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?


wotyWho knew? Certainly, not me. Last week in Portland, Oregon the nation’s top linguists got together to select the Word of the Year, also known a WOTY.

An article in Sunday’s New York Times, “May The Best Word Win,” written by Jessica Bennett described the proceedings. As well as choosing the WOTY, attendees have their choice of several lectures, from exploring “totally awesome,” to discussing the Cronut, to the rounded vowel in California English.

This convention marked the group’s 25th anniversary and boasted the largest crowd to date. The rules are pretty simple. Anyone can participate and can even nominate words from the floor. It’s preferred the words be sort of newish. This year’s finalists in the “most creative” category’ included “manspreading,” when a man spreads his legs on public transportation and blocks other seats and “narcisstick” a snide name for the selfie stick.

There were also more serious categories and this year, the hashtag was given its own category including #yesallwomen and #blacklivesmatter, which although three words, won the title of Word of the Year.

To find out what other new words are becoming part of our vernacular, check out The Times article. You may even find a new word or two to include in your next book or story.


stack of booksIt’s hard to imagine not being able to read a simple sentence. But there are so many people who can’t. People who struggle to make sense of what they see on a page and become so frustrated they lose the desire to try.

I personally can’t imagine not being able to read. My love of reading is what inspired me to become a writer.  I believe if you can read, you can do anything. That’s why I’m happy to support the National Readathon Day on Saturday, January 24th. Sponsored by Penguin Random House, GoodReads, Mashable and the National Book Foundation, it’s just 4 hours—from noon to 4:00 PM when people will sit and read a book wherever they choose.

It’s a wonderful way to promote reading and support this amazing effort. For more information, or to host a fundraising event, visit the Penguin Readathon site.

So, you know that book you’ve been wanting to read? Crack it open, or download it on your Kindle, and get to it.

Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress

I’ve always had a secret desire to be a spy. (I think I may have confessed that here once or twice.) But since that profession didn’t readily present itself when I was ready to choose a career, I had to settle for reading about them.

John LeCarré, Eric Ambler, Len Deighten, Ian Fleming, all captured my young imagination with their daredevil characters and exotic settings. But no one more so than Helen MacInnis.

A Sunday New York Times Book Review Critic’s Take article “Spies Like Her” brought it all back to me. As the writer, Sarah Weinman, suggests Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress, was ahead of her time, writing about such events as Israel bombing Gaza and the Russians invading a part of the Ukraine years before the recent events.

She was married to Gilbert Highet, a classics scholar who was also a MI6 British intelligence agent. And, it was generally thought she might have used classified information in creating some of her 21 books. In fact, according to a biography of the writer on Wikopedia, her third novel, Assignment in Brittany was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French Resistance against the Nazis.

Her novels took me all over the globe and painted a vivid picture of a world very different from mine filled with more intrigue and adventure than a girl from the Bronx could expect. A world I would love to have been a part of, and I like to think, that I’ve captured in my own writing.

I checked my bookshelf before writing this and found two of her novels, Agent In Place and Message from Malaga, both of which I plan to reread as soon as possible.

51lvZbTY-QL._AA160_Agent In Place
When the idealist is duped to reveal sensitive information, when the ‘agent in place’ is forced into the open, disaster strikes.
The NATO Memorandum, classified Top Secret, is the lethal prize sought by Soviet Intelligence in the deadly game that continues relentlessly beneath the dubious veneer of détente. A cryptic telephone call to a Russian ‘sleeper’ in Washington, a mugging-murder of an unidentifiable man in New York’s Central Park, an anonymous Memorandum—and Helen MacInnes’s new adventure is launched.

51hZgAgV7kL._AA160_Message From Malaga
Sunny Spain, sudden death!
Ian Ferrier, on vacation from the U.S. Space agency, would not have believed his reunion with a trusted friend would lead to murder, or that he would hold the key to expose a vicious conspiracy for assassination, or that he would be plunged into a desperate pursuit in which he was as much the hunted as the hunter. Yet that is the opening of this spellbinding tale set in the deceptively serene and vividly picturesque cities of Malaga and Granada.



My Town Mon.– Jefferson Market Library


The Jefferson Market Library, like a cat with nine lives, has been saved from the wrecking ball over and over. Built in 1877, it was originally the Jefferson Market Courthouse and was located next to a public market and a jail on 10th Street and Avenue of the Americas.

The Courthouse That Escaped The Gavel, an article in the Real Estate section of Sunday’s New York Times details its history and multiple close calls with demolition starting back in 1910 before there was a landmarks preservation law. It is basically through the efforts of the city’s Mayor Robert F. Wagner that the building remained standing and that the New York Public Library took it over in 1967. Later, in 1969 it was finally designated a part of the Greenwich Village Historic District and protected under the law.

