Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mortis: Understanding Body Changes After Death, and How Authors Get it Wrong

Purchase No Witnesses To Nothing on Amazon
I recently had an email discussion with retired homicide detective and forensic coroner Garry Rodgers about death--specifically, about the ways writers screw up when it comes to decay. As a professional biologist, I was a bit appalled at how wrong I was personally getting some of these things. For example, I was only aware of one mortis--rigor. And I pronounced it "ri-gore" (short I.) According to Garry, not only are there FIVE mortises, but the pronunciation is on the first syllable and it's a long I (RYE-gore). 

Garry's unique background and expertise is now evident in his best-selling crime fiction. His novel, No Witnesses to Nothing, is based on a true crime story Garry was a part of in which many believed that paranormal intervention was involved. Whoa!

No Witnesses To Nothing can be purchased on Amazon and is a permanent part of our "Find a Book" page here on Murder Lab, where you can read the back cover blurb and find more links to Garry (also below.) Last, but not least, you can read an interview with Garry in which we discuss Garry's life as a criminologist, author, and blogger. So, without further delay, here's a little truth about what happens when you die and how to get it right in your novels.

Mortis: Understanding Body Changes After Death
Guest post by Garry Rodgers:

Many writers mistakenly believe there’s a precise science to estimating time of death (TOD). Although there’s a progressive process, the sequence and time intervals can widely vary and are influenced by many factors.

Mortis is the anatomical term for changes in a body after the moment of death. Medically, that’s when the central nervous system becomes unplugged and oxygenated blood is no longer delivered to the tissues, which naturally start recycling. The five types of mortis are:

Rigor –  stiffening of muscles
Livor –  settling of blood
Algor – change in temperature
Palor – change in color
Decomp – breakdown in tissue

All these mortis conditions are integral to a decomposing process. Death is a part of life and decomposition is a part of death. Just as life is not always predictable, neither is estimating the post-mortem interval (PMI) between when death anatomically occurred and when first examination of the body begins.

Death investigations work on a triangle of Body – Scene – History. It’s a holistic approach to determining cause of death (COD) and it’s the coroner’s responsibility to answer five universal questions:

Who is the deceased?
Where did they die?
When did they die?
What caused their death?
What was the means of death?

Some people are confused about the difference between cause and means. Cause is the medical reason – gunshot to the head. Means could be – homicide. Or, it could be – suicide. Or it could be – accidental.

There can be thousands of causes of death, but there are only five classifications:


How this ties into mortis is that in satisfying the five universal questions, great emphasis is placed on interpreting the body’s condition when first examined. This is where understanding the mortis process is so important and a lot of the interpretation comes from years of experience. Let’s look at each one.

Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of muscles. It’s caused by the body’s energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), being depleted. With no energy left to keep the muscles flexible, they naturally go to a rigid state until another enzyme begins the breakdown of tissue and relaxation returns.

Immediately upon death, the body enters a brief period of primary flaccidity where it’s dead limp.

Depending on many factors, temperature and body mass being the big ones, the muscle stiffening begins in 1- 2 hours, setting into the eyelids, jaw, and neck. It proceeds to the limb joints and extremities after 4-8 hours and fixes in the organs in about 12 hours. Rigor releases in the same sequence and can be absent in as little as 12 hours or can stay for days, again depending on factors.

Livor Mortis is the pooling of blood caused by gravitational settling once the heart stopped pressurizing the vascular system. It’s evident by purplish-red blotching where blood is free to pool and blanched-white where pressure points restrict it. Lividity, as it’s also known, sets in between 30 minutes to 1 hour after death and ‘fixes’ in about 8-12 hours. ‘Fixing’ is the entire settling where the blood has coagulated and no longer runs free.

