How To *Easily* Publish On Apple Books

“Going wide” is a hostile issue for indies. It’s somewhere up there with the duke-it-out debate on plotting vs pantsing and the never-ending fight over show vs tell. For me, going wide was a no-brainer once a much-more-successful indie friend said, “Garry, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table by remaining exclusive on Amazon.”

So it was that last year, in the year whose name shall not be mentioned, I took the leap of faith and published my ebooks on Kobo and Nook. (Best damn book business decision I ever made.) I’m still with Amazon, though, and I freely admit I still make the most money letting the Zon pimp me out. However, Kobo is great, simple to use, and gives me a wider exposure than AZ. I’ve had Kobo downloads in 66 different countries. Nook, on the other hand, is barely worth the bother.

I couldn’t go wide on Apple until recently. That’s because I’m a PC guy and Apple publishing was exclusive to Mac users. That changed when Apple completely remodeled their ebook and audio book store and opened its Apple Books For Authors membership to PCers.

I bit into the Apple platform over the last few weeks and moved 8 publications in my based-on-true-crime series over to Apple Books. They’re now up and available if anyone wants to take a look. Publishing on Apple took a bit of time and, from the stats so far, seems to be worth it. But… there are a few things I’ve learned about Apple that I wish someone would have told me at the start. Hopefully this post will help someone who wants to know how to easily publish on Apple Books.

The Big Difference Between Apple Books and the Other E-Tailers

I’m probably like you in that I research things before I take them on. Publishing on Apple Books was no different than any other new venture, so I did my diligent homework before the dive. I read some blogs, watched a few videos, and took an Apple-sponsored webinar hosted on Alli – the Alliance of Independent Authors. All good stuff, but all failed to explain the big difference between Apple Books and the other e-tailers. And I had to find out a vital secret — the hard way.

Before exposing this vital secret, let me point you to a few good Apple Books publishing resources. First, go right through the Apple Books For Authors website and absorb it. It’ll take a while. There’s a lot there, but you’ll be poorly equipped for the trip unless you do so.

Second, check out these helpful articles:

David Gaughranhttps://davidgaughran.com/apple-books-for-authors-launches-pc/

Reedsyhttps://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-publish-on-apple-books/

Written Word Mediahttps://www.writtenwordmedia.com/how-to-self-publish-on-apple-books/

So these links, plus the info in this post, should get you onto Apple Books as smoothly and painlessly as possible. Something nobody tells you (the big difference between Apple Books For Authors and the other e-tailers) is that Apple has two separate publishing interfaces. Unlike Amazon, Kobo, and Nook, Apple has Apple Books For Authors as the mechanical part of publishing (uploading files, covers, metadata, etc.) and iTunes Connect as the financial end (setting up an account, setting prices, stores, tracking stats, getting paid, etc.).

Now for the hidden vital secret. There’s a glitch in the iTunes Connect interface that defies all logic and common sense. However, it’s there and if you don’t know about it, ITunes Connect won’t let you go forward with the Apple Books publishing side. Basically, you’re screwed unless you know the trick.

Once I found this out and cleared the incredibly frustrating roadblock apparently intentionally set-up to peeve-off a poor person like me, it was clear driving all the way to the Apple Store. Here’s a step-by-step hand-hold with applicable screenshots on how to easily publish on Apple Books. And a story to go with it.

Step 1 — Deal with iTunes Connect

Create an iTunes Connect account (if you don’t already have one). I didn’t have one because I don’t have a Mac device. BTW, the Alli webinar reported there are 1.5 billion Apple devices worldwide so you can imagine the depth of the Apple Books market.

Now the trouble started. Dave Gaughran said the iTunes Connect interface was “a bit clunky”. For me, it was a rattletrap. Simple things like entering your username (my email address) and my password were seamless. So was declaring myself as an individual as opposed to an organization. I clicked Accept on the Terms Of Service without reading them. Seriously, does anyone other than a Philadelphia lawyer ever read all that BS?

I moved on to the Complete The Agreement part. Here was the tax section which took a bit of figuring out but I struggled though it by telling the IRS that I was Canadian and to go talk to Revenue Canada about bloodsucking matters. They bought it and I made it to the next iTunes Connect round called Add New Bank Account.

It’ll be easy, they said. Just enter your chosen currency (Tip—enter USD because it’s going to make it easier when you get through this part, sent over to Apple Books Publishing, and then get rerouted back to iTunes Connect to list your ebook pricing and the countries you’re selling to. Whatever country you bank in will have its own par-value to the United States Dollar and will do the current currency exchange. Trust me on this. Do your Apple business in USD.

Then you enter your banking institution name. For me, it’s TD (Toronto Dominion) Canada Trust which is a top-ten North American financial institute. Easy enough, I thought. This should be a breeze—just like entering my name here.  No problem again, same with my account number, and the last step was putting in the Transit Number or what’s also called the ABA Routing Number.

I entered 92220 which is my bank’s transit/routing number. A pop-up with a large yellow exclamation mark appeared and said “The Transit Number Is Invalid”. Hokay. Let’s try this again. Same thing. “The Transit Number Is Invalid”. I got up and got my file stashed away from when I opened my TD account, blew off the dust, and checked the information. There it was in faded black and white: Transit Number 92220. I went back to my PC and told iTunes Connect on its Apple interface that I was right and they were wrong.

Once more, “The Transit Number Is Invalid”. My wife heard my cursing. Rita had five years in the banking industry back when I first met the pretty little dish so she tried troubleshooting the matter. “They might want both the transit number and the institution number,” she said. “Here. Try entering 92220 followed by 004.” I did. Once more: “The Transit Number Is Invalid”.

The pop-up had me hostage. There was no way it was letting me past this gatekeeper, and there was no way I was ever going to get paid for selling on Apple Books without iTunes Connect brokering the deal which was the whole point of this entire exercise. “I know,” I told Rita. “I’ll go down to the bank. They’ll figure this out.” So I took a screenshot of this pesky pop-up, printed it out, and walked downtown.

With luck, my favorite teller was open. I showed Amy-Beth my sorrows. She checked the transit number, institution number, the account number, and even my name. “I don’t know, Garry.” Amy-Beth smiled a sweet smile that suited her name and shook her head. “Everything is in order. You shouldn’t be having this problem.”

“Did you, like, recently change your transit and institution numbers?” I struggled for answers.

Amy–Beth smiled less. “No, Garry. We’ve been in business since 1855. We’ve had the same numbers for a hundred and sixty-six years. They’re a standard in the international banking industry. Some things never change.”

I thanked Amy-Beth for her time and walked home. Rita had a suggestion. “Why don’t you call Apple Support? You can’t be the only one who’s had this difficulty.”

Good idea. I dialed 1-800-MY-APPLE. A service rep came on. Now, I live in North America. The service rep didn’t. I speak fairly fluent English. The service rep didn’t. I knew what my problem was. The service rep didn’t. Try as I might, there was no resolving it with the service rep.

I was frustrated as hell. Rita wasn’t. She came up with another idea. “Why don’t you ask Rachel? She’s a whiz at all things technical.”

FYI, Rachel is my close indie writer friend in the UK and the one who told me I was leaving a lot of money on the table by not going wide. By my reasoning, Rachel was the reason I was in this trouble with Apple so it was her responsibility to get me out. I emailed Rachel the situation.

Rachel replied right away. (British accent) “Blimey. I remember that snafu. If I reckon right, you have to put a zero in front of the transit number and the institution number. So it has to appear as 0XXXXXYYY. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s the secret. A silly little zero.”

I asked Rachel how she found this out. She replied, “I had the same trouble, so I called Apple Support and they immediately solved it for me. Lovely folk, those blokes at Apple they are.”

So there you have it, Kill Zoners. The vital secret. A silly little zero, and you’re through the banking information turnstile and away you go. To clarify, my transit number looked like this and it worked.

092220004

In what universe this makes sense, I don’t know. But I know I’ll never have to deal with this strangeness again, and I’m happy to say the rest of the Apple publishing experience was excellent.

Step 2 — Publish on Apple Books For Authors

To start this step, as soon as you log onto your newly-created account at Apple Books For Authors, iTunes Connect will text you a one-time, six-figure, two-step verification code. Note: This happens every time you work with Apple Books For Authors and iTunes Connect, so get used to it.

Once you’re in the Apple Books For Authors portal you’ll see a screen titled Choose How To Publish. You have three options — Submit a New Book, Update a Previously Submitted Book, and Setup a Pre-Order. Click Submit a New Book, and follow along while I upload At The Cabin which is the 8th book in my Based-On-True Crime Series.

I’ve got to stop the slideshow for a sec and say something about the book description section. Writing book descriptions, jacket copy, blurbs, or whatever you call them is an art on its own. That’s for another day, but I will say that Apple’s window is a bit tight to work in. It doesn’t like paragraph spaces and will look like a picket fence in real time if you try it. Also, it doesn’t have HTML features like some of the other e-platforms do. So if you want to use bold and/or italics, you’ll have to handwrite HTML code the old fashioned way like this: <b>bold</b> & <i>italics</i>.

That’s it! It’s just that easy, and Apple walks you right through it. All you do now is click the blue bar Upload Book to iTunes Connect and you’re going to head back to the interface that sells your book and pays you.

I’m going to back up and cover two important points in the first step where you upload your e-file and your cover art. Apple works off an ePub file, not Mobi like Amazon’s proprietary file. I write my manuscripts in MS Word.docx and convert them to ePub files through Calibre. From my experience (over 20 publications now on four platforms) I firmly believe the key to clean productions (other than proper editing /proofreading) is to format your Word.docx file properly. I wrote a Kill Zone post titled Top Ten Tips on Formatting eBooks from MS Word. Top take-away from that is never use Tabs or even the dog won’t like your e-file for breakfast.

I see Apple has an auto-convert feature built in that bypasses a specialized e-file converting software like Calibre. I didn’t try it, but I’ve gone that route on Kindle and Kobo and wasn’t satisfied with the final product. I’m very comfortable with converting MSWord.docx to EPub and Mobi on Calibre and it only takes two minutes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it but you can try the built-in conversion because, one way or the other, you’ll have to upload an ePub file to Apple.

Changing the subject to covers. It’s something for an upcoming post where I’ll have my cover designer, Elle Rossi of Evernight Designs, join the Kill Zone crowd for cover lessons. Apple has a specific artwork image requirement. They want a jpeg file in size 1400 x 2100 (same as Kobo).

Step 3 — Back to iTunes Connect

I promise you – no more monkey business once you’re back on the iTunes Connect interface. Once you’re past that @#$%^& Zero thing, it’s user-friendly. Here’s what happens:

That’s it! Hit done and iTunes Connect and Apple Books For Authors will do the rest for you. It takes a few hours to a day for your new book to go live in the Apple Book Store. They’ll send you an email confirmation with the website link.

Just a few comments about completing the metadata on iTunes Connect. (Metadata is just a fancy word for information.) DRM (Digital Rights Management) is an option you have and every source I’ve ever listened to all says to leave DRM off. I don’t exactly know what it entails, but I understand by opting in you somehow limits your exposure.

Speaking of exposure, make sure you click on the Select All for Countries and Regions. Seeing as Apple currently has 51 worldwide stores, I can’t imagine why any self-respecting indie would not want to be in every store. Sidenote: Since I went wide on Kobo last year, I’ve had eBook downloads in 66 different countries. It’ll be interesting to see how Apple’s performance compares.

One final thought is on pricing. My experience is that $2.99 USD is the sweet spot for my crime genre books. But you can price anywhere up or down the scale you want, and with Apple — unlike Amazon — you don’t take a royalty beating for going below $2.99 or above $9.99.

Okay. On to pubbing on Google Play! How about you Kill Zoners? Anything you’d like to add on this or any other subject that’s on your evil minds?

———

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner. Now, Garry has reinvented himself as an indie-published crime writer whose books can be downloaded on Apple, Amazon, Kobo, and Nook. Soon they’ll be out on Google Play.

Vancouver Island in British Columbia is home for Garry Rodgers. Garry lives there because he’s a wuss and it’s the warmest year-round place in Canada. You can reach him at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca, at his website DyingWords.net, or on Twitter (@GarryRodgers1).

Thriller Writing Advice From James Bond’s Creator, Ian Fleming — Circa 1963

If I could host one guest on The Kill Zone, it’d be Stephen King. That’s not likely to happen, just as it’s not going to happen that I live-host Ian Fleming who created the immensely successful James Bond spy thriller brand. Ian Fleming has been gone from our writing, reading, and viewing world since 1964 — one year after he wrote a masterful essay on his commercial writing approach.

However, I was net-surfing the other night when I stumbled upon this 58-year-old gem titled Ian Fleming Explains How To Write A Thriller, Circa 1963. I read it, reread it, and read it again. “This has to be shared on TKZ,” I said to myself. Then I mumbled about being criticized for plagiarism, so I thought I’d paraphrase it, or edit it, or modify it in some way to maybe shorten it up or put my own twist to it.

“Hang on here!” I said with second thoughts. “Who the hell am I to interfere with thriller writing advice taught by Ian Fleming, told directly in Ian Fleming’s voice, that he intentionally left for the world?” So whack my pee-pee for cut & paste violation, but this piece needs sharing. Here’s the complete and unabridged (shaken, not stirred) 1963 version of How To Write A Thriller by the one and only Ian Fleming:

— — —

“The craft of writing sophisticated thrillers is almost dead. Writers seem to be ashamed of inventing heroes who are white, villains who are black, and heroines who are a delicate shade of pink.

I am not an angry young, or even middle-aged, man. I am not “involved.” My books are not “engaged.” I have no message for suffering humanity and, though I was bullied at school and lost my virginity like so many of us used to do in the old days, I have never been tempted to foist these and other harrowing personal experiences on the public. My opuscula do not aim at changing people or making them go out and do something. They are written for warm-blooded heterosexuals in railway trains, airplanes and beds.

