Making the Best Seller List

thLike most writers I know, i’d love to see my name on the Best Seller list. We work hard to make our stories interesting and compelling. We find our voice and create plots with amazing characters (at least to us) who inhabit terrific settings. Stories we hope will rack up the sales and offer us fame and fortune so that one day, our names will be on The List.

In an interview with Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series,the BBC News Entertainment and Arts section listed the author’s Ten Tips for being a Best Selling Author. From starting a story and getting to the end to finding an agent, her advice can help with navigating the road to that elusive Best Seller list.

What about you? Any tips you’d like to share?

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?

Malice-Go-Round Madness

Controlled chaos reigned when at 10:00 a.m. exactly last Saturday morning the doors swung open to the Haverford/Baccarat Ballroom in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Bethesda, Maryland and over 150 attendees rushed in to be dazzled and swayed by the 40 authors of Malice-Go-Round. Or, at least we hoped so.

Malice-Go-Round Authors Photo by Robin Templeton

Malice-Go-Round Authors
Photo by Robin Templeton

A tradition at Malice, this event—think speed dating on steroids—gives participating authors a chance to present a 2 minute pitch for their latest work. And, while that might sound like a reasonable amount of time, it goes pretty fast. Authors move in pairs from table to table—20 in all—giving the capsule version of what their book is all about. Attendees take notes, eat the goodies authors offer, and ask questions if there’s time, which there rarely is. It’s a lot of information to give and to receive but a whole lot of fun.

Cathi & JessieAuthors are chosen by lottery since there are many more authors than the 40 slots available. This year, I was lucky to be chosen and to pair up with a great partner,
Jessie Chandler, the writer of the Shay O’Hanlon Caper Series. We alternated playing Vanna White, holding up each other’s books—Pickle In The Middle Murder and Chip Off The Ice Block Murder for Jessie and The Hard Way and Nick of Time for me—so everyone could get a good look. At the end of an hour and a half, voices were hoarse but spirits were high and it seemed a good time was had by all.

The How To’s of Search Engine Optimization or SEO

seo-services_pIn my day job as a Senior Content Editor/Copywriter for large home goods website, I deal with the task of writing copy that ensures when someone is searching for a particular home product, comforters for example, they find our comforters. Or, in web speak, I write copy that is SEO friendly.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process that can help readers find you, your website and your books. It allows the “spiders” that crawl through the search engines–Google, Bing, Yahoo–to seek you out and hopefully move you up so you rank higher in search results. The steps below will help you get started.

Step One: choose 2 to 3 focus keywords for each page of your site.

Keywords are the key components in SEO. They are meaningful words and phrases that relate to and describe your product, such as mystery, novel, books.

When I recently revamped my website, I added several keywords next to my name on my home page and other site section pages to bolster my position on the search engines.  You’ll want to do this for each page of your site.

Title bar

How did I determine what these words should be?

I used a great tool from Google: Google Adwords Keyword Tool. It’s an easy and free way to find the keywords and/or phrases right for you.

This Google site describes exactly what a keyword is and what it does.Google Keyword Tool




This link takes you to the tool, so you can get started

Type in the words you think fit your work: mystery, suspense, story, cozy mystery, chick lit, historical fiction, paranormal—whatever describes it best, then click search. A list will come up showing how many people searched those words by month and how they ranked compared to each other. The higher the monthly searches for a word and the lower the competition, the better chance of using it to your advantage.







Step Two: Prepare a SEO friendly title tag for each page of your site.

Each page of every website has a title bar. Originally, the title bar on my home page—the gray bar above the url address—contained just my name. While that was okay if a reader was looking for me specifically, it was not going to drive any new readers to seek me out. Now, it has SEO keyword information designed to help.

Step Three: prepare a SEO friendly meta description using your key words. Use up to 25 words.

Your meta description will reiterate the important information about you and your work. it can be simple and to the point. Here’s mine from my home page:

Cathi Stoler is a mystery author and novelist whose books include mysteries and thriller novels.

It uses my 3 focus key words to help with the search.

I haven’t finished updating all the sections of my site and since I’m not a web coder, I have a friend who is adding the keywords, title tags and meta descriptions for me. If you have the technical savvy or know  a web master or someone who knows code, they can help you get your information up and running. Let the search begin!

Visit me at to read an excerpt of my novel, TELLING LIES and check in on my latest news and events.