Friday, March 29, 2013

Keep the Amazon Criticism Real

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

I normally don't argue with anyone online. One, I don't have time, and two, I want everyone to like me. But last night I spent an hour countering some authors who were freaking out about Amazon buying Goodreads.

If they had posted rational, thoughtful ideas about why it might be a bad idea for Amazon to own all three of the book-related (book review) social media sites, I might have even agreed with them. However, they were throwing around the word monopoly and trashing Amazon as evil, so I felt compelled to respond.

First, Goodreads isn't a retail store, so monopoly isn't an issue. Second, all those authors sell their books on Amazon, and I would bet they make a good chunk of their income from Amazon sales, even if they're traditionally published. If they really hate Amazon, they should pull their books down from the retailer and never sign with a publisher that does business with Amazon. Back up your beliefs with your actions and money!

More important, any of the big players in the publishing marketplace (Penguin, Books-a-Million, Ingram) could have bought Goodreads. But they didn't. And Goodreads could have said no. But they didn't. If you want to be mad, why not focus your anger on the founders who sold out?

Amazon is a successful business because it makes smart moves. It also wants to connect readers with the right books. Honestly, it's the most customer-centric business I've ever encountered. When I talk with the people at Amazon Publishing, they discuss everything in terms of "the customer experience" and how they want every customer to have a good experience. It's embedded in the company culture.

What do I think will happen to Goodreads? Amazon will improve the interface and make it considerably easier to use. They'll create a way to use the site from Kindle, which will make book cataloging and reviewing easier. They'll make author pages better so I can update my books to show the new covers. For inside scoop, here's an interview with people from both companies.

Will the B&N buy buttons eventually go away? Probably. But B&N is already circling the drain… because they waited way too long to get into the e-reader business and overinvested in expensive retail space. Maybe B&N should have bought Goodreads long ago and eliminated Amazon's buy buttons. I'm sure everyone in publishing would have cheered.

PS: And this morning, Shelf Awareness writes: "In one fell swoop, Amazon, whose algorithms for recommending books have shown limited effectiveness, now owns one of the major tools built to address the problem [of discoverability] it created."

I call bullshit. Amazon did not create the problem of authors failing to get discovered. There just weren't enough bookshelves to stock and display the growing number of authors. And yes, the growth of e-readers shrank print book sales and the number of bookstores. But don't blame Amazon for creating a product readers love! Further, Amazon, with its infinite "book display" space and supportive algorithms, has successfully corrected the problem of discoverability for most authors. As I said, keep the criticism real.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I went to LCC and all I got was...

By Gayle Carline
Author of Mysteries and Humor - and sometimes together!

I just got home from Left Coast Crime, so perhaps my brain is all muddled from the trip, but dammit, I owe you all a column, and you're going to get it.

LCC was in Sacramento last year. Sacramento is not that horrible of a drive for me, so I went for the first time and had a blast. I met lots of readers, sat on my first panel, and made new friends, including the very funny Elle Lothlorien, who I now trade jokes with on Facebook daily. Maybe hourly.

While in Sacramento, I saw the ads for LCC in Colorado Springs in 2013 and thought, "Um, no. Too far away. Too expensive. Plane trip. No."

Then I released The Hot Mess and realized I needed to go. I may be a legend in my own mind but I need to meet more readers who love quirky characters trying to solve puzzling crimes. (By the way, I've searched the internet looking for these people. Turns out Google and Bing aren't as helpful as they advertise.)

So I checked The Weather Channel a gazillion times, packed a bunch of clothes, crossed my fingers and boarded a plane. How was this convention?

Does this answer your question?

Actually, I met some lovely readers and writers. I got to spend time with most of my Crime Fiction Collective pals, some of whom I had never seen face-to-face. I had met everyone previously except for Jodie Renner and Peg Brantley. Peg and I found ourselves hanging out in the bar and getting to know each other, which was great fun.

Our Crime Fiction Collective panel, Truth is more Violent than Fiction - Or is it?

Me and Michele - she's the cute one.
I also got to spend some quality time with author Michele Scott, who is a good friend of mine. She lives in San Diego, I live in Placentia (about an hour apart), but we had to go to Colorado to meet up. Not many people will put up with us, because within two sentences of meeting, we start talking about our horses. Michele and I both have horse books coming out in late spring, so we made plans for cross-promotion.

Some other highlights for me:

1. I got to audition to be Drew's assistant (as in, Mr. Andrew E. Kaufman). If it wasn't for the hour-and-a-half commute and the fact that I'm already up to my tush in projects, I'd have the job. Totally.

2. Marlyn Beebe (pronounced Bee-Bee, BTW) is going to take me to see her mother-in-law, who owns and operates a lingerie store I've been dying to visit - The Wizard of Bras. Finally! A bra that fits me!

3. The organizers tried out a thing called "Blogs Around the Campfire" where a writer would spend 30 minutes in a small meeting room and people could come in and talk to them about anything. It was mostly a bust, but during my session, I met another author and we discussed ebook marketing. She had a lot of great ideas that I'm going to try out.

4. I met Brad Parks, who won the Lefty Award this year (most humorous mystery) and captured this little gem:

Okay, you know this is a player piano, right? But he does sell it.

5. I drank too much wine on Saturday night, if you define "too much wine" as volunteering to go to the LCC board meeting on Sunday morning (7:30, oy vey!) and agree to submit a bid to host LCC in San Diego in 2016 or 2017. All I meant to do (really!) was to tell them if we had the convention in, say, San Diego, I could write to Dean Koontz and see if he still does this sort of thing and would he come down for the day and be our special guest? By the time I left the room, I had agreed to something completely different.

Oh, well... bring it on.

6. I got to snuggle up in my room on Sunday night, order room service (a buffalo Reuben with sweet potato fries, and salty caramel cheesecake - yum), and watch the snow fall outside. My only regret was that I didn't bring my laptop, and I was in the mood to write. I read instead.

