Friday, December 7, 2012

Giving Readers a Bonus with Maps and Lists

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

After a lively discussion on the DorothyL mystery list-serve, I decided to add a map and a list of characters to my Detective Jackson books. One person in the discussion said she would “never read a book” that included a list of characters, but so many others supported the idea that I knew I wanted to provide the information. Fortunately, my new publisher (Thomas & Mercer) was willing.

In today’s world of content marketing, interactive media, and bonus features, giving readers a little something extra seems like a good idea.

We placed the character list in the back of the books, so it’s there for people who want the reference, but it’s not up front where the connections might possibly spoil some of the surprises. And I was careful not to include descriptive phrases such as “sister of the killer” so the list shouldn’t be a spoiler even if readers see it first.

The map is just a bonus for people who like a visual orientation. We placed it in front, and it only includes a small portion of central Eugene. But at least readers will be able see where the police department is in relationship to the jail and the university, for example.

But including the map created a few questions and issues.
  • Do you differentiate between real places and fictional places? What if your fictional hospital is located in the same place as a real hospital? (I told the proofreader to let it go, it’s a fictional map, not a real one.)
  • What if the police department relocates, as ours has? Do you include both locations or just make a new map for later books when you finally start writing about the new address? I haven’t dealt with this issue yet, but in the next book I have to.
  • What if the important places in each story—such as where the crime happened or the body was found—don’t show up on the map at all? A small map can only include so much information, and often the crimes occur outside central Eugene so I decided to leave these off. We’re using the same map for each book, so it has to be fairly generic.
The character lists, however, are unique to each novel and include both recurring characters and new characters that appear in that story only. Some character descriptions may change over the course of eight novels, but noting those changes will only help readers follow the character development.

What do you think? Are maps and character lists helpful? And does the medium—print or ebook—make a difference? What else should I include?

PS: If you haven't tried the series, I'm giving away the first book, The Sex Club, on Amazon today and tomorrow.


  1. I appreciate maps because I'm a visual person. Character lists? Pretty much only when there is a huge cast of characters to try and keep straight, or a minor character who makes random appearances and the author doesn't remind me who he/she is.

    Print vs. ebook… hmmm. I have to say that I can't see myself going back and forth to a map using an ereader. However, if there was an unobtrusive link at the bottom of each page, I might.

  2. I think adding both maps and a character list is a good idea. I'd put the map at the front and a character list at the end, and readers can refer to it or not, as they wish. To me, both would be added value to either a print book or an e-book, and I can't see any negatives to it. Those who don't want to look at them can ignore them.

  3. Love maps. Character Lists are good for the times I misplace a character in my mind and need a reminder of who they are and where they fit.

    A map and list in both mediums is fine with me. I know I would refer to the map if I wasn't familiar with the area.

  4. I loooove maps. And schematics. Or blue prints.

    Character lists not so much. Placed at the beginning reminds me of a playbill where you see who's playing which character. So I prefer to see it in the back, for fun. Then again, in books like "100 years of solitude" the cast list is a necessity.

    Anyway, I'm a bit trivia nerd so those bits make my day every so often.

  5. I love the map idea, L.J. I'm a visual learner, so for me, this might help me relate to the story better. I also think it would bring a reader closer into the story and lend a degree of believability to it.

    A character list is also a great idea. Since it's in the back of the book, those who don't want it don't have to read it. But really, like you said, it's a bonus, and I think readers enjoy those.

  6. Hi L.J.,

    THANKS for including maps and character lists! The difficulty with putting the lists at the end of the book is that it will stump all the eReaders which know how far you've read through the book.

    For ebooks I think you could add a number of features which would be good "reference points" for readers.


  7. Thanks, all, for commenting. I'm feeling pretty good about the decision. I hope it works as well in the ebook as it does in the print edition.

  8. When you think of it, why wouldn't same tools you use while writing the book, be useful to those reading it? I think these additions are a good idea.

  9. I've always liked both features.
    I get so frustrated reading books with many, many characters or characters with similar names! Lack of character lists is something I bemoan quite often in my reviews.

    I'm not as fussy about maps, but I do like it when they're included.

    I may have to download THE SEX CLUB, even though I've read it, just to check out the new features.

  10. Marlyn, I appreciate the support, but the new features will be in the new versions, which release on Jan. 15.

  11. Cool idea, LJ. I agree with Richard. It would be equally helpful when writing the novel. Maybe even more so, haha! I always make a character list and have an idea of places, but can never locate it when I need it. I guess I need to get better organized. My desk at school has lots of piles, too :))

  12. I like your choices. Those publishing e-books should remember that downloaded reading samples almost always start from the first page. If you load up the 10 or 15% with titles and lists and so on, the reader gets a lot less to sample. I've seen e-books in which there was so much stuff at the beginning I only got page one to actually read.

  13. I got a print book not long ago with a character list in front. It was broken down into families--and there were at least 5 or 6 members of each one. It really put me off as I dreaded having to deal with all those similar names, and the thought of constantly checking to see who was who would have interrupted the read. Frankly, I think the issue was more about so many names that were alike than the fact they were listed...and had I continued reading the book (I gave up after 3 chapter, and not because of the names, just because I couldn't get into the characters or believe the police work), I probably would have appreciated the list, but would have appreciated more diverse character names instead.

  14. The paper version of each of my four books already includes a map at the front. I hadn't included the map in the electronic version because I was concerned about the resolution on a variety of reader devices. Let's face it, a graphic created from a historical map with a historical-looking font will become a featureless smear in a small screen. L.J., how have you addressed resolution?

    The next version of my current books, due out in 2013 before the release of my fifth book, will include character lists in the back. I'd been on the fence about including a character list; then a reviewer gave one of my books a 3-star review because s/he needed a character list. I hear ya, I hear ya. :-/

  15. I like maps and lists. Thanks for adding. I am not saying every book needs them, but if the writer needs a schematic to keep everything straight then why not the reader.

  16. Suzanne, Thomas & Mercer is releasing the books, so I have to leave the resolution issues to them. But we only included a small piece of the core of Eugene, where main sites (police department, jail, hospital) are located.


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