I obtained this book about 20 years ago when I was helping a friend start a mystery review site. My copy is an uncorrected proof, distributed by the publisher. I know none of the editors of the book nor any of the authors whose works are included.
If I were a dedicated mystery reader, I would definitely want a copy of this, even though it's almost 20 years old. There's a great deal of very interesting background information on women in mystery/crime fiction, as writers as well as characters, and in the later parts of the book as publishers and booksellers as well.
But even making allowances for the fact that this was published in 1997, I had to take off points for weaknesses, some of which I'm mentioned in my updates.
Although the history of women as mystery writers was sketched, I felt there could have been a little more meat to it. An updated edition, of course, would have noted that many of those 19th century novels are now available in free digitized editions, but I couldn't hold that against the original.
Some of the interviews were excellent, but many were pedestrian and downright boring. They read as if the authors were interviewed by fifth graders.
Although the book is primarily targeted for readers of mysteries, much of the information was valuable for writers as well. In some of the interviews the authors discussed how they became writers -- several began as journalists -- and how they created their characters. There was little discussion, however, of the processes between "the end" and publication -- the long slog of submitting to agents and editors, of dealing with editors and publicity and marketing departments, or even of cover art.
The fun, personal insights of the very first manuscript were delightful. There should have been more.
So by the time I got to the last few pages, I had pretty much decided on a 3-star rating for this, in terms of its value for today's reader rather than the reader of 1997.
Marlys Millhiser's essay on self-promotion was one of the best, and I'm glad it was also one of the last. I had reached the point where I was just going to skim the last 50 or so pages of the book but was forcing myself to read conscientiously, when I came to hers. In some respects, it salvaged the rest of the book for me.
Millhiser points out that much of the publicity an author does -- and often pays for -- is less about promoting the book in hand than it is about impressing the publicity department of the publisher "who is more interested in pushing bigger names than yours." Hmmm. . . . .
"Makes you wonder if soon only the wealthy will be able to hold onto publishing contracts, and if book proposals will come to include a separate page stating how much authors propose to spend on their own publicity campaigns."
Where have we heard that before?
I realized then that the book contained really very little from the publishing industry, although there would be another article toward the very end by Barbara Peters, who operated both a specialized mystery book store and a niche press. And so it was almost surprising that Millhiser dared to and/or was allowed to say anything negative about the traditional publishing industry. One of the anecdotes she shared was of an author who didn't know his book had gone into second and third printings but still had not earned out its advance five years after initial publication.
On that interview alone, I bumped the rating up half a star.