7. I got to spend time with my other good buds, LJ Sellers and Tee Burrell. LJ's up in Eugene, Oregon so I usually only see her at conventions, but Tee is about half-an-hour from me, so we have no excuse.

Usually, I like to end this post with a question, but I'm feeling a little wintry, even if it is officially Spring.

Okay, maybe I do want some answers: What conventions/conferences do you like to attend? Why?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inside the Nick

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries & psychological thrillers

Definition: The nick is British slang for a prison or police station.

In this case it's the Thames Valley Police station in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. I recently spent a couple of hours inside the nick here, with a bit of it inside a cell. To date, it's the longest amount of time I've ever been inside.

While writing STONE COLD, my first thriller set in the UK, I wanted to know what it's like inside. Apart from accuracy with the procedural stuff, I wanted to get a feel for the sights, sounds, and smells. I also wanted to understand it from a prisoner perspective and know how they might feel after arrest and while they await their fate, so on a sunny Thursday in March, Sgt. Antony Maddison met me at the police station and escorted me in to find out.

First, we did the civvy bit where I went through the smart reception area to sign in at the front desk as a visitor. With a focus on murder suspects, he took through to the communal rest area and explained the booking procedure, the circumstances and requirements surrounding custody without charge, and the process for extending a detention. We discussed legal representation, the court process, bail and the numerous conditions upon which it might be granted. Regarding a murder suspect, I learned only the judge has the power to grant bail after the prisoner has appeared in court.

Sgt. Maddison and his colleague, Nick, explained in detail the system for booking a suspect. They showed me the process and equipment for fingerprinting, photographing the suspect and taking DNA, and ran through the police national computer database used to store arrest records. There was so much valuable information, I couldn't make my notes fast enough.

Sgt. Maddison then led me round the back of the station and gave me the treatment reserved for prisoners. A stark difference.

As I re-entered the station, this time via the custody entrance used for suspects, the day suddenly felt a lot colder. I was not in handcuffs and I knew I would not be searched, yet I could imagine the sense of panic for a prisoner who would face this in a real situation.

As we went "into custody"the outer door clanged shut behind me and sealed off my "freedom." I found myself first in a holding area, where a SmartWater security search was discussed, then I was led into a search room. In a real situation, depending on the offense, a prisoner might be asked to undress in here, given a custody suit to wear while their clothes are seized for analysis. It started to feel a bit more real.

Prisoners are booked into the system and go through a documentation process, whereby prints, DNA and name are entered into the computer and sent off for a match. Results take minutes. In the custody block, the circumstances of the arrest are noted and a risk assessment for each prisoner is conducted. Prisoners are made aware of their rights and entitlements. If necessary, drug testing may be carried out.

After the booking, the prisoner is taken to the cells. What a grim place. I stepped inside one of them and Sgt. Maddison clanged the door shut behind me. The sound reverberated and the immediate sense of isolation set in. I pictured images from Escape From Alcatraz, except there was no way of tunneling out of this cell. With a window I couldn't reach or see out of even if I could reach it, I had nothing but four blank walls, a stone "bed", and a flat plastic mattress for company. I was locked inside the cell for less than a minute. It was enough.

After Sgt. Maddison let me out, he showed me the dry cells, which are cells without a toilet or a sink, used for murder suspects, giving them no chance to wash away any evidence. Once the samples are taken, these prisoners would then be moved to a proper's not much of an improvement.

Prisoners charged of a crime are remanded in custody by the Sgt. until they can appear in court, after which, unless granted bail, they are transfered to a prison cell to await trial. I couldn't help wondering how much worse that might be and decided I'll have to visit a prison next to find out.

As my 2 hour tour of the police station and cell block concluded, we covered the complete process from receiving an emergency call to dispatching officers to the scene of the crime, and how prisoners communicate with legal representation while in custody. I sat inside an interview room, and got to see inside the CCTV room, which covers far more than the average person would think. If you knew how much of a town and the surrounding area the police can should deter you from committing a crime.

I got more out of this visit than I ever expected. As much of the research for my books is conducted online, it was a real treat to get out in the field and talk to those who deal with crime and criminals every day, get a feel for what they deal with and see what the prisoner endures. My huge thanks to Sgt. Antony Maddison for giving up your time and arranging such a valuable tour.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Boss and Good Writing

By Tom Schreck

"A barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain..."

I was walking the dogs in the cold darkness before sunrise this morning and this line automatically ran in my head.

It dawned on me how often this line goes through me. Every time I return to being 18 and dream of being out of school for the summer and longing for a girlfriend.

Why this line?

There are others that come to me from time to time but this one does a lot.

I think it's because of the specificity of the words.

The girl is "barefoot", the beer is "warm", the car is a Dodge and the summer rain is "soft." There aren't too many adjectives nor are the adjectives complicated or flowery.

They're simple. They're true.

Maybe that's it.

They're true. They're authentic, they're immediate.

Maybe Bruce Springsteen had summers like the rest of us. It's obvious he communicates with the masses. His sales would surely suggest that he did.

His writing seems so ridiculously simple.

Maybe that's it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is that One Word, Two Words, or Hyphenated?

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor and writer

My editing has expanded the last number of years to developmental, structural, content, and stylistic editing of fiction manuscripts, but I still do the final copyedit (line edit) and proofread as well. I’ve always been a good speller and enjoyed words, but if you’re the type who couldn’t care less about spelling, skip today’s blog post and check out some of my articles on writing compelling fiction instead!

BTW, Allison Brennan mentions my articles on Murder She Writes today, in an excellent blog post about how successful authors never stop learning and honing their skills:
Because of my strengths in that area, my background as an English teacher, and my training as a proofreader and copy editor, misspellings jump out at me all the time. The worst is when they’re big store signs or on a billboard, and you know the business owner has paid someone thousands of dollars to create the sign! And it would have taken mere minutes or even seconds to check the spelling in a dictionary or online! 

