Tips for New Authors from Mystery Writer Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets is the author of 28 mysteries and is the author of the Dead-End Jobs series and Shop Till You Drop series.

Here are a few tips she offered for new authors:
  • Get a good agent. "A good agent is worth every penny and earns every bit of his 15 percent.  I would not make a living as a writer without an agent. I'm not good at asking for money. Most writers are not. A writer needs an agent or lawyer any time there is a contract."  
  • Make sure the agent is reputable. It is harder today many times to get a good agent than it is to get a publisher. You have to do your research. There's a website called the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR). I would really recommend that you get an AAR agent. AAR agents follow a code of ethics. There are a lot of crooks out there in the agent world and some of them are people who pose as an agent. They'll send you a note telling you how much they love your manuscript and they will be happy to represent you once you get it copy edited. 'Here's the name of a good copy editor' they say, who charges, generally, about a thousand dollars, then the crooked agent and the copy editor split the fee. If you get a really professional copy editor, its going to cost you about $5,000. People really want to do the right thing and they think this is the right thing. They wind up losing a lot of money and they wind up not getting a good agent."
  • Beware of an agent who wants to charge you a fee. "Beware also of an agent who wants to charge you postage. That's not the kind of agent you want. Go to the AAR website, where you'll see which not only reputable agents, but agents who are taking new clients and the type of new clients they're taking. Whatever you're writing, whether it's historical fiction, women's fiction, cozy mysteries, or thrillers, you want an agent who represents that. They're going to know the editors who are buying your kind of fiction. Most of the big agents are in either New York or California. You want an agent who has connections to New York and who knows the industry."
  • Attend conferences, seminars and workshops. "It's extremely important to network with writers an others in the publishing industry, even if you haven't been published yet. Smart writers will go to conferences one or two years before their book comes out. They get to meet people, introduce themselves to the booksellers and get plenty of tips from agents, publishers and speakers.  You can make appointments there to meet with agents. It's a good way to try your work out on them and to see if you can get represented by them and to pitch your book to an editor. Publishing is all about networking.Start networking early. The problem is that there are so many conferences you can become a "conference queen" by going from one conference to the next, so choose your conferences wisely. I go to Malice Domestic because I write traditional mysteries, Bouchercon, which is the World Mystery Conference, and Sleuthfest, which is the Mystery Writers of America chapter conference in Ft. Lauderdale. I recommend Sleuthfest for beginning writers because you can make appointments there to meet with agents. It's a good way to try your work out on them, to see if you can get represented by an agent, and to pitch your book to an editor."
  • Practice your pitch. "Try to get it down to one or two sentences. It's called an 'elevator pitch.' The theory behind it is, you have trapped an agent in an elevator and between floors, you're going to tell about your book. Write it down if you have to, practice with your friends, practice with your family, but get it down. You've got to tell your story in two sentences. You don't have time to say,'Well, I'm not very good at this' or 'this is my first time.' Practice. You should be pitching a completed manuscript, not an idea or a book you've not finished."
  • Your manuscript should have a reasonable word count. "My contract calls for about 75,000 words. Don't get hung up on the exact number. A little over or under is okay. I've had people say to me, 'I have a novel and it's really good, but it's 150,000 words.' I say to them, 'That's not a novel, that's two novels. Start cutting.'"
  • Be disciplined as a writer. "For me, it's a job, not a hobby. I try to write three chapters, between 1500 and 2000 words each, a week."
  • Support bookstores. "You sell books by word of mouth and by establishing a following. It's done through your bookstores. You have to get to know your booksellers. I don't care what your Amazon ranking is, if you're going to hold book signings, you need to reach your readers in person. Having a bookseller get behind your book is very important. Go into a bookstore and get to know the booksellers, then buy something. It doesn't need to be a book. It can be a postcard. Just let them know you support them and they'll likely support you and recommend your book."
  • Get a website. "Have bio information, your books, contact information, and other important categories. You can get ideas by looking at other authors' websites."
  • Use a professional photographer. "It's important to have a professional photo to use. Don't use a photo taken by your cousin with a cell phone. Get your makeup done by a professional before you have them done. Someone who does bridal makeup would do a good job if you don't know anyone else." 

Find out more about Elaine Viets and her books by visiting

Elaine Viets

Contributed by Deborah Marshall. Writer and journalist Deborah Marshall is a Past President of the Missouri Writers' Guild and Founder of the Warriors Arts Alliance. Her work-in-progress is the first in her Yesterday's Ladies historical novel series. 


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