I never knew about this magnificent building until the Sisters in Crime NY/Tri-State chapter started having its meetings there last year. It’s a fabulous building, a super high Victorian Gothic design with a rich history. Something I’m delighted has been preserved. So a big thank you to all those who fought to save it over the years, and to those who appreciate that the past should be remembered.

In addition to The Times article, you can find more photos and information about the Jefferson Market Library on the NYPL website225px-Jefferson_Market_Court_-_Berenice_Abbott_-_1935.

Virgil’s Working on Deadline

Deadline by John Sandford is the eighth Virgil Flowers novel, and the quirky detective continues to put the pieces of some truly challenging jigsaw puzzles together. What sets these books apart is Sandford’s trademark humor and interesting police procedures.

51o81BLmPEL._AA160_Virgil is visiting his old friend, Johnson Johnson, who asks a huge favor of the BCA agent. Some scoundrel in the town of Trippton is kidnapping dogs. Though this hardly seems like a case for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Virgil starts investigating with the hope of avoiding trouble from the gun-toting citizens who are searching for their prized hunting dogs and valued pets.

In the midst of this curious investigation (and it is a strange one), Virgil is called in to check out the random murder of a local reporter. Like most of Virgil’s cases, the murder is the tiny tip of an iceberg. Much of what he needs is hidden well below the surface.

I feel Sandford scored another winner with this one. There was lots of humor, some good fight scenes, and an interesting case study. We know who the bad guys are, but it’s interesting to watch Virgil struggle to bring all the pieces of the whole together.

There’s a lot of hillbilly lingo and local slang in this one, but Sanford handled it well. It’s a small town, with small-town problems, and small-town people who think they can get away with, among other things, murder. As always, it has the perfect recipes: secrets, lies, and family squabbles.

Check out Deadline, especially if you’re a dog lover!.

Novel Night: A Benefit for the Hoboken Public Library

Next Saturday evening, I’ve been invited to be one of the guests of honor at a dinner for Novel Night, a fund raising benefit to support the Hoboken Public Library.

My Host, Susan Moore, filled me in on the particulars of the event. Novel Night, which occurs every other year, with Novella Night in intervening years, is conducted by a group of hosts—this year 21 people—who open their homes to offer a book-themed dinner to raise funds for the library. Each host invites 10 people who contribute to the library fund and get to meet an author whose book is being highlighted. This year, Susan, who is planning an Italian dinner, graciously invited me to participate and to discuss my first novel, Telling Lies, which features Florence, Italy in many chapters.telling_lies

Novel Night has brought in between 20 and 25 thousand dollars at each event. Originally, the goal was to raise funds for the preservation of the library’s historical collection, but that has moved to providing funds for particular projects related to the historic renovation of the library. Recent funds will be providing for the installation of an historically appropriate door for the building.

Susan also mentioned that the concept has been adopted by other towns in New Jersey, including Ridgewood where Novel Night raised over $50,000 for their project last year. It might be an idea that your local library could benefit from.

The Yankee Club: Fiction Filled With Characters

51WyTkX4X-L._AA160_In Michael Murphy’s new novel, THE YANKEE CLUB, a noir thriller set in 1933, Prohibition is almost over and the country is struggling through the depression when Jake Donovan returns to New York. A former Pinkerton detective, and now a famous author, he’s come home to win back the woman he left behind, Laura Wilson, after she refused his proposal of marriage.

But not so fast and not so easy. Laura, a Broadway star, is now engaged to, a millionaire banker involved in a nefarious plot to overthrow the government. Plus, Jake’s old partner, Mickey has been murdered and it seems part of the conspiracy. Getting together with his buddies at their old hangout, The Yankee Club, a speakeasy in Queens, Jake decides to find Mickey’s killer and is shot and kidnapped for his trouble.

Besides great storytelling, what I enjoyed most about this mystery is how Murphy mixes his characters with real people from that era. As Jack investigates, he not only pals around with Dashiell Hammet and Lillian Hellman, but also helps them overcome writers block and work out the plot of a new play, in that order. He runs into Babe Ruth who’s out on the town, and doesn’t just hang around with Cole Porter, he’s in on the creation of his new musical. In this story, virtually anything goes. And, as the plot thickens, we meet Joe Kennedy newly appointed head of the SEC, as Jake tries to save the country from a terrible fate. To me, it was a treat to rub up against these famous people I didn’t expect to encounter and see them in situations I wouldn’t have imagined.

