Write Me an Essay

NAOMI HIRAHARA

So you’re a writer with not much money rolling around in your pocket. You have no publisher-sponsored author tour and a limited advertising budget. So what do you do? Sulk? Gnash your teeth and wail? Rob a bank? Or maybe you do what you do best–write, and not only your next novel, but how about an author’s essay for one of the mystery periodicals out there?

I asked two of mystery’s best journal/magazine editors, Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers Journal and Kate Stine of Mystery Scene, about their submission policies. I’ve written for both of them, and can certainly vouch for their professionalism. (I’ll be posting my essays for them in the future.) Although you are not paid for an author’s essay, it is certainly worth the time to write them. Think of it as a free, effective and fun way to promote your latest book.

Mystery Readers Journal

Mystery Readers Journal and its related entity, Mystery Readers International, are labors of love for their Berkeley, California-based founder and director, Janet Rudolph. "Neither is my ‘real’ job," explains Janet, "but our motto is ‘Dedicated to Enriching the Lives of Mystery Readers.’ I think that’s what I’m accomplishing with the Journal, especially."

Mystery Readers International is the largest mystery fan/reader organization in the world and annually awards its Macavity Awards for the best in the mystery genre at the Bouchercon mystery convention. (Congrats to this year’s nominees, BTW!) Membership in the organization includes a subscription to Mystery Readers Journal, which released its first issue in 1985. Since that time, MRJ has consistently published three to six issues each year.

MRJ has about 1,500 subscribers and is also sold in most independent mystery bookstores. It goes to many libraries–both public and university–around the world. MRJ is theme-based, so you need to wait for a topic that is related to your book. The next two issues are on Academic Mysteries. (Deadline for submissions is October 15.) The themes for next year are The Ethnic Detective (a personal yay!) Historical Mysteries, and Scandinavian Mysteries.

In addition to interpretive articles, MRJ includes at least a dozen of author essays in its "Author! Author!" section. She gives this advice to writers thinking about submitting essays:

It’s great publicity for your novels. Mysteries must have been published by a recognized press but do not need to be still in print. Many of our subscribers use libraries and used bookstores/online booksellers. Be sure that in the essay you address the theme of the issue. It should be 500-2,000 words, first person, up close and personal, about yourself, your mysteries and the ‘theme’ connection. Think of it as chatting with readers and writers. Query letters are good, so I know what to expect and when.

Check the website, www.mysteryreaders.org, for writers’ guidelines. Themes are chosen from the suggestions of members and subscribers, so if you join Mystery Readers International, you can chime in on what you want to see in the yet-to-be-determined issues for 2008. And if you want to submit an essay for the Spring 2007 Ethnic Detective issue, the deadline is January 15, 2007.

When asked about what she enjoys about putting the issues together, Janet says:

I love the Author! Author! section because I believe it’s unique. I enjoy soliciting articles and ‘meeting’ the authors via email and snail-mail. Their contributions make the Journal what it is. That being said, I also enjoy the reviews and articles and ‘meeting’ with those contributors at well. Mystery Readers Journal is a collaborative endeavor. I love the mystery community. Everyone is so supportive.

Janet Rudolph

Mystery Readers International

P.O. Box 8116

Berkeley, CA 94707

janet@mysteryreaders.org

Mystery Scene

Also established in 1985, Mystery Scene comes out five times a year. Co-published by Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, the magazine boasts a circulation of 12,000, spilt fairly evenly between subscribers and newsstand sales. Based on some demographic research, 60% are female, 74% are between the ages of 40-65, and 75% buy 11 or more crime books a year. Thirty-five percent buy at least 31 per year, and a whopping 20% buy 51 or more crime books per year. So we are talking about hard-core fans here.

Mystery Scene is also offered in 190 libraries, mainly public libraries but some college and universities as well.

The magazine has a regular New Books section where authors can write a brief essay about the inside story about their upcoming book. Usually interesting photos–not your standard author photo or book cover–accompany the pieces.

I recently asked Kate, who is also the magazine’s editor, more information about the New Books section:

Do you receive an inordinate number of submissions for this column?

In the past, we’ve tried to publish all the essays we got which often meant a lot of editorial work for me. Competition for space and my time is increasing, though, so we’re starting to reject more pieces.

Do you prefer that authors query you first or do you prefer authors send completed essays to you?

I’d prefer that writers send in essays. We’re interested in seeing essays from all sorts of writers at all stages of their careers. (The only exception is true crime, which we generally don’t cover in Mystery Scene.) The key point is the quality of the essay, not the fame of the writer.

Writers should understand, though, that if they don’t read and follow the editorial guidelines chances are their work won’t be accepted or, in some cases, even read. These guidelines are posted at our website, www.mysteryscenemag.com.

