Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Well-Kept Secret: How to Win Money for Mystery Writing by Chris Roerden

Chris Roerden received the Agatha Award for DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, which also became a finalist for the Macavity and Anthony awards and a selection of the Writer's Digest Book Club. Its all-genre edition is DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION, winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Literary Criticism. Chris has worked in publishing 45 years, editing authors published by St. Martin's Press, Berkley Prime Crime, Perseverance Press, Midnight Ink, Viking, Rodale, Intrigue, Walker & Co., and many others. She leads workshops for writers throughout the US and Canada.

 by Chris Roerden

Every year, two mystery writers each win $500 to enroll in programs that teach writing. Every year, most mystery writers never even hear about these scholarships. Yet high school student chatrooms seem to pick up MWA’s announcement and go viral promoting it.

As a result, the inquiries received at our official mailbox,, are similar to this one: "The website says this award can be used to offset fees for writing programs and such. What if I will not be participating in writing workshops and seminars but just need money for school? Can I still apply?"

Gotta give the kid an A for Attempt. Anyone can apply, but these scholarships are specifically for serious mystery writers who want to improve their writing by taking specific courses or workshops. If the mystery interest isn’t evident from the materials submitted, as scholarship chair I must declare the application ineligible, and the applicant’s writing samples are never seen by the rest of our panel of judges.

Last year and this, I have the honor of chairing the McCloy-MWA Scholarship Committee. Before me, Erin Hart, author of False Mermaids, fulfilled that role for four years. I’ve learned from her example how broadly and kindly to apply the rules — for contests do have rules, even if, as I often say, there are no rules for writing, only expectations and preferences. But that’s another story.

According to the McCloy-MWA Scholarship rules, the mystery writing submitted can be in the form of a novel (only the first 3 chapters and a synopsis), or 3 short stories, or a script, or nonfiction. But it must be mystery-related.

When one prospective applicant inquired whether the mystery writing sample could cross genres, Erin pointed out that “some stories are hard to classify,” and went on to list a number of subgenres that mystery could include, such as thriller, whodunit, police procedural, private eye, true crime, romantic suspense, psychological, paranormal, literary, and traditional.

Then Erin added this good advice, which is what all of us involved in the development of good writers sincerely believe: “Write the best story you can, and if your writing is good that will show through, and we probably won't care about how to pigeonhole your work.”

What we do care about is making this scholarship well known so that more mystery writers will compete to win the cost of tuition for courses and workshops that will help them improve their writing. And with that plug for the annual scholarship — two scholarships, in fact; up to $500 each for two talented mystery writers — I urge everyone reading this to spread the word about this special opportunity.

Use Twitter, blogs, Facebook, your organization's newsletter, and other forms of communication to send more mystery writers to MWA’s website: And for anyone who's interested, a copy of Frequently Asked Questions can be found on my website (at least until I find a more suitable place for it): (click on the hand with the envelope).



jenny milchman said...

Interesting tip--and I was glad to read about the genre being open to more and more sub-genres within it. That's the direction I see the definition of "mystery" taking too, and I'm glad because it embraces both what I love to read and write!

Mason Canyon said...

This sounds like a great contest for mystery writers and those working forward that goal.

Thoughts in Progress

Anonymous said...

Thanks! --BrendaW.

Bobbi Mumm said...

Chris, I have your book, "Don't Murder Your Mystery", in my bookshelf. I believe it helped me in getting my first book to where it is now - being flogged around the streets of NY by my agent. Thank you!

Chris Roerden said...

Jenny, Mason, and Brenda:
And the contest has been around for YEARS! Now, with your help in spreading the word, the bonanza can reach more talent. Thank you,

Chris Roerden said...

Congratulations on getting your MS out there! And thank you for your good words about Don't Murder Your Mystery. If it takes a while for the right buyer to come along, don't get discouraged. Submissions CAN take a long time to pay off--and meanwhile you're writing your next MS! btw, having a MS circulating or stirring up interest is not a disqualifier, so consider the McCloy/MWA Scholarship as something you may want to go after, too!
Best wishes,

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Chris! I'll share this info with my students (who all love your book!)