I have a charming relative who is an angry young littérateur of renown. He is maddened by the fact that more people read my books than his. Not long ago we had semi-friendly words on the subject and I tried to cool his boiling ego by saying that his artistic purpose was far, far higher than mine. He was engaged in “The Shakespeare Stakes.” The target of his books was the head and, to some extent at least, the heart. The target of my books, I said, lay somewhere between the solar plexus and, well, the upper thigh.

These self-deprecatory remarks did nothing to mollify him and finally, with some impatience and perhaps with something of an ironical glint in my eye, I asked him how he described himself on his passport. “I bet you call yourself an Author,” I said. He agreed, with a shade of reluctance, perhaps because he scented sarcasm on the way. “Just so,” I said. “Well, I describe myself as a Writer. There are authors and artists, and then again there are writers and painters.”

This rather spiteful jibe, which forced him, most unwillingly, into the ranks of the Establishment, whilst stealing for myself the halo of a simple craftsman of the people, made the angry young man angrier than ever and I don’t now see him as often as I used to. But the point I wish to make is that if you decide to become a professional writer, you must, broadly speaking, decide whether you wish to write for fame, for pleasure or for money. I write, unashamedly, for pleasure and money.

I also feel that, while thrillers may not be Literature with a capital L, it is possible to write what I can best describe as “Thrillers designed to be read as literature,” the practitioners of which have included such as Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. I see nothing shameful in aiming as high as these.

All right then, so we have decided to write for money and to aim at certain standards in our writing. These standards will include an unmannered prose style, unexceptional grammar and a certain integrity in our narrative.

But these qualities will not make a best seller. There is only one recipe for a best seller and it is a very simple one. You have to get the reader to turn over the page.

If you look back on the best sellers you have read, you will find that they all have this quality. You simply have to turn over the page.

Nothing must be allowed to interfere with this essential dynamic of the thriller. This is why I said that your prose must be simple and unmannered. You cannot linger too long over descriptive passages.

There must be no complications in names, relationships, journeys or geographical settings to confuse or irritate the reader. He must never ask himself “Where am I? Who is this person? What the hell are they all doing?” Above all there must never be those maddening recaps where the hero maunders about his unhappy fate, goes over in his mind a list of suspects, or reflects what he might have done or what he proposes to do next. By all means, set the scene or enumerate the heroine’s measurements as lovingly as you wish, but in doing so, each word must tell, and interest or titillate the reader before the action hurries on.

I confess that I often sin grievously in this respect. I am excited by the poetry of things and places, and the pace of my stories sometimes suffers while I take the reader by the throat and stuff him with great gobbets of what I consider should interest him, at the same time shaking him and shouting, “Like this, damn you!” about something that has caught my particular fancy. But this is a sad lapse, and I must confess that in one of my books, Goldfinger, three whole chapters were devoted to a single game of golf.

Well, having achieved a workmanlike style and the all-essential pace of narrative, what are we to put in the book—what are the ingredients of a thriller?

Briefly, the ingredients are anything that will thrill any of the human senses—absolutely anything.

In this department, my contribution to the art of thriller-writing has been to attempt the total stimulation of the reader all the way through, even to his taste buds. For instance, I have never understood why people in books have to eat such sketchy and indifferent meals. English heroes seem to live on cups of tea and glasses of beer, and when they do get a square meal we never hear what it consists of.

Personally, I am not a gourmet and I abhor food-and-winemanship. My favorite food is scrambled eggs. In the original typescript of Live and Let Die, James Bond consumed scrambled eggs so often that a perceptive proof-reader suggested that this rigid pattern of life must be becoming a security risk for Bond. If he was being followed, his tail would only have to go into restaurants and say “Was there a man here eating scrambled eggs?” to know whether he was on the right track or not. So I had to go through the book changing the menus.

It must surely be more stimulating to the reader’s senses if, instead of writing “He made a hurried meal off the Plat du Jour—excellent cottage pie and vegetables, followed by home-made trifle” (I think this is a fair English menu without burlesque) you write “Being instinctively mistrustful of all Plats du Jour, he ordered four fried eggs cooked on both sides, hot buttered toast and a large cup of black coffee.” No difference in price here, but the following points should be noted: firstly, we all prefer breakfast foods to the sort of food one usually gets at luncheon and dinner; secondly, this is an independent character who knows what he wants and gets it; thirdly, four fried eggs has the sound of a real man’s meal and, in our imagination, a large cup of black coffee sits well on our taste buds after the rich, buttery sound of the fried eggs and the hot buttered toast.

What I aim at is a certain disciplined exoticism. I have not re-read any of my books to see if this stands up to close examination, but I think you will find that the sun is always shining in my books—a state of affairs which minutely lifts the spirit of the English reader—that most of the settings of my books are in themselves interesting and pleasurable, taking the reader to exciting places around the world, and that, in general, a strong hedonistic streak is always there to offset the grimmer side of Bond’s adventures. This, so to speak, “pleasures” the reader . . .

At this stage let me pause for a moment and assure you that, while all this sounds devilish crafty, it has only been by endeavoring to analyze the success of my books for the purpose of this essay that I have come to these conclusions. In fact, I write about what pleases and stimulates me.

My plots are fantastic, while being often based upon truth. They go wildly beyond the probable but not, I think, beyond the possible. . . . Even so, they would stick in the gullet of the reader and make him throw the book angrily aside—for a reader particularly hates feeling he is being hoaxed—but for two further technical devices, if you like to call them that.

First of all, the aforesaid speed of the narrative, which hustles the reader quickly beyond each danger point of mockery and, secondly, the constant use of familiar household names and objects which reassure him that he and the writer have still got their feet on the ground. This is where the real names of things come in useful. A Ronson lighter, a 4.5 litre Bentley with an Amherst-Villiers supercharger (please note the solid exactitude), the Ritz Hotel in London, the 21 Club in New York, the exact names of flora and fauna, even James Bond’s Sea Island cotton shirts with short sleeves. All these details are points de repère to comfort and reassure the reader on his journey into fantastic adventure.

Well, I seem to be getting on very well with picking my books to pieces, so we might as well pick still deeper. People often ask me, “How do you manage to think of that? What an extraordinary (or sometimes extraordinarily dirty) mind you must have.”

I certainly have got vivid powers of imagination, but I don’t think there is anything very odd about that. We are all fed fairy stories and adventure stories and ghost stories for the first 20 years of our lives, and the only difference between me and perhaps you is that my imagination earns me money. But, to revert to my first book, Casino Royale, there are strong incidents in the book which are all based on fact. I extracted them from my wartime memories of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, dolled them up, attached a hero, a villain and a heroine, and there was the book.

The first was the attempt on Bond’s life outside the Hotel Splendide. SMERSH had given two Bulgarian assassins box camera cases to hang over their shoulders. One was of red leather and the other one blue. SMERSH told the Bulgarians that the red one contained a bomb and the blue one a powerful smoke screen, under cover of which they could escape.

One was to throw the red bomb and the other was then to press the button on the blue case. But the Bulgars mistrusted the plan and decided to press the button on the blue case and envelop themselves in the smoke screen before throwing the bomb. In fact, the blue case also contained a bomb powerful enough to blow both the Bulgars to fragments and remove all evidence which might point to SMERSH.

Farfetched, you might say. In fact, this was the method used in the Russian attempt on Von Papen’s life in Ankara in the middle of the war. On that occasion the assassins were also Bulgarians and they were blown to nothing while Von Papen and his wife, walking from their house to the embassy; were only bruised by the blast.

As to the gambling scene, this grew in my mind from the following incident. I and my chief, the Director of Naval Intelligence—Admiral Godfrey—in plain clothes, were flying to Washington in 1941 for secret talks with the American Office of Naval Intelligence, before America came into the war. Our seaplane touched down at Lisbon for an overnight stop, and our Intelligence people told us how Lisbon was crawling with German secret agents. The chief of these and his two assistants gambled every night in the casino at the neighboring Estoril. I suggested to the DNI that he and I should have a look at these people. We went, and there were the three men, playing at the high chemin de fer table. Then the feverish idea came to me that I would sit down and gamble against these men and defeat them, thereby reducing the funds of the German Secret Service.

It was a foolhardy plan which would have needed a golden streak of luck. I had £50 in travel money. The chief German agent had run a bank three times. I bancoed it and lost. I suivied and lost again, and suivied a third time and was cleaned out, a humiliating experience which added to the sinews of war of the German Secret Service and reduced me sharply in my chief’s estimation.

It was this true incident which is the kernel of Bond’s great gamble against Le Chiffre.

Finally, the torture scene. What I described in Casino Royale was a greatly watered-down version of a French-Moroccan torture known as passer á la mandoline, which was practiced on several of our agents during the war.

So you see the line between fact and fantasy is a very narrow one. I think I could trace most of the central incidents in my books to some real happenings.

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn’t enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

Having assimilated all this encouraging advice, your heart will nevertheless quail at the physical effort involved in writing even a thriller. I warmly sympathize with you. I too, am lazy. My heart sinks when I contemplate the two or three hundred virgin sheets of foolscap I have to besmirch with more or less well-chosen words in order to produce a 60,000 word book.

Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye House, Jamaica

In my case, one of the first essentials is to create a vacuum in my life which can only be satisfactorily filled by some form of creative work, whether it be writing, painting, sculpting, composing or just building a boat. I am fortunate in this respect. I built a small house on the north shore of Jamaica in 1946 and arranged my life so I could spend at least two months of the winter there. For the first six years I had plenty to do during these months exploring Jamaica, coping with staff and getting to know the locals, and minutely examining the underwater terrain within my reef.

But by the sixth year I had exhausted all these possibilities, and I was about to get married – a prospect which filled me with terror and mental fidget. To give my idle hands something to do, and as an antibody to my qualms about the marriage state after 43 years as a bachelor, I decided one day to damned well sit down and write a book. The therapy was successful. And while I still do a certain amount of writing in the midst of my London Life, it is on my annual visits to Jamaica that all my books have been written.

But, failing a hideaway such as I possess, I can recommend hotel bedrooms as far removed from your usual “life” as possible. Your anonymity in these drab surroundings and your lack of friends and distractions in the strange locale will create a vacuum which should force you into a writing mood and, if your pocket is shallow, into a mood which will also make you write fast and with application.

So far as the physical act of writing is concerned, the method I have devised is this. I do it all on the typewriter, using six fingers. The act of typing is far less exhausting than the act of writing, and you end up with a more or less clean manuscript. The next essential is to keep strictly to a routine—and I mean strictly. I write for about three hours in the morning—from about 9:30 till 12:30—and I do another hour’s work between 6 and 7 in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.

I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used “terrible” six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain.

By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren’t disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be, and is, in my case, in about six weeks.

I don’t even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact. All this can be done when your book is finished.

When my book is finished I spend about a week going through it and correcting the most glaring errors and rewriting passages. I then have it properly typed with chapter headings and all the rest of the trimmings. I then go through it again, have the worst pages retyped and send it off to my publisher.

They are a sharp-eyed bunch at Jonathan Cape and, apart from commenting on the book as a whole, they make detailed suggestions which I either embody or discard. Then the final typescript goes to the printer and in due course the galley or page proofs are there and you can go over them with a fresh eye. Then the book is published and you start getting letters from people saying that Vent Vert is made by Balmain and not by Dior, that the Orient Express has vacuum and not hydraulic brakes, and that you have mousseline sauce and not Béarnaise with asparagus.

Such mistakes are really nobody’s fault except the author’s, and they make him blush furiously when he sees them in print. But the majority of the public does not mind them or, worse, does not even notice them, and it is a salutary dig at the author’s vanity to realize how quickly the reader’s eye skips across the words which it has taken him so many months to try to arrange in the right sequence.

But what, after all these labors, are the rewards of writing and, in my case, of writing thrillers?

First of all, they are financial. You don’t make a great deal of money from royalties and translation rights and so forth and, unless you are very industrious and successful, you could only just about live on these profits, but if you sell the serial rights and the film rights, you do very well.

Above all, being a comparatively successful writer is a good life. You don’t have to work at it all the time and you carry your office around in your head. And you are far more aware of the world around you.

Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings, is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product of writing, even if you only write thrillers, whose heroes are white, the villains black, and the heroines a delicate shade of pink.”

— — —

My takeaways? Too many to mention. Over to you Kill Zoners. What’d you get from this essay? And what’s the best thriller writing advice you’ve ever received (or could give, for that matter)?

— — —

Garry Rodgers has never met a spy. (Not that he knows of.) In fact, he’s never met anyone all that thrilling except, of course, his wife Rita. But Garry has had a few thrilling adventures during his three decades as a homicide detective and coroner. He’s no stranger to baggin’ the bodies.

Now in mid-stride, Garry Rodgers reinvented himself as a crime writer who’s creating an upcoming series titled City Of Danger. It’s a different (but not too different) new take on old hardboiled detective fiction he’s writing in net-streaming style. Garry also hosts a popular blog at DyingWords.net and psychopathically tweets on Twitter. Check him out.

How Web Content Writing Will Make You a Far Better Writer

Word of Warning: This is a long, drawn out post of nearly 6,000 words. It’s not that I went to a lot of work today to cook something new. No. Far from it. In fact, I’m really lazy at the moment and decided to regurgitate something I wrote a few years ago when I produced commercial web content articles full-time. Hopefully, this piece I published on my personal blog at DyingWords.net is still relevant and might be useful to other writers & readers who hang around the Kill Zone. BTW, this piece is designed to be scanned, not painfully read word-by-word. Here goes:

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Web content writing is a different skillset than conventional writing. Most writers are taught to write linearly. We follow a rigid format flowing from basic idea through wordy and detailed exposition, then summarizing with forgone conclusion. I’m guilty of this. Likely you are, too. But it’s not how modern web writing goes.

