National Punctuation Day & Contest


Each year, September 24 is National Punctuation Day. It was founded in 2004 by Jeff Rubin. It simply promotes the correct usage of punctuation.


Reader’s Digest offers Weird Facts About 5 Punctuation Marks You See Everywhere.

mental-floss-logoMental Floss tells us about Little-Known Punctuation Marks We Should Be Using

National Punctuation Day is having a writing contest. Instead of the usual 250-word essay contest, they are going with a David Letterman-type Top 10 Contest: WHAT ARE THE TOP-10 WAYS PUNCTUATION HAS AFFECTED YOUR LIFE? 

Entries will be accepted through October 31 at The page doesn’t indicate what the prize would be, if any.

National Punctuation Day has a Facebook Page. On their website, they list style books and guides, and online resources to help with punctuation and grammar.


Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

Organization for the Writer’s Mind (and Desk)

GetittogetherOne of my writing buddies organized the “Get It Together” blog hop, which is five, count ’em, five days of authors talking about how they organize their lives, their books, their writing spaces…everything. I think there are about 30 participating authors, and most of them have put things into the huge, massive giveaway of books, gift cards and organizational goodies that you can enter on any of the blog hop posts. My own post is today on my blog, so you can enter there if you like, and get a peek into the crazy world that is my planner obsession!

Derringer Awards Announced, Congrats to Our Cathi Stoler!

SMFSLogo-10sq-300dpiEarlier this month, we congratulated all the wonderful writers who were nominated for the 2015 Derringer Awards for short fiction in 4 different categoies, including one author who we know rather well here at Women of Mystery.




Well, we now have the especial joy to announce that the winner for Best Short Story (1001-4000 words) is our very own talented WoM Cathi Stoler, author of “The Kaluki Kings of Queens!” This story, about a young man who learns more than a game from his elders over cards, appeared in the anthology Family Matters, edited by this blog’s own Anita Page, and was published by Glenmere Books in partnership with the New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the local organization where all of us who’ve ever posted here met. You see why it’s so special?! Besides Cathi, this year, the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer Awards honor the following—

Best Flash: Joseph D’Agnese, “How Lil’ Jimmie Beat the Big C” (Shotgun Honey, May 12, 2014)

Best Long Story: Hilary Davidson, “A Hopeless Case” (All Due Respect #4, September 2014)

Best Novelette: Doug Allyn, “The Snow Angel” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 2014)

The Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement: James Powell

A public presentation of the awards will be made at the 2015 Bouchercon Convention in Raleigh, North Carolina in October. Congratulations to all!

Try Before You Buy (Services, That Is)

Echoes by Laura K. CurtisThere’s been a great deal of discussion in the authorly corners of the web that I frequent of late about how much it can cost to publish a book version how much it has to cost. Even in traditional publishing, you may choose to spend money on things like getting an editor or buying advertising or paying a publicist. But let’s start from the ground up:

  • Editing
    • developmental (story) editing
    • copy editing
    • proofreading
  • Covers
  • Formatting
    • ebook
    • print
  • Uploading to various sites
  • Marketing (this includes anything you pay for and distribute like ads, dropcards, freebies, etc.)
  • Publicity (if you hire a PR firm to get placement in newspapers, magazines, blogs, to advise you on career moves, etc. This includes blog tours.)

Frankly, the first item on this list is where the vast majority of your money should go. A couple of years ago, I wrote a long rant about paying too much for publicity. All that stuff is still valid, but I wanted to update my thoughts and add a few now that I’ve dealt with a great deal more of this myself.

So, yes. Editing. That’s the single most important thing. If you’re with a small press that doesn’t edit well enough, pay for it yourself. If you’re self-publishing, pay for it. But more than just the money aspect, you must RESEARCH editors. Seriously. Anyone can hang out a shingle as an editor. These are people you are hiring and your reputation will be tied to their abilities. Some questions to ask a prospective editor:

  • who have you worked for? (Have they worked at publishing houses? What are the names of some of their clients? Do they have references?)
  • what genres are of particular interest to you? (If an editor doesn’t read your genre, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented they are, they cannot help you make your work a better fit for its audience)
  • will you test edit a couple of pages of my manuscript so we can see whether we can work well together?