Algor Mortis is the change in body temperature. A cadaver will always achieve ambient temperature, regardless of time. A normal, living human’s core temperature is 36 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) but the scene temperature could be anywhere. In a cold environment, the body will drop to equilibrate. In a hot environment, it will rise. Here’s where so many peripheral factors come into play. Body size. Layered Clothing. Air movement. And the list goes on. A rule of thumb is that a body will change about 1 degree Celsius per hour.

Palor Mortis is the change of color. Live humans are pretty much a reddish tinge due to oxygenated blood flowing (different tones for different races). Immediately upon death, a bluing phase occurs, following by a grey, then a white, then it can be a rainbow of colors as decomposition takes over.

Decomp, or decomposition, is not really a true class of mortis – rather it’s the culmination of the four mortis processes which leads to a breakdown of the body tissues and a return to nature.
Decomposition is a complex and unpredictable thing. There are two processes that morph into one:

Putrefaction – action of bacteria on body tissues
Autolysis – body breakdown by endogenous substances

In most deaths these two work in tandem, starting with a breakdown in internal organs which produces gas. This causes bloating and skin discoloring, as well as the foul odor from purging or ‘gassing-off’. As the muscle tissues change, the skin begins to dislodge, the joints become loose enough to disarticulate, fats become liquefied, and bones become exposed. Advanced decomp can become skeletonized, mummified, or consumed – again depending on so many factors, which all start from the mortis process.

The changes in a human’s body after death can be just as varied as their experiences in life. Biological, environmental, and circumstantial factors will shape your death, just like they’re shaping your life.

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, now turned BestSelling crime writer and deadly blogger at Follow Garry in Vancouver, Canada, on Twitter @GarryRodgers1 or email him at

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Promotion Sites For New Releases

As I’ve been gearing up to launch my new thriller The Death Row Complex, I have done some investigation into various book promotion websites. I have invested a large chunk of change into these, and I have learned a great deal about which promo sites directly translate to sales and which don't. I have collated this into an Excel spreadsheet which is available to readers for subscribing to my mailing list. The spreadsheet also includes the luck I’ve had with historical thriller The Vesuvius Isotope and with The Death Row Complex after racking up the required number of reviews. Please, if you haven't already, sign up before you waste your money on promotion that doesn't sell books. And if you're already on my mailing list, I'll be sending you this info with the next Murder Lab Report (or sooner if you'd like... just let me know.)

This is the first of two blog posts listing what promo sites are out there, with no filtration or prioritization. This first post focuses on sites that can be used for a new release, meaning that they don’t require you to already have ratings and reviews on Amazon. You only need the ASIN or link to your Amazon site. I've also listed costs and how long it takes to get a listing there. Please note that this list only contains promo sites for discounted books, not for free books. They are sites I found of interest for promoting 1) The Death Row Complex as a new release with no ratings or reviews yet, and 2) At a discounted price of $0.99 (which, FYI, is going on for a month starting June 27. So, pick up your copy while the discount lasts!) The second post details promo sites that require ratings or reviews.

There are many other sites out there for promotion of free ebooks, which I won’t cover unless I do a freebie promotion (not planned at this time.) 

Disclaimer 1: The costs listed here are not necessarily the only options; they are the options that I wrote down as being of interest to me personally at this time. Many of these sites have multiple options for promotion, including free options, so check them out and decide for yourself based on your budget.

Disclaimer 2: In many cases, the website didn’t mention what their reach is, so I looked to see how many Facebook, twitter, and other followers they have. Those numbers are listed when I found them, which was circa June 10, 2015. As you'll see in my Excel spreadsheet, numbers of followers doesn't always translate directly to sales, but the sites that sold one of my books almost always sold the other one too.

Disclaimer 3: This probably isn’t comprehensive. Please feel free to suggest other sites in the comments, but please keep in mind that this post is reserved for sites that *do not* require reviews and ratings, sites that can be used immediately to promote a new release. Please hold your Book Bub rant until the next post in this series.

Disclaimer 4: The comments are strictly my own observation and you might not agree with them, and that’s OK. As always, please feel free to beg to differ in the comments.