The internet changed the game. The world wide web impacts every published piece you write. Fortunately, learning how to write effective website content makes you a more practical, productive, and prosperous writer regardless of your niche or genre. And understanding why proper web content writing is different will make you a far better writer in today’s digital world.

How do I know this will improve your writing? Because for the past 9 months, you haven’t seen much of me around the DyingWords blog. I’ve been busy learning a new skillset. That’s writing content for commercial websites. Working with my daughter, Emily Rodgers and her HealthyContentAgency.com online business, I’ve written over 350,000 words for 279 web content pieces. 87 have been longform articles averaging 2850 words. 192 have been shortforms between 500 and 600 in word count. This experience made me a far better writer.

I’m a far better writer because I’m forced to economize words and time while being internet friendly. I take foreign concepts (to me) and formulate them into understandable explanations with definite purpose. To get paid, my articles must inform, educate, or entertain readers. Deadlines are strict. Pieces have to deliver value for paying clients. They also have to be found on the internet. That involves accurate research, drafting in a search engine recognition format, and maximizing your proof/ship time. Although commercial web content writing is highly specialized, the techniques are also useful for writing novels and non-fiction.

Web Writing Techniques also Work for Novels and Non-Fiction

Learning web content writing is a large learning curve but definitely pays off. And I know it’ll pay off for you. If you let me show you how, I promise practical information on how to write professional webpage content and blog posts that’ll improve your overall writing skills. That includes purpose, clarity, and—most importantly—your productivity. This translates to pay. It means making money from freelance internet business writing if that’s your interest. Or, you can apply these constructive tips to any of your writings.

Writing good website content is not the same as producing old-style material for print magazine articles, news pieces, marketing hype, technical documents, or internal memos. Even if you’re already a successful novelist or have numerous publication credits in mainstream journalism, you’ll up your writing game by learning what’s required in producing today’s proper online content material. It’s especially relevant to bloggers and authors who host their own websites.

Here’s practical advice—not general theory—that’s guaranteed to improve your writing and make you a far better writer.

Understand What Makes Effective Web Content Writing

Web content writing is all about helping people easily understand and retain information on topics they’re actively seeking. It’s also about being found on the net. Good webpages for commercial application are carefully designed to give prospective buyers useful detail about products for sale or information offered. It’s not about direct selling, though.

The idea is to give readers sufficient reason to pursue actions without being pushy. It’s education. Not pure promotion. That might encourage a purchase directly online, visiting a physical retail site, or contacting the vendor directly to acquire a product, service, or information relevant to their needs. It’s also about giving readers a reason to stay on the site, return, and recommend it to others.

Writing effective web content is hard work. It involves three separate sub-skillsets employed in three equal parts.

Research is the first part of developing content. You can expect research to take over one-third of your project time. This is unavoidable as you’ll be given topics you have limited or no personal knowledge about. Then you have to make your words portray intelligent thoughts.

Science is the second part. You need to know how basic technology applies to building an article designed for Search Engine Optimization or SEO. It’s a skill beyond understanding Word or surfing the net. You have to work within Google’s rules of computer science.

Creativity is the third ingredient. You need to put researched material into a clearly readable scientific application that meets client needs. It must be original. It cannot remotely resemble plagiarism as Google will spot that instantly and punish your sins. Besides, your client is paying for fresh content—not cut & paste.

This is as close to a magic formula for web content writing as there is. It’s the combination of factors that resonate with Google, show your work, and let time-pressed readers stay with your article from start to finish. It needs to be relevant, readable, and retrievable. That takes some drilling down to pull off.

Website Content’s Goal is to be Found

There’s far more to effective content writing than setting a hook and reeling a fish. First, your bait has to be found. This is where Google comes in. Understanding how Google works is the key to knowing how to draft, formulate, and execute a web page or post that does its job. That’s to be discovered and convert readers into taking action. Fortunately, there’s not a big mystery around how Google’s search engine works.

Before taking an in-depth look at Google’s operation, let’s review the main elements of properly written web content. “Content” is the term for your combination of words that deliver a message. It also goes further to include everything you do to make a piece internet friendly. Years of writing experience can be good or bad for content writers. I certainly had old habits to break and lots to learn when I branched into building web content. But it’s made me an all-around better writer.

Good content writing is clear and concise. It’s aimed at a specific audience. Content writing is not the same as “copywriting” or “market writing”. These specialties are hard-sell focused. They’re meant to quickly persuade a defined target market into buying.

Product descriptions and feature/benefit lists are good examples of copywriting. Content writing takes a softer, rounded approach to conversion. Content writers are good explainers. We take difficult, complex concepts or mundane information and make it digestible.

Think USB — Unique, Specific, Beneficial

The acronym USB in web content writing doesn’t mean your flash drive though it’s sage advice to back your work up. USB is a framework to formulate your content so it works for your audience. Once you know the intent of your piece, you need the information to provide solutions for whoever is reading it.

For instance, you’re likely looking for the solution to being a better writer.  That’s why you’re reading this. There’s nothing for sale here. The information’s free. Specifically, I just want to share my unique experience for your benefit.

The best approach in helping others is to make sure all content is:

Unique, where it’s not ripping off other sites. It’s fine to convey the same ideas or general information but it has to dig into sources and be an original presentation.

Specific, where it’s not just a general overview of the topic. Rather, it’s non-general and specifically includes relevant information the reader can use.

Beneficial, where the content has some take-away value. It’s more than just telling the reader. It’s showing them something and allows them to take action.

Content writing is entirely strategic. Before anything is written, content writers develop a series of objectives that form critical goals. This includes a researched understanding of the target market and material specific to the topic. This can be time-consuming. However, it’s crucial to success. It’s specific to the audience and the goals of the client who commissioned your writing the piece.

Before Writing Web Content, You Need to Consider:

Who your target audience is including gender, age range, location, and education.
What the website visitor’s mindset is when they enter the site.
What the audience can learn or achieve from the visit.
What the primary business goal is.
What the secondary business goals are.

The universal truth of all web users is they require something when they visit a website. They have a need. Your job as a content writer is to fill it. It’s vital—absolutely critical—that content not be written for content’s sake only.

It has to be clear, engaging, understandable, and useful to them. Good webpage content has strategically placed keywords and key phrases but they can’t be so artificially stuffed that they won’t make sense or read smoothly. That’s a turn-off and a sure-fire recipe for click-aways.

Remember, people normally visit websites for one of three reasons:

  1. Information
  2. Education
  3. Entertainment

What you’re doing with content writing is solving problems for people. Knowing your target audience lets you develop the style and breadth your content will take. This is where your personal voice makes a huge difference in setting the tone. It’s like the difference between talking to a bubbly teen and conversing with a pompous Ph.D. It depends on who you’re writing to.

The approach is to be yourself, yet be in tune and respectful with the audience you’re speaking with. It’s also extremely important to consider how internet users or online audiences prefer to read. Internet audiences scan content. They don’t really read.

Consider How Online Audiences Read

Capturing an online reader’s attention is challenging, to say the least. Chartbeat, an internet analytics service, reports that 55 percent of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on a webpage before they click away. And Internet Live Stats state there are more than 900 million active websites on the net with 3.5 billion Googles searches done per day.

Getting the right reader to find your content is tough. Having them stick around long enough to absorb your information and then take the desired action is even tougher. We’ll discuss getting them onto your webpage in a bit. Right now, let’s talk about how online audiences read.

The vast majority of internet users don’t actually read webpages. Not in the conventional word-by-word sense that novel or magazine article readers do. Internet readers are conditioned to scan material. Their eyes dart about the page searching for relevant words suggesting links to information they’re after.

This is the main factor that makes web content writing so different from composing and constructing content for printed publications. Google Analytics says that 79 percent of web readers scan instead of closely reading. They skip what they perceive as unnecessary as they’re literally hunting for what they regard as useful. Subconsciously, you’re doing this right now.

Studies repeatedly show scanners take in the first two or three words in a sentence. They ignore the center, then grab the final few words. Scanners do this with paragraphs, as well. But scanners are highly attracted by breaks in information blocks done by imbedded formatting.

Highly Effective Imbedded Formats Appealing to Scanners are:

—Text formatting with bolds, italics and underlining
—Short paragraphs and abrupt sentences
—Word count applicable to subjects
—Highlighted paragraph headers
—H1, h2, h3, h4, heading tags
—Bullet and numbered lists
—Still and video images
—Tables & graphics
—Color variation
—Block quotes
—Whitespace
—Visual flow
—Hyperlinks

Effective content writing is formatted with Google in mind. Don’t think you can trick Google when you’re writing webpage content. This search engine has been around too long and is far too sophisticated for that. You need to understand how to work with Google through Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

The trick is to take SEO principles and work them into your format. You optimize content to get Google’s attention. That means everything you do. Format. Links. Images. Key material. Paragraphs. Sentences. Grammar infractions. Headers. Quotes. Colors. Lists. Bolds. Bullets. Italics. Underlines. Tags. Whitespace. And Words. It’s a holistic concept and it works.  All information must be relevant to your topic information. You need to draft it into engaging words that are attractive to Google. It’s the world’s largest search engine and you have to feed Google what it likes.

How Google Finds Attractive Content

They use Googlebots. Ever hear of them? Well, Googlebots have heard of you. Googlebots are probably the most important information invention since the big bang of the internet itself. They’re responsible for making Google a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate.

Think of the internet as a beach and the web content piece you’re writing as a grain of sand. You need to make your writing grain shine among billions of grains in the sand. You do that by understanding what the Googlebots are looking for and position yourself to be found.

Search engines like Google constantly look for good content to hit on. That’s the purpose of their existence. They want to help people find what they’re looking for on the web and report it on Search Engine Response Pages or SERPs.

Inserting Key Words and Key Phrases

Googlebots are incredibly sophisticated. They’re able to filter through trillions of information bits and sort what they feel a Googler truly wants. It’s all about determining relevancy to the end user. Google’s search engine does this partly by identifying keywords and key phrases the searcher inputs.

It could be something like writing web contentweb writinghow to write effective website contentproper web content writing, writing content for commercial websitesweb content piecesweb content writinghow to write professional webpage content and blog postsimprove your overall writing skillsmaking money from freelance internet business writingtips on web content writingwriting good website contentproper online content material and practical advice.

Or, it could be any combination of these 27 different keywords that were carefully selected and strategically placed as key phrases in the first 7 paragraphs and 457 words of this article. That’s a total of 62 combined words for a ratio of 1 in 7 or 14% of the opening content being key material and I bet you didn’t recognize the technique on first read. And it’s not “keyword stuffing” because the written content is readable, informative, offers value, and not obviously repetitive.

That’s the difference between artificially-stuffed material that Google passes over and properly written content that Google recommends. If Google senses you’re salting or stuffing key material just for the sake of tricking the search engine into giving your piece a higher SERP rating, it’ll send you to the back of the same bus plagiarism hitched a ride on. You might as well walk than mess up key material.

What are the Best Web Content Keyword and Key Phrase Practices?

—Keys sound best when natural and not “stuffy”
—Make sure keys read naturally for the human audience
—Keys don’t have to be exactly as the best ratings indicate
—Main keys should appear within the first two paragraphs
—Imbed the best key in metadata description
—Keys should appear twice if they don’t seem repetitive
—Use keys in titles and subheadings
—Use variations of keys throughout the content
—Integrate short keywords and longtail key phrases
—Question-based keys are effective but tricky to write
—Question-based keys work best in headings
—Web content keywords and key phrases work well as bullet points

Don’t make your keywords and key phrases too rigid. “Stop words” are just fine in planning your keys. They’re the filler and connector words like “what”, “are”, “the” & “and” in the preceding subheader question. Google will skip right by them and for good reason. They’re looking for good, readable content and the header “Best Web Content Keyword Phrase Practices” just seems a bit stiff and salted.

The trick to keywords is carefully researching what your target audience is looking for and what they’re likely going to plug into the search bar. In this case, I’m specifically targeting writers who want to improve their skills by applying techniques used in producing excellent online content. I’m betting that many readers host their own blogs/websites and want to up their traffic.

I’m also doing shameless promotion by adding links to Emily’s HealthyContentAgency.com business and my resources page at DyingWords.net. Don’t be afraid to page through our sites and get tips on writing website content writing. And feel free to follow the hyperlinks to other great web content.

Google Loves Hyperlinks as much as Keywords

Google also loves fresh, original content that has value. Google’s technology is approaching spooky artificial intelligence, and it can instantly recognize a good piece of content that will help the user. It also knows what’s shit, clickbait, and plagiarized. Google’s primary mission is to search the net and be helpful. Hyperlinks from one good site to another are highly helpful as long as they’re staying on the same relative trail.

Hyperlinks or backlinks really unlock the power of the internet. Search engines recognize this information sharing device that you’ve helped them with and will reward you with higher rankings as long as your imbedded links are to other credible content. Links don’t have to be just to written content on websites. Google loves visuals so YouTube links, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever site you can work into being relevant is fair game.

An excellent example of relevant linking is to Google itself. Google AdSense has a thing called Keyword Planner. It a key phrase analyzing tool where you plug in and play with key material you suspect may be best for your content. It’ll give you advice and ratings on what works best according to Google’s search history. Here’s a trade secret. You can also do similar key material searches at Amazon who has the world’s second largest search engine. And a little known but super site is SERPS that works great in rating key words and phrases.

Relevant hyperlinks are a value-added feature in good web content that works to Google’s favor. You’ll increase your overall SERP performance by using valid hyperlinks just as you’ll increase SERP standings by taking a holistic approach to building the entire content in your piece using proper web content techniques. It’s the entire composition that Google assesses and a real case that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Googlebots Look at the Total Content Package

Primarily, they love to find information that many people will find useful. Google measures this with a complex algorithm that calculates many details—website visits, page views, lengths of stays, links to other similar content, social media likes—and recommends relevancy of content. It becomes a vicious circle where good content generates large traffic and this cycle grows with Google’s promotion.

