Everyone Loves a Mystery

Almost everyone loves a good mystery. The mystery writer must craft a plausible, intricate plot that captivates the reader’s imagination and holds his interest until the mystery is solved. Mystery writers normally do not receive a salary, but rather royalties based upon book sales. Writing a mystery novel that is selected for publication and becomes a best seller is a daunting task. Salaried Writer Income

The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the medium annual wage for salaried writers and authors as of May 2008 was $53,070. The middle 50 percent earned between $38,150 and $75,060. The lowest 10 percent earned $28,0200 or less. Those in the top 10 percent earned $106,630 or more. Salaried mystery writers may write for monthly magazines or write scripts for radio or television productions.

Freelance Writer Income

For the majority of mystery writers, writing is a second career. Freelance mystery writers earn income from short stories, articles, film scripts and books. Freelance mystery writers typically write submissions for multiple publishers. They may have a specific assignment or write a story they submit to several publications for acceptance or rejection.

Unpublished mystery writers submit their articles and stories strictly on speculation. If they are accepted, the writer receives the publisher’s posted rate of compensation. The publisher may pay based on the number of words. Payment may vary from $.03 to $.35 a word. Some publishers pay for a set number of words, depending on the assignment. Mystery writers may receive from $15 to $1,500 per article or story. The internet is flooded with a diverse array of job boards for freelance writers, including mystery writers. Compensation varies by employer.

Job Description

Mystery writers and authors develop original written material for books, magazines, plays, television and movie scripts. A mystery writer may be assigned a story line by editors or publishers or may propose their own plot line. Mystery writers may write “true-crime” stories or an intriguing fiction story woven from memories, personal observation, research and their own creative imagination. Many mystery writers, rely on their own personal experiences and knowledge of a particular geographical location, to add authenticity to a fictional plot. Mystery writers gather research material, organize their creative notes and use the written word to express story lines. With the assistance of a helpful editor, they make corrections and revise or rewrite segments of their story to obtain the correct phrasing.

Mystery writers, like all writers, love to write. They enjoy articulate expression of their thoughts and ideas. A writer should be curious, creative, motivated and able to “weave words” in a manner that entertains, informs and involves the reader. A mystery writer should have excellent communications skills, both written and oral and be detail orientated. Income of a mystery writer is dependent on the quality of their work.


Book royalties are fairly simple. Previously published mystery writers may receive an advance from the publisher upon acceptance of their book for publication. An advance is a prepayment amount of royalties. If an author’s book sells enough copies, the author “earns out” the advance. As the book continues to sell, authors receive twice-yearly payments based on book sales. Yearly payments continue as long as the book remains in print. Authors who have previously had a best-selling book may receive an advance in the amount of $10,000 to $50,000. Advance payments are dependent on the publishers estimate of the first year’s royalties. The amount is based, in part, on the publisher’s prior relationship with the author and the amount of previous book sales. Authors typically receive 10 to 15 percent of the list price of hardback books and 6 to 8 percent for mass-market paperbacks. Most publishers pay a 4 percent royalty on foreign sales.

When publishing a book, the publishing company is taking a gamble. A new author may shoot to the top of the best seller list, or sales may slowly build over a period of months or years. Much of the success of a book’s sales is dependent on the promotional efforts of the publisher and the buying trends of the reading public. Dan Brown, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark and Dean Koontz are some of America’s most popular mystery writers.

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