Good News! Amazon Changes Ebook Return Policy

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Remember The Book Thief by Markus Zusak? It was the story of a young German girl during World War II who steals books to comfort her during her family’s travails.

Unfortunately, about a year ago, a new breed of book thieves came on the scene when some slimy social media influencers promoted abuse of Amazon’s ebook return policy.

An ebook can be returned seven days after purchase in the US or 14 days after purchase in other countries, even after it’s been read.

When you read on a Kindle, Amazon knows exactly where you stopped and takes you to that same spot when you open your Kindle for a new session. When you switch from a Kindle to reading on a different device, it takes you directly to the correct location.

Amazon knows when you finish a book because you immediately receive a message asking you to rate it.

Amazon knows everything. Really.

Viral social media publicized this loophole. The practice of “buying” an ebook, reading it, and returning it for a full refund ran rampant.

Indie-published authors were quick to sound the alarm over sudden upticks in returns. That’s because Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) gives access to nearly-instant sales reports, whereas royalty reports from traditional publishers lag months behind.

Series authors reported that book 1 was purchased and returned a week later. Same happened with book 2. Then 3, 4, 5, 12, and 19. Obviously thieves had to read the entire series before they decided they didn’t like it.

Book thieves quickly learned Amazon could be used as a library, reading as many books as they could consume…FOR FREE! All they had to do was return them within seven days. Why pay a $10 monthly fee for a Kindle Unlimited subscription?

Clearly, Amazon could track this new trend but did nothing.

Incomes went down for many authors.

Another Amazon policy allows them to penalize authors if too many books are returned. They may even pull your books from being sold, citing poor quality as the reason for returns. What is poor quality? How many is too many? Who makes those decisions? Only the algorithm knows.

Book thieves may have justified their actions because they figured they were sticking it to Amazon.

Wrong! 

In reality, thieves were sticking it to authors who work hard to write quality books. Their work and investment in cover art, editing, proofreading, etc., were being stolen the same as if books were shoplifted from a store.

A petition protesting the policy gathered more than 70,000 signatures. The Authors Guild and the Society of Authors (UK) took evidence of abuses to Amazon.

Good news!

On September 22, 2022, the Authors Guild made this welcome announcement:

Amazon informed us of its plans to change its ebook return policy to restrict automatic returns to purchases where no more than 10 percent of the book has been read.

The planned change will go into effect by the end of the year. Any customer who wishes to return an ebook after reading more than 10 percent will need to send in a customer service request, which will be reviewed by a representative to ensure that the return request is genuine and complies with Amazon’s policies against abuse. This process will create a strong deterrent against buying, reading, and returning ebooks within seven days, and readers who attempt to abuse the return policy will be penalized under Amazon’s policies.

 

A big thank you to CEO Mary Rasenberger and the conscientious staff of the Authors Guild for protecting authors’ interests and income.

~~~

TKZers: Do you believe you were targeted by book thieves? Did you experience an uptick in ebook returns?

On the Other Side of the Microphone

By Elaine Viets

I’ll admit it. Being interviewed terrifies me. I was a reporter for more than twenty-five years. When I have to sit on the other side of the notebook, or the microphone, my palms sweat, my throat is dryer than Death Valley and my knees go weak.
Recently, I had a TV interview in St. Louis that was painless. The reporter did her research, and she read my books – most interviewers don’t do that.
We talked about books, writing, research and more and it became a conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did.

Today, I’m traveling to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Minneapolis. If you’re going to Bcon, please stop by my panel on 4:15 Saturday, September 10. It’s called “House of Cards: Power and Privilege: Power is everything . . . or is it? Like a house of cards, one false move causes everything to come crumbling down.”
You’ll see many of your favorite authors, including moderator Jason Allen, Joseph Finder, Vera Kurian, Rick Mofina, Hannah Morrissey. Oh, yeah, and me.

To Pay or Not To Pay – Book Reviews For Sale

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

“Fly-by-Night Book Reviews says, for $100, they’ll give me twenty guaranteed reviews. Should I try that?”

“I paid $500 to Pie-in-the-Sky Reviews. My book didn’t receive a single review.”

“You don’t dare pay for reviews—that violates Amazon’s terms and conditions. You’ll be banished.”

“Kirkus Reviews are the gold standard.”

“Ever since Kirkus started selling reviews, they lost all credibility.”

~~~

That’s a sample of the spirited responses and contradictory opinions on a recent Authors Guild discussion thread about whether or not to pay for book reviews.

I wound up thoroughly confused, pondering the following questions:

How much do reviews really matter?

Are there still “legitimate” book reviews? What defines “legitimate”?

Have reviews merely become another profit opportunity for vendors peddling them?

Do customers really believe Amazon reviews?

Do reviews increase sales?

Author Maggie Lynch

Multi-genre author Maggie Lynch participates frequently in AG discussions. Over years of reading her contributions, I’ve come to trust her knowledge, judgment, and analysis. Her data is carefully researched. She looks at publishing history from the long view and puts so-called new trends in perspective.

During this ongoing, weeks-long debate about book reviews, one day Maggie wrote: “Warning, I’m going on a bit of a rant.”

What followed was her essay that offered a fresh perspective and updated information about reviews that all authors can benefit from.

I asked if I could share her “rant” at TKZ and she kindly agreed.

