Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America

Rate this book
From 70 of the most successful mystery writers in the business, an invaluable guide to crafting mysteries—from character development and plot to procedurals and thrillers—“this is a writing guide that readers and writers will turn to again and again” (Booklist, starred review).

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is known for providing unparalleled resources on the craft, art, and business of storytelling, helping writers of all levels improve their skills for nearly a century. Now, this handbook helps authors navigate the ever-shifting publishing landscape—from pacing, plotting, the business side of publishing, to the current demand for diversity and inclusivity across all genres, and more.

Featuring essays by a new generation of bestselling experts on various elements of the craft and shorter pieces of crowd-sourced wisdom from the MWA membership as a whole, the topics covered can be categorized as follows:
—Before Writing (rules; genres; setting; character; research; etc.)
—While Writing (outlining; the plot; dialogue; mood; etc.)
—After Writing (agents; editors; self-pub; etc.)
—Other than Novels (short stories; true crime; etc.)
—Other Considerations (diverse characters; legal questions; criticism)

Also included is a collection of essays from MWA published authors—including Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, and Charlaine Harris—selected by bestselling authors Lee Child and Laurie King and arranged thematically answering, “What piece of writing advice do you wish you’d had at the beginning of your career?”

“Everything you wanted to know about how to plan, draft, write, revise, publish, and market a mystery” (Kirkus Reviews), this inclusive manual provides practical, current, easily digestible advice for new and established authors alike.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published April 27, 2021

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Lee Child

461 books28.5k followers
Lee Child was born October 29th, 1954 in Coventry, England, but spent his formative years in the nearby city of Birmingham. By coincidence he won a scholarship to the same high school that JRR Tolkien had attended. He went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theater he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV's "golden age." During his tenure his company made Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, Prime Suspect, and Cracker. But he was fired in 1995 at the age of 40 as a result of corporate restructuring. Always a voracious reader, he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis and bought six dollars' worth of paper and pencils and sat down to write a book, Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series.

Killing Floor was an immediate success and launched the series which has grown in sales and impact with every new installment. The first Jack Reacher movie, based on the novel One Shot and starring Tom Cruise and Rosamund Pike, was released in December 2012.

Lee has three homes—an apartment in Manhattan, a country house in the south of France, and whatever airplane cabin he happens to be in while traveling between the two. In the US he drives a supercharged Jaguar, which was built in Jaguar's Browns Lane plant, thirty yards from the hospital in which he was born.

Lee spends his spare time reading, listening to music, and watching the Yankees, Aston Villa, or Marseilles soccer. He is married with a grown-up daughter. He is tall and slim, despite an appalling diet and a refusal to exercise.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
173 (39%)
4 stars
169 (38%)
3 stars
79 (18%)
2 stars
11 (2%)
1 star
2 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 123 reviews
Profile Image for Zoraida.
Author 35 books3,962 followers
July 20, 2022
These essays were great. Recommend audio.
Profile Image for Chrystopher’s Archive.
530 reviews32 followers
October 17, 2021
While obviously some essays were stronger than others, all in all this was an excellent selection.

I particularly loved how many of the contributors quoted each other, sometimes even referencing the essays in the book. It was really charming. I also got a kick out of the cheekily placed essays next to each from Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Child titled “Always Outline!” and “Never Outline!” respectively.

The breadth of topics covered was amazing and all of the essays were easily digestible and perfect for short reading in spare moments.

