The Care And Feeding Of Copy Editors

By JohnGilstrap

Having just finished a marathon session reviewing the copy edits for White Smoke (the third book in the Victoria Emerson thriller series), I started to write a post for TKZ that addresses my view of the copy editing process, and shares my copy editing rules. I was a hundred words or so into it when it occurred to me that it was all feeling very familiar.

It turns out that I posted on the topic here back in 2018. So now, if the content feels like you might have read it before, at least you’ll know why–although I have rewritten parts.

Copy editing is the penultimate opportunity for me to make significant changes to a manuscript. By that point, I’ve already addressed the developmental issues outlined in my editorial letter, and–to my mind, anyway–the copy is pretty clean. Typos abound, but not for lack of hunting them down. At that point, I have fulfilled my D&A (delivery and acceptance) contract element, and, not insignificantly, will get paid.

The next step is for the completed manuscript to be sent off to be copy edited. This is the typo/spelling/continuity review step. For the most part, copy editors are freelancers, and they may or may not have any familiarity with my work, or even with the genre in which I write. It seems to me (and I say this with a huge amount of respect) that their primary skills are an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules of grammar, and the ability to process the tiniest of details. Combine those traits with a research instinct that borders on obsessive-compulsive, and the ideal copy editor is born.

And I need them. I’ve posted here before that I deeply don’t understand commas, and no matter how many times it is explained to me, the rules for “which” vs. “that” elude me. I am wont to have characters sit after they have never stood, and close doors that have never been opened. It is the largely un-celebrated copy editors of the world who keep the reading public from knowing how unqualified I am to do the work that I do.

But there’s a dark side.

Sometimes, copy editors change stuff that shouldn’t be changed, and for that reason, as the author, I must approve or disapprove every alteration they propose. At times, their knowledge of grammar gets in the way. An example that comes to mind is from a few books ago when the copy editor changed “Jonathan looked at the door the kid had just come through” to “Jonathan looked at the door whence the kid had just come.” While grammatically correct, “whence” is a word that has no place in commercial thrillers. The same copy editor took it upon herself to replace Jonathan Grave’s beloved Colt 1911 .45 with a pistol her research had told her would be more appropriate to his purposes.

Most recently, the copy editor noted that referring in dialogue to deer hunting as “killing Bambi” might offend more sensitive readers. My inclination is to write back that I no doubt had lost my sensitive readers about 20 books ago, but instead I responded with the ever-useful “stet.”

I miss the days of handwritten copy edits. I like paper. I like printed manuscripts that I can read in a lounge chair with a lap desk and a pencil, making changes or stetting by hand. For the past five or six years, the edits come as a word file with Track Changes turned on, forcing me to read the book on my computer. Okay, now I’m whining.

The Gilstrap Style Sheet

My publisher uses the Chicago Manual of Style as the Holy Grail of copy edits. That’s fine. There has to be a standard by which to judge correctness. But here’s the thing: Mine is the only name on the spine of the book, and there are instances where I disagree with the style manual. After spending countless hours over my first ten or twelve books stetting changes made by copy editors, I decided to create my own style sheet, which I insert between the cover page and Chapter One of every manuscript I submit.  I thought I’d share it with you.  (I’ve inserted some explanation in italics where I think my reasoning might not be obvious.)

NOTE TO COPY EDITOR: Stylebook notwithstanding, please note the following:

The possessive form of Boxers is Boxers’ (not Boxers’s).  This change does not affect any other names that end with S.

In every case, branches of the US armed services are always capitalized (e.g., Jonathan’s days in the Army; when Henry was in the Navy, etc.)

Consider landmarks within Jonathan’s office to be proper nouns and capitalized as such (The Cave, the War Room, etc.)

Please consider all weapons nomenclature to be correct as written. (e.g., Jonathan carries a “Colt 1911 .45”, even though the official listing might show the pistol to be a Colt M1911A1, and even though there are newer versions of the platform available.  These are very deliberate choices.)

When referencing calibers of weapons, all measurements are singular.  (e.g., a Glock 19 is chambered in nine millimeter, not nine millimeters.)

References to federal agencies need no definite article.  (e.g., “He’s with DEA” is fine. He’s not with THE DEA.)

When Boxers or other team members refer to Jonathan as “Boss”, the word should be capitalized.

No semicolons, grammar notwithstanding.

Northern Virginia and the Washington Metropolitan Area are both proper nouns and require capitalization.

Please assume all dialogue to be correct as written.  Feel free to correct spelling and typos, but do not strive to make dialogue grammatically correct.

In dialogue, “Dammit” and “Goddammit” and “Goddamn” should be considered to be correct.

I intentionally avoid parentheses and single-quote marks in dialogue. Please do not insert them.

As a rule, I dislike exclamation points. Please avoid inserting them.

The first time I submitted a manuscript with the style sheet attached, I expected some pushback from the publisher. Instead, I got a big thank-you and an expressed wish that more authors would do likewise. It saves time for everyone.

Something that a lot of newbies to the writing game don’t realize is that the editor and publisher may not change a word of your manuscript without your permission. I don’t recommend recalcitrance, and I do recommend listening to the editor’s advice, but when the book is published, it’s your work, not theirs. Make sure that it’s what you want it to be.

First Page Critique: When Being Too Coy Creates Confusion

By PJ Parrish

Good day, crime dogs. We have an interesting First Pager today. I am going in cold with this one so as to not prejudice you with any preludes. Your first impressions are valuable here, so please weigh in for our writer. No title. But the submitter alerts us that we are in the genre of “Historical Romantic Suspense.”

Chapter One. November, 1954

Her picture was in the paper today.

I would have known her anywhere. Fair hair, tucked neatly under her hat. The same pearls around her delicate neck. A chic woolen suit topped by a short jacket. White gloves. A smile of pure joy on her face. She strode forward with the same confident, take-on-the-world step I once admired so much, a woman ready to cast the old order aside and charge into the future.

Once we had charged into that future together. Then it arrived, rotten with terror and torture and murder. Did she truly not see that? Was it possible she still didn’t? Was that why, even now, she could look so proud of the man beside her?

There was no doubt that the world was still fighting a war for the future. There was also no doubt, or at least not much doubt, that I had chosen the losing side.

I no longer fight for the future. Now I fight only for my family.