Here’s what Maggie has to say:

Paid reviews have always been around, long before the advent of the Internet. Who do you think paid for placement in magazines, journals, and newspapers?

When a publisher buys an end cap display in a bookstore and provides potential review quotes for the store to post, isn’t that paid? If your book is featured on the front page of a major genre magazine, it gets attention. The magazine is going to do a review because you paid $2-$5K to be there.

All advertising is, in effect, paid reviews.

The only difference now is that there are more books, more online venues, and more authors willing to pay for ads, reviews, and all kinds of placement.

Once Amazon entered the online market, it became the focus of most authors. Not because it is the only distributor, but because it is the only distributor using sophisticated algorithms that are somewhat transparent. A number of analysts and programmers focus on Amazon algorithms and then share that information via their own book publications.

Whether you love or hate Amazon, it’s a great search engine. They understand data. They understand how to present the most likely options for getting a sale from a customer. IMO there is no other bookseller with programming that sophisticated.

If other major booksellers–Apple, Kobo, Google, the Big 5—had that same search and analysis capability, they would get more customers as well.

For myself, I have many reasons not to like Amazon. Yet, I give them props when they do well. If I want to find a book or learn more about an author, I’ll look it up on Amazon first because I know it will be quick with lots of information–including other books in the same genre, series, similar authors, etc.

I will likely end up buying the book somewhere else to support a local bookstore or another vendor, but I go to Amazon first.

Many people stay on Amazon because of that ease of use. Authors often believe (mistakenly in my opinion) that they only need to be on Amazon.

But…book sales are NOT Amazon’s primary business.

Only 10% of Amazon’s overall revenue is book sales.

Unfortunately, far too many people think they can game the system. I know hundreds of authors who spend more time trying to figure out how to get higher ranking on Amazon than they do writing books. It’s crazy.

Review factories have always been a part of the online book environment. When I first entered indie publishing in 2011, there were entire “review factories” in Asia where one could buy 100 reviews from “sock puppet” accounts. They were pretty obvious back then, poorly written, using similar phrases.

A couple of times, Amazon has cracked down on these practices–usually when it becomes obvious and egregious. But they usually do it through programming changes.

In the process, some books with legitimate reviews get caught in the net. When crackdowns happened in 2014 and 2018, many authors lost hundreds of reviews and waited months to have them reinstated.

[Note from Debbie: I know authors who simply gave up fighting and started from scratch all over again. Sad.]

Whenever Amazon makes a programming change to search out and punish fake reviews, those who make money on reviewing simply find a more sophisticated way not to get caught.

Algorithm watchers believe that instead of looking for and stopping these reviewers, Amazon is proactively changing the algorithm to counteract the sway of review farms.

Now reviews are weighted significantly less in the algorithm than they have been in the past.

Of course, no one knows how much less or what the criteria are, but it is something to consider. Because of that, authors who are focused on reviews simply pay more.

Authors consistently worry/believe that a high number of reviews (particularly on Amazon) means a high number of sales. That is not necessarily the case.

It is more likely that a high number of sales means a high number of reviews, UNLESS reviews have been supplied primarily by non-purchasers.

To evaluate this, look at the Top 100 bestsellers in Amazon. Many have ZERO reviews. Why? Because the book hasn’t been released and is selling on pre-order. What is creating those sales? Many factors that have nothing to do with reviews such as:

  • Advanced audience definition;
  • Pre-press ads, word of mouth, news, reaching out to fans;
  • Building anticipation for the book followed by a launch blitz that delivers on the promise;
  • ARCs to media and other reviewers (NetGalley, Edelweiss).

It may also be that Amazon never shows a lot of reviews for a particular book because the primary sales are on other sites, NOT Amazon. Many print books sell in bookstores, libraries, or direct from the publisher.

Reviews are not the answer to low sales. Do they help? Good ones do, those that provide information and key ideas to appeal to the audience you want. But the number of reviews does not necessarily correlate to sales.

The last good analysis I read about Amazon indicated there were more than 300 data points that are weighted in the sales and ranking algorithms.

THREE HUNDRED!

Where do reviews stand in that weighting? Not at the top. Probably not even the top 10.

The reality is the #1 weight is actual sales.

You have direct control of many other factors that guarantee more sales such as:

  • Create a fan base;
  • Write more books;
  • Identify your audience;
  • Deliver to their expectations with a consistent brand.

Of course, these take work and time. They can’t happen overnight.

But many authors want a fix right now, an easy button to push.

People always want an easy answer as to why their book isn’t selling better. They don’t want to accept the more likely reasons it’s not selling better.

The reality is the majority of the book reading public has fairly narrow interests.

 My fantasy fans rarely cross into SF. My SF fans almost never cross into romance. My Women’s Fiction fans don’t like anything else in fiction. My nonfiction readers rarely read fiction.

That’s just from my list of fans–a small number of 12K people. But the sample size is enough to extrapolate statistically.

Identifying the audience and creating a package that appeals to them on many levels is key. That package includes:

  • Excellent blurb that makes the reader want to learn more;
  • Great cover;
  • Appropriate pricing for the genre;
  • Look Inside/Preview pages that draw the reader in;
  • Advance praise from ARC readers that tells the reader what to expect and why they loved it.

Indie authors particularly get uptight about reviews—they can see the numbers go up and believe they can control that. Then they start paying for reviews because they believe more reviews equals more sales. But that is a false sense of control.

