10 Tips for Crime Writers
by Linda Bennett CRIME EDITOR
As crime editor, I’ve read upwards of forty manuscripts for Salt Publishing this year. In common with all publishers, I’ve accepted only a small fraction of the MSs I’ve been sent. I therefore thought it might be useful to give would-be Salt crime authors my top five ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’, so here goes:
- Do send the whole manuscript. More than any other genre, crime is dependent on well-crafted and plausible plot construction. I’m therefore unable to accept any title based on a synopsis or three-chapter submission. By the same token, although I might express an interest in a novel that has yet to be completed, I will not make a firm offer for it.
- Do send me some details about yourself that might be of interest – e.g., whether you’ve published before, what made you write this book, any points you can think of that will help it to sell, etc. But be pithy: I don’t have time to read a separate work about you!
- Do send me the text double-spaced and in a standard, easily-readable font, such as Times New Roman or Calibri. An eccentrically-produced MS is much less likely to get past the first hurdle, i.e., enticing me to read it; and although at least one author has kindly explained to me how to convert his MS to a more legible format, quite frankly this is your job, not mine. Send as a Word document, not a PDF, as I may want to add notes; and don’t ask me to sign an NDA: no reputable publisher is going to try to steal your work!
- Do be scrupulous about checking detail – that names of characters are consistent, sequences of events work, etc. All authors make slips, and it is an editor’s job to spot these and point them out: but if I find too many mistakes during a first reading, I shall simply abandon the book before I’ve reached the end. By the same token, if you are writing a police procedural or a book that depends on specialist forensic or scientific knowledge, do research this carefully and get it right. If you don’t, I may very well pick up on it, as editors get a feel for vague and inaccurate work; but if I don’t and the book is published, it will be your reputation, and probably your writing career, that is on the line, not mine.
- Do make the grammar, syntax and punctuation as accurate as you can, and even get someone else to check for you if you know you have weaknesses: many authors are very uncertain about which past tense to use, for example. Again, it is an editor’s job to ensure that the book is grammatically correct when it is published, but if too many alterations are required, no editor (including myself, and I’m considered to be pretty generous in this respect) will be prepared to invest the time in making corrections. I’ve even suspected some authors of being slapdash about this, and simply not prepared to put in the effort: if you won’t do it, you can’t expect me to!
- Don’t mix genres or create a highly improbable plot. There has been a certain fashion for doing this among (largely unpublished!) crime authors recently. It’s one of the reasons why I need to see the whole work. It’s very annoying to read a perfectly competent murder story almost to the end, and suddenly be confronted with a dénouement that claims that the perpetrator was a witch, or a time traveller who has since gone off to the eighteenth century! There are a few rules about writing crime that have to be observed, and one of them is that you have to provide your readers with some kind of catharsis (unless you are a genius: you may then – just about – be able to carry it off!).
- Don’t pester me every five minutes to ask whether I have read your manuscript once you have submitted it.
- Don’t be precious about your work. Try to streamline the text as much as possible before you submit it, which means revising it at least once, and probably several times, with a very self-critical eye. If I accept it, you don’t have to accept all of my suggested alterations, but you do have to agree to cut the text down if I ask you to, and also to accept all edits that have been made for the sake of grammatical accuracy.
- Don’t argue, if I reject it. I usually try to give authors some reasons, and sometimes offer to help them further by looking at the text again once they have revised it, or by recommending a more suitable publisher. Remember that I don’t have anything against you personally – if I’ve rejected your book, it’s because I know that it won’t work for Salt. This does not necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with the book, and certainly doesn’t mean that I’m never going to be interested in your work again: so don’t burn your boats!
- Don’t give up! Almost all writers – even established ones – receive some rejections; most get quite a few. If you’re determined to write, keep on trying, but heed the advice that you’re given along the way. An agent might also help you to get published, though not all writers choose to appoint one. I myself am agent-neutral: I’m as likely to accept a novel if it has come direct from the author as if I’ve received it via an agent.
New crime from Salt
Dame Claudia McRae, the famous veteran archaeologist, has vanished, leaving only a gruesome smear of blood to indicate her fate. A suspected drugs syndicate is using children as couriers. Is there any connection between them? Detective Inspector Tim Yates is detailed by his boss to investigate.
The Museum of Atheism tells the story of a murdered six year old beauty queen during the last 24 hours of her life on Christmas Eve in a mountainous, isolated community. It involves a fox cull, and a man who repairs sex dolls and is Ava’s biggest fan.
In the Spanish province of Almeria, the compulsory demolition order on a house belonging to a British ex-pat couple leads to a gruesome discovery that sends journalist Danny Sanchez in pursuit of a vicious serial killer. By following the trail back to England, Danny confronts some of his own demons.