Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Forbidden Words

Aaron Paul Lazar

From"Write Like the Wind" volume 1 


One of the most surprising rules I learned in my early writing days was the realization that there is a phantom list of “forbidden” words that writers should try to avoid. 

Don’t misunderstand; these aren’t lewd words, or sacrilegious words. Instead, they’re everyday words we use in speech. 

When I discovered this, I began to shake in my proverbial writing boots. Would I reveal my novice status by inadvertently using these forbidden words in my writing? How many more unacceptable words are out there? How long would my own list become? Would I become so tongue-tied that I’d never be able to write again?

I never saw a compilation of these suspect words in print. Nor did I discover a secret website where they existed. Instead, I compiled the list, one by one, with the help of writing mentors and critics. 

Has it happened to you yet?

At first, you may experience an online frown when someone spots the word “suddenly” in an excerpt you posted. There may be a hint of sneering involved. Or perhaps you enter a writing contest, and someone with very little tact and a hint of glee points out your “as” affliction. 

It can be paralyzing. 

Every time you use a gerund in your prose, does your heart beat wildly? Do you worry and think, “Does this belong here? Does it make my work sound amateurish?”

It’s almost impossible to avoid the words on the list. You can’t completely eliminate them. And it’s especially true with dialog. You want your characters to sound as natural as possible. 

Following is a list of some words to consider:

1) “To be” verbs. 

This is one of the hardest lessons to learn, and you’ll find many examples of it not being followed in bestsellers and classic literature. However, as a rule of thumb, instead of:

“Quinn’s hair was black and curly, and it was dripping with water. He was lunging at Tiramisu and his head was like a battering ram.” 

You might consider:

“Quinn’s curly black hair dripped with water, obscuring his vision. In spite of this, he lunged at Tiramisu, using his head like a battering ram.”

In general, it’s best not to describe a character’s appearance with “was” or “were” type words. Try to sneak in these descriptions in a more innovative fashion. However, and there always will be exceptions to these cases, using “to be” forms to describe people is very natural in patterns of speech. You want to strive to make your writing sound natural, but not amateurish. There’s the balance we all need to seek.

2) “Down” and “Up”

“Horatio sat down at the kitchen table and stared down at the congealed eggs on his plate.” 

May sound better this way:

“Horatio sat at the kitchen table and stared at the congealed eggs on his plate.”

This rule of thumb is almost universally applicable. In America, we use “up,” all the time in natural conversation. 

“Bubba ate up all of Cat’s French Fries.” 

“Nancy stared up at the ceiling, searching for the right word.” 

“Sonya ripped up Veronica’s report card and jumped overboard.” 

Most of those “ups” could be eliminated without loss of understanding. The sentences would read more smoothly. Be careful not to cut them in your characters’ dialog, however. You don’t want them to sound stilted. It’s perfectly okay to use common phrases such as: 

“Margaret, get down here! Your toast is up.”

3) Minimizing “ing” verbs. 

One of the first pieces of advice I received as a new writer was to avoid the use of “ing” verbs. “It’s much stronger,” I was told, “to use the simple past tense, or ‘ed’ verbs.” So, like a good student, I went through my first four books (at that time not yet submitted to publishers or agents) and scoured them for “ing”s. I was merciless. Barely an “ing” survived. 

A few years later, I realized I went too far. The words sounded robotic, stilted. I needed some of those “ing” verbs to vary the rhythm of the sentences, to make them sound more natural. So, with diligence, I returned to my growing list of novels and revamped them. 

Keep in mind in might be better to write, “Mabel watched the plane land,” than “Mabel was watching the plane land.”

Examine verbs ending in “ing,” especially in conjunction with “was” and “were.” Sprinkle them into your prose to vary the rhythm, but avoid cases like “I was watching the birds while drumming my fingers on the table.” You might consider breaking it up. “Watching the birds, I drummed my fingers on the table.” Or: “I watched the birds and drummed my fingers on the table.”

4) Using “had” in flashbacks or past perfect applications

Most of us learned the proper way to conjugate verbs and use tenses, such as the past perfect. When something happens in the past, like a flashback in one of your stories, it’s taking place before the current action, which is already in the past tense. Therefore, the flashback needs to be cast into the past perfect, using the word “had.” 