Goggle recognizes the entire picture of how web content pieces are formatted. They see and rate formatting, graphics, headers, sentence and paragraph structures, bullets, graphs, whitespace, images, and highlights. Google’s not just looking for a factual read. They’re looking for fun, too. Google knows how internet readers scan, and they want to recommend the best overall reading experience.

And there’s speculation that Google’s becoming a Grammar-Nazi. They’re rating style and substance as well as spelling, grammar, and proper punctuation just like Amazon is now doing when you upload a manuscript. That’s why it’s so important your writing be shipped at the highest standard—a modern internet standard—because Google is watching how you’re optimizing its search engine.

Search Engine Optimization for Google Content

Google’s trade secrets are seriously guarded. Its technology is ever-evolving but generally involves four separate areas that good web content writers need to know. All four should be addressed when drafting a web content page. That applies to all forms of content—short and long form pages, feature articles, static web pages, and even your books.

Your novels and non-fiction books that are published on Amazon are just as vulnerable to Googlebot sniffing as your own writer website and weekly blog posts. Think of the times you’ve entered a search phrase on Google and how it’s identified an Amazon publication. That’s no accident. The same thing’s going on with your blogs and guest posts, and it’s a fact of life for your author site.

You can’t hide on the net so the best thing you can do is work with it. That’s the value in understanding how good web content will make you a far better writer. This isn’t new fad or a current trend. It’s a long-tern reality that the internet has changed the way we write to do business. Fortunately, it’s not a hard game to learn how to play.

Four Main SEO Parts for Content Writers to Know

There are 4 main parts in SEO for content writers to know—written, media, tags and authorship. Each one is a separate entity but vital to balance if you want to increase web content exposure and rank high in search results. Let’s look at what each part is.

Written is the core of your internet content writing piece. It’s substance over style every time because Google can’t yet recognize what makes a writer great but it sure tells when writing is bad. A unique voice is desirable but for content it has to deliver information and substance that fits the topic and is helpful. Good content has solid sentence structure, grammar, and sound reasoning. It’s not cutesy and requiring someone to “get it”.

Media refers to visuals. That can be photo images, infographics, illustrations, tables, video, or anything that Google can see. The old saying, “A picture is worth 1,000 words” is so true in boosting your content recognition. Again, it has to be relevant and useful. There are technical tips to know about media insertion such as Alt Tags that briefly define what the picture is. That’s more for the webmaster to worry about, but a content writer needs to be aware of the importance.

Tags go with meta descriptions in getting identified on the web. They also relate to website layout as opposed to content writing. But tags and meta descriptions are hugely important in building an overall effective website or post. The difference between tags and description are tags are visual on the actual piece as it appears on the web and meta description is how it’s presented on SERPs.

Authorship is the authority behind the content. The author’s credentials are attached to the article and give it street creds. The higher profile the content writer has, the better the SEO chance the piece has. An example is my HuffPost profile. I might not get paid for most of these pieces but my SEO ranking is far better because of my authorship on the Huff. Take advantage of every authorship exposure you can. Build a professional profile with a good headshot and link it to every content piece you write. Your SERPs will reward you.

Good Headlines are Highly Important

I’ve found writing effective headlines one of the trickiest parts of content writing—whether for a commissioned client or my own blog posts. There’s an art to this, so I turn to my internet friend Jeff Goins who’s one of the best content writers on the market today. Jeff’s TribeWriters course is excellent value, and he really puts headline writing into perspective.

“Headlines are the first thing people see,” Jeff says. “They need to be attractive, interesting, and descriptive. Headlines should be objective and transform the reader from a browser to being engaged. You need a trigger word such as ‘how’ or ‘why’, a keyword like ‘ways’ or ‘techniques’, a promise like ‘will’ or ‘fix’, and an adjective such as ‘important or quickly’.”

Let’s analyze this blog post’s headline.

“How Web Content Writing Will Make You a Far Better Writer”

Trigger Word — “How”

Keywords — “Web, Content, Writing, Writer”

Promise — “Will Make You”

Adjective — “A Far Better”

Jeff Goins also says there are three basic types of headlines.

World View — “Why Every —— Should ——”

Establish Authority — “What I Know About ——”

Achievement — “ How I ——”

Blogging king Jon Morrow of Smart Blogger has another take on effective headlines in his free pdf download Headline Hacks — A Cheat Sheet For Writing Blog Posts That Go Viral. Jon breaks down good headlines into three simple categories.

The How-To — “How To —— A Million Dollars”

The List — “17 —— To Make Money”

The Bonus — “Get Rich While You ——“

There are excellent web-based headline analyzing tools available. When I was struggling with this blog post’s caption, I threw at least a dozen combinations into CoSchedule and it liked “Web Content Writing Will Make You a Far Better Writer” the best. Check the screenshot image (left) and note how it fits into Jeff Goins’s concept.

If you’re handed commercial pieces like Emily administers in HealthyContentAgency.com, you’ll probably have the headlines pre-assigned. That’s good because you can burn up a lot of valuable research, writing, and proofing time struggling for headlines that work. Speaking of researching, writing, and proofing, I’ll show you my actual process that’s let me become proficient in putting out web content pieces at a commercial pace.

First, I’d like to share some general tips for web content writing.

General Tips for Writing Web Content

No doubt there’s a knack to web writing just as there is with every other form of written communication. Top fiction genre writers have their tricks. So do front-line journalists. While these high-profile pen monkeys get their share of glory, there’s not much in it for lowly web scribes. We just put out volume that works on the internet and we stay in the shadows. Most commercial content is ghost-written, anyway.

But there are a number of tips that can help you fine tune web content writing. You can take them over to your own particular brand of wordsmithing. Or, you can leave them as you wish. In no particular order, here are twenty-one content writing ideas I’ve picked up and found to work.

1. Use an active, informal voice. Ditch the passive, formal. Make it personal but not too slick. Find a balance but don’t kill yourself if you use the passive voice, We all speak that way. Being aware is the main thing.

2. Use a mix of short and long sentences. Try not to use more than one conjunction for independent clauses. Yes. There’s nothing wrong with one-word sentences.

3. Use 3-4 sentences per paragraph.

4. Make whitespace your friend. It makes scanning easier.

5. Use a subheading or bold highlight every 5-10 paragraphs.

6. Place keywords in headings and subheadings.

7. Don’t use fancy words. If you need a thesaurus or dictionary, you’re struggling with the wrong word.

8. Write toward a lower-grade audience. I ran the first four paragraphs of this post through the Readability Analyzer app and it rates this content at a Grade 6 reading level. That’s cool!

9. Careful with acronyms. Spell out the entire phrase first, then use the acronym or abbreviation.

10. Work with strong nouns and verbs. Minimize adverbs and adjectives. But not always.

11. Exclamation marks are for 11-year-olds!!!

12. Know grammar rules so when your break ‘em you do so intentionally.

13. You’ll never learn how to properly use commas so don’t sweat it.

14. Invest in The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.

15. Read lots of web articles and blog posts. Learn from the good. Chuck the bad.

16. Never ship work without proofreading. Never. Never. Never. Full stop.

17. Use self-editing tools like Grammarly but there’s no replacing a human eye.

18. Shortform content pieces have their place, but longforms are preferred by Google.

19. Shortforms are between 500-900 words. Longforms are 2300+.

20. Today, a rule of thumb is “the longer, the better”. This post is 5932 words.

21. Always use a Call To Action (CTA) at the end of your content. It’s a must.

Putting Web Content Researching, Writing, and Proofing into Practice

Here’s where the ink hits the page or the images hit the screen in the web writing world. I mentioned that I’ve cranked out over a third of a million commercial web words in three-quarters of a year. That’s not counting all the personal blog posts I’ve written, books I’m working on, and a pile of email messages.

I’ve worked out a system and recorded some stats that I’d like to share with you. I’m not saying it’s the best way to research, draft, and proof/ship web content pieces. It just works for me and is the best use of time I can make. I also analyzed the last ten pieces and took an average of time spent in each category and how that displays as a time and effort percentage. I’ll show it to you, but first here’s how I put content writing into practice.

Research

I probably spend too much time researching a topic. But in order to sensibly draft it, I have to understand it. Then the words flow and I can make my words per hour (WPH) cost effective. In other words, it has to return a decent dollar per hour (DPH) because all web content assignments are paid on a flat rate, not by the actual time they take to complete.

I start research by Googling the meat of the topic and see what comes up. For instance, “How To Write Web Content” has 38,800,000 results. That’s a whack of stuff to pour through. Fortunately, Google ranks the best links on the top SERPs so I go from there. (Hmm… I wonder if these content writers intentionally wrote the pieces with SEO in mind to score high rankings…)

Once I find existing content that seems useful, I copy and paste it to a Word.doc and then format it to Ariel 10-point in black on white with 1.15 line spacing and 6-after paragraph spacing. This makes for easy reading and a minimal amount of paper and ink used when printed. I find around 10 articles and stop. Then I print them to hard copy and go over them with a yellow highlighter and a red pen. That’s my code system for identifying pertinent info and facts.

Drafting

Now it’s time to switch hats and start the creative process of drafting the piece. I also switch locations. I do research and reading at home where I have an internet connection but to be time effective, I leave the house and go to the nearby university where I’ve claimed a quiet place in the library. It’s my spot. This change of location changes my mindset. I’m far more productive than at home and not distracted by the phone, door bell, or sneaking peeks at pets on the net.

I’m nearly twice as efficient at the library. It gets me out and around young, vibrant people as well as being surrounded by thousands of books and millions upon millions of knowledgeable words produced over hundreds of years of researching and writing by some of the brightest minds the world has ever known. Plus, I like it there and it’s quiet.

I’m not a fast writer, but I’m clean. I do a bare-bones outline with the introduction, the main points, and the call to action.

Then I start writing. Again, I use Arial font but in 12-point. It’s easier to see on the screen for an old guy like me. The first 500 words are slow and then it takes off. I take a 10-15 minute break once per hour or so, get up, and walk around. This is really important. I rarely go back and review during the draft stage. When the word count for the assignment is reached, I save and go home.

Proofing/Shipping

Now comes the proof/ship phase and it’s quick. I paste the Word.doc into Grammarly and go through it. Grammarly’s great, but it can’t read your mind. Once I catch mistakes like typos, spacing, and bad form, I take the amended Word.doc and change the font to Tahoma 10-point. This proofreading trick really helps to look through a different perspective. Then I scan the document rather than read it word by word. Over the years I’ve developed an ability to speed read. I can accurately cover a 3K word doc in about 10 minutes. And under my breath, I’m reading it out loud.

Once the Word.doc is as clean as I can get it, it’s time to ship. There’s no point beating this thing because it goes to another set of eyes before delivering to the client. I simply ship an email attachment and save it to a folder. Then it’s out of sight, out of mind, and on to the next. I find one longform of around 3K words is enough for one day but it depends on what has to be done and by when.

Something I’ve really learned is how to work within deadlines.

Consistently researching, writing, and shipping within a limited time frame really boosts productivity. It also boosts confidence. That applies to all other forms of writing including my own blog posts and novels. That’s the biggest takeaway I’ve gained from learning how to write web content—applying web content writing principles to novel writing. Overall, it’s made me a far better writer.

I record exact stats on how my research, draft, and proof/ship time efficiency works out. I carefully record my time into blocks rounded off to 5 minutes. When the piece is shipped, I divide the total time by 60 for an hourly calculation. Then I work it into the percentage of time it took for each phase as well as dividing the total word count (WC) by the actual writing time for the number of words per hour (WPH). I also divide the total project time by the flat fee for the return on overall dollars per hour (DPH).

Some days production and pay are good. Some days, not so good. That’s how the web content writing business goes. Here are the stats for the average of my last 10 longform assignments.

Total Project Time — 5.83 hr
Total Research Time — 2.0 hr
Average Research Percentage — 36.2%
Total Drafting Time — 3.28 hr
Average Drafting Percentage — 59.3%
Total Proof/Ship Time — 0.25 hr
Average Proof/Ship Percentage — 4.5%
Average Word Count (WC) — 2990
Average Words Per Hour (WPH) — 912

I also keep precise track of the dollar per hour return, but I’m reluctant to share specifics to protect confidential pricing structure. It all depends on the amount charged to a client and how efficient my time is. You can make decent money ($50/hr+) from content writing if you get good assignments and produce quality work fast. Generally, a flat rate will be a set for the article and you can break that down to a certain fraction of a cent per word.

I don’t think I can speed up my drafting time, but I probably do too much researching. However, to cut this down, I probably wouldn’t get sufficient knowledge to write an informative and valuable piece that’d be found on Google. That’s the whole point of the exercise. And it’s why I’m getting paid for web content writing.

I hope you’ve got some decent information and tips on how to write effective web content from this. I sincerely believe it’ll help make you an overall better writer. And here’s the call to action:

Please share this article on social media and email it to friends who’ll benefit.

——

Over to you Kill Zoners. At least the ones who’ve managed to stick with and stay awake in this class. Have you done commercial web content writing? Do you write personal blog posts and web-style pieces? How does this piece relate to your work? And what do you have to share with the rest of us? The floor is open for comments.

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner who reincarnated as a crime writer and indie publisher. Garry’s based-on-true-crime series are an 8-book run on real cases he worked on (or real cases that worked on him). Now, Garry’s onto a new venture—a hardboiled detective fiction series called City Of Danger.

Aside from telling lies on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook, Garry Rodgers is also an old boat skipper with a 60-tonne Marine Captain ticket to prove it. He puts it to use around his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast.

