How Long Does it Take to Write a Whodunit?
By Joyce T. Strand, Author
Landscape for Murder: A Brynn Bancroft Mystery
“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.”-Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903
As an author of whodunit mysteries, I am frequently asked, “How long does it take to write a book?”
I find it difficult to respond. Is my inquisitor asking how long does it take to actually sit down and write a first draft? Or should I include the months of research and feeble attempts to outline before I draft a single word?
Or, of utmost importance, what about the revision process? Are the months of editing to a third, fourth, and eventual final draft relevant to the count?
I wholeheartedly agree with Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, when he suggests that a completed first draft is just the beginning of the final output. Perhaps that means that neither of us composed detailed outlines before beginning our novels.
So, how long does it take to write a whodunit mystery?
Here’s my process and its timelines:
- Research: for current day mysteries: 1-3 months; for historical mysteries: 6-12 months
- Write first draft (90,000 words): 3-6 months
- Edit first draft (professional editor) for structural errors/inconsistencies: 2 months
- Edit second draft for copy to polish writing (professional editor): 2-3 months
- Edit third draft following beta readers’ input: 2-3 months
- Polish final draft: 1 month
- Proofread (professional proofreader): 2-3 weeks
- Format for e-book and print publication (professional): 1 month
- TOTAL: at least 18 months from beginning to end
Of course, there are ways to accelerate this schedule by researching, writing and editing a little faster or more intensely, or finding professional editors, proofreaders, or beta readers who can perform fast turnaround. Sometimes I can research more than one book at a time. But I find that it is difficult to write more than one at a time.
Regardless, it takes time to produce a satisfactory whodunit complete with an intriguing mystery puzzle laid out scene by scene, a credible and interesting amateur sleuth, red herrings, suspense, and a rousing conclusion that we hope our mystery aficionados have not guessed or had difficulty guessing.
All that and no typos, grammatical errors, or idiosyncrasies.
Of course, when we’ve completed the writing, chosen a cover, and sent it off to be launched, we still need to promote it. But that’s a whole other list.
However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoy each step of the process-especially the editing where I see my passive voice turned to active and my weak verbs turned to active—and am relieved that we caught a non-coffee drinker at a coffee shop drinking his most hated drink (by mistake.) In the end, I am thrilled to see the final book take form.
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