Not always. It is grammatically correct to write the following paragraph when referring to a recap of an event in your story:

“A pang of sorrow hit me. I thought back to the dreadful day two years ago when I had lost him. He’d fought the cancer as bravely as he had stood up to the Germans on D Day in Normandy. Just before we’d learned the dreaded disease had returned to claim him, we had shared one final, peaceful day of fishing on Hemlock Lake.”

However, it could read more smoothly like this:

“A pang of sorrow hit me. I thought back to the dreadful time two years ago when I lost him. He’d fought the cancer as bravely as he stood up to the Germans on D Day in Normandy. Just before we learned the dreaded disease had returned to claim him, we shared one final, peaceful day of fishing on Hemlock Lake.”

Can you see how a few well-placed “hads” retain the meaning of the memory, but don’t bog it down? Of course, there’s always the opposite viewpoint. My editor added in a number of “hads” in my current manuscript, because I’d gone too far. So there’s a lesson to be learned in over-applying one’s new skills. 

Don’t pepper your backstories with “hads,” and use contractions to make your writing sound more natural.

5) Remove unnecessary adverbs and instead, use stronger verbs. 

After I read Stephen King’s, On Writing (highly recommended) I realized I’d been over-using adverbs. The great adverb purge followed. I became an adverb Nazi. No “ly’s” would sully my prose. I’d search for the choicest verbs. They’d glow from my pages because of their utter perfection. 

After this phase, I backed off a bit, allowing a few adverbs here and there. Sometimes, it just sounds better with them, doesn’t it? It’s all a matter of balance.

It’s always best, however, to change sentences like “Judy looked sullenly at me” to “Judy glowered at me.” 

6) “Then”

In my first novels, my characters were always doing something, “then” going onto the next action. I preferred it over joining the phrases with “and.” It seemed to fit better and also sounded more natural. 

Several years ago, while participating in an online writers’ critique forum, I was surprised to learn when the host editors spotted the word “then” in submitted manuscripts, they immediately pronounced it amateurish and went on to the next piece in the slush pile.

Still aching to learn the “rules” that would graduate me to “professional writer status,” I dutifully reduced the instances of “then” from my current work in progress. It seems to have made them read more smoothly. But I still use the word “then” a fair amount, because it just seems natural. See which you prefer:

“Inspector Barnaby ordered the suspect to halt, then read him his rights.”

“Inspector Barnaby ordered the suspect to halt and read him his rights.”            

7) Eliminate the extraneous “the” 

When the word “the” precedes a noun that could stand alone, it is superfluous. 

“The guilt rode heavily on my shoulders, slicing through my self confidence.” 

Consider: “Guilt rode heavily on my shoulders, slicing through my self-confidence.”

“The frigid water swirled around our ankles,” can be just as effective without the “the.” “Frigid water swirled around our ankles.”

8) Minimize contiguous prepositions 

In speech, we commonly use words like “over” and “back” in series.

“Mary threw the ball back over to Tom.” 

Instead, try this:

“Mary threw the ball to Tom,” or “Mary returned the ball with a vengeance.” 

Avoid constructions like “The boy ran over to the counter,” or “I trotted back along the trail.”

9) Avoid using “that” (except in dialog). 

We use “that” as a connecting word far too often, and we don’t always need it. I’ve already removed a number of “that’s” from this chapter. It really does smooth out the prose. 

“The President discovered that his agent was a spy.” 

Instead: “The President discovered his agent was a spy.”

In contrast, the following use of “that” can’t be avoided. 

“I wondered if I would actually escape the reminder that I’d been a penny-pinching idiot.”

Go through your current manuscript and do a search for “that.” See how many you can eliminate.

10) “Suddenly” 

In my early writing days, I used “suddenly” interchangeably with “without warning,” “instantly,” or “in seconds,” yet was chastised for its use in a forum run by agents. I’m still confused about the legitimacy of this one. A good friend whose manuscript is currently being scoured by her editor (a big New York publisher’s editor) said she’d removed all of the “suddenly’s,” only to have her editor put them back in. It’s not always cut and dry. It recently happened to me as well. My Twilight Times editor put back in a “suddenly” that I’d culled. Remember, much of this is subjective, so don’t get too married to any one rule and let yourself be flexible. If your editor likes “suddenly,” then by all means, use it, but sparingly. 

