Month: April 2009 Page 1 of 3

Some photo references for Alien Blue.

One of the speakers at PPWC was talking about using photo references for facial expressions.

Just for fun, I’ve found some for Alien Blue:

Martie Washington.

Caveman exterior (but without a basement or steps up).

The look on Bill’s face after Nina comes in.

Nina, when she smiles. When she doesn’t.

Back from PPWC…

So on Friday I’m in a read-and-critique session, one where a reader reads the first page and three people give their first impressions. I have Ginger Clark, Jeffrey Deaver, and Rose Hilliard (editor at St. Martin’s).

I have (yet again) rewritten the first page, based on Miss Snark’s First Victims Secret Agent first page contest (I didn’t enter; I just read all the pages).

The reader stumbles over one sentence three times. I resolve to rewrite it.

Rose Hilliard says, “Intriguing.” She likes the title. SF isn’t her specialty.

Jeffrey Deaver says it starts out very concretely and advises me to ground the situation quickly – are we on a spaceship? (No. Crap.) The story comes across as a detective/thriller; he advises me to be careful about mixing genres.

Ginger Clarks says, “I would keep reading” and says I have evocative descriptions.

My pitch session on Saturday is with Ginger Clark. She’s sick, and her ears are out. I give her the log line: Barkeep tries to save town from alien invasion using mysterious blue beer.

She says, “Wait. I’ve heard this one. This is the girl that walks into the bar.”

“Yeah,” I say. When you say it like that, I feel like there ought to be a punchline.

“What did I say about it?”

“I don’t remember. I was too ecstatic. It was nice things, though.” (I wrote them down at the time, though, luckily, so I have the crits.)

“Okay. I’m paranoid I’m going to run into someone whose stuff I didn’t like. Send me fifty pages.”

I glow, even though I know she’d probably ask for pages as long as it wasn’t something completely awful or out of her range of representation. I ask her a few questions.

The entire time, her expression is very guarded, frozen onto her face. Her lips are a little oval on what looks like a wide mouth. I wonder whether I’ve seen her smile: on Friday, I tracked her down to be a Geeky Fangirl and tell her I loved Patricia Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecilia books.* She didn’t smile at that, just asked whether I knew about PW’s new book, Thirteenth Child. I didn’t. (I look up the book later: Old West School-of-Magic fantasy WITH STEAM DRAGONS. It’s mine. I don’t care if I have enough unread books to last me a year. It’s mine.)

What I really want to ask her is whether she’s a bitch. Because I don’t want to work with someone who’s going to be nice to me. I don’t know I got it across, but she told me she’d let me know if she thought anything was wrong with the manuscript – and pointed out that I should be more worried about an agent’s track record. Fair enough.

Will she work with small press, if that’s the best option? Yes. (I love Subterranean Press.)

Is she completely adverse to something with a more literary quality about it? [Cautiously] No. But in the RNC session, she joked about literary fiction as being “anything that won’t sell.” Well, Alien Blue is what it is, and I think one of the reasons SF hasn’t been doing as well lately is that all the wonder and love has been sucked out by ideas and facts and plots and messages. Greg Egan is brilliant…but where is Zelazny? Corey Doctorow is inspiring…but where is Sturgeon? Exactly. I can help.

I tell her I have YA drafts I’m working on, too, so I need a good YA/adult SF/F agent. As miserable as she is, she lets her mouth go wide – not exactly a smile – at that. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s an open-mouth-insert-foot moment. I’m okay with that.

To sum up my first impressions of Ginger Clark, professional literary agent for Big New York Agency: an introvert dropped naked into poison ivy and then put onstage at Broadway. The best you can do is not scratch until you bleed, at least until you get off stage. I know that feeling.

About four minutes left in an eight-minute pitch session. I tell her thanks, and I’ll get out of her hair.

She tries to look earnest: her eyebrows go up. “But we’re doing this for you.”

I say, “You wanted fifty pages. I asked my questions. I got what I wanted. Have some free time.”