Aside from our shared lofty goal of changing the world, we couldn’t have been more different. She was American born; we were immigrants. Her family were genteelly Protestant; mine were Russian Jews. She was private schools, Bryn Mawr, and Yale; I grew up in my father’s candy store, helping out behind the counter .

None of that mattered. We were confidantes, soul mates.

Because who else could understand our lives? Who else knew the dreams and the fears, the resolute denial of the sickening rumors? How could any outsider understand what that cost us?

Then everything changed. A chasm opened between us that could never be breached.
For years there was a hole in my heart where Priscilla used to be. Was it still there?
The picture again. There was her handsome husband, towering over his petite wife. The only hint of the years he had been away was he was a shade thinner. Otherwise, he looked the same. The same boyish charm, the same disarming smile he had flashed at the jury at every opportunity during the trial.

He wore a broad-brimmed fedora, a natty tweed coat, a white scarf round his neck; trousers perfectly creased, shoes buffed to a high shine. A gloved hand under his wife’s arm. He could have been walking out of the pages of Esquire.

He was walking out of federal prison.


Whenever I approach a First Pager, I try to do my first read purely as a reader who might have picked up the book in a store and is reading the opening pages to see if I want to buy the book. Yes, I do this in real life. If there’s enough craft and a certain je ne sais quoi I take the book home, always with a hopeful heart.

I’m drawn to characters with damaged pasts, so I liked this at first blush. I thought, well, it’s a little slow and I don’t mind slow, but I’m not sure it has that intangible “I don’t know what” distinctive quality that will make me want to go on. Let me try to be more precise.

The writing here is clean and solid. The opening line is interesting in that it promises at least an emotional reaction from the narrator. But then what follows it essentially backstory. A lot of it. And it’s all in a style of “telling.”  The narrator is telling us what happened — that some major event caused a schism in their relationship, that the narrator no longer feels compelled to “fight,” that there is a hole in his/her heart where his friend used to be — or is there?

More backstory “telling” is slipped in with this paragraph: “She was American born; we were immigrants. Her family were genteelly Protestant; mine were Russian Jews. She was private schools, Bryn Mawr, and Yale; I grew up in my father’s candy store, helping out behind the counter.”

In short, the entire opening is one moment of present-time action: Someone is looking at a photograph in a newspaper of what I think is an ex-lover with her ex-con husband. The rest is all the narrator thinking, remembering, musing, lamenting. Nothing is happening. There is no sense of being grounded in any present-time reality. Everything is past-tense. By the time I got to the line about the man coming out of federal prison, I was losing interest.

There are other issues, I think.

I can’t tell the gender of the narrator. It feels like a man, given the somewhat generic description of the photograph of Priscilla — “chic suit, white gloves, pearls, fair hair tucked neatly under a hat.”  So I am thinking that Priscilla is a lost love. But then we get this line: “She strode forward with the same confident, take-on-the-world step I once admired so much.”  That sounds like a friend remembering a girlfriend. So I then wondered if the narrator was female. Especially since we get this line soon after: “We were confidantes.” Which signals two females.  (It’s confidants if a man is the narrator but this could just be a typo.)

Regardless, the uncertainty about the narrator’s emotions toward Priscilla — not fully romantic, not clearly friendship — confused me. I can tell he/she is unhappy and maybe rueful. But the tone is like a weak radio signal, wavering annoyingly just beyond my ear.

Another thing that confused me. The writer gives us a time tag of November 1954. Then devotes a good portion of the backstory and thoughts to some crisis:

Then it arrived, rotten with terror and torture and murder. Did she truly not see that? Was it possible she still didn’t? Was that why, even now, she could look so proud of the man beside her?

There was no doubt that the world was still fighting a war for the future. There was also no doubt, or at least not much doubt, that I had chosen the losing side.

Terror, torture and murder. That implies war. And what to make of this line: “There was no doubt that the world was still fighting a war for the future. The world is still at war in 1954? The Cold War between the U.S. and Russia? Confusing.

So, the set-up of someone seeing an old flame/friend’s photo in a newspaper isn’t bad. The writing is solid if a bit bland. I’d like the writer to try harder to insert what we here at TKZ call “the telling detail,”  unique description that paints a picture of your characters and your setting. (The latter, by the way, is non-existent. Where are we?) See line edit for examples of this.

Final point: The heavy backstory has your story stuck in neutral gear. Also, the confusion created by the coyness of the style is off-putting to me. Key: what exactly is the relationship between Priscilla and the unnamed narrator? Why withhold this? Your back copy will spill the beans anyway.  As an exercise, try to write your back copy:

Jack Steiner lost the love of his life in the gray chaos of post-war London. But when he sees Priscilla’s photograph in a New York newspaper twenty years later…

Janice Steiner never forgot her first love and the ugly rumors that tore them apart. But when she sees a photograph of Priscilla with her husband….

As we often say here, there is a big important difference between artfully withholding details from the reader to create suspense and being obtuse. And keep in mind, dear writer, even in romantic suspense, something needs to happen to someone soon. Apologies to Joseph Heller.

Let me do a quick line edit. My comments in red:

Her picture was in the paper today. If you had told me what newspaper, you’d do a big favor and tell us where we are geographically. Her picture was in the New York Herald Tribune today. 

I would have known her anywhere. Suggestion: Ten years had passed since I last saw her, but I would have known here anywhere. We need better grounding in time. Fair hair, tucked neatly under her hat. The same pearls around her delicate neck. A chic woolen suit topped by a short jacket. White gloves. A smile of pure joy on her face. She strode forward a photo can’t show a present-tense action. Perhaps: “The photograph had caught her in confident mid-stride….with the same confident, take-on-the-world step I once admired so much, a woman ready to cast the old order aside and charge into the future.

Once we had charged into that future together. Then it arrived, is “it” the future? rotten with terror and torture and murder. Did she truly not see that? What does this refer to? Because you write this in the present tense, it implies the narrator is seeing something in the photograph. Or do you mean to say: “Had she truly not seen what happened? Confusing. Was it possible she still didn’t? Was that why, even now, she could look so proud of the man beside her? I like this line, especially since we later learn hubbie’s been in federal prison. 

There was no doubt that the world was still fighting a war for the future. There was also no doubt, or at least not much doubt, that I had chosen the losing side. Again, I find this confusing. What war? 

I no longer fight for the future. Now I fight only for my family.