Top notch collection.
Profile Image for Danielle .
296 reviews48 followers
February 26, 2021
I've been dabbling in mystery writing for a while now and after reading this book I'm eager to dive back into it! I appreciated all the tips and found them to be very practical. It's definitely motivated me to get writing and has me feeling like I'm set up for success.
Many thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Cari.
Author 17 books110 followers
February 24, 2021
This will be a must-buy for my 800s collection. Many of the great names in mystery today collaborate here to explain and highlight different attributes of writing the mystery. Crime fiction is so varied and complex, which I learned from my time on the board of Sisters in Crime. I like that each essay is focused on a different topic, so readers looking for specific guidance can flip directly to the essay in question. I was particularly inspired by those from Rachel Howzell Hall, Frankie Y. Bailey, Catriona McPherson, and Liliana Hart. It's not all craft: some of the essays are about marketing and publishing, and some very important issues of diversity and intersectionality are covered (though I felt one of the essays was a bit flip about the topic - written by a white man, natch). Apart from that issue, this is definitely a book I will refer to again and again.
Profile Image for Carey Calvert.
391 reviews3 followers
July 30, 2021
I was fortunate enough to win this latest edition of How To Write A Mystery, A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America, edited by Lee Child (Jack Reacher series), with NYT bestselling author Laurie R. King, but that won’t skew my review.
Will it?
The trend these days seems to focus on the unreliable narrator but in this case, I’ll be blunt. This is a fantastic read and as I’ve stated in the past, reading books on writing; the art of writing, leads to better enjoyment of the written word.
The goal of the book of course, is to provide the answer to the following:
“What piece of writing advice do you wish you’d had at the beginning of your career?”

And for more than 75 years, Mystery Writers of America (MWA) has done its best to answer that question.
In this edition there are essays by Rachel Howzell Hall, who speaks to The Rules and Genres, specifically, the police procedural, whose books, And Now She’s Gone, and They All Fall Down, I gobbled up. Also included are the author Tess Gerritsen who speaks to the medical thriller: “Playing on the reader’s real-life fears and hunger for insider knowledge,” and Louise Penny, on building your community: “It’s the writer, not the book: finding a home in the virtual village.”
Of particular interest was the ‘battle’ between Jeffery Deaver, who always outlines, and Lee Child, who never outlines. Although not included here, one of my favorite authors, Samantha Downing (For Your Own Good), doesn’t outline either, and her thrillers are marvelous.
Finally, I think all reviewers could learn a lesson from Oline H. Cogdill, who was tasked to write an essay, “Secrets of a Book Critic: Reviews and reviewers: what to learn from them, and what to ignore.”
“Reviewers who are consistently mean-spirited are more in love with their own voices than giving solid evaluations of books.”
Solid advice.
Profile Image for Mally Becker.
Author 2 books126 followers
March 31, 2021
I’ve already slapped too many post-it notes on too many pages of the Mystery Writers of America’s newest guidebook, How to Write a Mystery, which is filled with craft advice and insights from your favorite mystery authors. No, you don’t have to read this book cover-to-cover. You probably shouldn’t. As several contributors, including Steve Hockensmith say, “Don’t spend too much time reading about how to write. The best way to learn to write is to write.” Anyway, it’s more fun to dip into this book’s essays based on your current mood or writing challenge. You'll find Jeffrey Deaver on why you should outline your book in advance of writing, and Lee Child on why you shouldn’t. Frankie Y. Bailey invites you to think about how you might be more inclusive in your fiction. Deborah Crombie shares tips on plotting a mystery, and Lyndsay Faye talks about the author’s unique voice. I better stop now, or I’ll merely list the book’s entire table of contents. Thank you, Sisters in Crime New York for gifting me with an advance reader’s edition. This book is a keeper.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 108 books488 followers
February 1, 2022
This is an excellent book on the craft of writing mysteries, consisting of essays from a broad range of mystery writers and professionals. While some writing books are clearly for beginners, this is well-suited for writers of all levels. It reminded me of attending panels at a writing convention and absorbing advice that has been heard before, but enjoying it again because it's being presented so well. Notable contributors to this book include Charlaine Harris, Jacqueline Winspear, Lee Child, Craig Johnson--I could go on and on, and the table of contents is a veritable who's-who of the genre. Topics range from various kinds of mystery to writing for children or intellectual properties to writing techniques to what happens after the writing. I was especially amused by the contrasting chapters on whether or not to outline.
Profile Image for Teresa Grabs.
Author 11 books45 followers
March 22, 2021
Unlike many other "How to write" books, this one hits the mark and leaves writers and aspiring writers with something to take away from nearly every contributing chapter. Even writers who don't write mysteries can gain insight with this book, making it a must-have for any shelf.