She dives into her purse (ollie ollie oxen free!) for her Crackberry: “I’ll get caught up on some e-mail.” Her lips crush themselves into a smile that only goes wide and curly at the corners, and she blinks several times. Has she not blinked this entire time? I can’t remember.

She’s gone. I leave the room, find the first person I recognize, and do the squirrel dance, which is both arms up in the air, loose in the knees, and jiggling like an electrocuted scarecrow. I have no pride.

I find out later Ginger used the time to request a full from a buddy of mine. So dear Powers that Be: I got some karma coming, all right? Yeah? Yeah?

*With Carolyn Stevermeyer.

Mama Told Me not to Come, mock interview.

PPWC Thursday, we performed mock interviews for our current book projects. Margaret Brettschneider’s interview, for her true-life account of taking a 29-year-old virgin around Europe decades ago, called Mama Told Me not to Come, had tears running out of my eyes.

True love and slapstick comedy.

Word of the Day.


with Anu Garg



noun: A rumbling noise caused by the movement of gas through the intestines.


From Greek borborygmos (intestinal rumbling), an onomatopoeiac word to describe the sound.


Borborygmi are usually harmless, they are simply a result of gas movement around the stomach. And the rumbling sound doesn’t mean one is hungry either. We can’t really do anything about the sound of a stomach growling, but we can take comfort in the fact that at least we know a fancy word to describe it.


“And the piece de resistance:
‘He was woken early by borborygmus as his insides fermented and his intestines ballooned with gas beyond their capacity.'”
Ruth Dudley Edwards; Book Review / Straying Into A Dark, Ugly And Sick World; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 21, 1994.


Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous. -Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478 BCE)

Alien Blue Log Line.

This might be it:

A barkeep tries to save his town from alien invasion using a mysterious blue beer.

I talked to someone at the conference about it yesterday. She was a very good listener – I don’t say that often.

PPWC: Thursday.

This is the first year of Thursday add-on material for PPWC. I chose Track 3: Giving it Wings (Publicity, Promotion, Marketing).

I have mixed feelings about the day.

The track itself, I think, was good, sound stuff. We even wrote trial press releases and gave interviews. But I talked myself into listening to the wrong stuff later in the afternoon, so I didn’t get everything I wanted. Lesson learned.

The Basics of Marketing:

One of the speakers, Sue Mitchell, kept telling us, “Become your own cottage industry.”

In traditional publishing, the publishing house coordinated all PR efforts, including marketing, advertising, and coop projects between authors in bookstores. Alas, most authors don’t get to go the traditional publishing route. However, nowdays, the publishing house handles just the editing, the cover, and distribution – the rest of it is up to the author.

It’s important to start early with publishing and marketing, so you can assure potential agents you know where you want to take your book and how. Your initial marketing materials should include a press kit with your log line, a 1-page synopsis, and a 5-page (i.e., more detailed) synopsis. Keep your press kit available at all times. Also helpful are a publicity photo and review copies (when you get them).

Then it’s time to start considering where you want to start marketing. One way is to find an author you like or who writes the same things you do, then use the same marketing techniques. Another is to research what markets are available locally, and spread out from there. Advertising can be coordinated with other authors.

Types of marketing:

Interviews – Practice in the mirror or on a camcorder. You should sound relaxed, informed, and competent even in the face of attacks, incompetence, and lack of preparation. Also, make eye contact with the camera, not the interviewer.
TV – Various news programs are always looking for content. Public access is an option.
Print – Newspapers (including independents), magazines.
Radio – More talk radio is on air than ever before (including on the internet).
Internet – Try mailing lists to register people for updates, promotions, and giveaways. Use blogs, vlogs to build a following and fan base before your book ever comes out.

The key is to find out what kind of author you want to be. Do you want to be an overnight bestseller or earn out your first printing and get a second? Your goals should drive your marketing efforts.