Where do you stop paying? Is 50 enough? How about 100?

I now see books with over 100K ratings. Are you kidding me?

 The get-more-reviews game is one you can’t win because:

  • You likely don’t have the budget for big PR or marketing campaigns;
  • You can’t compete against contacts that big publishing houses have.

Amazon’s own imprints publish roughly 1,000 books a year, making it as large as the Big 5 publishers.

Amazon controls all the data and knows the sales information. They can certainly tweak the metadata as needed to drive sales within their algorithm. Other publishers can do this too, if they know how and employ people to do it. Most don’t, not even the Big 5.

What can the average author do to compete?

First, do not accept Amazon as the arbiter of books or literature.

They are not. Don’t become one of those authors–and some small publishers– who have bought into the Amazon way of book sales–low pricing, multiple promotions, exclusivity.

Small publishers and indie authors have given Amazon all this power yet selling books is less than 10% of Amazon’s revenue. 

Second, you can shout and bring bad practices to the fore.

Point it out and most of all DO NOT PARTICIPATE in the bad practices yourself.

We can’t let our avarice, our immediate desire for an easy-button solution, give us permission to game the system, pay for reviews, tell lies, or buy hundreds of print books to try to make the bestseller list.

If few authors engage then it will become evident that no one can make good money off of these deals. 

Third, expend your energy in engaging with actual readers.

Build your mailing list, blog or use some other social media that you like to keep your readers informed.

Outside of your next book, the biggest asset is YOUR readers—people who have already voted with their dollars and their time to buy and read your book. Once they already read and like your book, they want more—more about you, more about upcoming books.

  • They will tell their friends
  • They will write reviews;
  • They will volunteer to read ARCs in the future;
  • They will post to social media;
  • They will talk to libraries about carrying your book.

Your readers are your biggest asset.

 ~~~

Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your perspective and wisdom with TKZ!

Maggie reaffirmed my belief that time is best spent writing more books.

However, that doesn’t lessen my gratitude to readers who make the extra effort to write reviews!

~~~

Learn more about Maggie Lynch and her 26 books at her author website.

Check out her free video course about Why Books Don’t Sell. It covers the basics of putting together a good package for your book and buy pages with vendors.

