bona fides.
Killer Nashville has contests for both unpublished and published murder mysteries and thrillers. Check it out here: Killer Nashville Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Writers’ Conference. Deadline for entry this year is April 1, 2022.
I entered my first two books in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association contest and they both short-listed. Check it out: Contest Rules – PNWA – a writer’s resource. Hurry, though, the deadline is March 15, 2022.
The San Francisco Writers Conference also offers a contest. Here’s their link: San Francisco Writers Conference (sfwriters.org) I can’t see if they are having a contest this year, but keep it in mind in the future.
Also, don’t forget the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic grant which is given every year at Malice Domestic. It’s limited to murder mysteries. I won that with Cynthia Kuhn in 2015 and it was a leg-up for me. More here: MALICEGRANTS (malicedomestic.org)
Finally there is the Minotaur-Malice Domestic contest for unpublished authors and the winner gets published by Minotaur! Check it out here: 2022 Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition – Minotaur Books – Home (macmillan.com)
I hope this insight will provide the aspiring novelist with valuable information. If you have anything to add, questions or comments, please feel free to post in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer.
While still in high school, she was one of the illustrators of the original Dungeons and Dragons. Art seemed an impractical pursuit – not an heiress, wouldn’t marry well, hated teaching – so she went to law school instead. When not writing or practicing law, Keenan can be found oil painting, studying the Irish language, or hanging out with her friends at mystery conventions.
6. Sales: Is the Publisher Selling Books?
Wow, Keenan. That’s an amazing collection of information. I hope people trying to get/stay published read it more than once. Print it out, folks. This post is a saver.
Thanks so much, Michele! I have many thoughts. Plan to eek them out over my next few posts.
Love this post! I’m saving and sharing it. Thanks!
Glad to be of help! I will be posting on similar topics over my next few blog posts.
Good advice. Sharing
Thanks for that picture from the before times! You’ve listed all the important stuff – very helpful.
I hope we can sign together again soon.
Thanks, Edith! I hope so too. One day….
When I sold my first book after 10 years in the unpublished writer’s corner, my husband said, “Congratulations. Now you have two jobs—writing and book promotion.”
Ha! Wise man! I’m going to post what little I know about book promotion in a few weeks. Chime in if you like!
Keenan, great post. Finally getting over the last of the hurdles to self-publish my debut Clues From the Canines. I tell everyone, “Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart”.
Congratulations, Darlene! And here’s to you having your breakthrough!
Wonderful post! I’m trying to figure out which route to pursue with my manuscript, so this information is timely. Thank you.
Glad to be of help! Next time I post, on March 23, I’ll talk about what to look for in an independent publisher.