Does it all work out in the end? Do Jake and Laura get back together? You’ll just have to read THE YANKEE CLUB, a story with wit and style, to find out.

Crimson Forest–Murder with a Twist

I’ve been exploring a new genre with Crimson Forest by Christine Gabriel–new adult fantasy. My research has led me to one conclusion–this is not a genre for me. Designed for ages 17-25, these books explore a demographic I have absolutely no connection with and no access to immediate research. My own children are well past these ages, and, thank goodness, my grandchildren are nowhere near it.

GabrielStill, that doesn’t mean I haven’t done some good reading and discovered some authors with great potential. Crimson Forest by Christine Gabriel is a wonderful fantasy with a well-developed murder plot at its heart. It’s the first book of The Crimson Chronicles and is out today!

Angelina Adams is a relatively happy 17-year-old girl looking forward to her birthday. She helps her mother run a small bed and breakfast in Buffalo, Wisconsin. Not only is Buffalo known for the hunters who gather there to stalk the many white-tailed deer who occupy the forest, they also come to see the mysterious crimson moss that covers virtually everything in the forest.

The strange, soft red plant has been studied by scientists, environmentalists, and the hordes of tourist who invade the small town just to view it. Some even speculated it was evidence of the blood of the deer spilled by so many hunters.

Her young life has been marred by the disappearance of her father on her twelfth birthday. That event makes birthdays less-than-happy events since they’ve never received any further word on her father. No notice of death and no idea what happened in the mysterious forest with the strange red moss.

Angelina and her best bud, Jeremiah, are fighting their usual battle deciding if what they feel for each other is brotherly/sisterly love or a budding romance between two childhood friends. Before he leaves, however, Jeremiah warns Angelina once again to stay out of the forest. He won’t tell her what he saw there, but it’s obvious he’s truly frightened.

After finishing errands for her mother, Angelina is in her bedroom in the east wing of the B&B. She receives a text message that says, Go to the forest. You’ll be safe there. followed by Get out now.

When her mother’s scream rings through the house, Angelina knows she must obey the strange text and she heads for forbidden and frightening Crimson Forest in hopes of getting away from the people who are killing her mother.

This begins the fantasy portion of the books as Angelina meets new people find the course of her life was charted long before she was born, and many of the people she meets already know her and her special abilities.

Gabriel keeps the action and the story moving well. She has built a credible and believable fantasy world that lives on the edge of the real world. It’s an interesting and entertaining read. If you appreciate this kind of book, you’ll enjoy Crimson Forest.

Christine in WeedsChristine Gabriel, a diehard Buckeye fan, lives in Ohio with her children whom she says have become her biggest fans and most honest critics. Christine loves to connect with her readers on Facebook and on her blog at

Going back to the New Adult genre, have any of you decided to write these books, whose popularity seems to be growing daily? Do you find this age group works well with typical murder mysteries or better with the fantasy/paranormal element?





Family Matters: Murder New York Style launches today

If you thought your relatives were bad news, wait until you meet the relatives in the new Sisters in Crime anthology, Family Matters: Murder New York Style.

Family-Matters-198x300Launching today, Family Matters, edited by Anita Page, includes short stories by 20 members of the New York/Tri State chapter of SinC. And, oh what tales these writers tell.

From the New York City Marathon to a secret cellar in Queens; from the hard life of Immigrant culture to the moneyed world of art; from brutality and poverty to privilege, these New York families face crime in all its forms. It’s a deadly combination fueled by all the usual suspects: jealousy, greed, rage, revenge and more—you know—the stuff New Yorkers die for.

Family Matters: Murder New York Style, is the third mystery anthology in the series.

dd_eBook-198x300-GPIn Deadly Debut, the first in the series, you’ll encounter twisted tales of New York’s dark and dramatic underbelly. From a Brooklyn nanny’s street smarts to a small grocer’s grit, from a nightclub’s belly dancers to a P.I. reared on jive, the characters in these mysteries will have you cheering.

Fresh Slices, the second in the series, is filed with heaping helpings of New York attitude from rich and poor neighborhoods where old-timers desperately protect their secrets to brand-new arrivals who indulge dangerous appetites. 7-28_fs_eBook198w

Both are also available in new e-book editions from Glenmere Press.

So why not hit the streets of New York with this talented group of writers. Order your copy of Family Matters at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, or Kobo.

Or stop by the Sisters in Crime booth, #116,  at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, September 21st and pick up your copy in person. Many of the authors will be there and will be happy to sign your copy for you.