Thank you NetGalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read an advance reading copy.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
Author 42 books287 followers
June 7, 2021
A great collection of essays from some of the best writers writing mystery today.
Profile Image for Katie Fitzgerald.
Author 3 books195 followers
July 9, 2022
With the exception of two sections, this book is a treasure trove of information on everything from character and plot to marketing and copyright. Countless titles and authors are recommended throughout the collection, and there is something for every kind of mystery writer.

I did not appreciate the advice to children's writers that fart jokes are the key to good kids' books. To my mind, those are a sign of lazy, immature writing. Books with such content are completely banned in my house, and I like that that my kids don't use the word "butt" or talk incessantly about bathroom functions. I also found it sickening that someone would even joke that bestiality might be appropriate for a YA audience. These sections felt out of place in a book that otherwise had a professional and intelligent approach. I'm giving the book five stars because of the high quality of the book as a whole, but authors who write for young people may want to look elsewhere for truly good advice.
Profile Image for Elaine.
1,516 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2021
Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of How to Write a Mystery.

I'm so happy my request was approved because I love all things mysteries.

This was a great compilation of the most popular and respected authors in the genre, offering blunt, honest, no-nonsense advice on what makes a mystery.

Everything mystery and thriller related is covered here including (just to name a few):

What is the difference between a mystery and a thriller
The sub genres and sub sub genres. I've never heard of weird west. How interesting!
How to make a living as a writer: write, write and oh yeah, write!
The business side of writing

This book is practical, easy to read and understand and ideal for not just would-be mystery writers but for publishing professionals and authors already in the business.
Profile Image for Roberta .
1,166 reviews22 followers
July 23, 2021
I'm a reader, not a writer, but there is almost nothing I like more than inside info. There is lots of inside info here from lots of serious mystery (and its sub-genres) writers. For example, "Researching the Spy Thriller" by Gayle Lynds. I particularly enjoyed "Ten Stupid Questions about True Crime" by Daniel Stashower, even though I read very few true crime books.

There is even a chuckle to be had in the Table of Contents. "Never Outline!" by Lee Child follows close on the heels of "Always Outline!" by Jeffery Deaver.

This is not a step-by-step guide by any means. A whole book could be, and probably has been, written on the subject of any one of the essays in this book. The essay on "Legal Considerations" by Daniel Steven barely brushed the surface for me. "Please, sir, I want some more."
Profile Image for Leane.
479 reviews4 followers
July 15, 2021
Very comprehensive advice for anyone truly interested in writing and publishing their own mystery (or any genre, really--although mystery specifics are full and center). Individual authors/experts in the field give great overviews on methodology (outline vs seat of pants, etc.), and creating vivid characters, indelible place, riveting story lines, propelling pace, as well as a glance at self-publishing, legal issues, and maintaining a social media presence. I read it as a Readers' Advisor for insight into the appeal of CH, Frame, Pace, Plot and Tone and found it to be a great tool to zero in on terminology and language that articulates what readers seek in a mystery and its ilk.
Profile Image for Cgcang.
230 reviews25 followers
May 15, 2021
You can in fact read this as a guide for (aspiring) writers since it touches on countless subjects ranging from plot and protagonist to copyright and the correct ways of using social media. What I did, though, was read it as a kind of oral history of mystery writing, a sort of testimonial from inside the genre, from the people who make thrilling literature happen. And it was fun through and through.
Profile Image for Michelle Richter.
Author 1 book37 followers
June 6, 2021
A strong collection of advice and insight from writers, editors, critics, and more on writing, publishing, promoting mysteries, including to outline or not to outline, character, setting, voice, plot, villains, building a community. Standout essays from Rachel Howzell Hall, Catriona McPherson, Alison Brennan, and Jeffrey Deaver.
Profile Image for Susan Tunis.
766 reviews165 followers
May 24, 2021
I'm a reader, not a writer, and I still thought this book was fascinating! It gave me a greater appreciation for the tricks of the trade. And it inspired me to spend some time thinking about what my strengths and weaknesses would be, should I ever decide to write. (I'm not.).
Profile Image for Brigitte.
387 reviews3 followers
May 25, 2021
I plan on writing a middle grade mystery after I finish my current novel. This book is going to be so useful. I’ve marked it up with so many Post-It stickers. The most useful book I’ve found for how to approach writing a mystery.
Profile Image for Amy.
587 reviews28 followers
November 12, 2021
A series of essays on mystery writing and writing in general. Some were better than others but all had a tidbit of new information.