On that same POV Author Services site she has many blogs just for writers about both business and technology, as well as mental health and philosophical writing concerns.

~~~

TKZers: What is your experience with reviews? Have you ever paid for reviews? Do you think they helped your sales?

Telepathy and Writing

Deep down each of us have a strong but underused connection to the world around us.

Consider the time when you sensed someone watching you, even if you couldn’t see them. Or the gut feeling, telling you something significant was about to happen. Or the intuitive, instinctive feeling that gave you the name of the person on the other end of the line before checking the caller ID.

If we learn how to tap into this sixth sense, we begin to notice when someone—dead or alive—is thinking about us, even when we’re physically apart.

Telepathic communication explains why, when you randomly thought of a friend and she texted you the next day. Or that time when you spontaneously called your third cousin, and he said, “Oh em gee, I was just thinking about you!”

Writers are especially attuned to the “little voice” inside us.

Some are more intuitive than others, but we all have an underutilized sixth sense. Once we learn its power and how to use it, new doorways open up, doorways that enhance our writing.

The more we open up to the possibility of telepathy, the more we’ll start to notice the messages from our spirit guides and ancestors, and the synchronicities or coincidences that have always been present in our lives.

The Natural World thrives on telepathic communication.

An animal’s survival depends on it. If you’ve ever wondered how one species warns another about potential threats, telepathy answers this question. And humans — as members of the Natural World — can tap into that same energy.

The notion of telepathic communication first intrigued me as a way to chat with animals, wild and domestic. Because when we watch and listen to animals, they help us reach our full potential. Animals enrich the mind, body, and soul. They’re sentient, intuitive beings who communicate with us in many ways. Body language, vocals, and telepathy, whether we’re cognizant of it or not.

Think about this: Most animals know more about their environment than you or I ever will.

An intuitive exchange with any animal — cats, dogs, guinea pigs, crows — begins the same way. First, with physical body cues. Then with the silent language of love.

So, how can we telepathically communicate with animals?

Step 1: Rest your hands over your heart and practice deep breathing exercises.

Step 2: Once you’re relaxed, pay attention to your heart, to your soul, and feel the gravity of your love for the animal.

Step 3: Express your love for that animal by visualizing a soft beam of light, a tether connecting the two of you.

Step 4: Silently or vocally ask the animal for permission to telepathically communicate with them.

Step 5: If you don’t sense any reluctance, express how you’re open to receiving messages in return. Keep it light in the beginning and progress deeper once you build trust, confidence, and strengthen your bond.

Keep in mind, animals live in the moment. They’re not distracted by the phone, the to-do list, or regret. And so, you must also be in the present moment to connect with them.

The only obstacle is you.

Trust the flow, the energetic pulse of life. Align with, not against, this flow. By blocking out all distractions, the energy exchanges between you and animals will occur effortlessly. You are in the present, anchored by love and grace, and coming from a place of neutrality. You are part of the Natural World, connected across space and time.

The same principals apply to human-to-human telepathic communication. Both parties must be willing participants. Don’t use this life skill for evil (unless you’re targeting fictional characters).

Remember These Three Simple Truths

  1. We are all part of divine consciousness.
  2. Love creates alignment with all creation.
  3. We all have the ability to listen with our heart.

When we refocus on lowering the frequency of emotions — fear, self-doubt, anxiety — we raise our cognition, enhance the vibration of our energy, we align with nature. Animals are drawn to bright inner lights, and therefore will be enthusiastic about communicating with you.

That’s all well and good, Sue, but how does that help our writing?

Glad you asked. 😉

In On Writing, Stephen King provides the perfect example of telepathy and writing.

“Telepathy, of course. It’s amusing when you stop to think about it—for years people have argued about whether or not such a thing exists—and all the time it’s been right there, lying out in the open like Mr. Poe’s The Purloined Letter. All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation.”

What does the quote mean?

The best way to think about writing is the process of transferring a mental image from your mind to the mind of a reader. As writers, we envision scenes, settings, characters, etc. Our job is to transfer that mental image to the page for the reader to experience later.

Sounds a lot like telepathy, doesn’t it? Because it is!

Hence why writing coaches tell us to envision our ideal reader, carrying that image with us while writing. The trick is learning what images to include and what to leave out. Hint: Less is more.

Want to hear something bizarre?

While writing this post in Word, the document kept disappearing. One second it’d be on my screen, gone the next. And I had three other documents open at the time. The other two stayed on the screen. Coincidence? You tell me.

Releases tomorrow! Preorder on Amazon for $1.49 before my publisher raises the price.

She may be paranoid, but is she right?

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

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

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

With only hours left to live, how can Sage convince her Sheriff husband before the sand in her hourglass runs out?

 

 

 

Everyone’s Got Rules

Everyone’s Got Rules
Terry Odell

Red book saying The Rule Book with a pair of black glasses

Cruising Undercover is “finished” and waiting for release day, August 23rd. Early reviews have been positive, and it’s time to move on to the next project. In a rare moment of office “housekeeping” I came across an unmarked folder. Inside I found a page titled “Barbara Wright’s Rules of Writing.”

Because I have handwritten notes on the page, I must have attended a workshop where this was a handout. I had no memory of Barbara Wright, but she was smart enough to include her website in the footer. Looking at her picture on the site, I still had no memory of either her or the workshop, but the “Rules” she gave were interesting and, of course, I thought they’d make good discussion fodder here at TKZ.

  1. Keep it concrete
  2. Familiarize yourself with the best writing. Dismantle it and ask yourself what makes it work
  3. Create the conditions you need in order to write
  4. Everything is material
  5. Anyone can be a writer
  6. Don’t take rejection personally
  7. Keep your eyes open (my notes added ‘ears’ here)
  8. There’s no such thing as failure. The only way you can fail is to quit.
  9. Don’t show off. All details must be in service of the story
  10. Pretty good is not good enough
  11. You don’t find ideas; ideas find you
  12. Take risks (my notes say ‘forces you to be better than you are’)

Her last “rule” was the familiar quote: There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. (Somerset Maugham)

All right, TKZers. Do any of these resonate with you? Any you’ve tried and given up on? Any you don’t think are worth trying?

For me, when I was starting, #6 was a tough one to develop. Currently, I’d say my top three are 5, 9 and 10.

And one final note: On Saturday, August 27th, I’ve been invited to speak at the Speed City Sisters in Crime chapter’s meeting. I would really love to “see” some of you (or at least your names, because they turn off video for the audience). The Title is “How I Became a Writer by Mistake” and it’ll be mostly Q&A. Time: noon EDT, 9 Pacific. You have to register, but it’s free. Details here.


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

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


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

First Page Critique – Samaritan Sins

Photo credit: wikimedia CC-BY-SA-3.0

By Debbie Burke 

@burke_writer

 

Let’s welcome another Brave Author who submitted a first page for review. Enjoy reading it then we’ll discuss.

~~~

 “Waller, they found a body on the Midwest Bike Trail about two hundred feet east of the Northwestern tracks,” stated Police Sergeant David Dodson, our special-operations supervisor. His voice was full of tension. Even when he smiled, his dark brown eyes never quite lost their keenness or their watchfulness.

I sat up straighter at my desk. “Isn’t that the Forest Preserve Police?” I asked into my cell.

“They’ve asked us to handle it because it looks like a homicide. I want you and Garcia on it. I’ll notify the coroner next.”

“A body? Yeah, we’re on it.” I looked at my partner, Detective Carlos Garcia, seated at his desk.  He’s not bad looking. The Fu Manchu mustache looked good with his brown skin. A raised glazed donut perched in his right hand and a paper cup of Dunkin coffee before him on his desk. His white shirt and blue suit hung lean and long off his well-tapered build. I looked down at my solidly built arm, thinking, how can he eat donuts and still look like that? I became aware I had to hook my belt on the last notch when I dressed that Monday morning. I told him, “They’ve got a body for us.”

Garcia’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth. He made the necessary adjustments that would transform his appearance from simply splendid to magnificent. Only after each hair had been lovingly combed into position and his silk tie straightened, the second button of his jacket buttoned, he rose his six-foot frame and said, “Let’s go.”