So now your work is edited. If you’re with a publishing house, they’ll provide a cover. If you’re self-pubbing, you’ll need to do something about that yourself. Again, research is key. You can buy some really nice pre-made covers for ebooks for $50. Or you can go all the way up to getting a custom photo shoot ($500+) and then paying a designer to incorporate it into a new cover. Here again, your reputation will be tied to this person’s work, so take some time and look around.

Toying with his Affections by Laura K. CurtisNow, if you’re self-pubbing, there are a number of services that will format your work for you. Be sure to ask them whether the price includes updating the formatted book every time you write another book. Because you’ll want to include links in the back of one book to your other books, and they’ll have to be updated at least once a year, if not more often. Some places/people will also upload to various sites to you. But if they do, find out if you’ll have to pay them when you want to change the price, etc. Both of these (formatting and uploading) are technical skills, not talent. You can learn to do them yourself, but they will take time. It’s entirely up to you how you balance the time/money seesaw!

And then, once the book is out (well, no, really long before the book is out, but you get the idea), you need to make some decisions about marketing and publicity. Remember what I said about editors? That goes for publicity folk, too. And the first question you need to ask is of yourself: What do you expect this person to do for you, exactly? And no, “make my book a bestseller” is not a suitable answer.

I have had immense frustrations with publicists, and I have had great experiences with publicists. In the case of a publisher-assigned publicist, you have no choice. But you should never pay for someone you can’t work with! As with an editor, a publicist should work in your field. And if you look at a prospective publicist’s client list (on their website) and don’t recognize any of the names, that might be a problem. Because if you read widely in a field (which you should be doing in the genre you’re writing in), and you’ve never heard of any of a publicist’s clients, how widely is she publicizing them?

I am a long-term thinker. I like everyone who works with me to be long-term thinkers, too. I have six-month, two-year, and five-year plans (they aren’t set in stone or anything, but they exist). Am I obsessive? Probably. When I spoke to a publicist in January and she said we should talk in February about my November release, I knew I had met a like mind. And that’s important. You need to click with your agent, your editor, your publicist if at all possible. These are people you have to feel comfortable talking to.

So take your time, do your research, and find the right person for each job on your list.

Do Reading Levels Matter?

stack of booksThe other day as I was reading through the latest issue of SinC Links, one story jumped out and got my attention. Written by Shane Snow and published online at, it dealt with Reading Level Analysis.

The author asked the question of whether reading level analysis of your work would change the way you write. Putting a chapter of his own work through the Flesch-Kincaid readability formula, he found he was writing at the 8th grade level. But he wasn’t alone. He also put Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea through the program and was surprised to see that work was scored at a 4th grade level.

In the article you’ll find a chart in which he tested the reading level of a few dozen authors from best-selling fiction authors, to non-fiction writers, to those writing academic documents and used several programs to calculate ease of readability. For fiction, none of the authors wrote above a 9th grade level. For non-fiction and academic work the level was a little higher. While many people assume that a higher reading level means better writing, the lower score seems to indicate commercial success and how good people believe a writer to be.

I thought I’d take the test for myself and put the first chapter of my WIP, a Nick Donahue Adventure, into the Flesch-Kincaid program. The results are for that program as well as a few others.

Flesch Reading Ease score: 82.1 (text scale)
Flesch Reading Ease scored your text: easy to read.

Gunning Fog: 7.5 (text scale)
Gunning Fog scored your text: fairly easy to read.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.4
Grade level: Fifth Grade.

The Coleman-Liau Index: 6
Grade level: Sixth Grade

The SMOG Index: 5.4
Grade level: Fifth Grade

Automated Readability Index: 4.9
Grade level: 8-9 yrs. old (Fourth and Fifth graders)

Linsear Write Formula : 7
Grade level: Seventh Grade.

