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August 9th- Topic Pending (speaker Sylvia Weiss Sinclair)

September 13th- The Evolution of Genres (speaker Ken Pelham)

October 11th- Topic Pending (speaker Sharon Belcastro)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Don't Murder Your Mystery, Don't Sabotage Your Submission

Roerden, Chris. Don’t Murder Your Mystery. Bella Rosa Books, 2006. Don’t Sabotage Your Submission. Bella Rosa Books, 2008.

This month, I look at two editions of the same book. Don’t Murder Your Mystery won the Agatha Award for best nonfiction book of 2006 and has been a finalist for the Macavity Award, the Anthony Award, and, under its new title, Don't Sabotage Your Submission was a finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year award. Writing professors use these books in their classrooms. Award-winning authors swear by Ms. Roerden’s advice. Best-seller Charlaine Harris recommends them. With credentials and kudos like those, I almost don’t need to write a review at all.

Why the two titles? Don’t Murder Your Mystery was written specifically for mystery authors, and its sample passages are drawn from mystery novels. Roerden broadened her focus when she updated the book; passages are now drawn from a variety of genres including mystery, romance, and thrillers. The changed focus demanded a new title. Because Sabotage is essentially a new edition of Murder, this review treats them as the same book.

The book is divided into ten “Parts," which are further divided into chapters. Part One covers the various players in the writing business—screeners (those who read your manuscript before it ever gets to an editor or agent), agents, publishers—and you, the writer. Roerden discusses motivations for each—what makes a screener stop reading, what forces drive the decisions of agents and editors, and why writers write. Part Two introduces the art of self-editing. The remaining eight Parts cover various categories of manuscript problems. Roerden explains how “First Offenders” like bad opening hooks and tension-killing prologues can strangle your story in it opening pages. “Killing Time” covers errors in pacing, and so on.

In each chapter, Roerden provides a diagnosis of a specific problem and suggestions for how to correct it. Over 200 examples from published novels illustrate effective use of the techniques she teaches. To make the examples clearer, she frequently takes a good passage and makes it bad, then discusses exactly why her version is worse than the original.

I found the book to be incredibly painful to read. Not because Roerden’s writing is anything but readable, not because the examples are anything but illuminating, but because as I read each chapter, I discovered new reasons why agents reject my manuscript after a partial read. With the exception of the chapter on Prologues and the one on shifting point of view, there wasn’t a mistake that I hadn’t made. The good news, of course, is that all of these mistakes can be corrected and thanks to Chris Roerden, now I know how to do it.

Whether you have written a mystery, a romance, or some other genre, or a literary novel, Chris Roerden’s book can help you improve a lackluster manuscript into something that will catch the eye of agents and editors.

1 comment:

The Cyber Guy said...

That book sounds really good, Sam. I'll see Charlaine Harris at the end of this month at Anhinga's Writers Workshop. I'm looking forward to it, and will prepare to add this book to my library soon.