It’s also important to keep in mind that these are NEW Books essays. We can’t publish an essay about a book that’s more than a month or two older than the issue’s pub date. It’s best to send an essay to us three or four months before the book pub date.

How can authors make their submissions more interesting and attractive (tone, photos, etc.)? What mistakes do authors often make?

Interestingly enough, the most common mistake is talking too much about the book itself because it invariably comes off sounding like catalog copy.

These essays are meant to entertain and intrigue potential readers, so be creative. Some examples: real-life inspirations for plot and characters; unusual research; issues raised in the book and why they were of interest to you; the story’s locale or time period. Humor is good, detailed plot summaries are not.

Reading some good essays beforehand will give you pointers. Good nonfiction writing is an art not something a novelist knocks off in 20 minutes. And it’s very important to be familiar with the magazine so you can properly target our readership. Unless you’ve read Mystery Scene within the past year or two, you’re not familiar with it.

Providing us with interesting photos and illustrative material is a huge plus. Check out some back issues and look for Twist Phelan’s essays. She’s funny, she tells great stories–and her photos kick butt.

Mystery Scene has published some outstanding New Books essays over the past four years and this section of the magazine is quite popular. It’s definitely a great place for writers to get in front of an enthusiastic book reading (and buying) audience.

Kate Stine

Mystery Scene Magazine

331 W. 57th St., Ste. 148

New York, NY 10019-3101

(212) 765-7124

katestine@mysteryscenemag.com

It would also be nice to support these magazines and others like Mystery News by subscribing to them. I know that writers’ budgets are stretched–I know that firsthand–and that everything is tugging at our wallets. But if and when that extra check comes in, consider subscribing to one of these fine mystery periodicals.

And, in the meantime, write those essays! And if you have any tips regarding writing and contributing author essays, please note them in the comments section.

WEDNESDAY’S WORD: meishi (SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, page 18)Meishiire2

Business card. In Japan you always present your meishi with two hands and a slight bow. I suspect all Bouchercon attendees are making sure that they have their meishi in hand!

10 thoughts on “Write Me an Essay

  1. Iden Ford

    I agree Naomi, Mystery publications have always been very kind to my wife and have been responsible to getting her Murdoch series into the hands of many readers. In fact they did a wonderful piece on cool Canadian Crime recently.

    Reply
  2. Naomi

    Iden–

    I’m really looking forward to your Bouchercon photos. They will be posted here on October 4, so everyone come visit and take a look.

    J.B.–

    So glad this post was an encouragement to you. Sometimes authors forget that they can submit essays to different outlets–mystery as well as their local paper’s opinion section, etc.

    Reply
  3. Elaine

    I only tried sending in an essay once – a couple of years ago to Mystery Scene Magazine – and I damn near fainted when it was published.

    Haven’t tried it since. I’m essay challenged. I wish I could think of something interesting (that hasn’t already been addressed) – but alas – I guess I’m just not that creative.

    Reply
  4. Naomi

    Elaine–

    On the Bubble isn’t creative? Evil E, I beg to differ.

    But I understand what you’re saying. Essay writing isn’t for everyone. When I worked at the newspaper, we all had to submit regular essays. Just like anything else, you began to intuitively understand the craft as you write and produce. I don’t think the point is to find something that hasn’t been addressed; it’s to infuse your unique voice in an essay. And my ole mighty, you definitely have a unique one!

    Reply
  5. Pari

    Naomi,This is a great post. I’m going to go to 4MA and mention it because it’s so chock full of info.

    As always, thank you for writing this.

    BTW: Mystery Scene did publish one of my pieces and when SOCORRO gets closer to pub. date, I’ll definitely send one about what made me write that book.

    I’ve just been waiting for an appropriate theme for MRJ.

    Reply
  6. Pari

    Um, correction:

    I meant to type: MMA (Murder must advertise) which is a listserv for mystery authors who are interested in marketing.

    4MA (For Mystery Addicts) is a great listserv for mystery lovers who like their books a bit harder core.

    Reply
  7. Naomi

    Pari-san–

    I already sent a notice to MMA; I’m sure something will be forwarded shortly to everyone.

    And how about an essay about Sasha Solomon for the Ethnic Detective issue? A nonorthodox Jewish female amateur sleuth in New Mexico? Sounds interesting!

    Reply
  8. Elaine

    Evil E is blushing. Thank you Naomi. But, uh..it ain’t me…it’s my guests who inspire.

    I almost jumped into one of Mystery Readers themes-it was about art-a couple of years ago. Somehow I blew it and forgot. If it ever comes up again-I’ll check it out with you first so I don’t make an ass of myself.

    Reply

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