My career as a detective with the violent Crimes division of  the West Chicago Police Department exposed me to a lifetime of crime and tragedy. We strode out of the station house in a hurry to begin our job. I pride myself on being a no-nonsense individual. I’m thirty-five-year-old Detective Alicia Waller. My black shoes making long, mean strides.

Once in our unmarked Ford Explorer, I turned towards him and asked, “What do you know about the bike path?”

Garcia grew up in this town, probably walked that path hundreds of times as a teenager.

~~~

Okay, let’s dig in.

Photo credit: Public domain

The title Samaritan Sins intrigued me. Samaritan conjures the image of kindness and compassion. Sins brings to mind misdeeds, perhaps even evil. The ironic juxtaposition hints at the story’s conflict. Does a good person commit a terrible act? I want to learn more. Well done!

Unfortunately, this first page doesn’t live up to its promising title.

Brave Author, recently Terry Odell and Jim Bell wrote excellent posts on beginnings. I highly recommend you read them at links here and here.

Jim coined a new term—Wood—and quoted an old saying:

Your story begins when you strike the match, not when you lay out the wood.

The first page of Samaritan Sins is wood laying. It needs work before a match lights it on fire.

Brave Author is getting acquainted with the characters, their backgrounds, and the setting, before starting the story. Yes, preparation is important homework. But the information belongs in an outline, story notebook, character sketch, etc., not on the first page.  

Police procedurals—which this appears to be—generally start with a dead body, in this case on a bike path in West Chicago. However, neither the point-of-view character, Detective Alicia Waller, nor the reader sees the body firsthand.

Instead the story begins with a report by a supervisor, Sergeant Dodson. That distances the reader from the crime. A report by phone, rather than in person, adds even more distance.

Further, it’s confusing. Alicia describes Dodson’s watchful dark brown eyes as if he is standing in front of her. Yet, in the next paragraph, she is talking to him on her cell.

The farther away from the crime, the less a reader cares about it. A crime needs to provoke an emotional response from the reader. A third-hand phone report dilutes the impact.

Details like “two hundred feet east of the Northwestern tracks” also dilute it. Specific details are important to paint a vivid picture. But choose details the reader cares about, not bland measurements.

There is a lot of repetition.

“…they found a body…”

“A body? Yeah, we’re on it.”

“They’ve got a body for us.”

Alicia mostly tells about Carlos Garcia, rather than showing. The description is also repetitive.

He’s not bad looking.

The Fu Manchu mustache looked good with his brown skin.

…transform his appearance from simply splendid to magnificent.

She appears to have a crush on him. Fine, but is that important enough to include on the first page? Not unless it’s significant to the story.

I strongly recommend getting rid of the donut cliché. Look for fresher ways to show Carlos’s looks. But again, consider if these details are significant enough to use up valuable first page real estate. If not, cut them.

Only after each hair had been lovingly combed into position and his silk tie straightened, the second button of his jacket buttoned…

Would this vain-sounding guy fuss with his appearance without first washing donut glaze off his hands?

I mention this because his sticky hands took my mind far away from the dead body. When the reader can be distracted that easily, there’s a major problem.

My career as a detective with the violent Crimes division of  the West Chicago Police Department exposed me to a lifetime of crime and tragedy.

This statement is pure telling without offering insight into Alicia’s personality or how the career has affected her. Is she jaded? Wounded? Fed up? Does she still hold out hope she can help people? “A lifetime of crime and tragedy” is vague and meaningless without specifics.

I pride myself on being a no-nonsense individual. I’m thirty-five-year-old Detective Alicia Waller. My black shoes making long, mean strides.

Again, more telling rather than showing. How important is it for the reader to know this on the first page?

Photo credit: Public domain

A Jack Webb/Dragnet-style introduction could condense the background info and establish a distinctive voice while also moving the story ahead. Here’s one way it might be written:

I’m Detective Alicia Waller, West Chicago Police Department, fifteen years on the job, the last four in Special Operations. I’m thirty-five, wear sensible shoes, battle my weight, and have a secret crush on my partner, Carlos Garcia, a stylishly-dressed six-foot hunk with a Fu Manchu mustache. He’s vain but I forgive that flaw because he’s easy on the eyes.

Together we’ve worked violent crimes ranging from gang murders to a sexual assault on a ten-month-old baby that sent us both to the department shrink.

Today, we stood over a deceased teen-aged male lying face-up on the Midwest Bike Trail. Forest Preserve Police had called us because they suspected homicide.

The above is about 100 words, conveys relevant facts, introduces characters, and plops the reader into the crime scene.

Wordsmithing:

Overall, the writing is competent but verb usage needs work.

Stated is an awkward verb that draws attention to itself. Why not use said?

Perched is another odd verb. A parakeet might perch on his hand but not a donut.

…a paper cup of Dunkin coffee [sat] before him on his desk. Missing verb.

His white shirt and blue suit hung lean and long off his well-tapered build. Hung doesn’t work. Is the suit hanging lean and long? Or do you mean his build is lean and long?

…he rose his six-foot frame. A person generally doesn’t raise his frame unless the frame is for his barn.

My black shoes making long, mean strides. This sentence lacks a verb. It’s also inaccurate and awkward. The shoes aren’t striding; Alicia is. What are “mean strides”? Emphatic, loud, decisive?

In trying to be creative with verbs, BA instead inserts speed bumps and confusion.