The basic elements of a marketing plan:

Your press kit (see above) is your marketing overview. Your marketing plan should also contain:

  • A description of your next project. To help establish yourself as an emerging artist with a promising career, know what you’re going to work on next and be able to describe it and where you are on it.
  • Your author bio. Include anything that will help an agent or editor decide what to do with your book (which line of a publishing house, which editors, etc.), anything that makes you more credible and interesting as the author of that book. Example: If you’re writing a military history and you used to be in the military, mention that. Include publishing credits.
  • Your customers and audience. Being able to narrow your potential audience down to a core will save the publishing house’s marketing group time. Saying, “My audience is men, women, and – in fact – children of all ages” tells them nothing.
  • Your competition. Sue said, “If you have no competition, you have no product.”
  • An action plan. Include your objectives (goals, like pre-sales and additional print runs), strategies (author positioning, book positioning, establishing yourself as an authority on the subject), and tactics (press releases, author tours, reviews, volunteering, etc.).

Press Releases

A press release should have an angle, a purpose, and a goal or result and should not be a simple cry for attention. Press releases have a specific format that you customize to fit your needs. There are a lot of good examples of press releases online. For example. you can use PRWeb to search for and track response to press releases.

Press releases should contain:

Contact Information:

  • Your name/firm.
  • Phone number, e-mail, and website contact information.

HEADLINE (the most important part of a press release).

  • The date, the date of the event, or the date until which to hold the release (or “For immediate release”).
  • The location of the event, if applicable.
  • The headline should be pithy, short, active, and capture all important information.
  • Being a headline, it should be in noun + verb format (e.g., “Local Author Makes Good” vs. “Booksigning”).


  • The lead sentence should include the who/what/when/where/why/how information.
  • Next section of the copy should expound on or explain the lead sentence and include any quotes (keep in mind, the quotes will probably get cut if the press release is published).

Standard information about the author, history, organization, etc.

End the press release with “-30-” or “###” to indicate no more pages follow. If another page does follow (but probably shouldn’t; the release should be short), start the page with “(Add1)” and end it with “-30-” or “###”.

Press releases should be customized for each release.

We wrote practice press releases for (fictional) events. I now want a book signing/reading at a brewery, with a special on blue beer. I bet some of the local breweries would at least consider it, especially if it was during a First Friday, which is a local arts/culture walk downtown, in Old Colorado City, and Manitou Springs.


The internet has a plethora of marketing possibilities. Here are some:

  • Youtube. Book trailers, vlogs, interviews (remember to get rights to post any TV interviews you do).
  • Podcasts and web radio.
  • Newspaper A&E editors with blogs.
  • Blogs. Use free software from Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, OpenSource, SourceForge, Joomla!, Drupal, b2Evolution, TypePad, etc.

Make sure you’re not giving away your first rights to your writing projects for free – unless you’re doing it on purpose. Posting something on the internet can count as “first rights,” so don’t post anything you plan to publish elsewhere.

That being said, if you’re going to have a website, you’re going to need content. While you can publish very small portions of your work (personally, I go by the guidelines for fair use), most of your content should be material relates to but isn’t the work itself.

Deb Courtney noted that once you post something on the internet, you cannot simply “take it down.” Any number of websites record every page on the internet…regularly (for example, see the Wayback Machine).

Several people asked how to drive traffic to their websites. The answer was there’s no easy answer; you have to 1) network and 2) hustle. Ron Heimbecher noted he was using a group of websites to act as “rabbit holes” for his current project.

Marketing for Pitchers

At this point, we split into two groups, “marketing for pitchers” and “marketing for those with published books.”

Sue Mitchell recommended pitchers put together what she calls a “Pitch One Sheet,” a one-page sheet with all the information you need during a pitch session.

  • Title.
  • Log line (a one-line summary of the book).
  • A one-paragraph explanation of what the book’s about.
  • Your ideas about market (customer, audience, genre, what authors/books this is like, etc.).
  • Bio, including why you’re the best person to write the book, writing credits, professional associations, and what else you’re working on.