Why Detective Fiction Is So Popular

Crime doesn’t pay, so they say. Well, whoever “they” are, they aren’t in touch with today’s entertainment market because crime—true and fiction—in books, television, film, or net-streaming, is a highly popular commodity. One solid crime writing sub-genre, detective fiction, is hot as a Mexican’s lunch.

Detective fiction has been hot for a long, long time. Crime writing historians give Edgar Allan Poe credit for siring the first modern detective story. Back in 1841, Poe penned Murders In The Rue Morgue (set in Paris), and it was a smash hit in Graham’s Magazine. Poe’s detective, C. Auguste Dupin, used an investigation style called “ratiocination” which means a process of exact thinking.

Poe’s style brought on the cozy mysteries, aka The Golden Era of Crime Fiction of the 1920s. Detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple solved locked-room crimes. They intrigued readers but spared them gruesome details like extreme violence, hardcore sex, and graphic killings.

The golden crime-fiction genre evolved into the hardboiled detective fiction movement, circa 1930s-1950s. Crime writers like Dashiell Hammett gave us the Continental Op and Sam Spade. Raymond Chandler brought Philip Marlowe to life. Carroll John Daly convincingly conceived Race Williams. And Mickey Spillane, bless his multi-million-selling soul, left Mike Hammer as his legacy.

The ’60s to 2000s gave more great detective fiction stories. Anyone heard of Elmore Leonard? How about Sarah Paretsky and Sue Grafton? Or, in current times, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, and a wildcard in the hardboiled and noir department, Christa Faust?

These storytellers broke ground that’s still being tilled by great fictional detectives. Television gave us Perry Mason, Ironside, Columbo, Jack Friday, Kojack, and Magnum. Murder She Wrote? How cool was mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher? And let’s not even get into big screen and the now runaway net-stream stuff.

So why the unending popularity of detective fiction? I asked myself this question to understand and appreciate the detective fiction part of the crime story genre. I worked as a real detective for decades, and I know what it’s like to stare down a barrel and scrape up a cold one. But once I reinvented myself as a crime writer, I had to learn a new trade.

I’m on an even-newer venture right now, and that’s developing a net-streaming style series. It’s a different—but not too different—delve into hardboiled detective fiction, and the series is titled City Of Danger. To write this credibly, and with honor to heritage, I’ve plunged into a rabbit hole of research that’s becoming more like a badger den or a viper pit.

What I’m doing, as we “speak”, is learning this sub-genre of crime writing—hardboiled detective fiction—and I’ve learned two things. One, I found out I knew SFA almost nothing about this fascinating fictional world that’s entertained many millions of detective fiction fans for well over a hundred years. Two, detective fiction has far from gone away.

My take? Detective fiction—hardboiled, softboiled, over-easy, scrambled, or baked in a cake—is on the rise and will continue being a huge crime-paying moneymaker in coming years. There are reasons for that, why detective fiction remains so popular, and I think I’ve found some.

I stumbled on an interesting article at a site called Beemgee.com. Its title Why is Crime Fiction So Popular? caught my attention, so I copied and pasted it onto a Word.doc and dissected it. Here’s the nuts, bolts, and screws of what it says.

Crime fascinates people, and detectives (for the most part) work on solving crimes. But the crime genre popularity has little to do with the crime, per se. It has far more to do with the very essence of storytelling—people are hardwired to listen to stories, especially crime stories.

Detective fiction is premiere crime storytelling and clearly exhibits one of the fundamental rules of storytelling: cause and effect. In detective fiction, every scene must be justified—each plot event must have a raison d’etre within the story because the reader perceives every scene as the potential cause of a forthcoming effect.

Picture a Roman arch bridge. Every stone is held in place by its neighbor just like story archs with properly set scenes. Take away one scene that doesn’t support the story arch and the structure fails.

Well-written detective fiction has a bridge-like structure. Each scene in the storytelling trip has some sort of a cause that creates an effect. This subliminal action keeps readers turning pages.

The article drills into detective fiction cause and effect. It rightly says the universe has a law of cause and effect but we, as humans, can’t really see it in action. But we’re programmed to know it exists, so we naturally seek an agency—the active cause of any actions we perceive.

Detective fiction stories, like most storytelling types, provide a safety mechanism. A detective story is built around solving a crime by following clues. A cause. An effect. A cause. An effect. The story goes on until you find out whodunit and a well-told story leaves you with a satisfying end where you’ve picked up a take-away safety tip.

But detective fiction stories aren’t truly about whodunit. Sure, we want the crook caught and due justice served. However, we want to know something more. We want to know motive, and this is where the best detective fiction stories shine. They’re whydunnits.

Whydunnits are irresistible stories. They’re the search for truth, and in searching for truth in detective fiction storytelling—why this crime writing sub-genre remains so popular—I found another online article. Its title Why Is Detective Fiction So Popular? also caught my attention.

Cristelle Comby

This short piece is on a blog by Swiss crime writer, Cristelle Comby. If you haven’t heard of Cristelle, I recommend you check her out. Her post has a quote that sums up why detective fiction is so popular, and it’s far more eloquent than anything I can write. Here’s a snippet:

Detective novels do not demand emotional or intellectual involvement; they do not arouse one’s political opinions or exhaust one by its philosophical queries which may lead the reader towards self-analysis and exploration. They, at best, require a sense of vicarious participation and this is easy to give. Most readers identify themselves with the hero and share his adventures and sense of discovery.

The concept of a hero in a detective story is different from that of a hero in any other kind of fictional work. A hero in a novel is the protagonist; things happen to him. His character grows or develops and it is his relationship to others which is important. In a detective story, there is no place for a hero of this kind. The person who is important is the detective and it is the way he fits the pieces of the puzzle together which arouses interest. Thus in a detective story it is the narration and the events which are overwhelmingly important, the growth of character is immaterial. What the detective story has to offer is suspense. It satisfies the most primitive element responsible for the development of story-telling, the element of curiosity, the desire to know why and how.

Detective stories offer suspense, a sense of vicarious satisfaction, and they also offer escape from the fears and worries and the stress and strain of everyday life. Many people who would rather stay away from intellectually ‘heavy’ books find it hard to resist these. Detective fiction is so popular because the story moves with speed.”

As a former detective, and now someone who writes this stuff, I think detective fiction is so popular because readers can safely escape into a dark & dangerous world of wild causes and wild effects—full of fast-reading suspense—and they get powerful insight into what makes other people (like good guys and bad girls) tick. Detective fiction is crime that has paid, does pay, and always will pay. It’s just that popular.

Kill Zone readers and writers: If you’re into detective fiction, what do you think makes it popular? And if you’re not into the genre, what makes you dislike it? Don’t be shy about commenting one way or another!

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner with over thirty years experience in human death investigation. Now, Garry has reinvented himself as a crime writer with his latest venture into a hardboiled detective fiction series called City Of Danger. Here’s the logline:

A modern city in dystopian crisis enlists two private detectives from its utopian past to dispense street justice and restore social order.

Follow Garry Rodgers on Twitter and visit his website at DyingWords.net.

Procrastination for Writers

We all do it—to some extent, that is. You. Me. The princesses on the top and the paupers at the bottom. It seems to be some primal urge. Some burning instinct to seek self-pleasure, not pain, and avoid the unpleasant or overwhelming.

I’m talking procrastination, of course. The art of putting off till tomorrow that which should be done today. I’d say the majority of writers are procrastinators, and that’s okay. Many times, though, procrastination can be a positive force and not a negative curse. Especially for writers who can perfect their procrastination down to a science.

Procrastination’s best defined as “the act of avoiding doing what you know (or think) you should be doing”. The word descends from the Latin word procrastinare which means “to postpone or delay” and the Greek term akrasia, the “lack of self-control or the state of acting against one’s better judgment”. Leave it to the Greeks and the Romans to label the condition because these ancients were some of the biggest procrastinators of all time. In fact, back then procrastination was viewed as an admirable quality—something that was to be perfected for peak performance.

I know that doesn’t make sense, on the surface. But drilling down, you can make the case that, properly done, intentional procrastination can increase your productivity on important tasks. It’s a matter of setting priorities and focusing on prime output that brings delayed gratification—not a waste time on trivial stuff that seems like fun in the moment (immediate gratification).

Psychologists have done a lot of procrastination studies. Traditional thinking suggests procrastination is nothing more than a time management problem. These thinkers suggest self-discipline is all that’s required to Get Things Done, or GTD as the acronym’s known.

Others aren’t so sure about this. Dr. Tim Pychyl of Carlton University in Toronto and his counterpart, Dr. Fuschia Sirois of Sheffield University in the UK, did a detailed procrastination project and came up with a different suggestion. They saw procrastination, at its root cause, as an emotional management issue, not time.

Drs. Sirois and Pychyl found their studied subjects reacted to procrastination in relation to how they felt in the moment about tackling certain tasks. It’s human nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure, and that emotional connection is just as hard-wired as flight or fight. It’s really about mood when it comes to GTD, say the Docs.

The Docs went on to report the anti-procrastination mindset for GTD is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is a psychological offshoot to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). They say that a GTD mentality based on ACT principles allows “psychological flexibility” to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings (ie: I really don’t want to do this right now, but I know I have to or the consequences will be more untolerable). Recognizing this lets a person stay in the present moment in spite of negative feelings and to prioritize choices and actions that help that person (you) get closer to what you really want in life.

Their studies, the Docs said, found most people couldn’t envision their long-term situation—where they’d be in five or ten years instead of at the moment. Procrastination, or putting off important works, kept their subjects “happy in the moment”. They termed this “mood repair” and found people naturally avoid uncomfortable feelings by putting off tasks-at-hand regardless if the tasks are vital to overall life success.

This doctoral work claims people are actually wired to think of themselves as two different people. They say we have our present selves and our future selves but, strangely, we naturally prioritize our present mood at the expense of our future well-being even though the choice is irrational in our long-term welfare. The Docs reported brain scan waves of people told to envision themselves ten years out were the same as when told to think of celebrities they didn’t know.

Thinking about it, this does make sense. We procrastinate because our brains are wired to care more about our present comfort than our future wellness. That makes it clear we have two ways of dealing with procrastination:

  1. We make whatever topic we’re procrastinating on feel less uncomfortable.
  2. We convince our present selves into caring about our future selves.

Yes. I know. This is easier said than done. However, as a serious writer, you have to focus on the long term. It means feeling less uncomfortable about facing the blank page and putting the fingers on the keys. It means completing the current WIP and starting the next—knowing that in five years, ten years, fifteen years, and longer, you’ll have built a backlist strong enough to support you ad infinite.

You’re probably expecting some examples of how to pull off perfect procrastination for writers. To start with, let me suggest you don’t really procrastinate as much as you think. It’s just a matter of setting the right priorities and addressing/attacking the most urgent issues first.

Before I became a serious writer, I was a long-time government worker with high-stress tasks. I faced life and death issues, literally, for over three decades. Often, there wasn’t time to procrastinate. Each day was a challenge to balance urgent and important issues along with non-urgent yet still important jobs.

I learned to work within a priority matrix of four quadrants. There’s nothing new or secret about this anti-procrastination process. It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix or the Ike Box and rightly named after the Second World War General and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower who was supremely famous for GTD.

The Eisenhower Matrix deals with two priority dimensions. One is importance. The other is urgency. It’s laid out like this:

Upper Left Box — Important and Urgent Tasks

Upper Right Box — Important but Not Urgent Tasks

Lower Left Box — Not Important yet Urgent Tasks

Lower Right Box — Not Important and Not Urgent Tasks

I’ve used the Ike Box as a police officer and as a coroner. Each profession has a system in place to minimize procrastination and prioritize workload as well as a built-in accountability checker. I won’t get into how they work, but I will let you peek at the Ike Box I have as a writer for this week’s priorities as well as into the near future. It’s all about building the world of five, ten, and more years ahead.

Upper Left — Write blog posts for The Kill Zone and DyingWords, Link backlist in based-on-true-crime series on Amazon, Kobo and Nook, Exercise/Eat/Sleep well, Spend time with Rita, Get a haircut and buy shaving cream

Upper Right — Develop City Of Danger series, Plan July stacked promotion for crime series, Plan podcast with cool co-star Sue Coletta, Publish true crime series on Apple and Google

Lower Left — Respond to two lengthy email assistance requests, Plan print releases for true crime series, Mow the lawn before it’s impossible to walk through and remind our downstairs tenant to pick up after their Rottweiler/Great Dane crossbreed

Lower Right — Renovate writing/recording studio, Have that discussion with Floyd, my neighbor

That’s it. That sums my priorities in this writing and living gig. Nothing fancy or complicated, but it gives me a snapshot of what needs doing right now and what doesn’t matter. I’ve learned (or try to learn) to take only so much on and to say “No” to unproductive time theft. I heard someone say, “When you’ve got it all down to one shopping cart, you’ve got it made.”

Examples of procrastination for writers? Right, I did mention that. One big return in putting stuff off is sitting on your manuscript for some time after you’ve completed a polished draft and before you ship it for publication. This brewing time is precious, and I see that as high-value downtime.

Speaking of downtime, you might view surfing Facebook and watching cat videos as terrible procrastination when you need to GTD. I don’t see it that way, because no one can work all the time and keep peak productivity. Note: If you haven’t read Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Productive People, please do so. This is time well spent.

Time away from the keys and screen lets the creative juices flow. My best downtime is while out for a walk on the waterfront. My worst is after dinner and at the end of the day when I’m creatively done. However, I don’t consider watching an evening’s net stream of the Moody Blues Nights In White Satin (Days of Future Passed) and a TED talk on brain science with Dr. Lara Boyd as a procrastinator’s waste of time which I did last night.