If I were to rank it as a college class I'd call it a 200 level.
Profile Image for Mary.
802 reviews41 followers
November 23, 2021
Many interesting essays. The point was to advise potential writers of mysteries, but the insight provided to the reader of mysteries was delightful.
Profile Image for June Jacobs.
Author 29 books144 followers
April 28, 2022
I feel this book is a great resource for writers of any genre because the tips given in the Self-Publishing section and the Writing for Children section are helpful and spot-on and will aid authors outside of the mystery genre, too.

I borrowed this book from the local public library.

422 reviews
March 10, 2023
This handbook, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R. King. contains dozens of essays on a wide range of subjects relevant to writing, publishing, and marketing all types of mysteries. These articles are by well-know, well-respected authors who know the business. Especially of interest to me were the chapters on Legal Considerations by Daniel Steven and Tie-Ins and Continuing a Character by Max Allan Collins.
Profile Image for Jessica.
496 reviews37 followers
September 2, 2021
I've read a lot of writing books and this ranks among the best. This book is full of short essays by some of the top writers in the mystery/thriller field. It was very readable, but also useful - particularly for novelists. I don't write mystery, but I do write mystery-adjacent fiction, and I found this really relevant to what I do.

And it was page-turning. I don't usually call non-fic books page-turning, but it certainly was. Perhaps something to do with the brief chapters of different themes (and the high calibre of writers probably helps!).

There are chapters on genres and subgenres, and on audiences, loads on the elements of writing craft, on things to consider like diversity and inclusion, and also on varied aspects on the business and marketing attached to your writing.

One of my favourite chapters was by one of my favourite authors, Kelley Armstrong. She broke down what young adult fiction actually is so clearly. I'm always trying to explain it to people as I also write YA, and this just nails all of it: maturity level of YA can be quite high! Don't expect low profanity, or a lack of violence or even sexual content in YA - the key difference is getting that teen experience and voice, and..."don't be boring".

Another favourite author of mine, Louise Penny, wrote another of my favourite chapters, on "Building Your Community". Her books are great, but I don't follow that many authors on Facebook and on their newsletter, and I follow both of hers. In this essay she talks about being authentic and sharing yourself as a writer - that may one day translate to selling books. It's her authenticity that made me follow her everywhere, and also the part that makes even this essay tug at my heart strings. I'd love to emulate her pattern with her sharing (and heck, her multiple NYT bestsellers would also be great).

Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Childs' back-to-back essays on "Always Outline" and "Never Outline" are a lot of fun. I can't imagine never outlining like Childs, but I may try Deaver's extensive outlining method one day.

For me personally, Jacqueline Winspear's chapter on historical mysteries and Catriona McPherson's chapter on humour in mysteries really struck a chord, as I write both historical and humour intertwined with my other genres, and these nail that.

Finally, I liked all the chapters that gave lists. As someone said in the first essay, everyone loves lists. Laurie R King's "The Art of the Rewrite" gives a brief but clear list of things to focus on in rewriting, and stages of rewriting. Meg Gardiner's "Keeping it Thrilling" gives a list of 9 things to include in your thriller (minimal weight, powerful conflict, high stakes, suspense, tension, a swift pace, action, twists, a breaking point) and breaks them down. Naomi Hirahara's "Insider, Outsider: The Amateur Sleuth" gives a list of different types of amateur sleuths and their challenges and advantages.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read with a lot of useful information. I had a library copy, and I'll be making notes before it goes back!
Profile Image for Annie.
3,396 reviews62 followers
April 18, 2021
Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader.