Aside from our shared lofty goal of changing the world, This is somewhat of a non sequitur transition. This line about the family is interesting but it feels tacked on considering his/her next thoughts. we couldn’t have been more different. She was American born; we were immigrants. Her family were genteelly Protestant; mine were Russian Jews. She was private schools, Bryn Mawr, and Yale; I grew up in my father’s candy store on Orchard Street (lower east side NYC or wherever it was)…always be alert for places to drop in TELLING DETAILS. Your opening could use some, helping out behind the counter.

None of that mattered. We were confidantes, soul mates. Again, this feels like friends, not lovers. 

Because who else could understand our lives? Who else knew the dreams and the fears, the resolute denial of the sickening rumors? How could any outsider understand what that cost us? Shades of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour.” Are we in Martha and Karen territory here?  

Then everything changed. A chasm opened between us that could never be breached.
For years there was a hole in my heart where Priscilla used to be. Was it still there?

The picture again. There was her handsome husband, towering over his petite wife. The only hint of the years how many? We really need a few concrete detailshe had been away was he was a shade thinner. Otherwise, he looked the same. The same boyish charm, cliche. And “charm” isn’t the right word for a photograph. the same disarming smile he had flashed at the jury at every opportunity during the trial.

He wore a broad-brimmed fedora, a natty tweed coat, a white scarf round his neck; trousers perfectly creased, shoes buffed to a high shine. A gloved hand under his wife’s arm. He could have been walking out of the pages of Esquire.

He was walking out of federal prison. Nice kicker line. But you could slip in another grounding location detail by telling us which one. We’re floating in the geographic ether here.  

As I said, I like certain things about this opening. But it could do with some good details to make it feel less generic and more emotionally involving. And, dear writer, I think you’d be well served to not hold your readers at such arm’s length, especially working in your chosen sub-genre. The best definition I’ve heard of romantic suspense is “a story that is driven by the threat of danger and the promise of romance.” In the best ones, there is a tension between the two. The protagonist is in danger (or someone she or he loves). The romance builds at the same time as the jeopardy, until both reach a crescendo. Mystery solved, bad guy defeated and the main characters live happily ever after.

Sound simple? Ha. This is why my own efforts at romantic-suspense have never seen the light of day. I sense you can tell a good story, dear writer. Clear up the confusion, tell us where we are, jump into your story with more heart and gusto and get things moving. Thanks for sharing with us.


Is Reading Contagious?

Science indicates 75 percent of parents wish their children would read for fun more. Yet most parents stop reading aloud once the child learns to read on their own. A report from Scholastic suggests reading out loud to kids throughout their elementary school years inspires them to become bookworms, reading five to seven days per week for fun. More than 40 percent of frequent readers ages six to 11 were read to at home, compared to 13 percent who did not read for fun.

At any age, reading increases intelligence.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

—Dr. Seuss

Diving into a good book opens up a whole world of knowledge. An increase in vocabulary is an obvious result, but it also leads to higher scores on intelligence tests. When children read for fun, it also leads to higher intelligence later in life.

Reading boosts brainpower.

Not only does regular reading make us smarter, but it also increases actual brainpower. Reading regularly improves memory function. Think of it as exercises for the brain. Aging often goes hand-in-hand with a decline in memory and brain function, but regular reading helps slow the process, keeping minds sharper longer, according to research published in Neurology.

Readers are more empathetic.

Being immersed in a story world, caring about characters, helps us relate to others. And so, we’re more aware of another person’s emotions, according to research published in Science Magazine. Interestingly, fiction has a greater impact on empathy than nonfiction.

“Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano wrote of their findings.

Reading may help fight Alzheimer’s disease.

Those who engage their brains through reading are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who spend their downtime on less stimulating activities like television. Research suggests exercising the brain helps reduce the risk of developing other brain diseases, as well.

Reading reduces stress.

A 2009 study by Sussex University showed reading may reduce stress by as much as 68 percent.

“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination,” cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis​ told The Telegraph.

Reading helps us relax.

There’s a reason snuggling up with a good book sounds so appealing. Because it is! Reading washes away the stressors of the day as we melt into the pages of a good book.

Reading fiction for fun.

Readers of fiction have increased creativity, empathy, and emotional intelligence. Losing ourselves in a fictional character’s experiences make us more open-minded and allow us to spend time in someone else’s shoes. Thus, readers become better humans than non-readers.

Reading supports self-improvement.

Readers support lifelong learning. One of the best ways to do that is to pick up a book and learn something new. Waving at readers who prefer nonfiction!

In general, read is good for our wellbeing. 

Some of us read to escape reality or imagine worlds beyond our own. Some read to learn new skills—cooking, crafting, creativity—or about real people who intrigue or inspire us. Some read thought-provoking books, some dive into futuristic worlds beyond our imagination. Whatever the reason that brings us to the page, reading is one of the best forms of self-care.

Is reading contagious?

Absolutely! Rather than rattle off statistics, I’ll pose a question. How many books have you bought based on word of mouth? When we see another reader all excited about a new book, we want to feel that way, too. So, what do we do? We check out the book.

When children see their parents reading for fun, it plants the seed for them to become lifelong readers, as well. In adults, if one partner pleasure reads several times per week, it lights a spark in their significant other. My husband never read for pleasure till he married me. When he first took the plunge, he devoured more books per week than I did. Over the years as he built and ran his small engine business, he had less time to read. But he dives between the folds whenever possible. Why? Because he sees how much I enjoy reading, and it’s contagious.

TKZers, why do you read? Does your partner read? Do your kids read? What’s the best thing about reading for you?

She may be paranoid, but is she right?

A string of gruesome murders rocks the small town of Alexandria, New Hampshire, with all the victims staged to resemble dead angels, and strange red and pink balloons appearing out of nowhere.

All the clues point to the Romeo Killer’s return. Except one: he died eight years ago.

Paranoid and on edge, Sage’s theory makes no sense. Dead serial killers don’t rise from the grave. Yet she swears he’s here, hungering for the only angel to slip through his grasp—Sage.

With only hours left to live, how can Sage convince her Sheriff husband before the sand in her hourglass runs out? Preorder on Amazon for $1.49

*Though HALOED is Book 5 of the Grafton County Series, it can easily be read as a standalone.

