That was the question asked by the agent behind the Mysterious Matters blog after attending one Malice Domestic Conference and being asked—probably for the thousandth time—how to get published, deciding that a better question was how to improve your writing. Toward that end, seven tips were offered up, to wit:
1. A good mystery writer thinks first and foremost about the reader's experience.
2. A good mystery writer balances character and plot.
3. A good mystery writer thinks about the future.
4. A good mystery writer listens to and synthesizes the advice of agents, editors, and readers
5. A good mystery writer takes him/herself seriously, but not too seriously.
6. A good mystery writer pushes and challenges him/herself.
7. A good mystery writer understands the competitive landscape
The annotations provided on the blog flesh out the skeletal list with meaty tidbits which you can read more about here.
But if that advice isn't helpful enough, on the Guide to Literary Agents Editors Blog once listed the top 10 reasons agents stop reading a manuscript and/or throw it across the room (this time in reverse order):
10. Overdone description that doesn’t move the story forward
9. Spoon-feeding the reader what the character is thinking
8. Having the characters address each other repeatedly by name, as in, "John, let’s go!"
7. Introducing a character with first and last name, as in, “John Smith entered the room.”
6. Beginning a story with dialogue
5. Opening with a cliché
4. Yanking the reader out of the action with backstory
3. Not giving the reader a sense of place or where the story is going
2. Characters are MIA until bottom of the second page
1. Telling instead of showing