Thursday, December 1, 2011


Good morning Readers. Can you believe that it’s December already? We’re half way through our MURDER WE WRITE BLOG TOUR, and I hope you’re enjoying my guests as much as I am.

Remember: our 15-member tour group is giving away over 50 FREE BOOKS during this tour. For a chance to win one (or more) of these mysteries, visit each blog and leave a comment.

 Today our guest author Ron Benrey,  co-author of 9 books with his wife Janet,  tells us how a married couple can  collaborate without bloodshed.


Ron Benrey

When is a Mystery Novel Ready to Publish?

By Ron Benrey
 My wife, Janet, and I write mystery novels together. One of the more challenging aspects of co-writing a novel is that the two authors are likely to disagree as to when a manuscript (or even a proposal) has reached the point of publishability.

Back when we were writing our first novel, I tend to be far more critical of our work than Janet:

Janet: “Everybody says our stuff is good — my friends, your friends, our critique group. Let’s send it out. We can’t sit on it forever.”

Ron: “It’s not ready yet. Good writing is alive, but our fiction seems dead. No... I can’t explain what I mean.”

Janet won. We sent it out—and received a large stack of rejections:

“Not up to our standards.”

“I didn’t fall in love with your book.”

“We don’t find the story sufficiently compelling.”

“Your protagonist, while appealing, seems distant and unapproachable.”

“Your novel is not right for us.”

These examples of standard “rejectionese” demonstrate the unhappy truth that gatekeepers rarely take the time to diagnose publishability problems and suggest specific fixes. We later learned that experienced agents/editors often make publishability decisions after reading a single page. They often read more, but rarely need to — because new novelists are likely to keep repeating the publishability errors they make on the first page.

We finally figured out that our writing lacked a critical element of publishable fiction: it didn’t create and establish what John Gardner (the well known teacher and novelist) named “the fictional dream.” That’s the experience the reader enjoys when he or she “falls” into the pages and enters the protagonist’s head. Calling our writing “dead” was a fairly apt description.

Once we diagnosed the problem, we were able to learn the craft behind creating a fictional dream. We rewrote our manuscript and sold our first novel soon thereafter.

My point is that you have to develop a “Publishability Meter” that lets you diagnose problems in your fiction. Without an accurate “instrument” to evaluate quality, wishing will likely triumph over reality; you like us will not be able to gauge when you writing is ready for prime time.

Ernest Hemingway said, “The most important thing a writer needs is “a built-in, shock-proof, manure detector.” (Ernest used a different word than manure.) I prefer Publishability Meter because I often speak at writers’ conferences and find it tricky to quote “pure” Hemingway. However, you get the idea.

Looking back, my “manure detector” was more highly developed than Janet’s—chiefly because I’d been a non-fiction writer for decades. I knew the smell of successful writing.

On the other hand, Janet was also right. You don’t want to sit on your work forever. Your Publishability Meter must be realistic—otherwise you will keep revising publishable fiction until the cows come home.

How do you develop such a finely tuned device? I know only one answer: Read mountains of fiction in your genre—and try to think like an editor when you do. I found it very useful to read works-in-progress at different writers’ conferences. They are great places to find problem-filled manuscripts that make ideal “good examples” of un-publishable fiction.


Ron’s impressive background:

Ron Benrey has co-written nine published mystery novels—in three series—with his wife Janet. Ron has been a writer forever—initially on magazines (his first real job was Electronics Editor at Popular Science Magazine), then in corporations (he wrote speeches for senior executives), and then as a novelist. Over the years, Ron has also authored ten non-fiction books, including the recently published “Know Your Rights — a Survival Guide for Non-Lawyers” (published by Sterling). Ron holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a juris doctor from the Duquesne University School of Law. He is a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Ever wanted to host one of the famous English Cream Teas? You can learn all the details in DEAD AS A SCONE, the first novel in the Benrey’s “Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries” series. You’ll also love the twists and turns in this traditional mystery:

Dead as a Scone

 The story without any spoilers:

 Murder is afoot is the sedate English town of Royal Tunbridge Wells … and the crime may be brewing in a tea pot!

Nigel Owen is having a rotten year. Downsized from a cushy management job at an insurance company in London, he is forced to accept a temporary post as managing director of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum. Alas, he regrets living in a small town in Kent, he prefers drinking coffee (with a vengeance), and he roundly dislikes Flick Adams, PhD, an American scientist recently named the museum’s curator.