The Three Types of Opening Lines

by James Scott Bell

There’s a great Far Side cartoon (among so many great ones from the genius Gary Larson). It shows the back of a man seated at a desk. He has a pencil in his fingers, but his hands are grabbing his head in obvious frustration. In front of him are a series of discarded pages with MOBY DICK, Chapter 1 at the top. They say:

Call me Bill
Call me Larry
Call me Roger
Call me Al
Call me Warren

Ah, we’ve all been there. We often talk about the need for a grabber opening here at TKZ. That’s why we do first-page critiques. The goal is simple: make the reader want to—need to—read on.

If you can do it in the first paragraph, so much the better.

And with the first line, better still!

Terry sparked a discussion on opening pages earlier this week. Let’s drill down to opening lines. There are three types: Action, Voice, and Wood.


When the first line drops you right into some intriguing action, you’ve got it made. (All you have to do now is hang a novel on it. Ha!)

One of my favorites is from my man John D. MacDonald’s Darker Than Amber, a Travis McGee novel:

We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.

I mean, come on! We’re going to read until we find out who that girl is and why she was tossed in the drink.

James M. Cain’s opening to The Postman Always Rings Twice is aptly famous:

They threw me off the hay truck about noon.

Dean Koontz used to revel action opening lines:

Penny Dawson woke and heard something moving furtively in the dark bedroom. – Darkfall

Katharine Sellers was sure that, at any moment, the car would begin to slide along the smooth, icy pavement and she would lose control of it. – Dance With the Devil

Remember, dialogue is action, too (waving at Terry). Koontz used to write opening lines just to see what they sparked. This one hit him:

“You ever kill anything?” Roy asked.

When he wrote that, he didn’t know who Roy was or who he was talking to. So he wrote a novel to find out—The Voice of the Night.

In my humble opinion, my best opening line is in Try Darkness, a Ty Buchanan legal thriller:

The nun hit me in the mouth and said, “Get out of my house.”

I still like it.

That’s action. There’s also..


When the voice is clear, unique, arresting, and immediately tells you the kind of story it’s going to be, you’ll want to keep reading. Mickey Spillane wastes no time in Vengeance Is Mine!:

The guy was dead as hell.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is a peach:

When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants. – High Five

Usually we’re going to be in First Person POV for voice. But not always. Here, for example, is the opening of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty:

When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.

Notice that the leather jacket is ripped off and not stolen. The latter is neutral voice. The former is hot voice, setting up the tone of the book.


There’s an old saying: Your story begins when you strike the match, not when you lay out the wood. I like that. It holds true for any genre. But with literary fiction, and epic fantasy or history, an exception is sometimes made. Presumably, fans of these genres are patient at the beginning, knowing they’re in for a long, immersive ride.

Certainly, these genres can begin with action, as in Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara:

The sun was already sinking into the deep green of the hills to the west of the valley, the red and gray-pink of its shadows touching the corners of the land, when Flick Ohmsford began his descent.

All well and good, as the world building weaves in with the action.

Now have a look at the opening line of The Fellowship of the Ring:

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history.

And boy, howdy, do we get the history! Fifteen pages of it. This is laying out the wood. But fantasy readers do not seem to mind.

Similarly, David Morrell’s long thriller, The League of Night and Fog, also has a history beginning:

A phrase invented by the Nazis, the Night of the Long Knives, refers to the events on the night of June 30, 1934, in Austria and Germany.

The next eight pages tell us about Hitler’s rise to power, the advent of World War II, and the start of the death camps. It is dark yet riveting history. Morrell lays out this wood, and it stays with us, hovering over the action to come.

There you have it. Three ways to write an opening line. Try them out in your own work. I also recommend you play with all three as a creativity game and idea sparker. Who knows? One of them may jump out and grab you and say, “Now write me the novel, kid!”

And now, if I may, in the spirit of our occasional indulgence here at TKZ, a bit of SSP—Shameless Self Promotion. My latest thriller release begins:

The big, fat liar was dressed in yellow slacks, yellow golf shirt, and yellow socks.

The book is No More Lies. It’s a novel for which I got the rights back (former title: Deceived), and which got some of the best reviews of my career. Publisher’s Weekly said:

A master of the cliffhanger, creating scene after scene of mounting suspense and revelation . . . Heart-whamming.

And Romantic Times:

Bell delivers with this compelling and challenging story of greed, evil and redemption. Worthy characters bring to light situations that can be both beautiful and terrifying. This pure thriller with a roiling plot is not to be missed!

And because money is tight right now, I’m making it available on Kindle this week for 99¢. Grab it here. Outside the U.S., go to your Amazon store and search for: B0B836SCRY

Now back to our regularly-scheduled blog. Do you have an opening line you’re particularly proud of? Share it. Or share one from an author you like. Or both!

Gird Thy Loins

This writing business was a significant learning curve for me, and I suspect, for others as well. Few authors stepped into it fully capable and informed on every aspect of our chosen careers. I’m fear you’ll see some letdowns as you gain experience, but be prepared.

There were great successes at the outset when I published my first newspaper column in 1988, but before that I suffered a list of minor and major disappointments that sometimes almost made me throw my hands in the air and give up.

I wish I hadn’t thrown away a box full of decades-old rejection slips and letters back around 2000, when I was at a low point in my sputtering career as a novelist. I was ready to chuck it all one day, soon after my newspaper column was on the brink of national syndication through King Features, who discovered that I was self-syndicated in more than 50 papers in Texas and Oklahoma. However, that new beast called the Internet sucked the life out of newspaper publishing, and the first thing managers did was drop columnists.

So from that high point, I went to three papers where the columns remain to this day.

Big Disappointment Number 1

Instead of being the “Outdoor Dave Barry,” as a King Features agent called me, I was almost back to square one when they called to say thanks, but no thanks now, and good luck. Feeling sorry for myself, I opened that box of rejection slips and read them one by one.

Many were from Readers Digest in the late 1960s Another was a single sentence typed in 1969 under Playboy letterhead to a 16 year-old kid, “Thank you for your submission, but it does not meet our needs at this time.” Encouraged that there was a coffee stain on one of the submissions (somebody read it, huzzah!), I continued pelting them with submissions through the next few years, there were many more from that magazine.

Other rejection slips came from outdoor periodicals, national magazines, large daily newspapers, and finally, book publishers. At first I considered those polite but milquetoast rejections as a form of encouragement (somebody was actually reading my efforts), but sitting in the hot attic on that low-point day, they mocked my attempts to be published.