Another prime example of procrastination for writers is leaving a major decision until the last moment and then committing after you’ve had plenty of time to think things over. Rash decisions (gut responses) just to GTD quick can have disastrous consequences as the Lehman Brother organization found out. While researching this piece, I found a Smithsonian Magazine article on a book by Frank Patroy titled Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. Here’s a quote about how the Lehman Brothers destroyed their own future by failing to procrastinate:

I interviewed a number of former senior executives at Lehman Brothers and discovered a remarkable story. Lehman Brothers had arranged for a decision-making class in the fall of 2005 for its senior executives. It brought four dozen executives to the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue and brought in leading decision researchers, including Max Bazerman from Harvard and Mahzarin Banaji, a well-known psychologist. For the capstone lecture, they brought in Malcolm Gladwell, who had just published Blink, a book that speaks to the benefits of making instantaneous decisions and that Gladwell sums up as “a book about those first two seconds.” Lehman’s president Joe Gregory embraced this notion of going with your gut and deciding quickly, and he passed copies of Blink out on the trading floor.

The executives took this class and then hurriedly marched back to their headquarters and proceeded to make the worst snap decisions in the history of financial markets. Failing to delay, or procrastinate, their crucial decisions caused Lehman Brothers to go broke in 2008.

What about you Kill Zone folks? How does procrastination fit into your short and long-term writing plans? Don’t put off commenting until it’s too late.

——

When it comes to procrastinating, Garry Rodgers ranks with the best. Garry managed to put off a writing career until his sixties. Now, he’s making up for lost time with an 8-part, based-on-true-crime series written and indie published within the last two years as well as penning a few stand alones.

What Garry Rodgers isn’t putting off is starting a new made-for-net-streaming detective fiction series called City Of Danger. Tagline: A modern city in dystopian crisis enlists two private detectives from its utopian past to deliver street justice and restore social order. Follow Garry on Twitter and checkout his personal blog/website at DyingWords.net.

Ethics, Integrity & Trust for Writers

Several days ago, my writer friend Adam Croft and I were exchanging emails. We keep in regular touch, and Adam serves as a mentor to me. For those of you who don’t know the name, Adam Croft is a highly successful indie crime writer from the UK. I brag that Adam and I go back long before he became famous and when I still had hair.

Adam had just come off a bad experience with an online scammer who offered kick-back money—big money—to other unethical online scammers who recommend scams like useless writing courses sold at ridiculous prices. Adam vented to me about the downward spiral of suckering-ins going on, and how well-intended, trusting writers get thoroughly hosed by unscrupulous shysters.

“With you, dude,” I replied to Adam, as the old cop in me has long detected some of these writing “gurus” who produce online courses sell snake oil from Brother Love’s Travellin’ Salvation Show. Then, yesterday morning, I clicked on the Indie Author Mindset Facebook Group that Adam Croft facilitates and saw this post. I PM’d Adam and asked if I could share it with Kill Zoners and he said, “Yes, absolutely fine posting stuff on the blog.”

So here it is:

——

Ethics, Integrity & Trust. (By Adam Croft)

Last night, I received an email which — for me — summed up many of the ways in which this industry has taken a wrong turn.

I’ve attached a screenshot (with names redacted) as an image on this post.

It’s nothing new or revolutionary. These things come through all the time. But it symbolizes something we need to address.

Look at the wording. There’s no mention whatsoever of helping authors, providing education, or doing our best to help those at the start of their journey. Instead, the main (and only) selling point is that it’ll ‘generate big payouts’ for me.

I repeat: this email is nothing new or revolutionary. And do you know why? Because our industry is absolutely full of this.

Promoting and referring other people’s products and services is big business. I know providers and ‘gurus’ who make thousands upon thousands each month purely by telling new and inexperienced authors to take certain courses or buy certain products.

Many courses — even the really expensive ones — pay referrers 50% as a kickback. Of course these people recommend them to their followers — they get hundreds of dollars each time someone signs up. Why wouldn’t they?

Because when you see someone recommending a product, you will likely assume it’s a genuine recommendation. Sometimes it might be. But the vast majority of products and services in this industry are recommended because they pay well for the person recommending them.

When I started The Indie Author Mindset, I was very clear that I would only recommend products and services I’ve used myself, and would recommend otherwise. Affiliate and referral fees were irrelevant. Money and ‘big payouts’ don’t motivate me. Ethics, integrity, and trust do.

Those three words have always been difficult ones. They’re the reason I wavered for two years before setting up The Indie Author Mindset. They’re the reason I was extraordinarily cautious about what paid content I offered for a short while. And they’re the reason I stopped doing so.

So let me be clear about a few things:

1. I receive absolutely no financial inducements, incentives, or rewards from any products, services or resources I recommend. My integrity and your trust mean far more to me than money.

2. I do not provide paid courses, coaching, or any other form of ‘upsold’ products. You are not a commodity to me.

3. I have always modelled my career on ensuring I am financially — or otherwise — beholden to nobody, allowing me to speak freely and honestly.

I choose to operate this way for three reasons:

1: It allows me to give advice with complete integrity and transparency.

2. It allows you to trust my advice. You know absolutely that my only interest is in helping you and your books, not lining my pockets.

3. My fiction books do very well indeed, so I don’t need to top up my earnings by taking money from other authors.

I love helping authors at all stages of their careers. When I started publishing more than a decade ago, the advice just wasn’t there. I was one of the early writers fumbling through the mists, trying to work out how on earth we could make this work.

The issue then was a lack of information. Now the opposite is true. Many authors mention being overwhelmed with stuff. And the reason for a lot of that is because it’s impossible to know what’s good advice and what someone is pretending to advise because they get a financial kickback for doing so.

I hope The Indie Author Mindset helps you cut through that crap. I hope that by sharing this email and writing this post I can reinforce that I won’t have any part in it. That I put my personal integrity and your trust before all else.

I’ve spent too many years at the forefront of this industry to prioritize ‘big payouts’. My focus will always be on levelling, improving, and preserving a strong indie publishing industry for authors like you for years to come. I’d far rather my legacy be visible in that way, than on a balance sheet. My fiction books do just fine on that front, and I don’t need to exploit anybody in doing so.

It all comes back to those three words: Ethics. Integrity. Trust.

——

Bio from Adam Croft’s Website

With over two million books sold to date, Adam Croft is one of the most successful independently published authors in the world, and one of the biggest selling authors of the past few years, having sold books in over 138 different countries.

To date, Adam has achieved seven Amazon storewide number 1 bestsellers, in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia.

His 2015 worldwide bestseller Her Last Tomorrow became one of the bestselling books of the year, peaking at number 12 in the combined paperback fiction and non-fiction chart.

His Knight & Culverhouse crime thriller series has seen huge popularity worldwide, with his Kempston Hardwick mystery books being adapted as audio plays starring some of the biggest names in British TV.

In 2016, the Knight & Culverhouse Box Set reached storewide number 1 in Canada, knocking J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child off the top spot only weeks after Her Last Tomorrow was also number 1 in the same country.

During the summer of 2016, two of Adam’s books hit the USA Today bestseller list only weeks apart, making them two of the most-purchased books in the United States over the summer.

In February 2017, Only The Truth became a worldwide bestseller, reaching storewide number 1 at both Amazon US and Amazon UK, making it the bestselling book in the world at that moment in time. The same day, Amazon’s overall Author Rankings placed Adam as the most widely read author in the world, with J.K. Rowling in second place.

In January 2018, Adam’s bestselling book to date, Tell Me I’m Wrong became a worldwide bestseller and quickly went on to outsell Her Last Tomorrow.

Adam is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on independent publishing and has been featured on BBC television, BBC Radio 4BBC Radio 5 Live, the BBC World ServiceThe GuardianThe Huffington PostThe Bookseller and a number of other news and media outlets.

In March 2018, Adam was conferred as an Honorary Doctor of Arts, the highest academic qualification in the UK, by the University of Bedfordshire in recognition of his services to literature.

Adam presents the regular crime fiction podcast Partners in Crime with fellow bestselling author Robert Daws.

——

Note from Garry Rodgers: I’ve known Adam Croft for nearly a decade and I can personally vouch for his outstanding ethics, integrity, and trustworthiness. Two years ago, Adam developed his Indie Author Mindset program which was completely game-changing for me. The program consisted of two books, a series of tutorial articles, and a Facebook group page.

Adam Croft’s two books, The Indie Author Mindset and The Indie Author Checklist, are available through major online retailers. Unfortunately, Adam has discontinued his tutorials, but his Facebook site still thrives and is open to everyone who believes in making the indie writing world a better place.

Kill Zoners — What’s your experience with paid-content recommendations sent your way? And poor-value material? We’d all like to hear.

Scamming Nigerian Funds to Build Your Time Machine

G’mornin’ Kill Zoners. On Tuesday, Debbie Burke mentioned internet scams and how an old-time con by the name of Eugene Francois Vidocq managed to defraud pre-internetters and become the father of modern criminology. Great story to check out: Eugene Francois Vidocq and the Origins of Criminology

Debbie also wrote “nigerian prince” in that post. That got me thinking of a piece I wrote some time ago on my blog. It’s titled How to Scam Nigerian Funds for Your Time Machine.

I’m a serious writer (nah, not.) and delve into darkness depths with psychotic characters, crime scenes you can smell through the words, forensic fluids that drip off the page so shouldn’t be read in bed, and nothing-good-will-come-of-these plots. But I know a good writer is a rounded writer, and I welcomed the chance to do a little humor when I got another of “those emails”. Here’s the DyingWords post:

———

“If you don’t know about Nigerian scams, then you’ve probably never used the internet. Seems like every couple weeks these West-African crooks drop me an email thinking I’m dumb enough to bite. Some people must, or the cons wouldn’t keep trying. So it was no surprise when I checked my inbox Tuesday morning and found another Nigerian grab at my wallet.

But it was different this round. For a change, I had little on my plate and time on my hands, so I decided to turn the tide on this guy. Here’s what “Mr. Martins Logan Scott” from Nigeria wrote me. Then I’ll show you my reply.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Martins Logan Scott” <voldemars@ngn.lv>
Sent: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 4:24:23 AM
Subject: Investment Proposal

Attn: Sir — We have gone through your country’s investment profile and history and we are interested to invest in it, we will be willing to partner with you and invest a substantial amount of money in your company if you have an existing company or we can also partner with you to set up a new one, provided you have a substantial and complete feasibility study and a well prepared business plan on the business/company you wil (sp) need us to partner with you.

Our group is a major player in investment in the middle east, Africa and the United States of America, we believe in pursuing a positive goal, in which your ideas can be enhanced potentially for mutual benefit.

As we seek new frontier and opportunities, we look forward to partner with you. Your prompt reply will be most welcome.

Best regards — Martins Logan Scott — martin.loganscott@gmail.com

—– Original Reply —–
From: “Garry Rodgers” <garry.rodgers@shaw.ca>
Sent: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 7:48:09 AM
Subject: Investment Proposal

Good day Mr. Logan Scott,

Thank you for your investment interest. I trust this reply finds you well and in accordance with the situation.

I appreciate your due diligence in appraising my investment profile and history. That is the primary mark of a careful and prudent investor as I’m sure you and the major players in your group are.

Your unsolicited offer comes at a timely stage in a current venture I’m working on. I was planning to release investment offerings by-invitation-only prior to a NYSE IPO. However, I’m open to prioritizing your group’s investment of a substantial amount of money during my project’s Research & Development (R&D) stage. Therefore, I’d be pleased to accommodate you and your esteemed business associates in safely appropriating your funds.

With an understanding of your agreement to confidentiality, my project involves a revised form of hyper-velocity, multi-directional transportation. The concept for analogous movement between distant portals, both historic and forthcoming, is nothing new. Space-time dilation based on the Einstein-Rosen bridge theory has been conceptualized for decades. Practical application of Faster-Than-Light (FTL) amplification was bottlenecked due to tachyon condensation which restricted Portal Entrance and Exit (PEE), but there’s now a clear and unique opportunity for a massive breakthrough.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the 1985 works of Professor Emeritus Dr. Emmett Brown and his DeLorean model. Unfortunately, it’s been three decades, going on four, since Doc vanished in a timely experiment. Although I patiently await his return, progress must move forward. With this, I’ve acquired Doc’s patent rights to the Flux Capacitor (FC) – the propulsion device central to warping the Space-Time Continuum (STC). Early technology restricted FC Input/Output (I/O) to 1.21 jigawatts, however… I’ve found a method of quadrupling I/O to 4.84 jigawatts, theoretically making the trip four times faster.

An additional advancement is planned in STC vehicle adaptation. The initial Entry/Reentry Velocity (ERV) difficulties experienced by the DeLorean vehicle proved dangerous. It’s now identified the angular, gull-wing profile created a Disturbance-In-The-Force (DITF). Evolving trials using a rounded VW Beetle prototype was thought to calm FTL/STC/PEE/DITF/ERV vibration – also known as Tolman’s paradox. Quickly, I learned the bulky Punch-Buggie (PB) approach brought no returns and I took a hit.

Compounding the situation is the original 1.21 jigawatt FC only required an 88 mph ERV. With a four-times capacity 4.84 jigawatt FC, it’s boosted the ERV to 352 mph. I realized… Great Scott! That’s a lot of ground speed. Fortunately, I’ve identified the new Aston Martin AM RB-001 Valkyrie as the perfect design. Now—here’s where you come in.

As you know, the Valkyrie is a highly advanced work of technology and produced in 25 unit allotments. I’ve placed an order for one Valkyrie to be refitted as a PEE vehicle, however, the Aston Martin Corporation requires pre-payment in full. With your timely offer of substantial investment capital, in return, I’m offering you the exclusive opportunity to fund my Valkyrie acquisition as the PEE vehicle of choice. It’s noble you believe in pursuing a positive goal and ideas than can be enhanced potentially for our mutual benefit.