How to Write a Mystery is an interesting and information rich style/technique guide by the MWA and full of takeaways from some of the biggest names in mystery (who, generally speaking, know their stuff). Due out 27th April 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 336 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

Although this is a collection of workshop type instructional writing shorts, I found it lots of good background information here which will inform and enrich my mystery *reading* going forward. Some examples: why are so many mystery protagonists so flawed? What does that bring to the writing of a mystery, for example a police procedural or a PI novel. Why are some loners and some definitely team players? What special considerations are there in writing graphic novels? Children's or YA mysteries? Supernatural elements/talking animals/etc? How do supporting characters help (or hinder) the main character(s)?

The editors did a really stellar job of choosing collaborators to answer particularly relevant questions for them. If the question is on writing with characters who aren't original to your work, finding a writer particularly (probably uniquely) qualified to answer the question is a master-stroke. Max Allan Collins is a very fine writer in his own right, of course (and in collaboration with his wife), but his channeling of Mickey Spillane on the Mike Hammer books both from Spillane's extant notes and on his own are nothing short of amazing. Getting Caroline & Charles Todd to talk about collaborative writing, Charlaine Harris on mixing genres, Tess Gerritsen on medical mysteries, every single one of these short essays is from a top shelf writer talking about the stuff they really know.

Summing up, this is not strictly speaking a "how to write a book" tutorial guide. It is a very well curated selection of digestible essays on particular considerations when tackling mystery writing. I would recommend it to readers of the genre, to writers of any genre, to teachers, and other book related professionals. Five stars.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
428 reviews31 followers
September 4, 2021
Popsugar 2021 challenge: A book where the main character works at your current or dream job

My current job is simultaneously too niche and too broad to really find any books about it, haha! So it was always gonna have to be the dream job. Back in January when I was filling in potential books I was leaning towards reading something involving Egyptology. However, a thriller and/or mystery writer would simultaneously be my dream job and nightmare job. Writing is what I use to comfort myself; spent so much of quarantine writing [whisper] an incredibly long fanfic [/whisper] and in the process realized it had mystery novel elements. Writing has just been in my life’s blood since I was a young kid. On the other hand…. There’s nothing quite like money and obligation to take the joy out of something. This isn’t to accuse artists of selling out. Quite the opposite. I admire those who have the stamina to pursue.

If I ever switched to being an author though, I would absolutely want to write novels of suspense. I already have a million ideas… weirdly though, it’s not often a genre I write. Even though I wanted to. So I picked up this book to get some insight.

This is a very mixed bag. Not in terms of quality (every chapter has good advice even if it can be brief.) Rather it addresses all kinds of things. There’s a lot about how to write a mystery, yes, but also how to market it, how to research, how to maintain a brand, and even a bit on how protect your copyright. Some topics were more compelling than others. My favorite chapters came early, with different authors delving into their various sub-genres. It was fun to see the commonalities and also what was unique to each genre. I got something out of all of these even when it was a genre I probably would never write (medical mystery, hello.) I was less into the sections on personal marketing because I’m not remotely there yet and also they were more about writing in general rather than writing mysteries. Still I’m sure that resonated with other readers. Overall a time well spent.
Profile Image for Katie.
80 reviews
March 1, 2021
Thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

How to Write a Mystery is an excellent source of writing know-how and advice geared to the mystery writing crowd and written by well-known mystery authors. I skimmed and skipped around to the sections of personal interest, so I can't attest the individual value of every contribution. I should probably read what I didn't because what I read had not only good advice for specific topics (such as historical fiction writing), but also good advice for writing in general.

