Three Ways to Make Your Mystery Stand Out in the Crowd

Written by: Evan Marshall

The mystery novel has never been more popular than it is today. People love reading them . . . and writers love writing them. Editors are swamped with manuscripts and can afford to be extremely fussy as to what they take on. How can you make your mystery rise above the others and make an editor want to buy? Keep the following three vital points in mind.

Look for the Hook

In fiction, a hook is a way to promote a book through some aspect that has commercial appeal or provides publishers with a gimmick or “handle” that lends itself to publicity.

Your detective might have an occupation that is of high interest in the current culture, is especially timely, is interesting for its very obscurity, or is the same as that of the author. For instance, Patricia Cornwell’s series of mysteries featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta first became popular at a time when public interest in the world of medical examiners had been heightened by such nonfiction books as Coroner by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, L.A.’s coroner to the stars, not to mention the tremendous public fascination with true crime. That’s Ms. Cornwell’s hook.

For my first mystery series, I gave my amateur sleuth my own occupation—that of literary agent. This was my hook, something I could talk about in interviews. It was also something reviewers of my books often commented upon.

Hooks in fiction give publishers, booksellers, and the authors themselves a better chance to grab the attention of browsing book buyers.

Dig Into Your Characters

Today’s readers want richly textured characters, especially in the series detective. A clever puzzle for your mystery is important but not enough. We must know all of your major characters as people, just as we would know the characters in any well-written novel. For purposes of characterization, think of your book as a novel with mystery, not a mystery novel. Tell us about your characters’ pasts, their psychologies, their faults and weaknesses, their relationships to one another. Remember, it’s your characters who will bring your readers back for more.

Devise a Clever, Stunning Plot

Don’t settle for a plot device if you can recall seeing it in another book, in a movie, or on TV. Work hard to come up with something different. Granted, there are only so many ways to kill someone, but the canny mystery writer will give one of those ways a new twist. The same goes for motive. There’s no excuse for stale clich├ęs; your plotting is truly your own and should bear your distinctive fingerprint.

Keep these three points in mind as you craft your next mystery and you’ll have a decided edge in this highly competitive marketplace.

Visit for more writing tips and download Evan's 77-page Fiction Makeover Guide with tips and ideas on writing a great novel.

About The Author
Evan Marshall, president of The Evan Marshall Agency, is a former book editor and packager. Recently he and coauthor Martha Jewett released The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, based on his bestselling The Marshall Plan® writers' guides. Evan is also the author a number of popular mystery novels; recently released are Death is Disposable and Evil Justice. Visit and download Evan's 77-page Fiction Makeover Guide with tips and ideas on writing a great novel.


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