Readability Consensus
Based on 8 readability formulas, we have scored your text:
Grade Level: 6

Reading Level: easy to read.
Reader’s Age: 10-11 yrs. olds (Fifth and Sixth graders)

Here’s a breakdown of what all that means:

  1. The Flesch Reading Ease formula will output a number from 0 to 100 – a higher score indicates easier reading. An average document has a Flesch Reading Ease score between 6 – 70.
    As a rule of thumb, scores of 90-100 can be understood by an average 5th grader. 8th and 9th grade students can understand documents with a score of 60-70; and college graduates can understand documents with a score of 0-30.
  2. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level outputs a U.S. school grade level; this indicates the average student in that grade level can read the text. For example, a score of 7.4 indicates that the text is
    understood by an average student in 7th grade.
  3. The Fog Scale (Gunning FOG Formula) is similar to the Flesch scale in that it compares syllables and sentence lengths. A Fog score of 5 is readable, 10 is hard, 15 is difficult and 20 is very difficult. Based on its name, ‘Foggy’ words are words that contain 3 or more syllables.
  4. The SMOG Index outputs a U.S. school grade level; this indicates the average student in that grade level can read the text. For example, a score of 7.4 indicates that the text is understood by an average student in 7th grade.
  5. The Coleman-Liau Index relies on characters instead of syllables per word and sentence length. This formula will output a grade. For example, 10.6 means your text is appropriate for a 10-11th grade high school student.
  6. Automated Readability Index outputs a number which approximates the grade level needed to comprehend the text. For example, if the ARI outputs the number 3, it means students in 3rd grade (ages 8-9 yrs. old) should be able to comprehend the text.
  7. Linsear Write Formula is a readability formula for English text, originally developed
    for the United States Air Force to help them calculate the readability of their technical manuals. Linsear Write Formula is specifically designed to calculate the United States grade level of a text sample based on sentence length and the number words used that have three or more syllables.

Although I didn’t think I was writing for the pre-teen set, that’s where my work seems to fall.
And maybe it’s not such a bad thing. As the article goes on suggests, we shouldn’t discount simple  writing as long as we make it interesting.

How about you? Have any of you done this type of analysis?

Literary Trivia

jpg_5840_Royalty_Free_Clip_Art_Surprised_Brain_Cartoon_Character_Reading_A_Book_With_Question_MarkOn, Erin LaRosa compiled a list of “20 Literary Facts to Impress Your Friends With.” Of the 20 facts of literary trivia, I only knew about five; I love learning something new every day!

TriviaPlaza has a quiz, “Literary Detectives and Their Authors.” (The average score is 6.46; I got an 8). Other trivia-plaza-quiz-logogeneral literature quizzes include: “Female Title Characters,” “Pen Names and Authors,” and “Book Opening Lines.” (Haven’t tried those yet.)

logo-for-facebook trivia bug

If you’re up for a lengthy challenge, Triviabug has 275 questions on their Literature Quiz. (If I start it, I’ll never finish this post!)


If you’ve never visited Arts & Letters Daily ~ you’re missing a great opportunity to learn many literary tidbits. New material is added six days a week. Check out this gem, which is linked to the original feature, “The Great Quietness of Eudora Welty,” written by Danny Heitman, at Humanities (The Magazine of the National Endowment of Humanities), March/April 2014:

“Eudora Welty had a simple explanation for her popularity as a speaker: ‘I’m always on time, and I don’t get drunk or hole up in a hotel with my lover.'”


Another site, NewPages, is a wealth of information for writers, readers, and editors, when it comes to Blogs and Daily News Sites.


If you visit any or all of the quiz sites, let us know how you did. Have fun, & good luck!

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Wrapping-Up the Next Book

Okay, it’s my third book, my second to be published the traditional way. My editor has it right now, and when I view her magic, I’ll send it to the publisher with my fingers crossed for an acceptance email.

I’m always on the lookout for switching tenses, computer spell check glitches, repetitions, starting too often with “I” and checking the spelling of names, to mention a few. With all the characters in a novel there are that many chances to make mistakes.

Typos and such, of course, have nothing to do with the spellbinding stories we write, but they’re there nevertheless. Most of the time, readers will read over them, and so will writers, so that’s why an editor is priceless.

What are some of your common mis-steps?


Picking up the Pieces

I wrote my first book without taking a day off, working six plus hours a day for close to two years on the manuscript. My big fear was that I’d be hit by a bus before I could finish. This time around I’ve had to put the manuscript aside for months at a time for various good reasons. Each time I stopped, I found it more difficult to get back into the story. The last time was so painful that I decided I’d had it. Where was it decreed that I had to write another damn book?

Then, about a month ago, I picked up the manuscript and re-read what I’d written. The good news was that I didn’t hate every scene and  I’d gotten farther along than I remembered. The bad news, of course, was that the manuscript needed a lot of work. Nevertheless, I dug in.

