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.
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.