~~~

Brave Author, I hope you don’t feel beat up by these comments. As writers, we’ve all been here. It’s part of the learning process as you hone your craft.

I suggest you save this first page in a “story notes” file. Refer to it as you develop the plot and characters. The information is useful background—it just doesn’t belong on page 1. 

For now, move ahead with your story. After drafting a few chapters, you’ll likely find a more compelling place to start. Once you complete the ms., circle back and rewrite the opening.

Just because it says “Page 1” doesn’t mean it has to be written first. Write it last. 

One way to interest readers is to make them curious. Ask questions they want answers to. Here are a few ideas:

What makes one or both members of this detective team unique?

Why should the reader care about a faceless victim in a city where murders occur frequently? (Hint: give the victim a distinctive characteristic. Is she missing an arm? Is he a local celebrity?)

Are there special circumstances or unusual clues that set this crime apart from run-of-the-mill calls?

Thank you for submitting, Brave Author. It takes courage to expose your work to strangers. Please take suggestions in the spirit they’re offered—to help make your story the best it can be.

~~~

TKZers, your turn to offer ideas to the Brave Author.

~~~

Flight to Forever was a finalist for the 2022 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Try a sample at these links:

Amazon

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Or ask your favorite independent bookstore to order the paperback.

First-Page Critique: A Mind Trap

By Elaine Viets

Another Brave Author has given us what looks like a spy thriller. First, let’s read the first page. Then I’ll offer my comments, and you can add yours.

A Mind Trap
Everything in the dimly lit warehouse of the aerospace company appeared
to be as it should. And for Edward Malver, crouching in the deeper shadows of
some packing crates, everything was as it should be. His digital wristwatch showed it
was midnight and every employee except one security guard had gone home many
hours earlier.
Widely spaced overhead lighting cast pools of weak light in a murky realm of lighter
and darker shades of black. Metal shipping containers and wooden packing crates of
all sizes were stacked in rows like giant tombstones in a netherworld. Malver stood up
and hurried toward the exit downstairs.
He didn’t want to remain any longer than was absolutely necessary. The risk of
discovery increased with every passing minute, and the dark made him uneasy. Malver
shuddered. If he stayed in it too long, he knew the terrible memories would resurface to
savage him.
Malver was relieved to see how well his black pullover sweater and slacks blended in
with the surrounding darkness, camouflaging his tall slender frame and rendering him
almost a part of the darkness. He checked his blue nitrile examination gloves to be sure
they were not torn, then pulled a dark beanie further down over his gray-peppered black
hair. Walking with the silence of a shadow, he glanced around while listening for any
out-of-place sounds. All was as quiet as the grave.
Malver’s lock picks, both manual and electronic, rested in his nylon shoulder pouch next to the photographs he’d just taken of the secret Raptor missile. The Raptor was a surface-to-air missile with a “smart” computer guidance system making it virtually
impossible to fool or escape from. Really bad news for any fighter or bomber pilot it
was fired at. The Raptor had taken dozens of scientists seventeen years to develop
and perfect. Malver could have targeted the minds of some of the key scientists but it
was so much easier to just steal what he needed; truly a rare opportunity too good to
pass up, he thought.
He’d be selling the photos of the technical specifications and schematic diagrams
three days from tonight. The photos would earn him good money. But in this instance,
the money was secondary. Malver was pleased at how smoothly this operation was
going, on schedule and with no glitches.
Then he saw the security guard approach the catwalk

Elaine’s Comments:
Our Brave Author gets this novel off to a creepy start, but we need someone to root for – or against. Is Malver a good guy or a bad one? Is he an operative for the United States, or an enemy spy? Why does he need these plans and who will he give them to?
It’s important that we know.
For the sake of this critique, let’s say he’s a villain. Then this  thriller can have a dramatic race to keep the Raptor plans from falling into enemy hands.
Also, the opening needs to ratchet up the tension. In the first paragraph, I’ve made some small cuts to move the pace along. I also had Malvern checking his wrist watch, getting rid of the passive voice “his wrist watch showed it was . . .” I left the second paragraph untouched.
In Paragraphs 3 and 4, I’ve done more tightening, getting rid of unnecessary words such as “in,” “just” and “so” I changed “darkness” to “gloom” to avoid repeating the word. Nitrile “examination” gloves is unnecessary. Your readers know what nitrile gloves are. I cut “as the grave.” It’s cliched.
The phrase that puts manual and electronic lock picks in apposition has been recast, so the sentence moves smoothly. Also, I cleaned up some other phrases. The last paragraph is fine, except it needs a period at the end.