Given the time that had passed since I stopped writing, I had to edit the old stuff before I could think about moving on. I was surprised at how much fun this was and managed to persuade myself that the fun would continue when I resumed where I’d left off.

This is called delusional thinking. I’m convinced that just as women allegedly forget the pain of childbirth, writers forget the pain of the blank screen, which leads to the pain of the crappy first draft and the realization that both these conditions are unavoidable.

Recently, I was complaining that you’ve got to write the crappy first draft and can’t just go out and buy one. My husband’s response: What a great idea for a business.

When Jeff Bezos starts selling them on Amazon, please remember: You heard it here first.


The Joy of Copy Edits


After publishing short stories for nearly a decade I am delighted that my first cozy novel, Well Read, Than Dead is being released this summer by Berkley Prime Crime. Turns out the editing process for novels is longer and involves more steps than the process for short stories. Let me say right here,  I loved, absolutely loved, doing my copy edits. One great and unexpected joy is the style sheet that the copy editor put together, listing places, punctuation, names, descriptions—a help with the editing process and a gold mine for me as I write Death Branches Out, book two in the series.

Since I was fortunate enough to be able to combine my story edits with my copy edits, I found it to be a great pleasure to go through the manuscript line by line after I hadn’t looked at it for a very long time. Put in a comma, take out a comma—copy editor wins. When it came to dialogue I got to decide if I really wanted that character to speak in dialect, or this character to speak in jargon.

And, precise though I may be, the copy editor caught a major blunder. In the book I reference Subtropics, the magazine of the University of Florida. I had erroneously said the magazine was affiliated with Florida State University. Great catch by the copy editor. I really blew it, especially since I had read not one, but two copies of the magazine.

As a bonus I learned that although all seven of my grandkids call their winter pj’s “feetie pajamas” the correct name is “footie pajamas.” Live and learn.


Alive till the End

I admit I’ve read several books lately that I really enjoyed until the last chapter. I don’t understand what the problem is, but it seems epidemic. I talked with a friend today who said she had run into the same problem. The last book she read would have been very good except the writer added one chapter too many.

How do you keep a story alive till the end? I’d say to know how to do it properly, we need to look at some successful books. I promise there will be no spoilers. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s somebody telling me what happens in a book before I’ve read it.

WitnessI’ll start with one of my favorite Nora Roberts book. I’ve probably read The Witness at least ten times. This story fascinates me, and the characters are so well-developed I feel I know them. It’s the story of a young woman who witnesses a mob killing and how that one incident plays out in her life. You can’t stop reading until the end, and it’s a good book until the last word. I think what keeps it interesting is the character growth continues all the way through the story. There are no unanswered questions or disconnected strings.

PreyJohn Sanford is another writer who has no problems with anti-climatic endings. I can’t say which of his characters I like best–Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers. They’re both lawmen though they approach doing their jobs in vastly different ways. Lucas is hard-nosed and prone to ignoring rules. Virgil is easy going and usually has his fishing boat attached to his truck for those precious moments of leisure when he can be on the water. Both men chase truly nasty criminals, and there’s usually an ending that brings the story together with a nice little twist. There was one where a villain escaped, but I keep waiting.I feel she’ll be back, but I wasn’t disappointed she escaped the first time.Why? Because the story was so compelling, it seemed the right thing to do.

HarrisCharlaine Harris is another writer who knows how to take a story to completion. Whatever series of hers you enjoy most, you’ll find good stuff at the end just like you do at the beginning and in the middle. The other gift Charlaine has is knowing when it’s time for a series to end, when a character has finished her course. Because I know I can trust Charlaine, I’m truly looking forward to her new series debuting in May. It features a small, mysterious Texas town. Should be exciting.

I recently found an interview with Elizabeth Georgia on YouTube. She discussed why one of her ongoing characters needed to leave her Inspector Lynley series. She explained that sometimes a character has to die or go away to give a series a new direction and change the familiar focus so you can have more compelling stories. While it grieves me to see this happen at times, I have to say she’s right. Writers like her and Karin Slaughter have dealt with the backlash from readers over losing favorite characters. You have to have tough skin to do that.

Just remember, keep the story alive until the end. Don’t let your reader close the book with a feeling of dissatisfaction. Writing is just like every other form of entertainment, you gotta leave ’em wanting more!