11) “Very” and “Just”

Two words we use a great deal in conversation are “very” and “just.” Try not to use them in prose. Find a better way to emphasize your words.

“The giant was very tall,” works better as “The giant towered over us.”

“Mary just barely fit into the dress,” can be improved as: “Mary barely fit into the dress.”

12) “Because” 

This word can be used sparingly, but not in the following way: 

“She craved the hamburger because she was hungry.” Find another construction to show how hungry she was, such as a growling stomach or feeling of faintness.

The following example of “because” works: “Because of his history, he avoided the cops.”

In Summary

You’ll probably find more words to add to this list. And if you’re totally confused by now, join the club. This whole game of “rules” can be daunting, and frequently the “experts” don’t agree on their usage.

Don’t be too concerned if any or all of the “forbidden” words pepper your prose. Take heart. You will find every single example of “what not to do” in the classics and best sellers. 

My advice? Don’t go crazy each time you learn a new “forbidden” word. Simply do the best you can, write from your heart, and try to tighten your prose without squelching your own style.

 Aaron Paul Lazar

Sunday, August 14, 2022

For Keeps: A Green Marble Mystery (Green Marble Mysteries Book 3) by [Aaron Lazar]

Writing the Tough Stuff (Or Killing the One You Love)
copyright 2022, Aaron Paul Lazar

It’s not easy writing a scene where you kill the one you love.

Of course I don’t mean your actual spouse or lover. I mean the wife, husband, or sweetheart of your main character.

I’ve done it in FOR KEEPS. Thinking about it tears my heart out every single time.

That’s what I mean by “writing the tough stuff.” Sam Moore—a retired family doctor who is our resident hero in Moore Mysteries—is very much like me, except he’s twelve years older and retired with enough money to putter around in his gardens all day. Let me repeat that. All day!

I hate him for that.

Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme, considering he’s fictional. Shall we say, I am exceedingly jealous of his lifestyle? Although Sam was a family doctor and I am an engineer, we’re still a lot alike. We both love to plunge our hands into the soft earth and grow things. We both love our grandkids so much it hurts. And we both have spouses with multiple sclerosis. There are plenty of differences, too. I cook, I write, and I take photos. Sam doesn’t. But of course, it’s not a competition. At least I don’t think so…

In spite of the fact that he’s not real (at least not in the traditional sense, LOL), I relate to this man and feel his pain when he’s hurting. Sure, you say, writers should feel ALL their characters’ pain. We have to, to get into their heads and nail the characterization. Don’t we?

But I’ll bet some characters are closer to your heart than others.

Sam’s wife, Rachel, shares many qualities with my dear wife, Dale. They both endure MS, they both love to read, they are both chair-caning artists. Some of their symptoms are the same, but that’s where they split apart. Rachel loves to cook (that’s my job in our marriage), she’s in a wheelchair, and she stays pretty upbeat, considering her challenges. They both adore their grandchildren and both love to read. Rachel’s a tribute to Dale, in all honesty. But she also has morphed into her “own woman,” too, and I love her deeply. Er... through Sam, of course. (Honey, don’t be jealous!)

In the first two books of the Moore Mysteries series, Rachel sticks by Sam’s side, supports him when he’s overcome with grief and is plagued by strange paranormal events, and loves him deeply enough to keep him sane.

That’s why it really hurt when I had to kill her.

In For Keeps, the third book in the series, life takes an awful turn. When Rachel is murdered by a serial killer, it puts Sam back in the psych ward, the same place he was thrown when his little brother disappeared without a trace fifty years earlier. Desperate to fix things, he calls on the power of the green marble, the talisman his little brother Billy controls from afar that whisks him back and forth through his past.

Unlike those of us in real life, Sam gets a “do over.” He flies back in time to desperately try to fix the problems that lead to this gruesome act, and over and over again, he attempts to tweak the past to bring his dear Rachel back to life.

How do you write such a scene without losing it? How do you make it feel authentic to your readers? How much is too much? And how can you be certain that your character’s reaction will ring true?

It’s not easy. Matter of fact, since I loosely base Rachel on my own wife, and since Sam and I are really quite alike, it was close to torture.