But then, the wildly unexpected happens. Dame Elspeth Hawker, the museum’s chief benefactor, keels over a board meeting—the apparent victim of a fatal heart attack. With the Dame’s demise, the museum’s world-famous collection is up for grabs, her cats, dog, and parrot are living at with Flick and Nigel—and the two prima donnas find themselves facing professional ruin.

But Flick—who knows a thing or two about forensic science—is convinced that Dame Elspeth did not die a natural death. As Flick and Nigel follow the clues—including a cryptic Biblical citation—they discover that a crime perpetrated more than a century ago sowed the seeds for a contemporary murder.


Thanks, Ron for stopping by. I’ve loved hearing more about your writing techniques. I’ve read DEAD AS A SCONE myself, and loved every minute.

Remember Readers, our 15-member tour group is giving away over 50 FREE BOOKS during our tour. For a chance to win one (or more) of these mysteries, visit each blog and leave a comment.

I’ll be giving away a signed copy of THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE and another of FOXY STATEHOOD HENS AND MURDER MOST FOWL, a collection of 3 novellas. My story, “The Spinster, the Pig, and the Orphan,” is a Historical Mystery set in 1889 Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. To get your name in the hat for my free books, leave a comment below.

Be sure and stop by tomorrow for another mysterious writer.




Jackie King said...

Ron, The advice you give writers in this post is priceless. It's an honor to have you as a guest.

Mike Orenduff said...

Great post, Ron. Loved the quote from Hemingway.

Marilyn said...

Great advice, Ron. Knowing when to submit is a real talent. Too many people send the first book off when it's not ready, and too many others seem to be waiting for the stars to align properly in the universe before they intend to submit. Congrats on all your sales.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I agree with the Marilyn who wrote right before me.

The other Marilyn

Jackie King said...

MIke, Thanks for stopping by.

Marilyn P., Your words are so true, oh wise woman.

Marilyn M., We need lots and lots of Marilyns on this Blog.

M.M. Gornell said...

Yep, good post with good advice, Ron.

Madeline (not a Marilyn, but at least begins with an "M" and I'm occasionally called Marilyn)

Timothy Hallinan said...

I agree with both Marilyns and the occasional Marilyn and am considering changing my own name to Marilyn, too.

Someone once said about poetry, "A poem is never finished, it's just abandoned," and that's sort of the way I feel about books. I have never, ever gotten one to the point where I could put it on a table, check it from all angles, and say, "Perfect." So, in the end, I tell it, "Be nice to people, keep your face in three-quarters, and stay out of bright light, and you'll be fine."

In fact, one of the great things about ebook publishing is that you can go back and fix something you abandoned a decade ago. You can't fix everything, but . . .

Jean Henry Mead said...

Excellent post, Ron. My publishability meter works like this: Place your "finished" manuscript in a drawer for a month while you start the next book. Then take it out and read it as though someone else had written it. Re-edit, polish and send it to a publisher. Works for me. :)

Jackie King said...

Madeline, Tim and Jean, thanks for stopping by.

Carol M said...

I enjoyed reading your post! Your books sound really good! I'm looking forward to reading them!

Jackie King said...

Thanks for stopping by, Carol, your name is going into my free book drawing.

Alice Duncan said...

Oh, boy, Ron your list of standard rejection lines sounded all too familiar!

Whitewing said...

I, too, love the quote from Hemmingway. It lives on the top edge of my computer. Ron's post was interesting because I have written with a partner, and have to agree, you need to know when to stop.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! I was very curious about writing together as a married couple. Thanks also for the great spoiler-free description!


Jackie King said...

Jeri, And deciding "when" is the hard question. I'm more in Ron's camp, and always wanted to do one more rewrite. A friend that I sometimes collaborate with thinks one draft, two rewrites, and out the door. So we compromise.

Thanks for stopping by. Your comment puts your name in my drawing for a free book.

Jackie King said...

Brenda W, I, too, was fascinated by a married couple writing together. And for Ron and Janet, the result was excellent.

Jackie King said...

Ron, Thanks again for being my guest blogger.

Anne K. Albert said...

Great advice, Ron. Some writers believe the first draft is perfect, while others re-write until their eyes bleed and their story lacks soul.

I believe a book is never really final. It can always be tweaked, revised, edited, but why bother? Just write the next one and make it SHINE!

Beth Anderson said...

That's good advice too, Anne. Ron, loved your post. I have the feeling I'd love your mysteries and I'm going to try them very soon now. Cheers, Beth Anderson