Appreciatively, I’m accepting your group’s investment of $3.12 million USD. This covers the Valkyrie purchase, shipping, and handling. Please make an immediate monetary transfer via Western Union for deposit into my account #6105-883-464-0901 at Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. In lieu of cash, your direct purchase of the AM RB-001 PEE Valkyrie can be delivered to my Vancouver Island R&D facility.

Thank you for your generous offer, Mr. Logan Scott. Once my project is operational, I confidently assure your investment will be returned to you, along with accrued interest, to any point you prescribe in time. Your prompt reply will be most welcome.

I remain, sir, humbly indebted.

Garry Rodgers

———

I’ve yet to hear from Mr. Martins Logan Scott, but I trust he’ll be back in the future.

———

How about you Kill Zoners? Ever written a piece on a whim and were silly enough to send it? Let’s hear other experiences!

Writing Into The Dark

Okay. I expect some typer’s tension from this touchy topic. Plotters gonna hate. Pansters gonna say, “Yay!” And page-by-page cyclers with outline notes gonna go, “Meh. Nothin’ new. Was doin’ this all the time.” Writing into the dark, that is.

What’s writing into the dark? No, it’s not sitting in a room with the lights off and blindly searching for the keys. It’s a writing method that’s been around a long, long time and it involves going beyond seat-of-your-pants production.

That’s right. No outline. No vision. Just as I’m doing right now with pure exploration. Sure, I’ve done my research for this piece and have some crib notes of key points. I can’t imagine writing anything without some knowledge of what the post, essay, short story, novella, novel, or tome is going to be about. At least anything logical, that is.

Back up a sec, Garry, and explain plotting, pantsing, and page-by-paging for the newbies.

Plotting writers make detailed outlines of their work before they start. It’s like making blueprints for a house, and they rigidly follow those plans to a successful conclusion. Sure, there are a few change orders along the way, as there always are in house building. But for the most part, the end is always envisioned before breaking ground and starting construction.

Panster writers literally build by the seat of their pants. They also want a house built, but they love the freedom of working without permits or even drawings, except maybe on napkins. They dig a metaphoric hole, fill it with words, and fly at it—one word at a time until they hit “The End”. For some, pansting works. For others, it doesn’t.

Page-by page cycling? That was a new term to me. It’s outlining as you go, or cycling back to correct mistakes every page or so. It was news to me until I got introduced to Dean Wesley Smith (DWS) and read his book Writing Into The Dark. Or was it?

Two things aligned at the same time to get me going on “writing into the dark”. One was from Harvey Stanbrough who’s a regular commenter here at the Kill Zone. Harvey is a prolific writer, to say the least, and he PM’d me to say, “Check out Writing Into The Dark.” Harvey also told me to check out Heinlein’s Rules for Writing, which I did, and that’s material enough for a whole other post. At the same time, I was video chatting with my good friend and UK indie writer, Rachel Amphlett. Rachel also recommended I read Writing Into The Dark as it’s become her novel-writing method.

Writing Into The Dark opens with Dean Wesley Smith saying this:

He spoke to me, and Dean kept me hooked in the book until the end. What I got out of Writing Into The Dark is realizing I’ve evolved or morphed over time from a plotter to a pantster to a page-by-page drafter who’s learned to speed things up through a process Dean Smith calls “cycling”. I have to say I’ve found my stride, and I’m very comfortable drafting an entire book by outlining as I go.

Before drilling into what page-by-page, cycling, and outlining-as-you-go entails, I want to deal with a very important part of the dark writing method. Dean goes into a bit of brain science and how it applies to plotters and pansters. Plotters generally apply the critical part of their thinking process. They want to know exactly what route they’re taking in driving through the story. Pansters apply creative brain function. They thrive on allowing creativity to flow by putting the creative side first but still allow the critical brain to keep watch. Critical brains stifle creative brains every time.

Dark writers say “Fu*k it. Critical brain stay home. Me ’n ole creativity here are goin’ for a ride and hang on to yer hat maggot, ’cause this is gonna take yer breath away!”

In Dean Smith’s writing method, he goes hard and fast with only short glimpses in the work mirror. He writes a page or two at a time (page-by-page), then quickly looks back, fixes whatever, and moves on. This he calls cycling through the manuscript. Write a page or two, cycle back, fix or edit, and do it again. Throughout his page-cycle rhythm, Dean keeps a notepad at his side where he jots down ideas and story points. This is his idea of an outline.

Besides reading Writing Into The Dark, I watched a video presentation Dean gave to a writers conference about his process. I also read an insightful interview with him, and I’ll snip some conversation from them. I feel Dean Wesley Smith is a master of dark writing technique (He’s written hundreds upon hundreds of books and pieces) so I’ll let him have a few words right here on the Kill Zone stage.

“Writing fast, writing a lot, and keeping on submitting changed the way I look at writing,” Dean says. “It changed my mindset. It taught me to trust my instincts and trust my voice. I left my voice in my stories because I didn’t rewrite everything into dullness. Rewriting kills your voice and your natural ability to tell a story.”

Dean goes on to say, “I hated the idea of writing sloppy, so when I realized something needed to be fixed, I went right back and fixed it. I developed the habit of cycling back every few hundred words and doing minor revisions, all the while keeping a handwritten outline of points beside me. But when I get to the end of the story, I leave it alone.”

Here is some advice from Dean Smith for emerging writers. “Focus on the story and moving ahead. Write more. Learn. Have fun. Keep learning and experimenting. Stop making it so serious. This is entertainment, so entertain yourself and have fun.”

I know there’s a lot of truth in Dean’s words because dark writing is working for me. I outlined the ever-living sh*t out of my first novel. It was planned like the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. Slowly—over time—I loosened up a bit. But things changed, big time, when I spent two years writing cranking commercial web content for my slave-driving daughter’s online writing business.

That meat grinder doesn’t allow for much outlining. Not if you’re going to make money, that is. It’s research, write, proof, ship, and do it all over with a new topic that you’re really not all that hyped-up on. I wrote about everything from gastroenterology to bruxism to naturopathy treatments for foul-smelling vaginal secretions on a health & wellness site — to stainless steel vat technology in the hipster cottage brew industry.

Trust me. You want to get through this stuff as fast and with as little or no pain as possible. To survive and pay the bills, I got wired on dark writing. And I brought it with me when I went back to novels. Because you’re my friends, I’m going to show you my current writing method which is almost as dark as my subject matter and soul.

I’m working through a based-on-true crime series and releasing a new product every two months. Average lengths are about 52K words, and when I’m on a roll I write 900 to 1,000 words per hour. On a good day, when I’m not sidetracked by squirrels or severely hung over, I get-in about 3,500 words. So the calculator computes I draft a new book in about 15 writing days or 55 writing hours.

I don’t pre-outline anymore. I do exactly as Dean Wesley Smith does, and I didn’t know was it was called until Rachel and Harvey told me to read his book. Whadda ya know? Dean and I have something in common.

My outline emerges as I write chapter by chapter. I know where the story goes and how it ends because I lived in or around these crimes that I’m currently writing on. You gotta cut me some slack on internally knowing this series, but I’ll do the same on the next, which I plan to do in upcoming City Of Danger. What I do is keep a running log, or flow chart, on 11×17 paper. I’ll post the images so I don’t have to do any more describing than necessary. It’s the old picture being worth a thousand words thing.

See how my outline-as-I-go has evolved? I didn’t post pics of my first two in the series, In The Attic and Under The Ground. I didn’t use one for Attic, and I’ve lost the one for Ground. When I look at the progression through From The Shadows, Beside The Road, On The Floor, Between The Bikers, Beyond The Limits, and to my nearly-finished WIP At The Cabin, I see my method slightly changing. Hopefully, improving. I’ll let you know if it ever gets perfected, but don’t hold your breath.

You’re probably wondering what all those blurry swiggles and stimbols are. I outline-as-I-go from left to right and enter the chapter (scene) number, the date and time locaters, main plot points, the chapter word count (in red), and the overall story word count (in red) as it progresses scene by scene. That’s it. That’s how I keep track of a book’s gestation. The rest is mostly in my creative side except for research downloads and general hand-noted points similar to an editor’s style sheet.

I used to do second-day editing where I’d go back over the previous day’s works, but I gave that up for what I figured out is cycling, as Dean Smith calls it. Once I get to the end, I run it through Grammarly and clean it up. Then it’s off to my proofreader who does a remarkable job of finding issues, even teeny-tiny mistakes. Oh, BTW, I write each chapter/scene on a separate Word.doc and assemble them into one full manuscript as I do the Grammarly edit.

That’s it. I’m not saying my way of writing into the dark is right or wrong. It’s just an option I thought I should share. You do what works for you, but make sure you do one thing right. That’s to keep on writing and putting it out there, just as Heinlein’s rules prescribe.

It’s your turn, Kill Zoners. Am I out to lunch with this reckless behavior? Have you tried dark writing? Tell us in the comments what your style is, and your outlining experiences are.

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective—an old murder cop—who went on to another career as a coroner handling forensic death investigations. Now, Garry’s returned from the bowels of the morgue and arose as an internationally bestselling crime writer. True story & he’s sticking to it.

Garry is also an indie publisher currently finishing a 12-part, based-on-true-crime series detailing investigations he was involved in. Garry Rodgers runs a popular blog site at DyingWords.net and messes around on Twitter. When not writing into the dark, Garry spends time putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia on Canada’s Covid free infested southwest coast.

Mentoring For Writers

“Good ole Fred,” I say.

“Who?” you ask.

“Fred. Fred Mahle. My mentor.”

“Okay,” you go.

“Fred was my police mentor. He was a Detective Sergeant on the homicide squad who must have seen something in me as a rookie and thought I was worthwhile mentoring. Because of Fred, I learned the criminal investigation ropes and managed to make a somewhat successful career out of being a murder cop.”

“Nice,” you say.

“Sadly, Fred’s long gone now. But what he taught me stuck. Fred fed me wisps of wisdom like, ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason’ and ‘You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.’ Fred was a Columbo character with a Da Vinci brain. He was the one who caught child serial killer Clifford Olson and struck the deal to pay Olson ten grand a piece to turn over the bodies. In the end, Olson got a hundred thousand and a life sentence. Ten families got closure.”

Impressive. “What brought this on for a Kill Zone post?”

“I’m doing a bit of mentoring now myself. Not as a detective, but as a writer. I’m a writer who’s mentoring a detective.”

(Laughs) “Say what?”

“Yeah. It’s come full circle. When I retired from being Doctor Death in the police and coroner business, I reinvented myself as a crime writer. Not necessarily a good crime writer, but I’ve learned a few tricks, and I’m in the position to share them with a real detective who’s just retired and wants to take up this crazy wordsmithing game. Get this. She’s silly enough to turn to me for advice, so now I’m mentoring her.”

“Go figger.”

——

I think all of us have been mentored to some degree throughout our lives—careers if you like. And I’d like to think that as we get older and more experienced in our lines, we mentor others. That may be a formal mentorship as in an apprenticing role or an informal one like touring the new hire around the book factory floor.

And I think you learn a lot on both ends—mentor and mentoree (master/protégé). I’ve been commercially writing for a while now and when I put together a “mentorship” program for the poor sucker nice lady I’m helping out, I was surprised to find just how much I’ve learned about the writing craft and biz. I look forward to this journey with her.

Ever wonder where the word “mentor” came from? No, neither did I until I sat down to rabbit-hole a bit of research for this piece. Here’s the scoop.

Homer, the Greek writer, had a character called Ulysses in his epic work The Odyssey. Ulysses was prepping for the Trojan war and knew he’d be away for a while. (Turned out it was ten years.) So Ulysses entrusted his only son and heir, Telemachus, with being scholared by his wise and learned friend, Mentor. There, you’re welcome.

History shows that people like us—like young trees in an old forest—thrive best when we grow in the presence of those who’ve gone before us. This isn’t new ground. Even the greats like Plato and Aristotle were mentored. Same with Michelangelo and Van Gogh. I’m sure great writers like Hemmingway had some sort of mentor other than a whiskey flask.

I Googled around for mentoring’s best definition and to find some sort of accepted format for a mentorship program. Wikipedia (a mentor of sorts) says: Mentorship is the influence, guidance, or direction given by a mentor to a mentee. A mentor influences the personal and professional growth of a mentee and offers psychological support, career guidance, and role modeling. Mentoring is a process that always involves cross-communication. It’s relationship-based, but its precise definition is elusive.

I found an interesting paper by a mentoring guru. It’s called Skills For Successful Mentoring: Competencies of Outstanding Mentors and Mentorees, and it’s written by Linda Phillips-Jones, Ph.D. She also wrote the book The New Mentors and Protégés.

Dr. Phillips-Jones says that effective mentoring requires more than common sense. Her research indicates that mentors and mentorees who develop and manage successful mentoring partnerships demonstrate specific and identifiable skills that enable learning and positive change to take place. She notes that unless a fairly structured process and specific skills are applied, mediocre relationships occur.

The paper offers a mentoring skills model that’s widely used in many businesses, large and small. It’s as close to a mentorship blueprint that’s out there. Here are the four primary or core mentor skills:

Listening Actively — A mentor must know their protégé’s interests and needs. Active listening is the most basic mentoring skill. When an understudy feels they are being heard and understood, they develop trust and this allows the relationship to grow.

Building Trust — The more the student and teacher trust each other, the more committed they’ll be to building their relationship and mutually benefiting from it. Trust develops over time if partners respect confidentiality, spend time together, cooperate constructively, and the mentor offers encouragement.

Determining Goals and Building Capacity — The mentor acts as a role model. They already have the experience required to lead which is done by setting goals and building competencies. Mentors act as resources or find them for their charge, impart knowledge, help with broader perspectives, and inspire the mentoree.

