Kindle Dementia

Let’s talk about “Kindle Dementia.” I have it. Do you? Kindle Dementia is manifested when the owner of a Kindle finds a book to purchase, often at a reduced price, and utilize Amazon’s “buy now with one click” feature only to be informed that they have purchased the book previously. Amazon — in the event that the purchaser doesn’t already feel foolish enough — also advises the date that the book was previously purchased, said date being a year, or a few months, or even a few days prior to the current effort to purchase the same book twice. There is no doubt in my mind that at some point in the future the software or algorithm or whatever in heck it is called will be able to tell you what you were doing when you first bought the book and what other books you’ve bought and read instead of the one which you want to read so much that you’re trying to buy it again just so you don’t forget. What bothers me is that this has happened to me twice in the last three weeks, with different books. I think. Obviously, this isn’t just happening to me; I say “obviously” because although I have been known to think highly of myself (ask my family) my narcissism hasn’t progressed so far that I think that Amazon devised this feature just for me, or a few other people of my age and station. So I ask: has the heartbreak of Kindle Dementia manifested itself in your world? Have you accidentally tried to purchase a book for your Kindle twice? Have you done it often?      

First Page Critique

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Today’s first page critique is for what I think is a sci-fi thriller. It’s called DEALBREAKER. My comments are at the end. Enjoy!

Mackenzie stood upright with his arms folded, concentrating on the sound made by the wheat on the planets surface far below as it gently swayed in the artificial wind. He cleared his mind of the constant flow of information from his implants, willing the augmented reality overlay to dissolve from his vision. Next he closed his eyes, allowing his arms to fall by his sides as he took cognisance of his own breathing. Finally his mind and body could relax.

Opening his eyes he looked into the distance, his view partially obscured by the huge hexagons of the domed superstructure protecting the buildings and land around him. The eastern horizon was dominated by a wall of dark cloud that blocked the view of the stars beyond. Already the very highest altitudes were tinged with crimson, hinting at the vivid reds and oranges that daylight would soon ignite. By the time the storm reached Dunvegan the sky would be a violent tempest of dust that would shred an EVA suit from anyone caught in the open.

Under normal circumstances the effort to secure all personnel and assets from the deadly weather front would be the companies top priority. Dealing with extreme weather was just part of the way of life on Demeter. It enabled junior operators to prove their worth to the company, and more seasoned figures the chance to prove they were still worth retaining. Mackenzie would rather have been coordinating the effort, ensuring the long range operators had taken sanctuary in the nearest survival dome, that those closer to base had made it back to the safety of Dunvegan. But today wasn’t normal. He’d initially queried the decision to delegate all surface operations to a relatively junior team, but Mackenzie had learned to trust Munro’s judgement during a crises, and had spoken no more about it from that point on.

He allowing his implants to interact with his mind and body again as he lowered his gaze from the horizon to the rest of the city. Calling up a tactical overlay, the numerous dome structures now appeared to take on different colours against the dusty reds and oranges of the planets surface. Most were now either white, to indicate no known disturbance, or a deep blue for those where order had been restored. The majority of red areas were dotted around the civic government quarter in the south of the city. He shook his head slowly and allowed himself a smile. When would they ever learn?


First of all there are numerous grammatical errors/typographical errors that detracted from the story. These include planets instead of planet’s, companies instead of company’s (or companies’ if there are multiple companies involved); crises instead of crisis, allowing instead of allowed. When it comes to an editor, these kind of errors can be fatal. I can’t stress this enough – the occasional typo is forgivable but wholesale grammatical errors are more than likely going to doom your submission. 

That being said, I thought the writer did a great job of providing an atmospheric, intriguing set up to his/her story. My main issue with this as a first page, however, is that it is all set up. There’s only exposition and very little in the way of action to draw the reader in immediately. Now, I am not an avid reader of science-fiction but I expect a writer in this genre needs to balance world-building with action/tension and pacing from the get go. I feel that the book needs to start in a different place – perhaps in the midst of a ‘disturbance’ in one of the domes where order hasn’t been restored and where we (as readers) encounter Mackenzie trying to juggle re-establishing government order while worrying about security and safety given the approaching dust storm.