I called upon my darkest, most powerful emotions experienced when my father died and also when my own dear wife almost died several times in the past few years. I’ll never forget the time the nurse in the ER called the nun on duty to bring me to a little room where no one would see my reaction to her impending news that Dale might not make it. She carried a box of Kleenex under one arm and a bible in the other. She was so sweet. Yet it was one of the scariest moments of my life. Thankfully, my wife pulled through and is doing okay today.

That hollow-gut, black-sludge-in-your-heart feeling is horrible when you lose someone dear to you, isn’t it? It’s all encompassing. Sometimes you just want to deny that awful truth, and pull away—far away—like Sam does in the following excerpt. I tried to channel those feelings when getting inside Sam’s head. Let me know if you think it worked.

Here’s the setup. Sam just picked up his son, Andy, from the airport and they enter the house after arriving home. Andy’s just arrived from his second tour of duty in Iraq, and this is his long-awaited homecoming. Rachel’s been cooking all morning to welcome her boy home. All day, Sam has ignored the insistence of the green marble, which has been pulsing, glowing, and searing his leg all day from his pocket; little brother Billy—who communicates from beyond through this talisman—was trying to “warn” him that something was terribly wrong.

For Keeps is book #3 in Moore Mysteries, and is now available through The series can be read in any order.


Sam raced toward the laundry room in a panic. Rachel’s wheelchair sat abandoned in the hall, and his son froze in the doorway, hands clenching and unclenching at his side.

Andy’s voice thickened. “Maybe you shouldn’t come in here.” He spun and tried to hold Sam back.

One of Rachel’s shoes lay beside the doorjamb. The brown clogs. Slip on. With lambswool lining. She loved them so much she wore them even in summer.

Sam drifted closer, terror pooling in his stomach. As if in anaphylactic shock, his throat tightened and threatened to close off his air. His heart beat wildly now, in his throat, ears, chest.

Sam barreled past his son and stumbled into the room, his voice hoarse. “What happened?”

Rachel lay on a basket of laundry, her eyes wide open, looking with blank surprise at the ceiling. Sam’s garden shears protruded from her heart. The image danced before him like heat waves on tar, shimmering with unreality. Blood ran from Rachel’s floral print blouse to the sheets stained red in the basket, pooling on the white linoleum floor.

The room tilted. A series of screams of No No No No No resonated in his head. Or maybe he yelled it aloud. He couldn’t tell as he shoved Andy aside and collapsed beside her, checking for the pulse that evaded him like a cruel tormentor. Neck. Wrist. Ankles. No beating met his probing fingers.

“NO!” He drew the shears from her chest, sickened by the soft sucking sound it made, then wadded up a compress of pillowcases and held it over the wound to stem the flow. More blood dribbled from the wound and curled around her pearl buttons. He realized with a start that she was still warm.

He looked wildly about the room, as if a solution lay beneath the neatly folded piles of towels and linen. “Call 911. Hurry!” He cradled Rachel in his arms, smearing the blood between them, and feeling her arms dangle away from him, as if she didn’t have the strength to return his embrace.

Andy cried out, his anguish pinging across the small room. He squeezed between his mother’s body and the washing machine, holding his hand out to his father. “Dad. It’s too late. She has no pulse. I checked, too.”

“NO!” Sam’s mind reeled, his vision clouded, and the scent of blood tasted metallic on his tongue. “Who did this? Is he still here? She’s still warm, Andy. Find the bastard!” He stiffened when his brain repeated a phrase he’d heard during some of Rachel’s favorite shows.

Don’t disturb the evidence.

Panic slewed over him, boiling inside his head, freezing his arms and legs.

My garden shears. The killer took them from the barn. Used them on my Rachel. And my prints are all over them.

A great gulping scream filled his throat, tearing out of him like a primal scream. “RACHEL!”

Her head slumped sideways when he moved away, as if she was rejecting him. He checked her pulse again, muttering under his breath. “No way. No. No.” In a sudden manic thrust, he stood and reached for the marble, searching his pockets, patting madly at his pants and shirt. “My God. Where is it? What did I do with it?” Sam asked aloud. “Billy! Why didn’t you warn me?”

Inside the double-stuffed world that batted him between reality and nightmare, he remembered the marble’s insistent throbbing all morning. Billy had tried to warn him, had tried hard.

“Dad, come on. You can’t help her now.” In spite of Andy’s two tours of duty in the heat of battle in Iraq, the bodies he had seen and possibly created, and his soldier-toughened soul, he wept. Loud and strong, he wept and choked on his words. “Dad. Please. Leave her be. It’s over.”