Without further delay:

Kindle Nation Daily: 
  • 170,000 viewers
  • $125 for Thriller of the Day ad
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • They take books that aren’t yet on Kindle, you just have to tell them the absolute last day it WILL be on Kindle if you can’t provide the link yet… but, if you don’t have the AISN, you need to give ~10 day advance notice 
Kindle Books and Tips:
  • $25-$50
  • Normal books require 8 Amazon reviews, 4 of which have to be verified purchases
  • **But! They now take new releases without the review requirement!*
  • Takes a little time to get booked
Just Kindle Books:
  • $18 or $26 with extra Facebook blast
  • They claim 50 average purchases per ad
  • 20K Facebook followers
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Read Freely: 
  • Free promo site, you just sign up
  • Looks like a ton of romances; I don’t know how many mysteries/thrillers 
  • $10
  • Requires booking approximately 1 month in advance
  • This is one of those sites that asks readers for their taste and then (supposedly) only sends what the reader asks for in a daily email
  • They have ~7000 Facebook followers and 18K twitter followers
  • No evidence of how many people get their newsletters
  • Costs 5 GBP (currently $7.84 USD) to be on first half of newsletter that is mailed worldwide
  • They have multiple options for promo
  • For Amazon UK and other international sites
  • They have a sister site for US
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Readers in the Know: 
  • 20 GBP annual membership, you can promote in advance
  • They also have a customizable matrix of promo sites you can use
  • 17k Facebook followers but unclear how many are reached via promo
World Literature Cafe:
  • They typically require ratings/reviews but they have a “new releases” section that does not require this 
  • New releases ad is $45
  • New Releases ad goes out once a month (beginning of the month) to advertise all of their new releases
  • They don’t specify how many subscribers they have but 11K Facebook followers
Bargain Booksy (Sub-site of Free Booksy)
  • $50
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • 20K facebook followers
Indie Book of the Day
  • $50 for an entire month of promotion
  • They also have a $300-500 “guaranteed bestseller” package
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Kindle Book Promos
  • $25 
  • Requires ~48 hour notice
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Indie Book Promo
  • $50
  • Books ~1 month to 1.5 months in advance
  • 14K twitter followers, 2.8K Facebook followers
  • Alexa 240K
Book Goodies
  • 15K Facebook followers
  • $20 for 1-week promo
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • $10 “donation” for prioritized promo (otherwise they don’t guarantee it)
  • 50K twitter users, 1000+ Newsletter subscribers
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • Has a "new releases" offer
  • 5000 Facebook followers
  • For Amazon UK readers
  • $10
  • 48K Facebook followers, 11K twitter followers
  • 48 hour notice
Tweet Your Books:
  • $49 for one-day promo
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
ebook daily deals:
  • No charge but you have to buy a $2.99 ebook
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Books Butterfly:

Buck Books:
  • You have to sign up as an affiliate and advertise on your site
  • Then you can apply for promotion
  • They don’t respond to rejections
  • Incredibly amateur-looking spammy emails are sent every day once you sign up, and I never heard back again on my requested promotions. I’m removing them from my list and unsubscribing from their annoying email list.
Most of my bookings clustered around June 27, the official launch date for The Death Row Complex. The spreadsheet details exactly how much money I ended up paying, how many sales I got via during the promo period for each site, other things I have done for promotion (outside of paid promo sites) and how successful those things were, and other such stats to let the Murder Lab community know if I think it was worth it.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Call for Excerpts: Murder, USA and Murder, International

Updated to address FAQs:

Hello, Murder Lab Community!

This is a special invitation/call to action for authors. 

I’m putting together an anthology of sorts. In contrast to a true anthology, which implies a collection of short stories, this is actually going to be a collection of excerpts from published, full-length novels--sort of like a compilation of Amazon "Look Inside" features from similarly-themed novels, all in one nifty little, e-mailable, downloadable, linkable, social media promotable package. It will be free, and it will be uploaded as a perma-free ebook to all of the major ebook platforms. Personally, I will also give this out as a freebie to people for signing up on my mailing list, upload it to my social media channels wantonly for the taking, and talk about the various excerpts from different authors a great deal.