Although this first page has a definite post-apocalyptic feel I think we need more immediacy to the crisis rather than just background. I also felt that there was too much repetition in terms of color. We have the vivid red which will be ignited once the dust storm arrives and we also have red areas where (I assume) disturbances are occurring within the domes. Though we get the feeling Mackenzie might be in law enforcement we aren’t entirely sure what his role is (does he work for the company? for the government? Who is Munro? Why is today not a normal day?) Most of this can be dealt with later in the first chapter but because this page has so much exposition it feels a little ungrounded without more specificity about Mackenzie and why we should (as readers) care about him as a character. I was also unsure about the significance of the last line or why Mackenzie ‘allowed himself a smile’.

What do you think? 

When is “Dark” too dark?

Nancy J. Cohen

One of the words I’ve been repeating in my works lately has been “dark”. You know, the man swung his dark gaze her way. He wore a dark suit. He had his dark hair brushed back over a wide forehead. Shadows darkened in a corner as he gave her a dark scowl.


This can be considered lazy writing, except I hadn’t even been aware of this fault until I ran one of the self-edit programs described in my personal blog at I embarked on a search and find mission to replace as many of these weak terms as possible.

Let’s start with clothes. Face it, men wear dark suits. To get a better idea of colors, I accessed this website: Ah, now it became clear which colors are popular for men and suited to business. My descriptions of dark suits changed to black, charcoal, slate or navy. That’s a lot better than “dark”, isn’t it?

charcoal blazer

If you want to get even more particular, go online to a department store site like and put in the search feature “suits, “blazers”, or “sportcoats” and you’ll get a wide variety of colors.

navy blazer

What about the character who has dark hair? Is it black or dark brown? Check this reference: Instead of black hair, give your character raven, ebony, or onyx hair. Varying the descriptions adds spice to your story.


Also watch out for redundancies like dark shadows & dark scowl. Both of these work well without the “dark” element.

Despite its ambiguity, this word is popular for movies. Witness Batman’s The Dark Knight; Thor: The Dark World; and Star Trek into Darkness.

The filmmakers can get away with it, but as a writer, you cannot. What other ambiguous words like this might you want to change?

Five online mistakes writers should never make

Clare’s post yesterday about social media has inspired me to add my own two cents about social media. Specifically, I’d like to discuss some of the language errors I see online at many sites (Fortunately, I don’t notice these mistakes here at TKZ, which reinforces my already high regard for this community). 

Anyone can make a typo or a mistake when they fat-finger something in haste or after consuming too many Singapore Slings. But there are a few gooflaws which seem to reflect a lack of understanding about the use of language. 

Here, in no particular order, is a list of the five language mistakes that have been driving me absolutely bat poop crazy lately, especially when they’re made by people who claim to be writers:

  1.  Loose/Lose: Perhaps because my series deals with body image issues, I lurk at a few sites where people discuss their need to lose weight. Too often, someone will say she needs to “loose” weight. Whenever I encounter this error, I have to control my itchy typing finger to keep from replying with a snarky correction. Nobody likes snark.
  2. Its/It’s: This is the mistake I see the most. People often use “it’s” when the correct form should be “its”. “It’s” is used as a replacement for “it is”. “Its” is a possessive pronoun, as in, “This post has got its dander up.” When unsure, try replacing the word with “it is”, and see if it makes sense,
  3. Your/You’re: Sigh. I don’t think I even have to explain this one to our readers. This offense seems to be committed mostly by Millennials, including some who claim to be writers. These people make me despair of the current state of English teaching in America. On the other hand, I don’t have to wonder how their literary ambitions will pan out.
  4. Their/There/They’re: These words seem to get misused on news sites a lot, mostly by online bloviators who use anonymous IDs and savagely attack the opinions of other people, no matter how benign those comments are. So, to recap: “Their” is used when you are referring to more than one person and something they possess. “There” is the word that is most often misused in place of the other forms. “They’re” is a contraction for “they are.”
  5. Compliment/Complement: “Compliment” is something nice you say to someone. “Complement” is something that adds to, enhances, or completes something else. It can also be used as a verb with an object.