When the columnist market collapsed and my papers dropped off at an alarming rate, I had to start writing how-to “hook and bullet” articles for outdoor magazines in order to keep my name out there. Those photo/copy packages paid well, but they took a tremendous amount of time and research to produce, so I looked around to find a bigger brick to throw.

It had been right there in front of me for years. I had to write a novel.

In the late 1970s, I hammered on a Smith Corona portable typewriter, then migrated to the new technology of a 1980s-era IBM Selectric nestled on a makeshift desk in the second tiny bedroom/library/office of my 900-square foot frame house. There I started half a dozen novels that fizzled out by page 40. They simply wouldn’t hold even my interest, let alone others.

One is still in a drawer. Titled Smoke and Ash, it’s an unreadable apocalyptic draft and I only keep it in a file to occasionally torture myself and remember how it was.

I experimented with humor, science fiction, and short stories. My frustration was that I constantly needed to go back and correct typos, or insert ideas and dialogue that came to me later.

My soul was freed when I bought a 286 computer. It didn’t take long, but I figured out how to write on a Sperrylink word program and the words flowed.

Big Disappointment Number 2

Then one day I began The Rock Hole and when it was finally finished years later, I hit the save key one final time, only to find that the dinosaur word program’s 5½ inch floppy disk wouldn’t hold so much information and overwrites. It malfunctioned and the entire work disappeared in a technological burp.

I had to re-write the entire manuscript from memory, but I like to think it was better than the original. With document saved this time on a Zip drive, I submitted that new manuscript to a number of publishers. Most said thanks, but no thanks, but a Texas university press was interested in the novel, and here’s where I screwed up.

Big Disappointment Number 3

Remember, I was green as grass, and hadn’t even spoke to more than two or three writers by then, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when the editor at that time communicated with me via old school letters at first, suggesting edits and offering encouragement. I did some more editing, sent it, and she asked for the manuscript.

I printed and mailed her the 140,000 word manuscript of what was then titled Center Springs, Texas, and waited. Yeah, I know it was way too long…now. The first hundred pages came back from a copy editor, with a list of problems. That individual picked the manuscript apart, much like a high school English teacher, and it looked as if she’d been in the process of turning into a werewolf at the same time she read it. The pages bled red ink, scalding comments, and I swear there were claw marks across some of them.

That individual wasn’t good at stroking writers. It seems she hated such repeated words as old, real, porch, and just, that I’d used over and over. I recall a number of suggestions and ways to tightened the work, and so I threw those pages on still another makeshift desk and gave up.

I gave up on an editor at that university press who was interested in publishing that work long before it was picked up in 2010 under a different name by Poisoned Pen Press. In essence, I didn’t know they were on the verge of accepting it for publication. I still slap my head in my sleep, when dreams arise and I see those communications from them in the trash.

Looking back, though, I guess it was a good thing I didn’t go with the university press, because that would have likely been a one-book deal. Instead, Poisoned Pen offered me a series that continues to this day.

Big Disappointment Number 4

That wasn’t the end of letdowns for me, though. Not by a long shot. A production company that had finished filming Winter’s Bone liked The Rock Hole, and called me direct to offer a movie deal!

However, my starter agent (which I fired not long after that offer) started playing games with the company and they quickly threw up their hands and backed away from the project.

But I had the Red River series with Poisoned Pen, and found an excellent agent who was experienced in the publishing world. Together, we worked on a second series that was picked up by Kensington. Frustrations faded to memories and I was a busy guy for a while, and still am, but I wanted to do something different.

Through friends who are bestselling authors, I heard about an up and coming eBook publisher that was looking for something different. They arranged for a face to face meeting at a conference in Colorado. I drove up, met the publisher, and we went out to dinner.

Big Disappointment Number…oh, what the hell.

The next day he agreed to publish something completely different for me, a weird western that he loved. We shook on it, with the promise from him to contact my agent and hammer out a contract.

Two days later, he crawfished on the deal with a lame excuse I won’t write here, and refused to take calls or emails. I was raised by people who survived the Great Depression, World War II, and fickle weather, and grew up with the absolute understanding that a handshake was a legal bond, a man’s word.

Apparently, he didn’t see it that way, and that series evaporated into the wind, but it didn’t stop me. Why? Because I refuse to give up and give in to setbacks.

Now, get back on that horse and ride.

If you continue on the path to being an author, you’re likely to ride that rollercoaster of highs and lows, it’s simply part of the business. But remember, never let ‘em show you’re wounded, and never, ever, give up.

Good luck and happy typing.

Reader Friday: Overcoming Your Greatest Obstacle

Reader Friday: Books to help you overcome your greatest obstacle

by Dale Ivan Smith

Writers face many obstacles—time, the day job, family responsibilities, health challenges, etc. Then there are publishing challenges, be it the traditional path, small press, or self-publishing.

However, in my experience, the greatest obstacle we face as writers is ourselves. Whether you consider writer’s block real, there are mindset issues such as managing expectations, procrastination, fear of failure, and many others. Getting out of our own way can make all the difference in our own writing.

Fortunately, there are books to help you get past your greatest obstacle. This retired librarian still likes to provide multiple resources, so here are three:

 The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield spent decades struggling to write, and then toiled trying to break-in as a screenwriter, finally succeeding when he co-wrote the story for the 1986 film, King Kong Lives, the sequel to the 1976 reboot of the original. Unfortunately, King Kong Lives bombed at the box office. Pressfield came to recognize that the biggest obstacle to our succeeding as writers is what he names Resistance, that part of ourselves which holds us back from engaging in a new endeavor that might change our lives, especially creative endeavors like writing. Each brief chapter provides an insight patterned after Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Pressfield breaks the book into three parts: Defining Resistance, Combating Resistance, and getting Beyond Resistance.

The Mental Game of Writing, by James Scott Bell. The Killzone’s very own James Scott Bell’s provides a tool chest of tips and strategies to help you with your mindset as a writer. He covers the gambit from the importance of deciding to become a writer and defining success for yourself, to creativity, production, joy, to not comparing yourself to others, dealing with stress, being inspired, and many more. Jim packed a terrific amount of very practical advice into this book. It’s a resource you can dip into repeatedly after you’ve read it, to look for help in any area that is an inner obstacle for you. Reading this book was like having Jim as a writing mentor, offering suggestions and tips to improve your mental game.