Andy pulled him to his feet. Sam stared at his son as if he’d never seen him before. His eyes widened, trying to piece together a puzzle. Who is this nice young man? And why does he look so familiar?

Andy took him by the elbow and started to shuffle him toward the living room.

“Come on, Dad. Let’s go sit down.”

“No. Please. My wife needs me. She has multiple sclerosis, you know.”

Andy’s eyes popped open. Tears still streamed from them, and he shook his father’s shoulders as if he could not only snap him out of it, but maybe bring back his mother, too.

“Dad! Come on. Hold it together. Don’t do this.”

Sam stopped and stared at his bloodied hands. His legs weakened to jelly. He stumbled, then braced himself against the wall as sobs wracked him in waves of increasing amplitude. He slid to the floor and buried his face in his hands.


Dear God.

Not Rachel.


Thanks for reading! I hope you were drawn into Sam’s world, and that you might want to see how our favorite retired family doctor gets out of this one.

Aaron Paul Lazar

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Introducing Heidi Skarie and Call of the Wind


Hello, book lovers. 

I've always been addicted to writing. It was (and is) my cheap therapy. For years I wrote mysteries—and more—that provided wonderful virtual adventures in my challenging life. Many of you know about these various traumas, from my posts over the past years. Guess what? We survived and/or learned to deal with all of it. In the meantime, I published twenty-nine books in the background. 

When the pandemic started, I lost my "day" job and needed to find another way to keep the family going. I decided to capitalize on my absolute passion for helping other authors with their books. So I added "writing coach" to my resume and now am pleased to announce that I have a number of superb clients I help with polishing, formatting, and getting them ready to publish on Amazon KDP. 

This month, Heidi Skarie has published a book in her Star Rider series, Call of the Wind. I'm so proud of her. You can read a bit about the story as well as learn about her in the following interview. Let us know what you think in the comments, below. 

Stay safe and warm this February. 

All my best,

Aaron Paul Lazar

Meet Heidi Skarie and Call of the Wind

What inspired you to become a writer and eventually write Call of the Wind?


I had a series of six dreams that was like watching an exciting space opera, sci-fi movie such as Star Wars. Each dream continued where the last one had left off. The story had such a great plot and interesting characters that I was inspired to turn it into a novel. After writing the first book, it was as if I’d turned on a faucet to a creative waterfall. The next novels flowed out as I continued to write about the same characters. Writing became my passion. The first three books center around a strong female protagonist who is an undercover operative during an interplanetary war. This book is about her son who continues in his mother’s footsteps and becomes an intergalactic fighter pilot. Call of the Wind can be read and enjoyed as a standalone novel since it focuses on new characters.


What do you think your readers will love about Call of the Wind?


It’s a powerful coming-of-age story of a young man told in the story-within-a-story structure. Baymond is a young fighter pilot sentenced to be executed in five days. While awaiting his death, he shares his life story with a fellow prisoner. The novel has brave heroes and heroines, exciting adventures, a tender love story, and space battles. But as one reviewer said, “It’s also a compelling vision of the enlightened who can transcend the confines of time and space, even death.”


What is your writing process?


I write the first draft without getting any feedback that would interfere with my vision of the novel. Depending on the complexity of the plot I may use storyboards, character sketches and detailed outlines. Then I work with a critique group and go through each chapter until it shines. Next, several beta readers read the entire novel and give feedback. Last, I hire an editor and go through it again.


What other books have you written?


I’ve published four books in the Star Rider series, a science fiction, space opera set in a futuristic world during an interplanetary war. Star Rider on the Razor’s Edge is the first in the series. Call of the Wind is about the next generation.

I’ve also written two historical novels. Red Willow’s Quest about a Native American woman studying to become a medicine woman. Annoure and the Dragon Ships about a young woman kidnapped off the coast of England by the Vikings.


What are you currently working on?


I’m in the final edits of Call of the Eagle, which continues the story of Baymond and Fawn as the interplanetary war escalates.


Your book is so unique in that it is full of spiritual references to "Soul" and "Inner Light" and so many more wonderful themes involving a greater being and His teachings. Are these references fictional? Or were you inspired by another part of your life to include these in the stories? 