Speaking of online, when I’m surfing the web, I see a lot of words joined up where they should be separated or hyphenated or whatever, like "Click here to login." (verb, so should be "to log in."). Some non-visual people (who would maybe prefer to call themselves non-anal!) may not realize that a lot of words with the same sound and roughly the same meaning are spelled slightly differently depending on whether they’re verbs, nouns, or adjectives/adverbs. For those of you who care about these things, and want your writing to be polished and professional, here are some examples. 

Note that all spelling is verified through Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, but they aren’t necessarily the final, ultimate spelling. Common usage dictates the last word – for that moment, at least! But being an editor, I have to try to find an “authority,” not just use my own little quirks or preferences. And that’s maybe a good thing, to maintain some standards and keep the language from degrading down to text message lingo. AYK (as you know), B4 txting, u thot about sp more. IMO, B/C of txting, the lingo is degrading fast – If my two sons (both in their twenties) are any indication, anyway. I’ll quite often get a one-word reply from them, or even a one letter reply: “K”. I guess it’s too much work to find the “O” too, and type “OK”!

One word, two words, or hyphenated?

Anyway, here are some examples of terms that are either one word (no hyphen), two words, or a hyphenated word, depending on whether they’re used as a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb.

You start up your computer by clicking on startup, then log in to your email by clicking on a login button. Then sign off or log off by clicking on a signoff or logoff tab.

You decide to join a workout group to work out a few times a week.

The detective decided to stake out the house, but he fell asleep at the stakeout.

She was upset about having to pay start-up fees to start up a business.

I need to check up on my teenage daughter, then go for my annual checkup.

The rocket will touch down tomorrow. They're hoping for a perfect touchdown.

Let’s kiss and make up! Then I’ll put on some makeup and we can go out on the town!

We got a standby signal to stand by.

Please check in at the check-in counter.

Let’s mark down these prices for the markdown tomorrow.

Did you get the lowdown on that low-down jerk? No, I’m too run-down to run down there and check him out. But I’ll try to prepare a rundown on the situation for you by tomorrow. Let’s booby-trap the entranceway and catch him in a booby trap.

Be careful not to black out during the blackout.

Want to hang out at our usual hangout? No, I think I’ll try to pick up a date at the pickup bar down the street. Hey, don’t jaywalk, man! Let’s cross over at the crossover.

And it goes on like that…  

A good rule of thumb is that the verb form is usually two words, or sometimes hyphenated. The noun form is most often one word, and the adjective is usually hyphenated, for example: cleanup (n, adj), clean up (v); workup (n), work up (v), etc.

How about you? Do misspelled signs jump out at you and drive you crazy? Do you have any examples to add of humorous misspellings or any commonly misspelled terms? Or even suggestions for other topics like this? Thanks for your input.

Jodie Renner, a freelance editor specializing in popular fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which won a Silver Medal in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013, and Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards, 2013. Upcoming title: Immerse the Readers in Your Story World. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blog, Resources for Writers, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Jodie also blogs alternate Mondays on The Kill Zone blog. Subscribe to Jodie’s newsletter here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sudden Death

by Peg Brantley

No, this isn't a plot point. It's a life point.

A friend of mine died suddenly on the night of March 10th. I think it was that night. I can't remember much about the phone call I received a morning (or maybe two) later, and I don't have any of the details.

I just know

she's gone.

in a blink.

Caron and I have had some pretty intense and deep conversations. Life issues (work, that drew us together to begin with; then an unfaithful spouse—hers not mine) followed by both religion and politics. Once we were no longer dependent financially, we were free to become connected spiritually. It would be a perfect world if every financial partnership included spiritual conversations, but ours did not. Once the financial pieces were behind us, a whole new world opened up. Complicated, but good.

It was liberating to have a relationship with someone where I could tell her she was way off base. Of course I always tried to do it diplomatically. From a place of love. And she responded back with the same love I threw at her.

Caron always excelled. If she wanted to be something—anything—she wanted to be the best. A musician? First chair in the orchestra. Loved animals? A vet. Sell real estate? Number one. Make money? Millions.

Then some tough lessons hit the fan. And because Caron was Caron, she had a really big fan.

One of the last conversations we had related to where she found herself at this point in her life. I think she finally got it when I told her she was in the perfect place. That everything that had happened had not been a mistake. Those things weren't against her, but for her. She fell completely apart and I knew she heard the words God was trying to send her through me.

Oh, God. I feel right now like I'm talking to her again. You know?  Right this minute. She's poked her lovely head in and I can hear her voice. She's sending me love vibes, the way only Caron could send them.

So here are my words to you. Take the time. Make the connections. Never walk away. Always be as honest and truthful as you can. Sometimes you have to throw off the detritus to get to the soul, but hey… we all have detritus. It's the soul that survives. It's the soul that understands and matters.

Caron/Karen Andrews/Richardson, child of God, you were perfect and beautiful. You are perfect and beautiful. You touched lives. You changed lives. I know you blessed mine. You were always exactly what I needed, even when I didn't think so.

(This was originally posted on Suspense Novelist and is being reposted here at this time because hopefully I'm way too busy at Left Coast Crime to be able to be fresh. However, this was important enough to me that I thought it might touch some of our readers as well. Thanks for bearing with me.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Brother, Can You Spare A Domain?

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced more than 2,000 books for over 1000 authors and imprints.

I've titled this week's blog post as I did simply because I couldn't think of a better title, for a blog with several topics.  Once more, into the breach...I apologize in advance for the length, but, hey, I couldn't let our Besties with LCC nominations go unmentioned!