 So that’s my rant for today. Do you have a pet peeve about language you’d care to add to my list?

Social Media for Authors

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

We’ve blogged a lot about the need for authors to be savvy marketers, as well as great writers, and to use social media wisely and effectively to promote their books. At the Willamette Writers Conference I attended a few weeks ago this was evident in all the presentations provided on publishing and marketing ebooks. 

As someone who has only used social media sporadically in relation to my books, I was interested in how many of the presenters viewed the social media world as a fragmented one – with options such as Facebook and Twitter having, in their view, only limited reach and effectiveness in terms of actual marketing. I have certainly noticed a real uptick in the number of Facebook posts I receive that are little more than either blatant self promotion or thinly disguised marketing (To be honest I’m getting pretty sick of hearing what # on Amazon’s rankings certain author’s books are – does it mean I’m more likely to buy their book because I read a Facebook post on this – short answer, no). Most of the time it doesn’t bother me though – I’m always interested if it’s a post on a one-day sale or some special event/signing etc. – but I remain unconvinced that Facebook is a tool for actual marketing. In my mind it’s more of a tool to connect with people who have already opted to be your ‘friend’ (either on your author page or for you as an individual). I’m not sure it necessarily gains an author new readers.

After digesting what many of the presenters at the Willamette Writers conference said on the use of social media, I thought I’d get some feedback from the TKZ on their views. It will be interesting to get your take on the issues raised. So…here goes… 

  • When mapping out your own marketing plan (or author platform development) how do you view Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, or Tumblr etc. 
  • Do you adopt a different approach and have different expectations in terms of using these? 
  • Do you use all or only some of them? 
  • Are there any you just don’t bother with?
  • Do you replicate content across social media or do you produce discrete, original content/posts for each?

In short, how are you navigating the social media world when it comes to marketing and promoting your books?

The Best Way to Market Your Books

by James Scott Bell

Every writer is looking for that secret marketing weapon that works every time. Or a palette of possibilities that virtually guarantees success. But reality keeps affirming the old adage: We know that 20% of marketing works; we just don’t know which 20%.
But of course we all have to market our books. This applies whether we’re self-pubbing, going traditional or doing a bit of both. The author is expected to work the social media circuit, build a platform, get the word out any which way he can. Sometimes it all feels like loading mercury with a pitchfork.
Comes now the marvelous Joanna Penn with the new go-to

book. Joanna already runs one of the most helpful websites for indie writers, The Creative Penn. Go there and hang around awhile. You’ll find material aplenty, including a podcast with a certain author of note (at least, of note to himself).