The original idea for the Star Rider series came from a dream about a female undercover operative, Toemeka, who works for the Coalition of Free Nations. She’s sent on a mission to help an occupied country regain their freedom during an interplanetary war against world conqueror, Samrat Condor. What makes the story unique is that Toemeka is a spiritually awakened person. She is able to communicate with her friends telepathically, leave her physical body and travel into higher levels of existence, and remember some of her past lives. 


The novels were influenced by my own spiritual beliefs. I’m a member of ECKANKAR, the Path of Spiritual Freedom and believe that we are Soul, a part of God. I believe that when we die we, as Soul, leave this body and go into the higher worlds, what some religions refer to as the heavenly worlds. We don’t stay there according to the teachings of ECKANKAR, but return to earth many times for Soul’s education. Eventually we awaken spiritually and live in the higher worlds of God permanently.


In the series, Toemeka follows the Secret Teachings of Light and Sound. The Light and Sound are essential aspects of the ECKANKAR teachings. It’s the voice of God. In the novels Toemeka sings HU, an ancient love song to God, to attune herself to the presence of God. She follows a living master who is the leader of the Secret Teachings. This is also drawn from ECKANKAR that has a living spiritual leader, Sri Harold Klemp, who keeps the teachings pure. 


Toemeka’s spiritual training is an important element in the story because Samrat Condor,  is a powerful black magician who portrays himself as a god. Toemeka uses her spiritual training to see a higher truth and fight his spread of evil psychic powers. The series is the struggle between good and evil, the light and the dark forces.


The Call of the Wind is about Toemeka’s son, Baymond, who follows in his mother’s footsteps and joins the Coalition as a fighter pilot. He is also a student of the Secret Teachings. Toemeka is a minor character, but still plays an important role in this novel.


Your books are full of luscious natural settings and descriptions. They are most artistic. Do you enjoy creating on any other level? Are you fond of the outdoors? 


Before I became a writer I was a visual artist. My mother encouraged my art abilities because learning to read was hard for me and she wanted me to excel in something. I started college as an art major, but switched to getting a teaching degree, specializing in helping children learn to read. I studied pottery, painting, drawing, etching and engraving, and photography. I continued painting and doing photography after college. 


The visual arts teach us to look at the world differently. When I gaze at the fresh snow outside my window, I don’t see white snow with gray shadows. I see the sun reflecting golden light on the snow and the light blue shadows infused with violet. When I’m writing, I drew on my background as a painter and photographer to create vivid descriptions that can transport the reader so they can see the scene and feel like they are there.


I also love nature and have enjoyed backpacking in the Rocky Mountains and the Bitterroot Mountains. I’ve also gone canoeing in the wilderness Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. My own experiences of enjoying the beauty of the woods and mountains, cooking over a fire, dealing with bugs and encounters with wild animals—like bears—has also helped me to write more vivid descriptions and write more authentically. 


For example, once I was walking along on a narrow wilderness trail in the Rocky Mountains when I came face to face with a large moose coming straight toward me. There was a moment where we both looked at each other in surprise. Then he slipped into the woods before I could move. I was fortunate as moose can be ornery—my father was once chased by one. I drew on that experience as I wrote Call of the Wind. My characters sing and wear bells on their backpacks so they don’t startled wild animals.


Did you enjoy reading science fiction as a youth? What was your favorite genre?


When I was a child my parents read me fantasy books by George MacDonald such as Back of the North Wind and Princess and the Goblin. They also read me classics like Heidi by Johanna Spyri, which takes place in the mountains of Switzerland. In sixth grade I discovered the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Gone with the Wind. I also liked Mary Stewart’s mysteries Nine Coaches Waiting and later her Arthurian Saga. Another favorite was The Once and Future Kingby T. H. White. These novels opened the doors to the enjoyment of a good story with wonderful characters that take place in the interesting worlds.


My interest in science fiction came later. In the fifties and sixties science fiction was just gaining popularity with nuclear energy and space exploration. Ideas of space, dystopia, robots, computers, and alternate futures became of interest after World War II. The genre was just getting going. I didn’t really get into science fiction until Star Wars came out and sci-fi space operas novels became popular.


Thank you so much for your time, Heidi!

Friday, January 21, 2022

For Writers: Updating Your Backlist - Add Some Pizazz!