Left Coast Crime Nominations

First, for anyone reading this who is attending LCC, and isn't his- or herself nominated, I'd like to put in a good word for two of our clients who are nominated; client Nancy G. West, for a Lefty, (best humorous mystery novel) for her novel, "Fit To Be Dead," books produced by (wait for it), the Oompa-Loompas at; and in the Watson category, (best sidekick) client Chris Grabenstein, for one of his always fabulous Ceepak Mysteries, "Fun House," which was published by Putnam.  I was momentarily torn, with Chris' nomination for sidekick Danny Boyle, because I'm a diehard Robert Crais fan (the Cole and Pike series), and he's up for a Watson (best sidekick) also, but at the end, customer loyalty won out, and if I were going, I'd be casting my vote for Chris.  (If you've never read the Ceepak mysteries, you've missed out!).  I mean, after all, he was discovered by no one less than James Patterson, himself, so...give it a whirl. Those of us at weren't surprised by Nancy's nomination, and you can bet we're thrilled for her.

Domain Buying and Selling

This is simply a rant, but I can't take it out now, because...well, hell, the post is already titled. Whatever happened to the idea of coming up with a domain name, and simply buying it?  I am one of the biggest supporters of laissez-faire capitalism in the world, but enough is enough.  Trying to come up with, and buy, a new domain name is like sitting down at the damn poker table. So many Internet hosting companies and "Inter-preneurs" have bought and parked so many domains that those with a name you can actually pronounce are literally as scant on the ground as hen's teeth.

Recently, I received an email from some yahoo (no pun intended) who wanted  to sell me "" for --wait for it--slightly under $6,000.00. Yes, Six Thousand US Dollars. Are they high?  They must have me confused with our best-selling client Jackie Collins, if they think I can pop Six Thou for a domain name.  I have no idea what the ".com" version would go for, but that's ridiculous.  And it's not like they're selling a business--it's simply a NAME.  The whole internet domain name scam is simply nauseating.  The worst part are the "Inter-preneuers" who used little programs to come up with every word combination possible, and bought domain names in perfectly usable, suitable domains sit idle, doing absolutely nothing, to be redundant, while entrepreneurs sit around scratching their heads and their nethers, trying to think of made-up words that "sound cool."  It's a ridiculous situation. 

The 20lb. Problem, or Why 16" Tall Books Are Not Suited for Ebookery

I suspect that this is "part 1" of a longer post, but you may recall I wrote about children's books, some months back, and mentioned that the physical size of the original book (or layout) might dictate whether or not the book could be done in what's called "fixed format," the type of book you can see samples of, on this page:  I mentioned, I think, that when a page is too large, no matter what you do, it's not possible to "cram" that content into a screen that will fit on a small e-reader.  However, it occurred to me that most people don't realize that this is true for any type of book; a "coffee table" book, an illustrated how-to book, DIY books, health books, stock-trading books, etc.  There seems to be a general misunderstanding that all e-readers have pan and scan, and that everything can somehow, magically fit into the container that is an e-reader screen, like a big-ass genie in a teeny-weeny lamp. Sadly, just like a genie, that magic does not exist.  (Sorry, Drew:  I hated to be the one to tell you, but, no:  There is No Jeannie in that Bottle.)

Internally, we call this the "20lb. Problem," which is essentially, trying to stuff 20lbs. of material into a 5lb. sack.  Just today, I had an email from a prospective client with a book that I suspect he made in Mac iAuthor, which has a mind-numbingly bloated drag-and-drop interface for making ebooks that will solely (of course) work on the iBooks platform.  The iBooks book had hundreds of images, nearly 50 videos, audio, and so on, that he wanted "converted" into a Kindle book--and the book was 1.5 gigabytes.  Yes:  gigabytes.  I explained some of the basics--you can't include video, or audio, and if the content, sans video and audio, was more than 50MB, ( Amazon's limit), there would be nothing we could do, without making substantial inroads into the image sizes, compression, and the like.  This case is a bit unusual, but, read on. 

Now, the usual inquiry we get for unsuitable books are for those created with charts, graphs, tables, etc., that just won't be readable when reduced to the size of a Kindle screen.  I have no doubt that there are plenty of conversion houses out there that will just take someone's money and give them back a book that will provide a lousy user experience, but we try to explain the "whys" and hope that the client doesn't get rooked by someone less scrupulous.  But here's the gist, and use it when you look at your book, to think about conversion:

A Kindle screen is precisely 3½"x4¾" in size, with a ¼" margin all-round.  A book that is laid out and created at 8½" x 11", has 93.5 square inches of space.  A Kindle/Nook screen, by comparison, has a mere 16.62 square inches.  This means that an e-reader screen has only 17.78% of the space of the typical PDF or default Word page layout.
Thus, should you decide to create a "how-to" book, a book with graphics, a book with charts, tables, images with text atop them, or any type of graphic explanatory element, keep this in mind.  To see what your "element" will really look like on a Kindle, output your Word file to PDF; then shrink that PDF down to 33% of the original (8½" x 11") size.  What you see is what that "page" and that element will really look like on a Kindle e-reader. 

That was today's tip!  Remember: eBooks aren't magic lamps, and you can't fit a big-ass genie in there.  When you think about your content, consider alternative ways of creating and displaying chart or tabular data.  You and your reader will be happier for it.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Our Constantly Evolving Language – Love it or Hate it?

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor and craft-of-fiction writer

The English language is always in a state of flux, and to me, that’s a good thing – it means it’s dynamic, not static; vibrant, not stagnant. It would be ridiculous if the language wasn’t keeping up with our constantly changing world. So as technology is continually being updated, new words need to be immediately coined to keep up, with jockeying among wordsmiths as to which newly coined term really nails it and how it should be spelled. Then watch the noun morph into a verb, the word change spelling (e.g., two words become one or hyphenated), or get pushed out in favor of a newer, better one.    

Coining New Words

It’s kind of fun to watch the language change/transform with popular usage. For example, “internet” started out with a capital “I”: “Internet.” What’s up with that? We don’t capitalize terms like television, telephone, email, mail, text message, faxes, movies, newspapers or other means of communication, so why would internet need a capital? Fortunately, it seems logic has won out, as “internet” seems to have pretty much been downsized to a lowercase “i”, which makes so much more sense. Similarly, “Web site,” coined in 1992 according to Merriam-Webster, is now spelled as one word, without the cap: “website.” Makes sense to me! And “email” started out being spelled “e-mail” but the hyphen seems to have pretty much disappeared in popular usage. Smoother without, I think. And e-book (E-book, eBook, ebook) is still in a state of flux – which do you prefer? And why? Same with e-reader, etc.