 Breakthrough, by J. Dharma Kelleher. Thriller writer Kelleher looks at creative self-doubt (akin to Pressfield’s “Resistance”) and how it affects our writing. Right off the bat, she provides tools to get past it: meditation, affirmations, and the power of re-framing how you look at an issue you’ve encountered in your writing or publishing. She discusses the importance of your health, understanding your own creative process, focusing on the work rather than the results, dealing with feedback, understanding the “delusion” of paying attention to reviews, and much more. She provides helpful advice, tips, and an extensive list of additional resources.


Now it’s your turn. Do you believe we writers are our own greatest obstacle to our own writing? What books or resources have helped you get out of your own way as a writer?



Handles, monikers, labels, tags, aliases, call signs, short-fors, or sobriquets—no matter what you call nicknames, there’s no doubting the popularity of people renaming people. Probably no culture ever existed that didn’t apply nicknames to friends and to foes. Certainly, that’s the case in today’s western world.

In books, we have unforgettable character nicknames like Tiny Tim and Scout. In movies, there’s Sundance Kid and the Karate Kid. In sports, there’s The Great One, The GOAT, and The Intimidator. And in politics—well, it’s full of nicknames—The Gipper, The Iron Lady, Slick Willie, Dubya, and on and on…

I grew up in a small town. Pretty much every youth had a nickname. Some of the boys were Girch, Squid, Roach, Sally (because he, for all-the-world, looked like a salamander), Charlie Tuna, and Smerchook. The girls? I remember Casey, Jimmy, Butchie, and one with the rather unflattering nickname of Skinhound.

The police world was another nickfest. I worked with Deano, Jake, Bootsie, Squigmeyer (also shortened to Squiggy), Rosco, Basil, The Wheel, Fast Eddie, Peacher, Speedy, and Percy. Those were male officers. Females were Oscar (nicknamed after a spectacular performance), Ike, Chiclets, Blow (real name Brenda Jobins), and my long-time detective partner Harry. Harry was a large lady, with large hair, and an even larger personality. She was nicknamed “Harry” after the Sasquatch/Bigfoot in the movie Harry and the Hendersons.

As a young cop in Canada’s national police force, the RCMP, I was posted from the academy to an isolated First Nations reserve. I swear they all had nicknames as well as their unpronounceable (to me) Indian or indigenous names. Weedy, Torchy, Lucky, Jam, Ritzie, Pat Squash, Hattie, and The Old Trout. I loved my time with these wonderful folks.

Back to policing. For fourteen years, I served on the Emergency Response Team (ERT or SWAT) that was overtop of regular policing duties. Every ERT member had a nickname, more for functionality than fun. These were call signs, much like the fighter pilot fraternity has. Call signs are fast and efficient ways to remember a name and communicate clearly in the heat of the moment. Call signs are unique and unforgettable. There is no mistaking who’s calling who.

Our ERT call signs were Mother, Sonny, Jimbo, Tubbs, Bude, Deet, Cro, and our leader—Boss Hogg. Me? My call sign was Alfred. I got it from that chameleon-like character on every cover of Mad Magazine—Alfred E. Neuman. (There’s a story behind this.) And Cro, by the way, looked like Cro-Magnon Man. Cro’s brow protruded so far and his nose was so flat that he couldn’t wear sunglasses.

Call signs are earned, usually from some outstanding event. They’re peer-given and not chosen by the bearer. You never give yourself a call sign. If you do, it’ll be replaced with one you really don’t like.

A month or so ago, I wrote a Kill Zone post titled Topping Top Gun Maverick. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll remember the call signs. Maverik, for Tom Cruise which carried over from the first Top Gun released in 1984. Goose, who was Maverick’s navigator and was killed in an aerial bailout. Rooster, who is Goose’s son and now Maverick’s protégé. Iceman, played by Val Kilmer. Hammer, who is trying to fire Maverick. Cyclone, who is also trying to fire Maverick. Warlock, who keeps emotions in line. And the rest of the cast—Hangman, Phoenix, Bob, Coyote, and Fan Boy.

I went down a rabbit hole and found these real fighter pilot call signs. In alphabetical order, here are the real deals and where the call signs come from:

Agony — Last name Payne

ALF — Annoying Little F**k

Alphabet — Pilot’s real name was Varsonofy Krestodovdvizhensky

Apollo — Last name Creed

Bambi — Pilot hit a pregnant deer on the runway with his nosegear in takeoff

Beagle — Pilot kept bouncing around on training landings

Berlin — Pilot turned wrong way on taxi strip and ran into a wall

Blaze — Caught himself on fire in the mess kitchen

Burbank — Pilot self-named as Hollywood and was peer-renamed

Caveman — Incredible tolerance to cold weather in survival training

Coma — Very slow talking pilot with Southern drawl

Captain — Pilot’s real name was James Kirk

Chocks — F-16 driver who began taxying before wheel chocks were removed

COOTS — Constantly Over-emphasizes Own Tactical Significance

Cypher — Broke through radio silence on a training flight, alerting the enemy

Dice — Pilot who took unnecessary chances

Dingle — Last name Berry

Duck — Pilot who took awhile learning evasive maneuvering (Sitting Duck)

Elvis — Hard to find guy, many reported sightings, but nothing concrete

Exxon — Pilot hurried through preflight checklist and missed his refueling

Fan Song — Pilot with big ears like a Fan Song fire-tracking radar antenna

Flowmax — Could never make it through a flight without using urinary relief tube

Gear Down — Forgot something on landing

Ghost — Last name Casper

Glory — Last name Hole

Gucci — Pilot who got 9-G drunk and vomited in a woman’s Gucci purse

Grumpy — Short pilot who was not a morning person

Hannibal — As in Lecter, and his smell of cauterized human flesh

Hurricane — Female F-18 Super Hornet driver named Katrina

Headless — Last name Horstman

Hyde — Pilot had split personality; most liked his Hyde side better than Jeckyl

Hi-Ho — Last name Silva

Inch — Dutch pilot measuring 5’ 4” tall

Intake — Pilot had the largest nose anyone in the squadron had ever seen

IRIS — “I Require Intense Supervision”

Jugs — First female Top Gun pilot graduating from Miramar

Kanga — Last name Rew

Krod — (Spell it backwards)

Krunch — Landing gear sound when hitting hard and short of runway

Legend — Trainee who failed an exam no one had ever failed

Lick — Last name MaWhinney

Link — Soviet-born pilot with mono brow, flat forehead, large knuckles

Me-So — Last name Horn

Marx — Pilot’s first name was Karl, and he hated communists

Magellan — Pilot had a poor sense of direction, not in line with any compass

NAG — First female Marine Corps F/A 18 WSO (Not A Guy)

