...Interview Sarah Weinman About Crime Fiction and Publishing

FYI: I don't believe Sarah posed for the cover picture, but she did edit the anthology (and it's available in August).

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Chances are that if you’re involved in writing and/or publishing, particularly crime fiction, then you’ve read Sarah Weinman. A prolific reviewer, blogger, journalist and writer, Sarah has established herself as an authority on crime fiction through her work with almost any respectable publication you can come up with (the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, Salon, etc., as well as both Alfred Hitchcock’s and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazines), and has proven herself an outstanding writer of short fiction. If you’re starting to compare yourself to her and you're feeling bad about yourself, then just wait: Sarah is only in her early thirties. Really. What gives you a sense of accomplishment? Clearing out your DVR? Nice try.

I was lucky enough to interview Ms. Weinman for my blog, which gives me a sense of accomplishment. My DVR is way full.

What’s your favorite joke?

An oldie, but goodie, from my childhood: "Do you want to hear a dirty joke?" "OK." "The elephant fell in the mud."

Do you see your career staying in the same path – a mix of journalism, reviews, fiction and editing – or do you think you’ll eventually immerse yourself in one of those categories (and leave the others behind)?

Pragmatically, I'll probably always be doing a bunch of different things as I have many interests and get bored if I'm just on one thing, though I also focus well on one thing -- which sounds like a paradox, I know. I'm also not sure if it's possible to do "just one thing" the way the economy is right now. That said, the older I get the more concerned I am with producing fewer things of greater quality, and I hope those values are espoused by others, too. 

Do any of your pursuits lead to the detriment of your others?

Well, I've written less fiction in my thirties than I did in my twenties...but I think what I've produced more recently is better than what I wrote when I was younger, so that's the necessary tradeoff. I also review fewer books, but that was also a conscious choice. 

How do you think the changes in publishing have affected crime writing, or has there been much of a change?

I'm not sure what you mean -- in terms of what types of crime novels are being published, what sort of writing is valued more than others? But I'll try answering the question: the growing prevalance of ebook reading (even if it's nowhere near superseding print) favors page-turners and genre fiction, and a lot of the types of books that major publishers aren't touching like they once did -- i.e. clearly "category", appealing to mystery fans and only mystery fans -- have migrated to smaller presses or to being self-published, or published by Amazon imprints (Thomas & Mercer, their mystery/thriller imprint, have picked up a bunch of orphaned authors who did well self-publishing first.) Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL doing so amazingly well last year means we're going to see a lot of domestic-orienated psychological thrillers, largely from women, for the next while, which is fine by me. 

There has been much written about the demand for writers to become more and more prolific. Do you think producing more than a novel a year going to become the norm, or is it a trend that will eventually abate?

I'm still not sure if it's a real trend. Some writers are naturally prolific, others are not, and people have to work according to their internal rhythms. There's a reason John Banville takes a couple of months to write a Benjamin Black book and years to write a literary novel under his own name. It doesn't mean genre is "worse" than "literary", it just means the demands are different as John Banville approaches them. Other writers take years to write a crime novel and that's fine, too. Or John Updike producing a book a year. It's hard to generalize when writers are so individual and idiosyncratic in their working habits. 

Which novels, if any, would you have added to this year’s list of Edgar Awards (specifically in the categories of Best Novel and Best First Novel)?

Best Novel was very good -- probably because there are a record seven nominees this year -- but I would have loved seeing Attica Locke's THE CUTTING SEASON, Laura Lippman's AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, and Megan Abbott's DARE ME in the mix. As for Best First: Ariel S. Winter's THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH was so ambitious and audacious and yet clearly rooted in various hardboiled/noir traditions, so I wish that book had been nominated.

(Ed. Note: You can see my rundown of the Edgar-nominated Best Novels here.)

You’ve remarked before about the importance nowadays of literary agents. Why do you think, given the small press and self-publishing options available to writers, that an agent is necessary?

If anything, the sheer number of options available to writers is *exactly* why agents are critical. I'll use myself as an example. I am editing an anthology, working on magazine pieces, short stories, and hopefully, longer works of fiction and nonfiction. It's not just about getting those pieces out there, but making sure the contracts you sign aren't terrible and get negotiated more favorably; having someone be your advocate/sounding board with questionable cover art, or last-minute snafus, or production problems. What about foreign rights? Agents can help, or work with others who can sell those rights. What about other subsidiary rights, like audio, film/TV? What about figuring out which self-publishing tools are the right ones? What I can say is that agents are increasingly moving into total career management, which involves more work but which will pay off -- at least for those who are 100% invested in this sort of movement. 

What advice would you give to a writer hoping to enter the mystery or thriller fields?

Probably the same advice anyone gives: write a fantastic manuscript, the best you can possibly do, then revise it, and then be tenacious, persistent, but always professional. 

(Ed. Note: I dunno. Sounds really tough.)

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to talk with me. You can follow her on Twitter here and read her entertaining blog here.

And don't forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Because, really, what else do you have to do right now?


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