According to Wired magazine’s Jargon Watch editor Jonathon Keats, the relatively new term “spam,” which has come to mean the unwanted, junk email that clutters our in-boxes, came from the brand name for Spam luncheon meat, which many consider to be junk food.

But is that really where the term came from? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has a different take on how we started using “spam” to mean junk or unwanted email or promotions: 

"spam: unsolicited, usually commercial, e-mail sent to a large number of addresses. Origin of 'spam' – coined in 1994, from a skit on the British television series Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which chanting of the word 'Spam' overrides the other dialogue."

Another fairly new term is “crowdsourcing,” which combines the word “crowd,” a random collection of people, and “outsourcing,” a corporate practice of sending jobs abroad where wages are lower. It refers to a process where many people are solicited to complete a project, solve a problem, vote on an issue, etc. Wikipedia is also an example of crowdsourcing.

"Verbing" – Creating a Verb out of a Noun

And new verbs are constantly being coined from the noun form, like “googling” information to research a topic. (Evolving from “Googling” to “googling.”) Other verbs recently created from nouns are: to “friend” or “text” or “message” someone. Not to mention “defriending” and “unfriending.” Other verbs coined in recent years from nouns include partying, parenting, critiquing, trending, gifting, interfacing, bookmarking, dialoguing, tasking, accessing, impacting, actioning, progressing, showcasing, workshopping, transitioning, and even inboxing. Some seem right on, while others seem almost ridiculous to me, like using “signaturing” instead of the perfectly good, shorter “signing.” And I'm not crazy about “inboxing”… maybe it’ll grow on me.

How about verbs coined from the names of body parts?

In a single work day, we might head a task force, eye an opportunity, nose around for good ideas, mouth a greeting, elbow an opponent, strong-arm a colleague, shoulder the blame, stomach a loss, and finally hand in our resignation.  - From “What is Verbing?” by Richard Nordquist

Nancy Tracy, in her article, “Are Verbs the New Nouns?” gives her take on this fast-growing phenomenon:

“From a Western perspective, verbs are active do-ers while nouns are sedentary couch potatoes. It's no wonder that in a society that favors movement and productivity, verbs are gobbling up nouns like so many dot-consuming Pacmen. Not only do we enable this linguistic alchemy, we actively encourage this practice as the language around us adapts to mirror the attitudes and biases that shape our worldview.”

Finally, a popular cartoonist’s take on this trend:

Calvin and Hobbes once discussed verbing in Bill Watterson's great comic strip:

Calvin: I like to verb words.
Hobbes: What?
Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when "access" was a thing? Now it's something you do. It got verbed. . . . Verbing weirds language.
Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.

How about you? What do you think of these trends? Creative or an abomination? Can you think of other hot-off-the-press terms I’ve missed here? Do you like them or dislike them, and why? And how do you spell “e-book”? “ebook”? Or…?

Copyright © Jodie Renner, March 2013

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books (& e-books) to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling  Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power, both in e-book & print. Upcoming book: Immerse the Readers in Your Story World. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter, and read her blog posts on The Kill Zone and Resources for WritersTo subscribe to Jodie’s "Resources for Writers" newsletter please click on this link.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Killing Off a Character

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

I killed my first recurring character recently, and it still haunts me. She wasn't particularly popular, but the manner of her death was shocking. The ending made my beta readers cry for my protagonist, but they said they loved it. And so did my publisher. So I crossed my fingers and let it go to press.

Still, I knew it was a risk. Readers complain loudly when writers kill characters. They post negative reviews and ratings and often claim they'll never read another book by the author. Some even follow through.

Television writers kill characters even more often than novelists do. Have you seen the third season of Downton Abbey? Viewers were infuriated. Or the last season of Grey's Anatomy? Ouch!

Why do authors do it? For several creative reasons and possibly one egocentric rationale. First, the self-centered reason. Literary experts say if you're not willing to kill a character, then you're not a real writer. They say you lack the courage to be realistic and daring. So killing a character is a challenge that many writers feel compelled to experience.

But that's not why I did it. If a character's full story arc has been told, and there is nothing left for that person to do, then killing him or her is essential for the series. It's only fair to readers to cut the dead weight and allow the story arc of other characters to grow and take new paths. Sometimes a death at the end of one story is the best way to set up a new story that begins with an emotional punch. Also, the action in the climax is often so intense that if no one dies, the story doesn’t feel realistic.

Another reason—which TV writers cite as their main motivation—is that killing a character creates uncertainty. Once readers/viewers realize that anyone could die, that quiet dread ratchets up the suspense.

Which is why readers and viewers keep coming back to a series even after someone they love has been dispatched. Many fans will rant and rave, but eventually they'll accept the development and find themselves ready for more. Only now, their anticipation will be greater than ever.

This pattern is probably truer (safer) for television than novels. Book lovers get more attached to their mainstays, and therefore more upset by unexpected deaths. When you kill a recurring fictional character, you will lose some readers forever.

What is the payoff for novelists? The satisfaction of telling the story the way they envision it. The freedom to take the series or protagonist in a new direction. Maybe even more important—the rush of taking a risk and the confidence that comes with surviving it.

So in Rules of Crime, book seven of the Detective Jackson series, I finally killed a character and I made my protagonist suffer for it. So far, most of my faithful readers have supported—even loved—the decision. But not everyone. I just hope the few who are disappointed will come back to find out what happens next. Book eight is written, and I've made the development pay off in an a rewarding way.

