I had the pleasure of attending a presentation on forensics and plotting for writers by Elaine Viets recently. Here’s what I learned from her:
Writing is a business.
Know your competition. Read others’ works.
Know your genre/subgenre. Do you write thrillers, cozies, police procedurals, etc.? Know where your book fits.
Look at the major mystery awards and see who is nominated in “Best New First Novel.” Read them.
Make sure that you do your research first before you start writing. Facts do matter.
Decide up front on what point of view you’re going to use (e.g. first, third, omniscient). Third person tends to be more popular in mysteries.
Avoid writing in multiple point of views.
Decide if you’re writing a stand-alone or a series. If you’re doing a series, don’t kill off characters that you’ll need later.
Everything in your novel should move the plot forward. If it doesn’t, cut it.
Proofread your work. Don’t submit anything with grammatical errors or typos.
If you write about an amateur sleuth, make sure that she has a solid reason for solving the crime. It shouldn’t be because the police are bumbling.
You need to think about what makes your book different from all the others out there.
Something has to happen in the first chapter. You need action. Don’t talk about the setting or the weather.
Make sure that your plot keeps moving in the middle of the book. You don’t want a saggy middle.
Readers like plot twists and surprises.
Don’t include a scene unless it tells the reader about the character or moves the story forward.