Some writing guides regurgitate or skim common advice without ever really getting into the marrow. This book, however, goes deep into specific topics of mystery writing (types of mysteries, setting, outline, etc) to give both a wide-range and a deep-dive of experienced knowledge. It's not a lazy writing guide, for certain.

When I'm reading writing guides, I highlight passages that tell me something I didn't know but find useful or something I know I need to work on. Sometimes I don't have many highlights after finishing a book. In How to Write a Mystery, I made a lot of highlights.

The only thing that aggravated was a tone of on-the high-horsiness in couple of the short-sections (one page of musing? Advice? It varied). Two of the authors claimed there is no such thing as writer's block or that writer's block is just an excuse for laziness. Some authors may not get writer's block. Some do. I think it comes down to what your process is. Some people are comfortable writing anything just to write something. Some aren't. The best advice in this book wasn't specific to writer's block, but it said that if what you're doing isn't working, try something else. It acknowledged that writers can get stuck and gives practical advice.

I'd recommend this book to primarily mystery writers, but also to any fiction writer. There's solid advice for every writer in How to Write a Mystery.
Profile Image for Michelle Kidwell.
Author 39 books74 followers
May 20, 2021

How to Write a Mystery
A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America
Nonfiction (Adult)
Pub Date 27 Apr 2021

If you are looking for a book on how to write in the mystery genre from some of the most successful writers in the business, may I recommend How to Write A Mystery then How to Write A Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America is the one I would recommend to you.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) provides unparalleled resources on the craft, art, and business of storytelling, helping writers of all levels improve their skills for nearly a century. This new handbook will help authors to navigate a publishing landscape that is always shifting. It also provides everything from pacing, plotting, the business side of publishing, to the current demand for diversity and inclusivity across all genres, and more.

This book features essays from a new generation of bestselling experts on various elements of the craft and shorter pieces of crowd-sourced wisdom from the MWA membership as a whole, the topics covered are as follows:

Before Writing (rules; genres; setting; character; research; etc.)

While Writing (outlining; the plot; dialogue; mood; etc.)
After Writing (agents; editors; self-pub; etc.)
Other than Novels (short stories; true crime; etc.)
Other Considerations (diverse characters; legal questions; criticism)

In this collection you will also find essays from MWA published authors including Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, and Charlaine Harris—selected by bestselling authors Lee Child and Laurie King and arranged thematically answering, “What piece of writing advice do you wish you’d had at the beginning of your career?”

Highly anticipated and incredibly useful, this new and trusted guide from MWA’s experts provides practical, current, easily digestible advice for new and established authors alike.

I give How to Write A Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
Profile Image for Erica Robbin.
340 reviews6 followers
July 17, 2021
Such a wonderful resource!

I’d highly recommend this to writers whether seasoned or new and readers alike.

It clarified a lot for me. Having spent most of my life all about academia, I feel like I’ve missed the mystery story train and how it has developed over the years, all the sub classifications, the readers/writership community, and understanding the components of what a mystery actually entails and how one keeps you intrigued.

It’s well-organized and deconstructed in that it gives a good overview, plenty of historical context, and lots of examples. It’s not a single rubric or prescriptive approach, instead provides personal essays from fabulous individual authors who share methodology and ideas to get you on the right track by showing what works for them.

Loved, loved, loved all the different perspectives. I love the opposing viewpoints. Every author had so much to contribute to my every-expanding garden of writing knowledge, not one page was left unannotated.

My earliest mystery fiction reads were Nancy Drew, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, and Dean Koontz. So writing what I love and what is inspiring to me with roots established by authors who have gone before me, has become another story in finding out the why and the how of what works and what doesn’t work in creative writing.

This book covers a wide arrangement of subject matter including the span of mystery genre/subgenres and rewriting drafts, along with topics I was less clear about like YA demographic, diversity with thoughts of cultures of memory, own voices and cultural appropriation, graphic novels, and copyright. All sorts of tidbits of information that I devoured.

It helped me to understand the lingo and formation of subgenres and what avenues may represent ideas best.

It’s a book I’ll be referencing time and time again.