What about you? Have you abandoned an author for knocking off a favorite character? Do you give TV writers more slack than novelists? Tell me what you think.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

There are authors, and then there are authors

By Gayle Carline

I met Dean Koontz a couple of weeks ago. Every time I type that sentence, I have to pause for a moment to run around my house and squeal like a schoolgirl.

Me, Dean, and my hubby Dale

Frankly, I have to do that even when I think that sentence.

Dean was our guest speaker at the 2013 Placentia Library Friends Foundation Author's Luncheon. It is our largest fundraiser every year, and this year we set a record for money raised. Two years ago, I wrote a letter to Dean, asking him to appear at our luncheon. Believe me, I've been the belle of the ball in my community because he said yes, although I truly don't feel like I deserve the accolades. I wrote a letter, Folks. You can, too.

To say that Dean Koontz and I are both authors is like saying that these two are both cats:

Koontz is from the old school, where an author could actually make money being with a major publisher. He's prolific and hard working, with a normal schedule of ten hours a day, six days a week. Because I got to introduce him at our luncheon, I looked up some statistics on his best sellers, etc. The only number I want you to know is that he has sold over 450 million books.

Try to let that number sink in before you continue.

As famous and rich as he is, Dean is equally gracious and charming. His speech was full of hysterically funny stories. Even if I had not gotten to sit next to him at lunch, I still would consider this a highlight of my year, if not my life.

The thing I admire about Dean Koontz is not just his writing, but the choices he made with his life, given his childhood. He was raised in poverty. His father was a violent alcoholic. His mother died when he was on the young-ish side. I have seen these kids. Know a few of them. Too many times, they tell the world they will never go down that road, and end up being just like their parents anyway.

Koontz didn't. He found solace in reading and writing. He found a true soul mate in his wife. He avoided the many pitfalls of the children of alcoholics and built a life of calm out of chaos.

Even if you don't like his writing, how can you not admire him?

Koontz got me thinking about other authors I admire for more than their words. A couple of them came to mind.

James Thurber. I fell in love with his humor essays as a freshman in high school, and I confess, I owe as much of my humor writing to him as to my other humor-idol, Erma Bombeck. I visited the James Thurber House and Museum in Columbus, Ohio a few years back and was overwhelmed by the man's simple-yet-complex life.

The unicorn in his garden.

I knew that Thurber had problems with his eyesight, which was already poor before his brother accidentally shot him in the eye with an arrow. What I didn't know was that he kept drawing cartoons and writing beyond the point where he was legally blind. In his house, there are huge - and I mean wall-sized pieces of board, each one with a super-size sketch. A photograph shows Thurber hunched over one of these walls, wearing glasses that can only be described as a contraption, making thick strokes of one of his famous dogs.

I left that house amazed. Thurber's will to create was stronger than his physical limitations. At some point, wouldn't you say, "Hey, I'm freakin' blind here. I can't draw stuff anymore."

Speaking of humor, Erma Bombeck is also one of my idols. Although she teased and made fun of her life as a wife and mother, the underlying mood of each piece was that she wouldn't have done anything different. To see this woman who stood for home and hearth, even in a funny way, standing up for women's rights was a revelation to me as a young girl. Housewives can be activists? Wow! Erma was even involved with the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women, trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified. You go, girl.

I'm going to throw Ray Bradbury into the mix here, too. My admiration for him stems from the fact that I consider him hopefully naïve. I heard him tell his story at quite a few functions. Some of the details changed, but overall, his description of his life went something like this: "I decided I wanted to <do X, meet Y, etc>. So I did it." There was never any hint that he doubted his ability to, oh, meet John Huston for example. I always think of him handing me a big stick to beat my own insecurities down with.

Who are the authors you most admire beyond their works?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

"In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes."

This is Andy Warhol's best known quote, and a prediction from the sixties that he claimed carried truth. True or not, I got my fifteen minutes earlier this month. It was more like five minutes, and I'd hardly call it world fame, but it was my own little taste of celebrity. I wasn't sure what to make of it. In fact, I'll admit...I was a little scared at first.

I was in my home town of Swindon, running errands and rushing around, standing inside a bank when it started. As I waited in line, a man appeared in front of me and reached over to claim an unopened sandwich he'd left on the counter, in the spot where I stood. Yes, I had noticed it and wondered what it was doing there, but I see a lot of odd things. As the man took his sandwich, and I half smiled, I noticed a particular look on his face, one I'd describe as confusion mixed with uncertainty. He hesitated, only for a second, and then went on his way. I thought no more of it.

Minutes later, as I left the bank and marched up the street to my next port of call, I became aware of movement in my peripheral vision, saw someone matching my stride and closing in fast on my left. Then I heard a male voice, turned my head in its direction, and saw the same chap from the bank.
     "Excuse me," he said.

     Now it was my turn to give him a "look". My mind raced. Being a crime writer makes that happen, and I immediately assumed the worst. As he was good-looking, and at least twenty years younger than me, I ruled out the idea that he'd stopped me just to chat, or took a liking to me and wanted to ask me out on a date. No...this man wants to rob me, I thought. He just saw me in the bank (I apologize to the young man in question, should he ever read this). A small amount of panic rose in my throat. I tried not to let it show, clutched my bags a little tighter to my side, and glanced around for potential witnesses.

     "Yes?" My reply was loaded with suspicion. Even I could hear it. Undeterred, the man fell into step beside me as I continued my march up the town.

     "You're a writer."

     Temporarily stunned, I stared at him, and tried not to drop my guard. "How...did you know that?"

    There was more. To my amazement, he knew quite a bit about me, such as how I've been living in the US and returned home to the UK to research and write my new novel, Stone Cold. He knew I gave up my job to focus on my writing. About now, I'm trying to decide whether to be flattered or alarmed. How did he know so much?

We talked for a minute, and I learned the young man had read about me in a featured article in the Swindon Link Magazine. He'd recognized me from the magazine and then spotted me in the bank (guarding his sandwich). As a relatively unknown author, up until this moment I felt safe in the bowels of obscurity. I prefer the attention to be on my books rather than on myself, so the encounter came as a bit of a shock. I'd never imagined what it might be like to be recognized and stopped by a stranger in the street. Now I know. It feels a tiny bit weird.