In How to Market a Book, Joanna approaches the whole enterprise by way of a skiing metaphor. Marketing a book is like hitting the slopes on a fresh pack of snow, and so:
Your path is not a straight line. You have to zigzag
“Even though you know the general direction you want to head in,” Joanna writes, “you can’t direct yourself straight down the mountain, or you will certainly have an accident. Even pros have to change direction and turn their skis across the slope. There is no direct path, so don’t expect there to be.”
While you don’t want to fall victim to “Obsessive Promotion Disorder” (OPD), you do have to be aware and watch the terrain. One of the great advantages an indie writer has is the ability to change direction quickly via price pulsing, new cover designs, paid promos, or simply adding more product.
It’s easier to turn once you’re moving
“You need some momentum in order to turn on skis, so you actually have to get moving before you try. In the same way, you actually have to start writing in order to have something to edit and improve . . .You have to start marketing somehow so you can learn what works for you and improve over time.”
One of the benefit’s of Joanna’s book is that it is a menu of options. You can pick and choose what appeals to you, get started right away and establish some Mo.
You can’t learn it all from books: you have to get on the slope 
“You can’t be a great skier by reading about it or going to seminars or watching YouTube videos. You have to actually put in the hours skiing. The same applies to writing, publishing and marketing.”
There is a time for study. It should be part of your ongoing self-improvement program, as both a writer and marketer. But at the same time you must act. As a writer, you must produce the words. As a marketer, you must toot the old horn. Even if that horn makes barely a peep at first, at least you’re learning.
You’re going to fall over and it’s going to hurt
“But you get better over time. If you’re afraid of falling over, you will never be a good skier. Because you will fall, it happens a lot and it has to happen if you’re going to push yourself to get better and go on more advanced runs. So be prepared to fall, to fail, and to just get up again. Keep writing, keep putting your words out and keep experimenting with marketing.”
The writing life is so much about overcoming setbacks and challenges and perceived failures. The only way through it is to never stop, ever. The benefit is you get stronger that way.
Some days, the weather is perfect and you can see for miles and the sun is shining and it’s amazing!  
“This is meant to be fun! Yes, it’s a career and an income, but it’s also a passion. The reason we keep going back to skiing, keep going back up the slope, is that there is exhilaration and joy in the process, not just the outcome of getting to the bottom. Some days, the weather will be perfect and we will have amazing runs on pristine, soft snow. Other days, the

icy cold will make us grit our teeth to even manage one run. But we keep going back because we love it.”

You gotta love it to get through the hard times. And if you’re a real writer, you wouldn’t have it any other way. You take your shots because you know the joy of writing “in the zone.” You know how your writer’s soul whoops when you nail a scene. Even when that whoop is out loud at Starbucks.
So what’s the best way to market your books? Your way. Select from all the modes and means out there, doing as much as you want without taking away from the most important thing of all—your actual writing. Write well, write often, and then tell people about it. Master the five fundamental laws in Self-Publishing Attack! and build your personal marketing plan with the help of Joanna Penn and How to Market a Book.
If you’re a published writer, what are your favored means of marketing? What walls have you run into? What would you advise writers to avoid?  

Going Places

By Mark Alpert

I’m going to a wedding in Vermont this weekend. I know the state fairly well; my first job (almost thirty years ago!) was at a newspaper whose coverage area straddled the border between New Hampshire and Vermont. I went back and forth between Claremont, New Hampshire, and Springfield, Vermont, almost every day, and at night I often ventured to a bar called Bentley’s in Woodstock and a place in Proctorsville whose name I can’t remember. (The Station? Maybe that was it. I do remember that last call was at 12:30 am, which seemed ridiculously early.) I’ve skied at Killington, Okemo, Mount Snow and Stratton, and I went to the state fair in Rutland and the inaugural ball of former governor Madeline Kunin. But the wedding this weekend will take place in the fabulously picturesque northeastern corner of Vermont, which is so different from the rest of the state that it’s called the Northeast Kingdom. I’ve never been there, so this is going to be a real treat.

And I’ll be checking out the place as a possible setting for future novels. I’m always doing that. I don’t feel comfortable writing about a place unless I’ve been there.

In my upcoming novel The Furies (to be published in April, right after the paperback of Extinction comes out) I decided to set a gunfight in Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn I’m not so familiar with. I wanted to put the scene in a neighborhood that was gentrifying but still kind of dicey, and that’s what everyone says about Bushwick. But I was feeling a little uneasy about the choice, so I decided to take a stroll down Bushwick Avenue the other day. I started at the gentrifying western edge of the neighborhood, and I did indeed see many hipsters and artist types hanging out at newly renovated cafes carved from the ground floors of former warehouses. And as I walked a couple of miles east, the hipster percentage gradually decreased and I started to see abandoned buildings and lots of graffiti, and I definitely got the sense, “Yeah, this is dicey.” On the plus side, I felt a lot better about the choice of neighborhood for my book, but on the minus side I began to worry about wandering into a real gunfight. So I cut the expedition short and found a great little deli and bought a bottle of Jarritos fruit-punch soda. It’s delicious stuff, incredibly sweet. Then I climbed up the stairs to the elevated track of the J subway line and headed back to Manhattan.