Blog post
Profile Image for Jason Wrench.
Author 13 books27 followers
April 19, 2021
The Mystery Writers of America is one of the premier organizations around the world for Mystery/Thriller writers. Lee Child (with Laurie R. King) has edited an amazing volume for anyone who is interested in writing mysteries. How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook by Mystery Writers of America is an excellent book for anyone just getting started writing mysteries or those who have been writing mysteries for decades. 

The book is broken down into four sections: 1) The Rules and Genres, 2) Other Mysteries, 3) The Writing, and 4) After the Writing. Each section contains a collection of chapters with renowned mystery writers. Some of the top names in Mystery/Thriller writing (e.g., Charlene Harris, Jeffery Deaver, and Lee Child) have contributed articles to this volume. As such, it really is a wealth of wisdom from people who have been in the trenches and come out with published success stories.

Each article is followed by a short article with some kind of practical advice related to the chapter you just read. I really liked the combination of the articles with the practical advice. The chapters and the advice are pulled from a broad range of sources. One of the really nice things about this volume is that it is the culmination of a ton of resources that have been curated into a single volume.

Overall, I definitely think this book is worth reading by anyone who is either a mystery fan or a mystery writer.

I want to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book prior to its publication. Even though I thankful to the publisher for their generosity in providing me an Advanced Reader Copy of the book, the review here is completely mine.
Profile Image for Robin.
654 reviews
May 23, 2021
When I was in high school, my small-town library, in a converted old house across the street from my church, played a major role in my own reading. The collection wasn't large, but there I devoured all the classic British women mystery authors and their books up to 1970. Since then my range of reading has broadened considerably but mysteries still form the bulk of my fiction reading and women authors are still favored.

I picked up this book to read about the process of some of my favorite writers--Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, Deborah Crombie, Caroline and Charles Todd, and Louise Penny--and in case in retirement I want to dabble in writing mysteries or other fiction. This handbook from the Mystery Writers of America is chock-full of wonderful advice and inspiration, how tos, how-I-did-its, look-at-this-scene-from-a-writer-I-love. The chapters are short, interspersed with one-page blurbs from other writers (including Marilyn Stasio the NYT superb mystery reviewer), the writing is clear, and authors' personalities shine through.

The book is divided into Rules/Genres, Other Genres, Writing, After Writing. It could be a textbook for a course of the same title or you might borrow it from your library as I did to "read just one chapter" and find yourself curious about other ones. And who would have expected that in the seven chapters and assorted blurbs I read, I would be brought to tears twice because of the beauty of writing and author's love for their readers (and for some sort of justice/resolution/redemption).
Profile Image for Ivy Digest.
164 reviews
February 2, 2022
Fans of detective stories, mystery, and thrillers will love this compilation of their beloved writers on how to write gripping novels.

Edited by the creator of the bestselling Jack Reacher series and multi-awarded author Laurie King, this modern guide gives aspiring novelists the rules, genres, and writing style—but with a twist—there’s always a surprise right?—but it’s all witty and fun.

This isn’t your basic how to write. It’s inspiration from the industry.

You’ll hear from established authors, awarded bestsellers, book critics, and publishing editors. You’ll also discover new writers or genres you’d like to explore: amateur sleuth, noir, cross genres (like a vampire mystery), historical mystery, medical and spy thrillers.

Advice is wide and varied. Apart from the usual conundrum—to outline or not?; writing style; and target audience (adults, children, young adults), this guide broadens to graphic novels, short mysteries, true crime, diversity, humor, collaboration, and tie-ins.

It also gives you the inside look into book critics (online and in print), Amazon reviews, how NOT to get your book reviewed, self-publishing, your web presence, building your community, and US copyright laws.

Though I’m a mere mystery fan, I learned a lot about the various ways to effectively craft a compelling plot and the variety within the genre. I found a lot of good points to enliven my own writing. I love rereading this and it will surely be a steady reference for any writer who wants keep the reader in suspense.

Displaying 1 - 30 of 123 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.