With the panic over, my thoughts turned to what might happen next. Had he read any of my work? Is this where he shows his appreciation...or not? I waited to find out. We chatted about the Link Magazine and the couple of recent workshops I'd held for local writers. Turns out he's a poet, he'd missed both of my workshops, and wanted to know if I planned to hold another one next time I'm home.

After we chatted some more, I gave him my business card and we parted. All the way home, I chuckled about my little brush with "fame", and realized I was actually quite pleased about it. Still largely unknown, I realized I must be building at least a little notoriety as an author. Although on a much smaller scale, I got a tiny peek into what life must be like for celebrities who are recognized and stopped all the time. On that level, I'm not sure I'd like it.

What about you? Have you had your fifteen minutes of fame? How did it happen, and did you enjoy it?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Writing Bullshit

Is this what your outline looks like?

NOT where I write...
by Tom Schreck

There's a lot of bullshit communicated about successfully writing a novel. If you heed much of it you'll get paralyzed and never be able to finish your own work of fiction.

The truth is that writing a book isn't joining the Marines, it isn't Transcendental Meditation nor is it discovering cold fusion. It has more to do with cleaning your basement, building a bird house or creating a garden in your backyard.

In other words it involves some planning, some trial and error and quite a bit of time on task.

It doesn't require any of this crap:

* Large amounts of uninterrupted time in a beautiful oak paneled office.

I write before my day job in between hound bays and getting up every 7 minutes to act as the uniformed doorman for my three four legged VIPs.

* You must have a completely formed idea, outlined neatly with Roman numerals, bullet points and color coded categories.

Actually, you need an idea. Then another idea of where to go. Do that for 300 pages and you get a book.

* You can't start your book until you go on police ride-a-longs, volunteer on the local SWAT team or travel to Rome to interview the custodian at the Vatican for your story background.

This is fiction. You make this shit up. Read an article, go to Wikipedia and then start writing.

* You must write only when the muse comes to visit you.

Good luck with that. It's plain crap.

* You can't finish because you're blocked.

You're not a colon and you don't get blocked. You stop working. If what comes next to you isn't obvious then you have to problem solve, do some trial and error and rewrite.

It's work.

Tom Schreck writes the Duffy Dombrowski Series and the stand alone thriller GETTING DUNN. TKO is the #1 boxing book on Amazon Kindle.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Show Your Setting Through Your POV Character

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, & speaker  

Fiction writers – one of the fastest ways to bring your story world and characters to life is to portray the setting through the senses, feelings, reactions, and attitude of your protagonist.  

Enhancing your fiction by filtering the description of the settings through your viewpoint character’s senses is a concept I instinctively embraced when I first started editing fiction years ago. I was editing a contemporary middle-school novel, whose two main characters, a boy and a girl, were both eleven years old (I’ve changed the details slightly). The author had them describing rooms they entered as if they were interior decorators, complete with words like “exquisite,” “stylish,” “coordinated,” “ornate,” and “delightful.” Then, when they were in the park or the woods playing and exploring with friends, each tree, shrub and flower was accurately named and described in details that were way beyond the average preteen’s knowledge base or interests. 

Besides the obvious problem of too much description for this age group (or for any popular novel these days), this omniscient, literary, “grownup” way of describing their environment would not only turn off young readers due to the complex terms and sophisticated language, but also create a distance between any reader and these two modern-day kids. As a reader and editor, I didn’t feel like I was getting to know these kids at all, as I wasn’t seeing their world through their eyes, but directly from the author, who obviously knew her interior design terms and flora and fauna! By separating us from the main characters through this unchildlike, out-of-character description of their environment, the author inadvertently puts a kind of semi-transparent wall between us and the two kids. If we don’t get into their heads and hearts, seeing their world as they see it, how will we get to know them, and why will we care what happens to them?

I advise my author clients to not only show us directly what the characters are seeing around them, in the character's words and thoughts, colored by their attitude toward their surroundings, but to bring the characters and story to life on the page by evoking all the senses. Tell us what they’re hearing and smelling, too. And touching/feeling – the textures of things, and whether they’re feeling warm or cold, wet or dry. Even the odd taste. And don’t forget mood—how does that setting make them feel? Emotionally uplifted? Fearful? Warm and cozy? Include telling details specific to that place, and have the characters react to their environment, whether it’s shivering from the cold, in awe of a gorgeous sunset, or afraid of the dark. Bring that scene to life through your characters’ reactions!

This technique serves to deepen the characterization, bring the character to life, and make us feel like we're right there, while showing us the relevant, even critical aspects of the setting.

As Donald Maass says, in Writing the Breakout Novel, “Place presented from an objective or omniscient point of view runs the risk of feeling like boring descriptive. It can be a lump, an impediment to the flow of the narrative.”

He continues, “Do you have plain vanilla description in your current manuscript? Try evoking the description the way it is experienced by a character. Feel a difference? So will your readers.” 

James Scott Bell also advises us to “marble” the description of the environment in during the action. “The way to do this is to put the description in the character’s point of view and use the details to add to the mood.”

Jack M. Bickham gets more specific on this: “When you start a scene in which Bob walks into a large room, for example, you do not imagine how the room looks from some god-like authorial stance high above the room, or as a television camera might see it; you see it only as Bob sees it, coming in….” And include what he’s feeling, hearing, and smelling, too. Filter the scene through his perceptions and feelings. “This leads to reader identification with Bob, which is vital if the reader is to have a sense of focus.” 

Copyright © Jodie Renner

James Scott Bell, Revision & Self-Editing
Jack M. Bickham, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel
– And Jodie’s experience reading and editing fiction

P.S. Click HERE for some basic tips on creating sentences that flow, on Jodie's own blog.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity, incl. Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at,, her blog,, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Police Procedurals—The Process

By Peg Brantley

From a reader:

I'd like to see how/what you have to do to write so prolifically on police procedures.