First Page Critique – The Good Guys

Jordan Dane

A brave author/follower of TKZ has anonymously submitted the opener to a book entitled – The Good Guys. My critique will be on the flip side. Enjoy!

Fotolia_3029480_XS (2)
Purchased from Fotolia by Jordan Dane

I should’ve let the cops arrest me. After all, it was just a drug deal in a neighbourhood park. A much smaller crime than taking a hostage at gun-point. I’d have most likely just got a date with the Magi and been home in time for lunch.  A lot less trouble that I was in now.  But it was a stressful situation, and in the heat of the moment, I panicked. 

“Are you a fucking retard, Tay?” Si yells. “I told you to get the money, hand over the shit, return. How the fuck did you manage to come back with no money, no drugs and this son-of-a-bitch?” 

His fist strikes my jaw and I fly backward. A dull moan comes out before I can stop it. I’m fucked now. Even though I’m a chick, Si likes people to take their beatings ‘like men.’  Before I hit the floor he grabs my by the front of my jumper and pulls me back to my feet. Then he appears in my face, so close I can smell the sausage on his breath. 

“Say it.” 

“Say what?”

“Say: I’m a fucking retard.”

“I’m a fucking retard.” I speak slowly and clearly, holding his gaze.

He smiles. “Good.” 

I start to exhale, praying it’s over, but then he grabs my ponytail and the air whooshes past my face. The room blurs. At first, it feels like someone is attacking my scalp with a thousand tiny needles, then it’s more like half a dozen thick, sharp blades. White noise is all around, but in the background, the far, far, background, I hear a husky voice. 

“Leave her alone.” 

Suddenly released from Si’s grip, I slump to the floor and stare at my hostage. Did he just say that? Fuck me. He hold Si’s gaze, but I see fear in his eyes. Fear and something else. I can’t quite place it. There’s a scent of familiarity about him. Must have done a drop to him before. 

“Sorry, man, are you feeling left out? Don’t worry. It’s your turn now.”

Si cracks his huge, mangled knuckles then pulls a shiny, black handgun out of the back of his jeans.  He points it at my hostage. I now know what I saw in his eyes. Hope. I know, because now it has been extinguished.

My Critique:

A.) First thing I want to point out are the typos. I’ve bolded and colored the ones I found in red. There are 3. This is where reading your work aloud would’ve helped, but typos are a big NO NO, especially with such a short excerpt. An editor or agent would see these and think the rest of the book is riddled with them. Submitting work for publication or representation is competitive. Don’t give them a reason to turn you down. Beta readers checking your work might catch these too.

B.) The intro starts with a bit of back story set up that is written in past tense before it propels the reader into the present. It might’ve been more effective to keep the reader in the moment as the story unfolds, without the set up that doesn’t tell much anyway. I would almost rather have read THAT scene (of how the whole thing went wrong and how she was stuck with this hostage). Seeing the aftermath is less interesting to me.

C.) When Si first mentions that she “comes back with this son of a bitch,” it might be more effective to draw the reader’s attention to who he is referring to. Since this is in her POV, you could have her look at the guy and show the reader what she sees. Instead we have to wait until the end to realize who this guy might be and know he’s in trouble. The author has created a mystery at the beginning, but not capitalized on this hostage or teased the reader with who he is until after the fact.

D.) The use of profanity so heavy in the beginning can not only be a turn off to readers, but editors/agents too. Here the word fuck is used 4 times in such a short segment. There are times when this word can be effective and I’ve certainly used it before in my books, but I use it sparingly and in the body of the work. We’ve chatted about the use of profanity on TKZ before, but I wanted to point out that using it so heavily in this intro can be another red flag for an industry professional reading this as a writing sample.