The perks of this project, as I see them: 

1) It will be ebook-only format, so there will be minimal production costs, which I will absorb.
2) Already-published material means you're promoting your actual novel, not a short story which may or may not reflect your novel(s) in a way that resonates with readers.
3) Already-published material is already-edited, so again, there's no work or expense on your part. You'll just send me your excerpt and a few key pieces of info/supporting materials and you're done.
4) The full-length novels will be linked to each excerpt, just as they are with those handy "Look Inside" features, except that you won't be a slave to Amazon. You can link whatever you want. You can also link other books in the series, your website, etc. etc. And you get to choose the "Look Inside" pages to be included.
5) Each excerpt will be categorized by sub-genre (i.e. "cozy mystery", "political thriller") to give readers a chance to head straight for the book that interests them.
6) The more authors that contribute, the more help I'll have spreading the word and getting readers to peek at your novel.
7) You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, since I'm doing the work and paying for it. And if the whole thing bombs, well, then, nobody will ever even know your work was in there, will they?

Interested? OK, then, here are the details, the theme, and the rules:

1) There are actually two books to be made: One is entitled, Murder, USA and the other, Murder, International.
2) Your excerpt must be from some form of mystery/suspense/thriller full-length novel
3) The setting/location must be somewhat prominent, relevant to, or featured in the story (even if it's just a cool description of where a murder takes place...)
4) US-based excerpts will go into the "USA" book and internationally-based excerpts will go into the "international" book (duh!)
5) The tables of contents will be organized geographically by state or country, respectively, so the collection can be marketed as a "tour" of sorts
6) The table of contents will mention the title, the author, the sub-genre, and the location for each excerpt. So (if you're counting) that's four ways readers can glance at the table of contents and decide which excerpts they want to dive into.

7) Your full-length novel MUST already be published and online to be included. I don't care if it's self-pubbed or traditional, as long as it's available.
8) You must have the rights to republish the content (and be able to prove this.)
9) Ideally, I would like each location to be unique, so we don't end up with twenty-five So-Cal-based authors with books set in San Diego and LA. I personally think it would be bitchin' to get an excerpt from every state, but I don't know that many authors. Incidentally, feel free to forward this along to others who might be interested!
10) Priority will be given to authors with reasonably established platforms who I can count on to help metastasize the book. You don't have to be famous, just making a concerted effort to get there.
11) As mentioned, I'll pay the expenses (it will just be artwork, formatting, and publishing, which I'll do through Murder Lab Press) but I'll ask for donations from contributing authors to help absorb the cost. Donations will be small and they won't be mandatory (in case you're worried I'm going to run off with your money!)

12) What do you have to do? For right now, just say, "Yes, I'm in" by subscribing to our group below. (Lance, you're already subscribed, and Kelly, I shot you an email on your website to get your email address.) This doesn't subscribe you to the Murder Lab Report or any other email correspondence, it only gives me your email address so I can keep track of you as part of this project.
13) I'll gather interested authors for the next few weeks, and once I have a better idea of how much interest there is and how many authors will be involved, I will send out an email to participating authors with detailed instructions for what to send and when we need it. This will also specify the length of the excerpts and suggested donation amounts, both of which will go down with increasing numbers of participants.

So, here’s an example using an excerpt from The Vesuvius Isotope:

Excerpt from: The Vesuvius Isotope, by Kristen Elise, Ph.D.
Sub-Genres: Historical mystery/thriller
Locations: Italy, Egypt

(Insert Excerpt Here)

Did you enjoy this excerpt? Purchase the full-length novel here (insert links). For more information about the novels of Kristen Elise, visit her website here (link.)  

Sound good? Great! Then sign up and let's make this happen...

Murder USA/Murder International Authors

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