That's a great question, without an easy, concise answer. Avoiding the fact that I'm not exactly prolific (yet), let me try and give this a shot.

Remember, these are from my perspective only. I'm hoping that a lot of talented crime writers will add their thoughts and tools in the comment section.

Reference Books

Police Procedure & Investigation by Lee Lofland

Scene of the Crime, a writers guide to crime scene investigation by Anne Wingate, PhD

The Investigation of Crime by William T. Forbes

FBI Handbook of Crime Scene Forensics by Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Criminal Investigation by Alan Axelrod and Guy Antinozzi


Writers' Police Academy (Lee Lofland and crew put this on annually in Greensboro, North Carolina. If you write crime fiction, this is a great place to get details… and contacts.)

Citizen Police Academy (I completed the 14-week course through Aurora Citizen Police Academy)

Courses through local colleges (I attended a multi-night presentation on Sexual Homicide at Regis University)

Online Resources

Obviously Google is a writer's best friend when it comes to research, but I'm careful to confirm information obtained from just any old website.

Crime Scene Writers is a Yahoo group with a lot of experts answering a lot of questions.


Over time, writers pull together a group of people who are willing to share time and knowledge. In addition to those I've sought out, or met at obvious places (like the Writers Police Academy or the Aurora Citizen Police Academy), I've "lucked" into meeting some generous professionals. One that comes to mind is the chief of police in Aspen. My husband and I had gone to one of our favorite in-state getaways to celebrate our anniversary, and the dates happened to coincide with a major bicycle race coming through town. The police department was out in force and we happened to meet the chief. He was very helpful with a tricky plot line in The Missings.


We've all heard of the CSI Effect where jurors expect a lot of scientific sizzle and the general public expect quick and accurate resolutions to complex crimes. A lot of bad information wrapped up in an hour long show. I don't bother, except for some fun.

But believe it or not, I've been told that there are some very accurate portrayals of police procedure on television. Most are documentary type shows (the ID Channel comes to mind), but at least the first season or two of Southland is reported to be fairly faithful to reality. I confess to not being a regular viewer of any of these options.

And finally, I read books by writers I admire who write police procedurals. One is our very own L.J. Sellers. I know she does her homework and if there's detail, it's right. And she's prolific.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Author's Bill of Rights

By Andrew E. Kaufman

How Much Time Should I Give Other Authors?

It’s a question I often ask. The truth is, I’d help everyone if I could, because I know how overwhelming being (or becoming) an author can be. I also know how frustrating it is to feel excited about my work, and then struggle to get others to feel the same enthusiasm. By nature, I like to give just as much as receive and find equal joy in both. Besides, I truly love meeting other writers. We are a community, and I enjoy being a part of it.

But with that comes another set of issues: part of it is time; the other is that these days, it feels like there are almost as many people writing books as reading them. 

And it seems the busier I get with my career, the less time I have, with even less of it to enjoy activities in my personal life. Since I signed with a publisher, I’m no longer my own boss. Now there are deadlines set by others that I’m obligated to meet. There are conference calls with my editor, with promotions people, and with my agent. My time doesn’t seem to belong to me as much as it once did.

Despite this, I still want to offer other authors help when they ask for it. I’ve just learned to recognize my limitations. Since my writing and my readers have to come first, I can’t provide everyone with everything they need. I can only do my best, but I have to accept that my best will not always be what I’d like.

So in setting these priorities, I’ve made some decisions, devising a Personal Author’s Bill of Rights. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Amendment 1: Reading Requests/Endorsements/Beta Reads

I have the right to refuse reading or endorsing another author's book when asked.

This was the toughest one for me. I feel bad saying no. It’s not that I don’t want to read another author’s book—it’s that next to writing a novel, reading one is a huge time investment. I usually read at bedtime, but sometimes that only lasts a few minutes before I pass out.

I will occasionally break this rule if I know an author well enough (and their work), and even then, it depends on whether my schedule will permit. But I’ve run into trouble there as well. I’ve made promises, only to find I’m not able to follow through when my workload becomes too overwhelming. So, as much as I hate to say no to a friend (and suffer the ill effects of that decision) I’ve decided it’s far worse to say yes, and then not be able to deliver. The guilt is colossal.

Amendment 2: Offering Advice.

I will always answer emails from authors who ask for advice and try my best to do so in a timely manner.

With limits, that is. If I feel I can answer a question, I will—unfortunately, how much information I’m able to provide depends on the question, and anything requiring an in-depth outline or pages of explanation simply isn’t manageable. But I do try to do my best and be as helpful as possible, and I also apologize when I can’t.  I don’t always have to give advice, but I do feel an obligation to be kind to everyone.

Amendment 3: Promoting Other Authors’ Books on Social Media and Beyond.

I will gladly promote other authors’ books that:

1) I know and trust deliver quality content
2) I know (period).

But even with that, I’ve started to feel I need to clearly state when I haven't read a book I’m promoting, because it feels unfair to readers otherwise. Then the question arises: how do I enthusiastically recommend a book I’ve never read? Haven’t figured that one out yet.

Amendment 4: Appearing as a Guest on Blogs/ Doing Interviews

 I will always make time to be a guest on blogs (time permitting) and will gladly do interviews.

This applies to all of them, no matter how big or small, because I’m honored to be asked, and because they’re doing me a favor by showing interest (Not the other way around).

Amendment 5: Appearing at Writers' Gatherings

I will always say yes (Time and geography permitting) in order to encourage other authors.
See above—same reason, and because when I first started out, I never had the benefit of getting advice from experienced authors, and I know what a big difference it would have made if I did. Besides, as I've mentioned, I love meeting other writers, and I benefit from that just as much as they might.

Have I left anything out? And what about you? Both writers and readers: how do you manage time constraints when the requirements of everyday life seem to get in the way?