E.) One of my editors asked me to change a word ‘spaz’ or spastic because it had the derogatory meaning of retarded in the UK and she didn’t want to risk using the word if it turned off that market. But in this intro, we see the word ‘retarded’ used several times, and coupled with profanity. I’m not sure how this would be received, but I wanted to point out what my editor found necessary to change.

F.) In the description of Si hitting her, it reads at a distance as if the author (or the character) is watching it from faraway. If I got hit in the face, I would not know what happened. I’d ‘feel’ more. My eyes would water, my jaw would throb, the pain would radiate through me, and I’d see stars and be dizzy. I’d feel embarrassed, hurt, and many other things, but the writing in first person has to come inside the character, using the senses.

G.) This is a nit pick, but the name of Si forced me out of the writing for a bit. It seemed like a typo. I’m Hispanic and the word “Si” with an accent mark means YES in Spanish. I thought it might be a typo for the word SO as well. If you have a nickname for your character, I would make sure it is more distinctive and not too similar to another word that would trip up the reader.

H.) The use of the word MAGI (for magistrate) sets this book possibly in the UK, but definitely not the US (not that it has to be). The spelling of ‘neighbourhood’ gives a hint of this too. If this story takes place in a specific country, I would be tempted to use a tag line to establish that with the reader right away.

I.) In addition, and my biggest point, the writing of this author is very sparse. It is quick snippets into the mind of our girl, Tay, but little else. I would like to get a feel of the setting and put the reader into the scene using the reader’s senses. Writing in a sparse style can move pace, but it shouldn’t at the expense of a richer character voice. That’s what would make this piece more memorable. So what would add color and ‘voice’ to this work? Try answering these questions and incorporate those thoughts into this intro to add flavor.

Questions to build what we know about Tay:

  1. What has driven Tay to be a mule for a drug dealer? Does she have a roof over her head? Where did she sleep last night? Is she doing criminal acts for money to survive or is she desperate to take care of someone else? Or are her motives a secret?
  2. What is she wearing? Is she cold? Hungry? Needing a shower?
  3. How does she feel about other people she sees at the park where the drug deal goes down? Is she an outsider to the normal people who are there for other reasons? Does the scene remind her of her past? How so?
  4. When she’s at the park, what does she smell? Does the hot dog vendor make her hungry? Does she see people with money, paying for things, and resent it?
  5. Who is the hostage and why does she take him? She knows she’s in trouble with Si, but bringing a hostage will put him in harm’s way too. Why does she do it?

These are just a few questions—and you certainly don’t have to answer them in the intro—but if you back up where you start and take it from where things start to go wrong for Tay at the drug deal, you could incorporate some of her feelings with a touch of her motivation and what she sees, hears, tastes, etc to make her more sympathetic by the time Si punches her for screwing things up. 

The author could have a big mystery going as to why this out of place street kid is in the park in the first place–the furtive glances, the tension–until the drug deals goes down and everything unravels. She would come off as a criminal, take a hostage, but the reader might be compelled to read on if she comes across as vaguely sympathetic with hints of her motivation (without giving too much away).

Writing in first person present tense is a great way to bring the reader into the heart of the character, to really know what is in her head, but that doesn’t happen in this sample.

To make Tay more interesting, the author must give her opinions of her surroundings and her situation, and enough insight that will allow the reader to know why Tay deserves a starring role in this book. I want to care more about her and her hostage, but I’m not vested in them yet. Back up the time frame of this intro, and make us care about Tay and the poor guy who gets drawn into her mess, and you would have a more compelling start.

What do you think TKZers? Anything to add that might help this brave author?

Jordan Dane’s BLOOD SCORE now available in ebook at Amazon for the discounted price of $2.99 – Buy at this LINK.

A dangerous liaison ignites the bloodlust of a merciless killer