Sisters In Crime

May 7, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Terry Ambrose

The pedigree of Sisters in Crime reads like a Who’s Who of mystery writing. The organization owes its roots to women writers known to most mystery fans, including Sara Paretsky, Dorothy Salisbury and Phyllis Whitney. The organization grew from a few outspoken female upstarts to become a force capable of influencing change in the mystery-publishing industry.sisters

Everything began in March 1986, when a group of women mystery writers assembled at Hunter College for the first Women in Mystery conference. At the conference, Sara Paretsky spoke about graphic sadism against women in mysteries.

Her comments caused enormous criticism in the industry and, for the first time, women began to feel as though someone was listening. Sara Paretsky later said, “Women began calling me from all over the country with their personal histories of treatment/mistreatment.”


Sara Paretsky

In October 1986, just over six months after the Women in Mystery conference, another meeting at Bouchercon stirred more unrest. This time, the issue concerned how women were not receiving their proportional share of review opportunities or major-award considerations. By the time Edgars week rolled around in Spring 1987, the unrest had grown even stronger. This time, a new organization was created with the name Sisters in Crime.

The mission statement at the time read: “Sisters in Crime is committed to helping women who write, review, buy, or sell crime fiction. Our ultimate goal is to become a service organization to address issues of concern to everyone involved in the mystery field.” Today, the mission has been simplified to read: Promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.

Thirty years after those first women spoke out, the landscape of the mystery-writing field has changed dramatically. Gone are many of the smaller publishing houses; only a few industry conglomerates remain. Gone are the days of the “gatekeepers,” those agents and publishers being the sole path to publication. Instead, Amazon has turned the industry on its head.

So, how does Sisters in Crime stay relevant in an era when there are multiple and varied roads to publication? When many men feel just as left out as those women did prior to 1986? Here are just three examples.

Sisters in Crime offers a variety of seminars and classes. A current example is the “Adapting to Hollywood” conference sponsored by Sisters in Crime and the Los Angeles Chapter. The conference provides authors with an opportunity to connect with producers who are interested in finding new movie material.

Local chapters provide the opportunity for both male and female mystery readers and writers to discuss their favorites, refine their skills and find new writers. Some of the chapters have found themselves under pressure as online communications replaced traditional in-person meetings. For instance, in San Diego, the local chapter, which had at one time been very robust, disbanded several years ago when its membership fell to just six active members. Recently, however, San Diego has been seeing a resurgence of interest and a new chapter may be in the works.

Online networking:
For those who prefer online communications or who want to supplement their in-person meetings, Sisters in Crime also has an online group known as the Guppies (The Great Unpublished). Aspiring mystery writers are encouraged to join this group to learn more about the industry, to make connections and support each other. In reality, many Guppies are published, well-known mystery writers who never dropped their membership in the group after “making it.” Many of them enjoy helping new writers learn the ropes.

Staying relevant in a new world:


Leslie Budewitz

The publishing industry is under constant pressure to change, which makes staying relevant a difficult task for organizations such as Sisters in Crime. Current President, Leslie Budewitz is an attorney who has already communicated with members the organization’s support for the Fair Contract Initiative. This time, Sisters in Crime is not the upstart, but one of many organizations standing up to publishers and asking them to implement more fair terms for authors in their contracts. It is through its efforts to monitor the state of the industry that Sisters in

Crime has been able to adapt and remain a great resource for writers, whether they be men or women. Learn more about Sisters in Crime on their website at

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.


Terry Ambrose is a former bill collector and skip tracer who now uses that background to write mysteries and thrillers. His debut mystery Photo Finish was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist. You can learn more about Terry on his website.


  1. That is neat to know. I had wondered just what Sisters in Crime was. You guys are doing a great job

  2. Great piece on the organization. I will be sharing it with the Posse.

  3. Great article! Sisters in Crime provided me with a community where I can learn and grow and support others as well.


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