Agatha Christie-Inspired Advice for Authors

How Her Habits Can Help Writers

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie's career provides some great advice for authors. Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976) maintains her status as the world's best-selling author to this day and her habits have much to teach writers about both the craft and the career.

Here is some advice gleaned from the life and habits of Dame Agatha, along with some links to additional information to help you utilize that advice today.

Be a Good Observer

According to those who knew her, Christie “listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was seen," and she was reported had over 100 notebooks where she jotted details.

Those notebooks that have survived have been analyzed and, in the book Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, traced forward to the plots and characters they inspired and offer a glimpse into the process of a brilliant and prolific mystery book author.

In Christie's first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the character Hercule Poirot (who would go on to become one of the favorites) was inspired by the Belgian WWI refugees who settled in her hometown. Her second book was inspired by a conversation the writer overheard in a tea shop.

Whether it's the cadences of natural dialogue or the personality tics of a particular character, good writers draw from life and in order to do that, you have to observe.

Turn Your Dull Day Job Into an Asset

Christie reportedly started writing mysteries partly because she had a tedious volunteer job dispensing drugs for the Red Cross during WWI. During WWII, she again volunteered — this time, in a hospital pharmacy in London — and parlayed that gig into extensive research about poisons.

Get Feedback on Your Work

Even though she was an accomplished writer, Christie got feedback from others. According to her grandson, Michael Pritchard, she used to read her first drafts to the family after dinner, "one or two chapters at a time… I think we were used as her guinea pigs at that stage; to find out what the reaction of the general public would be."

It's always a good idea to get the opinions of others for your work, though you have to be careful who you ask and how. If you need some advice, here's how to get constructive feedback for your novel.

Understand Your Book Contract

Christie's first book was published by John of Bodley Head, who signed her next six books as well. Like many first-time authors, she later realized how unfair and exploitative the deal was. The truth is that most book publishing contracts favor the house.

If you want to fully understand your own first – or third - book contract and how that ties to payment, you can learn here about exactly what a book contract is, and read a description of the clauses of a book contract as well as about book advances and royalties

It's good to know, as well, that the Author's Guild launched a Fair Contract Initiative, to help tip the balance of the contract more towards equality and help the author see more of the profits. 

Get Yourself a Good Literary Agent

Eventually, Agatha Christie found a literary agent, Edmund Cork, of Hughes Massie. Cork who got her a new publisher — William Collins and Sons, which is now today is HarperCollins — who gave her a better book deal.

In today's world, too, it's best to have a literary agent represent you and your book to a publisher.

Learn what a literary agent does for an author and — if you're wondering how to go about securing representation, learn about these six steps to getting your own literary agent

Of course the publishing and book agenting business have changed a bit since Christie's day. For some insights, read about the publishing business from an established literary agency

Delegate Chores and Utilize Technology to Your Advantage

Though not rich most of her life, Agatha Christie managed to have household help and childcare – and she used a then-revolutionary Dictaphone to dictate her novels and had them transcribed by others.

Where can you delegate chores or use technology to help your writing along?

Keep Challenging Yourself as a Writer

At one point in her career, Christie needed a change of pace from the mystery novels for which she'd become famous, Christie wrote women's fiction under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott and also wrote stage plays.