Encouragement — Dr. Phillips-Jones says giving encouragement is the mentoring skill most valued by protégés. She gives encouraging examples like favorably commenting on a mentoree’s accomplishments, communicating belief in the protégé’s growth capacity, and positively responding to inevitable frustrations.

The paper goes on to give practical advice on building a mentorship program. It states like most relationships, mentoring progresses in stages with each stage forming an inherent part of the next. Here are the four stages that frame a modern mentorship program:

Stage I — Building the Relationship
Stage II — Exchanging Information and Setting Goals
Stage III — Working Toward Goals / Deepening the Engagement
Stage IV — Ending the Formal Mentoring Relationship and Planning the Future

Dr. Phillip-Jones’s paper drills deep into developing each stage. It’s far more than a blog post can handle. If you’re interested, the Center for Health and Leadership has another paper titled Mentoring Guide — A Guide for Mentors which you can download for bedtime reading.

My Google trip took me to a place called Masterclass. You might have heard of it. I found a short but sweet post called How to Find and Choose a Writing Mentor. It opens with a cool definition: A writing mentor is an experienced writer who shares their wisdom with a new writer as they begin their career. The mentor provides support through regular meetings, either in person, on the phone, or online. A mentor will help a new author develop their voice and improve their writing skills by reviewing and critiquing their work. The mentor acts as a resource for ongoing support and creative growth.

How to Find and Choose a Writing Mentor itemizes six benefits of having a writing mentor. They are:

A mentor holds you accountable.
A mentor inspires you.
A mentor improves your writing skills.
A mentor supports your career path.
A mentor helps develop your voice.
A mentor helps you make decisions about publishing.

Besides the benefits, the post lists four things to look for in a writing mentor. These are:

Experience
Commonality
Accomplishments
Availability

And the article ends with four tips for finding a writing mentor. Here you go:

Find a writing community.
Become a member of a writing organization.
Take classes in person
Find a mentor online.

Do, or did I, have a writing mentor? Of course, I have. My number one inspiration has, is, and always will be Napoleon Hill’s classic works Think and Grow Rich. Some say Napoleon Hill was one big con-job, but say what you like—Think and Grow Rich is magic mentorship at its finest. There’s stuff in there that’ll change your life. Believe me, I know.

Stephen King is also my mentor. Now, I don’t pretend to know Stephen King personally, just as I never knew Napoleon Hill. What I’ve got from Stephen King’s works and his classic On Writing is a lifelong course in the craft. Here’s a post I recently wrote on my personal blog at DyingWords.net which is titled Stephen King’s Surprisingly Simple Secret to Success.

The Kill Zone is a mentorship in progress. I think that’s the ultimate goal of the Kill Zone — writers sharing their skillsets with other writers. That’s what I try to do around this place. I find it rewarding to help other writers help themselves, and I’m sure most writers feel the same thing. Especially Kill Zone writers.

I want to call out two Kill Zone contributors who act as mentors. One is James Scott Bell, or JSB, who has a lifetime with his butt in the chair and his fingers on the keys. Jim has a wealth of knowledge in his craft books, and his posts always lift me up. That’s mentorship.

The other is Sue Coletta. This totally unselfish gem is somewhat at the same writing career stage as me, and we act as peer mentors. My wife, Rita, calls Sue my “other wife”.

What about you Kill Zoners? Do you have mentors? Have you worked with mentors? Are you now mentoring someone else? And would you mentor someone if given the opportunity? Don’t be shy with your comments!

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner. Now, Garry’s a crime writer and indie publisher of sixteen books including an international bestselling based-on-true-crime series.

Outside of writing, Garry Rodgers is a certified marine captain and enjoys time putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. Follow Garry on Twitter and check out his popular blog at www.DyingWords.net. BTW, In The Attic is FREE on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Locard’s Exchange Principle for Mystery & Thriller Writers

If you’re a mystery & thriller writer, at some point in your story you’ll have to deal with the evidence. I once heard a judge say, “There’s nothing more unreliable than eyewitness evidence.” There’s a whack of truth in that statement, and that’s why detectives and crime scene investigators always look for the best evidence—hard and indisputable physical evidence, especially trace or fragmentary evidence. They’re well aware of Locard’s Exchange Principle, and you should be too if you’re going to write convincing mysteries & thrillers.

What’s Locard’s Exchange Principle, you ask? Well, it’s fundamental to crime scene investigation or physical evidence processing. Locard’s, as it’s called in the biz, is the cornerstone of all forensic science; the basis as we know forensic science today.

Locard’s Exchange Principle states that in the physical world, whenever criminal perpetrators enter or leave a crime scene they leave something behind (trace evidence) that links them to the scene, and they take something away with them that also connects them to the crime. Trace evidence is the linkage of persons or objects to the scene. Locard’s is best put as, “Whenever two objects come into contact, a mutual exchange of matter will take place between them. The transfer may be tenuous, but it certainly will occur.”

I learned about Locard’s Exchange Principle in the police academy. It’s that elementary—Crime Scene 101. You can take it to the bank that in every crime, digital online offenses included, there will be some form of physical evidence no matter how microscopic.

Dr. Edmund Locard was a French scientist from the early 1900s. He pioneered modern crime scene processing and was known as the real Sherlock Homes of scientific sleuthing. Locard’s mantra was, “Every contact leaves a trace.” This simple phrase was so profound that famed criminalist Dr. Paul. L. Kirk of the National Academy of Forensic Sciences put Locard’s this way:

Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these, and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.”

Trace evidence is also called fragmentary evidence. Trace evidence takes many forms. Sometimes it will be outstandingly unique to a specific scene such as metal filings from a knife sharpener that put a criminal I knew in jail for a long, long time. Common trace evidence examples are hairs, fibers, body fluids, organic compounds, glass shards, mineral deposits, paint chips and smears, sawdust, and fire debris like charcoal, soot, and chemical accelerants.

Writers should know fragmentary or trace evidence generally falls into the circumstantial department rather than direct proof. Individual evidence like DNA matches and fingerprint identifications are hard, solid, and indisputable facts that directly link a perpetrator to the crime. Trace evidence, on the other hand, is part of what’s called corroboration which backs up other factors, adding probative weight to the overall case.

A good example of individual evidence is an accused’s fingerprint in the victim’s blood found at a crime scene. It would be impossible for the accused to deny this or really tough to give an alternative explanation of innocence. Trace evidence such as glass fragments in the suspect’s shoe treads that were consistent with broken glass from the crime scene’s point of entry would be circumstantial and deserve an expert’s opinion or conclusion of the evidence’s value.

Crime scene examination and trace evidence conclusion categories are uniform in the western criminal investigation field. Trace evidence probative value is rated on a conclusion scale set forth by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board and ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board / FQS. The Scientific Working Group for Material Analysis (SWGMAT) supplies a conclusion scale definition which forensic evidence specialists use to assert their trace evidence findings. The Trace Evidence Conclusion Scale is this:

Identified (Type I Association) – A positive identification; an association in which items share individual characteristics that show with reasonable scientific certainty that the items were once from the same source.

Very Strong Support – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties or chemical properties and share highly unusual characteristic(s) that are unexpected in the population of this evidence type.

Strong Support (Type II Association) – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties or chemical properties and share unusual characteristic(s) that are unexpected in the population of this evidence type.

Moderately Strong Support (Type III Association) – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties or chemical properties and could have originated from the same source. Because similar items have been manufactured or could exist in nature and could be indistinguishable from the submitted evidence, an individual source cannot be determined.

Moderate Support (Type IV Association) – An association in which items are consistent in all measured physical properties and chemical properties so could have originated from the same source. This sample type is commonly encountered in our environment and may have limited associative value.

Limited Support (Type V Association) – An association in which some minor variation exists between the known and questioned items that could be due to factors such as sample heterogeneity, contamination of the sample(s), or the quality of the sample. The items may be associated, but other sources exist with the same level of association.

Inconclusive – No conclusion can be reached regarding the association between the items.

Elimination – The items are dissimilar in physical properties or chemical composition and did not originate from the same source.

There’s a common misconception in trace evidence evaluation that every, and any, tiny piece can always be “matched” directly to an individual object. This is what’s sometimes called The CSI Effect where crime shows set unrealistic parameters and expectations from trace evidence probative value. This effect can be dangerous in court cases where jurors expect forensic science to be completely conclusive, and smart defense lawyers plant the seed of doubt in twelve panelists’ minds.

“What do you mean his DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene? Then he couldn’t possibly have been there and done it. Acquit!”

Something writers should also know about trace evidence is how it’s collected. There’s no exact right or wrong way, as variables at the crime scene and what type of trace evidence investigators are dealing with have strong bearings on the collection and examination process. The best scenario is to collect evidence at the scene, package it to prevent loss and cross-contamination, and take it to the lab where examination occurs under controlled and clean conditions.

That’s in the perfect world. Often, crime scenes are cold, wet, dirty, and bloody places. You deal with what you got as a CSI technician. But, for the most part, trace evidence processing is done with these methods:

Visual Inspection — There’s nothing like the human eye to spot something and make a judgment as to its evidentiary and probative value.

Light Amplification — High intensity and alternative scales are amazing amplification tools for spotting fragments like hairs and fibers.

Manual Collection — This involves good old tweezers to pick up something like a cigarette butt and place it in an evidentiary bag.

Vacuum Collection — High-tech shop vacs (with clean bags) are exceptionally efficient at sucking up fines like sand, pollen, and splinters of glass.

Taping — Fussy trace materials like drug residue, cosmetic powders, and costume glitter are easy to lift by using common adhesive tape.

Microscopic Examination — This is where the real CSI science kicks of when the examiner puts trace evidence through a comparison or scanning electron microscope.

Chemical Evaluation — There’s a decades-old process called Gas Chromatography—Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) that analyzes trace evidence and produces its molecular signature.

Forensic science’s ultimate goal in collecting, analyzing, and reporting trace evidence (obtained through Locard’s Exchange Principle) is to have it accepted or admitted into criminal trial proceedings. To start with, trace evidence has to be legally obtained. The CSI team must have a legal right to search for and seize whatever the evidence is. This usually is covered by a court-ordered search warrant as opposed to common-law grounds.

The evidentiary test at trial is then threefold. Trace or fragmentary evidence has to be relevant, have probative value, and not be prejudicial to the accused person or to the proceeding itself. Relevancy is a straightforward concept. The trace evidence has to someway connect the accused to the crime. There has to be a nexus that’s relevant.

Probative and prejudicial are a bit more complicated. For the best explanation of these legal concepts, I turned to the best explainer. This material is sourced from a trial lawyer’s blogsite:

PROBATIVE VALUE

The probative value of evidence is the degree to which it proves fact(s). The more a piece of evidence proves a fact, the greater it’s probative value. Greater value means a greater potential impact on the outcome of the case.

Probative value considers four main factors:

Inference: What inference can be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Circumstantial evidence such as DNA, forensics, and expert witnesses can infer that a person is linked to specific criminal activity.

Weight: The weight of the evidence measures how persuasive or believable it is. The greater the weight, the more impact it may have on proving facts and/or contributing to the final verdict.

Reliability: The more reliable the evidence, the greater its value. Testimony from a police officer who witnessed a crime, for example, would be more reliable than witness testimony from an untrained civilian.

Other Evidence: Whether other evidence is available to prove the same fact(s). While more supporting evidence can be beneficial in proving a fact, if there is other evidence available, low probative value evidence could be dismissed.

PREJUDICIAL

While both probative and prejudicial evidence can affect the outcome of a trial, they significantly different. Prejudicial evidence is that which negatively impacts the fairness and integrity of the case. This can include evidence that is misused, confuses issues, wastes time, or simply takes up too much time.

Just because a piece of evidence is damaging to the defendant’s case does not necessarily qualify it as prejudicial. The factors that determine it are based on three grounds— Moral, Logical & Time.

Where these factors may create an unfairly prejudicial effect, it is possible to have them excluded. Examples of when this may occur include:

  • Where prejudicial evidence threatens the fairness of the trial.
  • The evidence lacks adequate testing, or cannot be challenged properly
  • There is a significant risk of misuse by the jury, or the use of the evidence may lead to an inability to properly assess the evidence. This can occur where the evidence in question is too misleading, confusing, or distracting.

BALANCING PROBATIVE VS PREJUDICIAL

In determining whether or not to allow evidence its probative value is measured against the potential prejudicial effect. To be admitted, the evidence must have greater probative value. The probative vs prejudicial analysis is constantly occurring during criminal trials.

That does not mean it is difficult for evidence to be admitted. Judges and courts typically weigh more favorably on the side of admission of evidence. The prejudicial effect must be significant to be dismissed, and even then is sometimes allowed with certain restrictions.

The balance is not always consistent across the board. Some evidence is more probative on one count and more prejudicial on another. Where this occurs the court may limit the jury’s use of the evidence rather than exclude it outright.

There’s a lot more to Locard’s Exchange Principle than meets the common eye. In criminal investigation and crime scene examination, Locard’s is as certain as gravity, death, and taxes. For the crime writer—mystery & thrillers—there’s a lot to be learned from understanding how Locard’s applies and the ramification in storytelling from using Locard’s correctly. The takeaway? Every contact leaves a trace.

Kill Zoners — Were you aware of Locard’s Exchange Principle? Have you referred to it in a story? And what creative trace or fragmentary evidence have you cooked up? Real or imagined.

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner processing forensic evidence in death investigations. Now, Garry is a crime writer and indie publisher with sixteen books to his credit. His latest in the Based-On-True-Crime Series by Garry Rodgers is Beyond The Limits where Locard’s Exchange Principle led to a first-degree murder conviction.

Be sure to check out www.DyingWords.net which is Garry Rodgers’s popular blog with over 400 posts that provoke thoughts on life, death, and writing. Garry lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at the Canadian west coast. He frequently opens his Twitter account at @GarryRodgers1. Be sure to follow.