NotSo — Last name Bright

Omelet — Dutch pilot call-signed “Uitsmijter” – English translation “Grilled Egg”

OhMy — Last name Gaud

PE — Pilot accidently Prematurely Ejected while on the runway

Pyro — Pilot accidently discharged evasive flares and set airfield on fire

Plan B — Pilot perpetually unlucky with the bar ladies

PopTop — Pilot who accidently jettisoned not one, but two canopies

Razor — Pilot who made the sharpest turns and maneuvers ever seen

Rebound — Pilot in so many relationships with the same woman

ROTOR — Ran Off The Only Runway

Rushmore — Pilot fined for climbing Mt. Rushmore and selfying on Lincoln’s beard

SLAW — Shops Like A Woman

Salad — First name Cesar

Salesman — Pilot who had a hard time closing deals with women

SALSA — Student Aviator Lacking Situational Awareness

T-Bone — Pilot who dropped a practice bomb straight through a cow

TBAR — That Boy Ain’t Right

Teflon — Pilot with smooth moves in the air and on the ground

Tumble Weed — Tall, vegan pilot called “Weed” who fainted and went down hard

Vapor — An F-16 Viper driver who landed with less than 10 pounds of fuel left

Vodka — Last name Smirnoff

WiFi — Pilot whose Wife Financed his new Porsche

Werewolf — Hairy pilot always grounded during full moon exercises, no exceptions

Yoda — A short Irish pilot who spoke his words backwards

Zulu — Trainee who always got time calcs wrong in flight school

Zen — A real F-15 Eagle driver more accurate without his computer gunsight system


Kill Zoners — Nicknames? Do you use them in characterization? How important are nicknames in a story? And do you have a personal nickname you’d like to share?


Terry Odell

Book beginnings are tough, as evidenced by the interest in The Kill Zone’s First Page Critiques. A blog post I’d read recently talked about having about 250 words to ‘hook’ a reader. That’s not even a full page.

And, it seems, no matter how many books we’ve written, how many times we’ve stared at that cursor on the screen under the words “Chapter One”, it doesn’t get easier.

I know this is a frequent topic her at the Zone, but it hit home (again) as both myself and my critique partner were starting new projects. And, we both were falling into the same old quicksand. She’s more of a planner than I am, and she was starting a new series, so her head was filled with ideas, many of which would fall into the “tell us this later” category. Her first chapter was full of them.

I was going back to my Mapleton Mystery series, so I know most of my main characters. But there were things from the last book that readers might need to know, threads that were left open. Not dangling, not hanging onto cliffs, just springboards to explore in a future book. If you’re interested, I posted an article about endings on my personal blog Monday.

Even “knowing the rules”, when I shared my first draft of page 1 of a new book, a draft I’d set aside to deal with final edits and formatting of Cruising Undercover, an author friend pointed out that my first paragraph was … exposition. In my mind, there was a conflict there, a problem, but there I went, letting my protagonist think about it.

Open with Dialogue. Dialogue is Action.

How many times have I “heard” James Scott Bell and others here pound that advice into us? More than I can count, yet, even knowing this, understanding this, I was so eager to describe the problem so that’s what I did.

This was my opening draft paragraph:

Gordon Hepler held his breath as Angie, his wife, stepped into the house he’d hoped she’d approve of. Not that he didn’t love her—to the moon and back—but her tiny apartment above the Daily Bread diner she ran was … tiny. She’d agreed to consider moving, but so far, she’d found fault with every house they’d looked at. This one—fingers crossed—would meet her criteria. Except for one minor wrinkle, it was perfect.

There was a line of dialogue immediately after this paragraph, but no, I hadn’t opened with it, not to mention loading the paragraph with back story.

Back to that blog post. The author suggested 7 points that should hook readers, and that authors should strive for 4 of them in their first 250 words. Rather than repeat what the contributors to TKZ say in their First Page Critiques, I’m going to open the floor to discussion. Do you agree with these 7 hooks?

  1. Plunge into the action
  2. Communicate a theme
  3. Raise a question that needs answering
  4. Hook the reader’s emotions
  5. Communicate the stakes
  6. Establish tone/voice
  7. Introduce the main character (if possible, by name)

Do you think squeezing 4 of them into half a page is effective? Obviously several can be combined (avoid the laundry list!), but 250 words isn’t much real estate to deal with.

And if you want to read the full article, which contains examples, it’s here.

Floor’s yours.

Cruising Undercover by Terry OdellNow Available for Pre-Order: Cruising Undercover.

Not accepting the assignment could cost him his job. Accepting it could cost him his life.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Reading Is a Luxury

Photo credit: emmanuel ikwuegbu –

By Debbie Burke



In the US, 130 million adults read below sixth grade level.


Me, too.

But, according to the US Department of Education, 54% of people ages 16-74 fall into that category.

Most writers take reading for granted, as automatic and effortless as breathing.

I certainly did…until I couldn’t.

Recently I had cataract surgeries in both eyes, three weeks apart. Those three weeks of limbo slapped me in the face with the realization how much I depended on reading just to get through the day.

Because of myopia, I’ve worn glasses since sixth grade. Over time, my nearsightedness worsened to the point where I couldn’t even see the big E on the eye chart.

True story: without glasses, I once mistook a dark brown house for a UPS truck.

For the past couple of years, increasingly strong prescriptions could no longer fix the problem. Near or far, my world was blurry.

Hence, cataract surgery was the only option.

Ten minutes under the scalpel implanted a new lens that almost instantly corrected vision in the left eye to 20-20.

An absolute miracle!

But my right eye was still 20-800. Objects were clear up to about four inches away, then faded in fog.

My wonderful 20-20 left eye could see hundreds of feet away but not up close.

I was cockeyed. (Some people say that’s nothing new!)

The optician tried popping out the left lens in my glasses but that turned out to be as disorienting as five shots of tequila.

For computer work and reading, I was non-operational.

After surgery, physical restrictions included no bending over, lifting, or strenuous activity.

No vacuuming? No problem!

But that also halted my regular exercises like gardening, Zumba, and air boxing. Thankfully, walking was okay.

That made me realize reading and/or writing normally occupied 12-14 hours of each day. How could I get any work done?