PARAGRAPH 1 Everything in the dimly lit warehouse of the aerospace company appeared to be as it should. AndfFor Russian agent Edward Malver, crouching in the deeper shadows of some the packing crates, everything was as it should. be. His wristwatch showed it was He checked his digital wristwatch. Midnight. ed it was midnight and Every employee except one security guard had gone home. The lazy Americans didn’t stay late. The new Cold War had started when President Vladimir Putin offered to support the Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine. The clueless West called his actions an invasion, but what did they know? History was on Mother Russia’s side. manyhours earlier.
PARAGRAPH 2 Widely spaced overhead lighting cast pools of weak light in the murky blackness. Metal shipping containers and wooden packing crates were stacked in rows like giant tombstones. Malver stood up and hurried toward the downstairs exit.
PARAGRAPH 3 Malver’s black pullover sweater and slacks blended in with the darkness, camouflaging his tall slender frame, and rendering him almost a part of the gloom. darkness. He checked his blue nitrile examination gloves to be sure they were not torn, then pulled a dark beanie further down over his gray-peppered black hair. Walking silent ly as a shadow, he glanced around, while listening for anything out of place sounds. All was as quiet. as the grave.
PARAGRAPH 4 Malver’s lock picks, both manual and electronic lock picks rested in his nylon shoulder pouch next to the photographs he’d just taken of the secret Raptor missile. Developed by the US, the Raptor was a surface-to-air missile with a “smart” computer guidance system making it virtually impossible to fool or escape. from. Really Bad news for any fighter or bomber pilot in its path. it was fired at. The Raptor had taken dozens of scientists seventeen years to develop and perfect. Malver could have targeted the minds of some of the key scientists’s minds, but it was so much easier to just steal what he needed. This ; truly a rare opportunity was too good to pass up, he thought.
PARAGRAPH 5 He’d be selling the photos of the technical specifications and schematic diagrams three days from tonight. The photos would earn him good money. But in this instance,
the money was secondary. Malver was pleased at how smoothly this operation was
going, on schedule and with no glitches.
PARAGRAPH 6 Then he saw the security guard approach the catwalk.

Here’s a clean version:
Everything in the dimly lit warehouse of the aerospace company appeared as it should. For Edward Malver, crouching in the deeper shadows of the packing crates, everything was as it should. He checked his digital wristwatch. Midnight. Every employee except one security guard had gone home. The lazy Americans didn’t stay late. The new Cold War had started when President Vladimir Putin offered to support the Russian-speaking separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The clueless West called Putin’s actions an invasion, but what did they know? History was on Mother Russia’s side.

Widely spaced overhead lighting cast pools of weak light in the murky blackness. Metal shipping containers and wooden packing crates were stacked in rows like giant tombstones. Malver stood up and hurried toward the downstairs exit.

Malver’s black pullover sweater and slacks blended with the darkness, camouflaging his tall slender frame, rendering him almost part of the gloom. He checked his blue nitrile gloves to be sure they were not torn, then pulled a dark beanie further down over his gray-peppered black hair. Walking silent as a shadow, he glanced around, listening for anything out of place. All was quiet.
Malver’s manual and electronic lock picks rested in his nylon shoulder pouch next to the photographs he’d taken of the secret Raptor missile. Developed by the United States, the Raptor was a surface-to-air missile with a “smart” computer guidance system making it virtually impossible to fool or escape. Bad news for any fighter or bomber pilot in its path. The Raptor had taken scientists seventeen years to develop and perfect. Malver could have targeted some of the key scientists’s minds, but it was much easier to steal what he needed. This rare opportunity was too good to pass up, he thought.
He’d be selling the photos of the technical specifications and schematic diagrams three days from tonight. The photos would earn him good money. But in this instance, the money was secondary. Malver was pleased at how smoothly this operation was going, on schedule and with no glitches.
Then he saw the security guard approach the catwalk.

TWO MORE NOTES: Some of your manuscript was in purple ink, and some in black. Please be consistent when you show it to an editor.
And finally, I like the name of your villain.
Keep writing, Brave Author.

LATE FOR HIS OWN FUNERAL is “a fascinating exploration of sex workers, high society, and the ways in which they feed off of one another.” Enter to win a copy here:  https://kingsriverlife.com/08/06/late-for-his-own-funeral-by-elaine-viets/

 

Nicknames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agony — Last name Payne

ALF — Annoying Little F**k

Alphabet — Pilot’s real name was Varsonofy Krestodovdvizhensky

Apollo — Last name Creed

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

Beagle — Pilot kept bouncing around on training landings

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

Blaze — Caught himself on fire in the mess kitchen

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

Caveman — Incredible tolerance to cold weather in survival training

Coma — Very slow talking pilot with Southern drawl

Captain — Pilot’s real name was James Kirk

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

COOTS — Constantly Over-emphasizes Own Tactical Significance

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

Dice — Pilot who took unnecessary chances

Dingle — Last name Berry

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

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

Exxon — Pilot hurried through preflight checklist and missed his refueling

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

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

Gear Down — Forgot something on landing

Ghost — Last name Casper

Glory — Last name Hole

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

Grumpy — Short pilot who was not a morning person

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

Hurricane — Female F-18 Super Hornet driver named Katrina

Headless — Last name Horstman

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

Hi-Ho — Last name Silva

Inch — Dutch pilot measuring 5’ 4” tall

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

IRIS — “I Require Intense Supervision”

Jugs — First female Top Gun pilot graduating from Miramar

Kanga — Last name Rew

Krod — (Spell it backwards)

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

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

Lick — Last name MaWhinney

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

Me-So — Last name Horn

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

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

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

NotSo — Last name Bright

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

OhMy — Last name Gaud

PE — Pilot accidently Prematurely Ejected while on the runway

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

Plan B — Pilot perpetually unlucky with the bar ladies

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

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

Rebound — Pilot in so many relationships with the same woman

ROTOR — Ran Off The Only Runway

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

SLAW — Shops Like A Woman

Salad — First name Cesar

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

SALSA — Student Aviator Lacking Situational Awareness

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

TBAR — That Boy Ain’t Right

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

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

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

Vodka — Last name Smirnoff

WiFi — Pilot whose Wife Financed his new Porsche

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

Yoda — A short Irish pilot who spoke his words backwards

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

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

———

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

Reading Is a Luxury

Photo credit: emmanuel ikwuegbu – unsplash.com

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

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

Shocked?