So, how do you know when you’ve written enough books? Is it when your muse holds up her hands and says, “Enough already!” Or is it when living through a pandemic makes you so overwhelmed that you—the one who wrote twenty-nine books with endless story lines in sixteen years—can no longer summon another plot? (I mean, how many awful things can happen to Gus LeGarde?) Or is it when you finally realize that all twenty-nine books have old links, incomplete book lists, and your defunct email address?


For me, it’s been a combination of the above. I’m not saying I’m “done,” writing. I needed a hiatus and I’m actually starting to get the writing bug again. But one day as I was working on another author’s book to help her polish, format, and prepare it for publishing, I realized that she was using color cover images for her backlist, her author picture, etc. I was motivated! Why do I stilI have boring text links to my books? And no pictures of my ugly mug? Where’s the glamor? Where’s the color? 


I took a look through my horribly neglected backlist of books and decided to go for it. 


Updating “front and back matter” in your backlist


What is front and back matter? Here are some examples. 


Front matter: copyright page, dedication, forward, request for reviews, free book link (to get signups on your newsletter), etc. 


Back matter: Links and chapter excerpts to the next book in the series, afterword, review request, newsletter signup, author biography, contacts, websites, etc.


So – after far too many years of neglect ­– I’m in the process of updating book lists, contact information, links, and adding lovely color photos to my eBook and print books.


Easy, right? 


Well, so far, I’ve only done two of the twenty-nine books in the past week. I’ve reached some stumbling blocks (because SO much changes on Amazon in a year or two!), researched the heck out of each issue, and applied my new knowledge. But, I’m on a roll now, and I think I’ve got the process down. 


I gathered random some tidbits of info to share with you which might prove helpful if you decide, like me, that it’s time to get your books up to date! 




·      Although required several years ago, mobi and epub files are no longer needed to load eBooks up to Amazon KDP. But you can still use mobi and epub files to give to reviewers to read on their Kindles, tablets, etc. for reviews. I use the free download of Calibre to convert an html file to mobi and epub. It also includes the book cover, which many of the other free conversion sites don’t do. (Although it’s slightly dated now, I have instructions on how to use Calibre in my Write Like the Wind eBook, volume 3.)


·      Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) now accepts Microsoft Word documents (doc or docx) and still accepts Kindle Create files (kpf). A few years back I converted all my original mobi files (the old way to upload to KDP) into Kindle Create files, a monumental task at best! The Kindle Create automatic TOC (table of contents) was foolproof and it seemed to work best for me. But in past years, Amazon KDP started accepting Word documents for manuscript uploads. 


·      I tried to upload Word documents using two different eBooks with multiple color images, links to other books, author picture, etc., but the spacing was all goofed up in the KDP Preview screen, in spite of the fact that it looked fine in the Word doc. There may be some trick I’m missing, but for now I’m sticking to Kindle Create when I load up a book with color images. 


·      Kindle Create does has its own quirks and I could write a five-page article about what to watch out for. However, the best advice is proof every single page using the preview feature before you generate that file to upload. Then proof it on KDP Previewer as well. Page by agonizing page. It’s the only way! 


·      For eBook cover art, continue to use a properly sized and formatted jpeg image.



Paperback Books


·      If you’re just updating an old file, you should have a suitably formatted version to work with. This includes page size, margin setups, page numbers, headers, footers, etc. (again, if you want to, you can refer to Write Like the Wind, volume 3 for instructions that still work)


·      Loading the paperback Word KDP books using a Word docx file works fine. I’m not sure if this is because I don’t have any color images or live links in the print version. Don’t forget to remove all links and just spell them out. Either way, a print book will be b&w for all images unless you choose a pricey, color print book. 


·      Continue to save your jpg print wrap cover art as a PDF for loading onto KDP. This is a continuous image of front cover, spine, and back cover that your skilled cover designer can create for you. (my beloved designer is Kellie Dennis at


·      Remove automated TOC for print book, unless it is a non-fiction book. Then manually type in the TOC. 


·      PAGE COUNT: When you are updating your front and back matter, you may add or delete pages compared to your original book. Remember that the cover art is optimized for the page count to within just a few pages to allow the spine to fit on the wrap based on paper thickness and number of pages. You must keep the page count close to the original book if you are changing anything, or you will need a new resized print wrap cover. 