There are free-standing magnifiers for computer screens but $100+ was too much of an investment for three weeks’ of use. Dollar Store readers helped a bit but soon caused eyestrain.

Photo credit: lilartsy – pexels

A pirate patch and magnifying glass worked marginally but awkwardly.

This would have been the perfect opportunity to try audiobooks…except I couldn’t read how to download them.

From across the room, I could clearly see the spines of books on my TBR pile but I couldn’t read the insides.

Driving was allowed but, when I took the car for service, I couldn’t read the repair list and invoice. The bank’s ATM screen was a blur. So were price stickers on supermarket shelves—probably just as well not to see how much they’d gone up since the week before!

The list goes on and on: product labels, instructions, on/off switches for appliances, texts on the phone, cable connections like audio, video, auxiliary.

I couldn’t even read the directions on the various bottles of eyedrops I had to use multiple times each day.

Most every task in life required reading.

How does someone who can’t read or reads at a low level navigate through today’s world?

According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy:

To read a driver’s license manual, you need to have a sixth-grade reading level. To hold a job as a cook: seventh-grade level. Directions on an aspirin bottle: eighth-grade level. Understanding frozen TV dinner instructions or to get a job as a mechanic or supply clerk: ninth-grade level. Newspapers: high school level. Apartment lease: college.

Let’s not even talk about filling out a tax return.

The Foundation’s 2021 report reveals staggering statistics that cause economic, social, and health deficits.

The U.S. could be losing up to $2.2 trillion—or 10% of GDP—in economic growth due to low adult literacy rates.

  • The existing gap in digital literacy skills could cause 76% of Black individuals and 62% of Hispanic individuals to be shut out or under-prepared for 86% of jobs in the U.S. by 2045.
  • Low-literate adults are four times more likely than others to report low levels of health, requiring hospitalization and using emergency services at significantly higher rates.


Per the Governors’ Early Literacy Foundation:

Illiteracy and crime are connected. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

This recent experience made me appreciate that reading is a luxury not everyone has access to. People who can’t read are doomed to a life of struggle and frustration.

Processed By  ImageMagick,


Remember Henry Bemis from The Twilight Zone? He found himself in a post-apocalyptic world where he rejoiced in the newfound luxury of unlimited reading…until his glasses broke.

Unlike poor Henry, my inability to read only lasted three weeks and ended with a miracle of new vision.



My world no longer looks like an Impressionist painting. I can see individual leaves on trees, blades of grass, street signs (oh, that’s where I was supposed to turn).

The gift of improved sight is incredible.

But the gift of being able to read again runs a close second.



Thanks to Kay DiBianca who introduced me to the worthy nonprofit Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.


TKZers: How would your life change if you couldn’t read? What is your most important reason for reading?


Cover image by Brian Hoffman



Receive a FREE short story, The Job Interview, when you join my reader’s group at

Adventures in Reversion – Getting the Rights Back

Reversion, noun. the act of turning something the reverse way.


I recently received the rights back to my first novel, The Watch on the Fencepost. Since many writers either have gone through this process or will in the future, I thought it might be valuable to share my experience.

DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice. It’s just a list of a few of the lessons I learned while navigating this new pathway in the writing journey.


First, let me say I was happy with the company that published my first book. The publisher was easy to work with, and I had fully intended to leave the book with them. For several reasons, though, my husband and I decided to publish the next books in the series independently through our Wordstar Publishing Company. So, in order to promote the series as a whole, I needed to have the rights to the first book.

Once I had met the obligations required by my contract with the publisher, I requested the reversion of the rights to me, and the publisher agreed. That was the easy part of this whole process.

Note: This is still a work in progress, but here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Cover – I had to get a new cover since the original one was licensed by the publishing company. No problem here – I wanted a new cover anyway.
  • ISBN – a new publisher requires a new ISBN.
  • Content – I didn’t change any of the story content. The only changes were to the Copyright page and the About the Author page. However, this is an opportunity for authors to make significant changes to the content if they like.
  • Formatting – Since the publisher had made a few changes to the manuscript after I turned it over to them, I didn’t have the latest copy on my laptop. I requested and received the latest copy from them and they sent me a PDF. I had to convert it to Word in order to work with it in Vellum. There were a few “gotchas” along the way that made this the most time-consuming part of the process.
  • Reviews – I wanted to retain all of the 200+ reviews the book had on Amazon, so I contacted KDP Support and Author Central to make sure I was doing everything needed to keep the reviews. Basically, they told me the title, author, and metadata in the new edition had to be exactly the same as in the old edition. They suggested I publish the new edition while the old one was still online so that they could be linked.
  • KDP requirements – I decided to publish on Amazon first. When I had all the files in place, I let my publisher know the plan and I published the ebook and paperback through KDP. Everything went well until KDP did the content review and discovered the content was like the old version of the book which was still live on Amazon. I supplied them with an email the publisher had sent me that verified he was returning the rights to me. Then they linked the new edition with the old one so that the reviews would appear on the new detail page. There are still a few issues left to be resolved, but the new Wordstar version is available and can be purchased on Amazon.
  • Other retailers – I also published, with varying degrees of success, to the other retail platforms: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, and ingram Spark. As of today, there are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. The publisher has not yet unpublished the first edition, and a few other issues need to be addressed.
  • The Audiobook – This is still uncharted territory to me. I’ll have to work with Findaway Voices to have the rights transferred to me and to change the cover image. The audiobook has more than 250 reviews on Chirpbooks, and I hope to find a way to keep those.
  • Miscellaneous – If you decide to get your book rights back for a book that was traditionally  published, be sure to save all the information from the former version, including ASIN and ISBN.
  • Major lesson learned – Be ready to deal with unanticipated problems.

Like most other things in life, this has taken a lot longer than I thought it would. And I discovered different members of support staffs had different answers to my questions. At least KDP will talk to the customer. The other retailers would only work through email, and that slowed things down considerably.

All in all, the reversion process has moved ahead reasonably well, and I’m still optimistic that we can resolve the rest of the issues.


So TkZers: Have you gotten rights back to a previously published book? Do you have any insights or advice to add to this list?


In celebration of having gotten this far, The Watch on the Fencepost ebook is available on Amazon all week for 99¢. Click here to get your copy.



“I started it … and to my surprise, I couldn’t stop. Nice job!” – Will Shortz, New York times crossword puzzle editor and NPR Puzzlemaster.