Me, too.

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

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

I certainly did…until I couldn’t.

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

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

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

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

Hence, cataract surgery was the only option.

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

An absolute miracle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

No vacuuming? No problem!

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

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

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

Photo credit: lilartsy – pexels

A pirate patch and magnifying glass worked marginally but awkwardly.

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

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

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

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

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

Most every task in life required reading.

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

According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Per the Governors’ Early Literacy Foundation:

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

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

Processed By  ImageMagick,

 

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

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

 

 

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

The gift of improved sight is incredible.

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

 

~~~

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

~~~

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

~~~

Cover image by Brian Hoffman

 

 

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

It’s a Touching Good Story

It’s a Touching Good Story
Terry Odell

diagram showing the relationship between the brain and body parts for the sense of touchUse the five senses in your writing. We’ve all heard it. Often, writers consider that a ‘rule’ and try to incorporate all five into every scene. For me, that inches into “laundry list” territory. I liked David Morrell’s approach, which was to assume sight is a given and include two others, varying them across the scenes.

I’ve already talked about the senses of sight and smell. What about touch? It’s an important sense—and a very interesting one. Do your characters utilize it? Notice it? React to it?

What are some ways you can use the sense of touch in your writing?

Common sensations for your characters:

Weight. Heavy or light? Can it be unexpected? My marine mammal specialist Hubster was big into bones. A manatee rib is amazingly heavy for its size. When people pick it up, they’re always compensating as their senses readjust.
Smooth or rough?
Bumpy or deep indentations?
Solid, or does it give?
Warm, hot, or cold?

How does your character react if they come into contact with something painful?

Side note: Our nervous system includes a ‘shortcut’ to react to pain. Grab that hot pan on the stove by mistake? Ever notice that your hand jerks away before you feel the pain? That’s because you’ve got nerve pathways to the spinal cord that cause your muscles to contract while the sensation is still working its way up to the brain, which then interprets the feeling as pain, and that’s when you say ouch. Meanwhile, you’ve avoided potential damage.

diagram of nerves to and from the spinal cord in response to painAre you describing the sensations of walking barefoot through the mud? Trying to get a handhold on a slick surface? What about on the rough stones as the character tries to climb to safety?

How do you describe the sensations? Need a prompt or two? Here are over 200 descriptive words.

If you’ve got your character in the dark (eliminating the sense of sight), touch becomes more predominant. But, dark or not, your characters can feel the stickiness of a bloody wound, the roughness of the ropes they’re tied up with, the warmth of another character’s hand, the hardness of the chair they’re sitting in.

folding metal chairPerhaps more important is that there are two systems of touch. One is the obvious factual description. The chair in the interrogation interview room (have to keep up with the terminology) is cold, hard, and off balance. But there’s also the emotional side of the sense of touch.

There are completely different sensors for physical touch vs emotional touch.

If all you’re writing is what that interview room chair feels like as the character sits there, you’re missing an important way to connect with your readers. Does it trigger a visceral reaction as well as a physical one? Let the readers in on it. Maybe instead of the fear or at least the mental discomfort the cop his hoping for, what if the chair evokes happy memories of sitting at the boisterous kids table at Thanksgiving with all his cousins, joking, flipping mashed potatoes across the room at Great Aunt Martha?

When your character picks up a firearm, it might be feel cool, hard, maybe the grip is rough in his palm. Does picking up the weapon give him a sense of power? Of calmness, knowing he’s now in charge? Or is it an unwelcome foreign object? Something the character has no desire to hold, to be in the same room with, but he now needs it for survival? Or to defend someone he cares about? What emotions would those same sensations trigger in him?

Romance writers might have an edge over mystery writers here, since they’re used to showing emotion, and touch is very important to creating a bond between people. And yeah, it plays a part in sex. Even if you don’t like sex scenes on the page, there’s a lot of touching in foreplay. Touch is connected to the release of pheromones. While for men, it’s the sense of smell that triggers them, for women, it’s physical contact with the partner.

Other interesting facts about the emotional side of touch. An experiment showed that people holding hot drinks when meeting someone rated them warmer, as having a more pro-social personality than if they were holding cold drinks.

Another experiment had people evaluating resumes of others. Resumes on a heavy clipboard resulted in people being considered as having more authority. Not that they would be better in the job, but just more weighty.

Remember, senses don’t exist in a vacuum. The feel of rough burlap when the bad guy puts a hood over his victim will intersect with the sense of smell. Use both to add depth to your story.

Your turn, TKZers. How do you incorporate the sense of touch in your books? Do you connect them to the emotional side? The floor is yours.

Some references for this post:
For more about the science of touch, go here.
For more about incorporating touch into writing, go here.

If you’ll permit a brief moment of BSP, in anticipation of releasing Cruising Undercover, Book 11 in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, the first box set of Blackthorne, Inc. novels, including When Danger Calls, Where Danger Hides, and Rooted in Danger, is on sale for 99 cents this week. Price goes up on July 27th.


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

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


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