·      If you “gift” an eBook to a potential reviewer, it is counted as a verified review. Use the “Buy for Others” link. 


Sample of Front Matter with color images/links.


Here’s an example of one of the updated front/back matter pages that I’m adding. The beauty of this is that for now, I can use most of my new pages for all twenty-nine books and just customize some parts like the dedication, afterword, etc. 


Free eBook

Devil’s Lake

Bittersweet Hollow, book 1

Two years ago, Portia Lamont disappeared from a small town in Vermont, devastating her parents and sister, who spent every waking hour searching for her. When she suddenly shows up on their horse farm in a stolen truck with a little mutt on her lap, they want to know what happened. Was she taken? Or did she run away?

2015 Finalist Readers’ Favorites Awards

2015 Semi-finalist in Kindle Book Review Awards



What else should you update?


While you’re at it, you should update your Amazon retail book details page and take a fresh look at your sales categories. If you’ve neglected it, like me, you may not have all your titles listed below the book description. (Edit this through your KDP bookshelf, edit book details page) This would be a great time to page through your old and new book reviews, grab some choice blurbs from several of them, and paste them below your book description. Here’s what I did for Upstaged, book 2 in the LeGarde Mysteries series.


Sample of Updated Book Details 


Here is the book description followed by review blurbs, and finally by the complete list of books. It’s long, but it’s all in one place for easy reference.


When Gus LeGarde agrees to play piano for the high school drama club’s production of “Spirit Me Away,” a sixties-style musical he wrote in college, he doesn’t expect to face a series of menacing pranks played on his fiancée Camille and the drama club. Who’s sabotaging the show? And what do they have against Camille? Is it sex-crazed Armand, the Latino teen infatuated with her?

Something happened last year that Camille won’t talk about, and it has to do with Armand. Gus wants to know what happened, but she’s not talking. Could it be Superintendent Marshall, whose past holds horrific secrets related to one of the worst crimes of the 20th century? And why did someone break into Camille’s home to steal her intimate undergarments and her beloved mini-dachshund, Boris?

Gus must unravel the mystery before the backstage saboteur stakes his final, deadly claim.

"There is so much pure goodness in Mr. Lazar's books, from the innocent purity of grandchildren and pets, the beauty of nature, the bounty of a glorious garden, to love that is enduring and eternal; all the while weaving strands of mystery throughout the pages with suspense and surprises around every corner. I find myself craving more...only one left unread in the series. I will try to savor it slowly but to no avail. I devour these books like melting chocolate." Janice D. Adams

"Mr. Lazar's magnificent tapestry is a work of art without holes, missing threads or shades or stitches that do not fit." D.C. from WA USA

"Upstaged is a mystery that is well told, with subtle clues, red herrings and lots of surprises. Mystery fans will appreciate the challenge and all readers will want to become part of LeGarde’s extended family. The characters are unique, diverse, quirky, friendly, funny and memorable." Janice L. Smith

"If you equally divide your time between audiobooks and reading, I would suggest the audiobook. Not because of any misspelled words or bad formatting. No, his writing is clean and well formatted. The production quality of the audiobook is excellent. It is made even more excellent by the songs that were composed and recorded specifically for the audiobook. I was delighted to later discover it was Mr. Lazar's daughter who played and sang the songs. Amazing voice and talent." Clay Boutwell

"High school dialog and atmosphere feel spot on; a blinding eagerness to get the part; magical joy of dance; rising excitement as the date of the show approaches. But behind the scenes there are evil deeds afoot and no-one knows if the attacker is aiming for the people, the school, or both. Will the show go on, or will it be upstaged by danger and deceit?" Sheila Deeth

Books by award-winning author, Aaron Lazar:




1. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF BILLY MOORE (formerly Healey’s Cave)





PAINES CREEK BEACH, love stories



BITTERSWEET HOLLOW, romantic suspense


1. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volume 1
2. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volume 2
3. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volume 3


What else could you update?


I’m going to update my Author Central page in the near future, and then, someday, get into that massive website that certainly needs an overhaul. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check through your mailing list subscribers and eliminate those who never open your newsletters. 


Well, that’s it for now. Sometimes when I gather new information I get the uncontrollable urge to share it with fellow writers. Today was one of those days!


Let me know if you have questions or would like to learn about other aspects of this process. 


Aaron Paul Lazar

Writing Coach