The rest of the session turned into a Q&A about pitching, which was disappointing – I’d just gone to the April Write Brain on Tuesday (about pitching). I wish I’d joined the other group, but I kept hoping we’d get back on track, and I was too embarrassed (I mean, no published book to market) to get up and switch. However, Ron Heimbecher was talking to the other group, and I’m confident that I can contact him with any questions I have.

Other interesting points covered:

  • If you’re asked about the ending, just tell it – don’t tell the editor or agent to buy the book!
  • The type of marketing help you can get from your publishers is sometimes determined by the size of the press. Large presses have more resources – which they use on big-name authors. Small presses have fewer resources – but more attention to give. Just make sure your press can register an ISBN for you (thus allowing you to distribute the book in other places than the press’s website).
  • Talk to your agent about your marketing plan to help set your timelines.
  • Review copies often must be sent 90 days or more ahead of the desired date in order for reviewers to meet their publication deadlines. If you’re not sure how to submit a review copy, send a query first.
  • If you have an agent, talk to them about short stories you intend to submit – they may know of markets and editors who are looking for what you’re writing.

I will try to post links to the interviews, which went really well – informative, confident, calm under fire (at times), and sometimes even funny.

More conference tomorrow…

Poem: Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun in the House

By Billy Collins.

The neighbors‘ dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking…

Allllmost. But again, no.


Thanks very much for sending “Fragile,” my way. My assistant editor and I both enjoyed the narrative voice, but overall, the piece isn’t quite what we’re seeking for Farrago’s Wainscot, so we’re going to pass.


Darin Bradley
Fiction Editor

Such is the life. However, I will happily take the compliments where I can get them.

Secret Agent!

Kate over at KT Literary reviewed 50 first pages over at Miss Snark – it starts here.

Here’s what I learned:

  • So far, I see I give people about four-five sentences before I’m bored.
  • Grammar issues are grating.
  • I hate running into a plethora of weird names.
  • Irony is good.
  • I want to start off with character + action, not just action.
  • NO MORE EYES. (Eyes rolling, etc.)
  • After a series of pages without action, a page that handles action well is a breath of fresh air.
  • People who talk down to MG audiences make my teeth grate (Hello? Remember fourth grade? You were SMARTER than that).
  • I want to say I just don’t care for women’s fiction, but it’s not true–but I know that’s not true–but the women’s fiction barely gets a sentence or two before I’m tired of it.
  • Fiction vs. the moral of the story = give me fiction!

Control Issues and No Pet is Worth All This! are the two I hope get published, so I can read the rest.

Also, I don’t want Kate’s job.

Query update.

I sent my updated query off to Query Shark. Blood! Blood in the water! Blood everywhere!

Dear Query Shark,

An hour’s drive from Roswell, New Mexico, is a wide spot in the road named Haley. Haley’s famous for two things–Haley Hospital, the best in the state, and a dive called the Caveman Bar and Grill.

Bill Trout, big-mouthed owner of the Caveman, is enjoying running the bar, coming up with new kinds of weird beer, and settling back into a bachelor’s life when Mayor Jack Stout, his best friend, decides to hide an interstellar fugitive in town. Jack’s a good guy, but his common sense isn’t a strong point.

Bill, who has been walking the fine line between “jerk” and “responsible adult” for many years, tries to trick the alien, Anam, into leaving, but when the aliens attack at the bar, he promises to let Anam stay if Anam will help kill them. Not that Bill intends to keep his promise.

Will Jack get off his high horse and help Bill get rid of the local alien before his pursuers find them again and kill them all? Will the local alien-conspiracy cult that runs the hospital find Anam and before he can save humanity from invasion? Will a town full of perfectly ordinary people turn crazy from the New Mexico summer heat?* It all depends on an old man built like an orangutan, a stranger with a familiar face, and Bill’s latest brew, a blue beer he calls “Alien Blue.”

Alien Blue is an 85,000-word contemporary science fiction novel that fits somewhere between Spider Robinson and Kurt Vonnegut. Alien Blue stands alone, but I’d like the chance to develop a sequel.

I’m a technical writer and editor for the Air Force, but my clearance isn’t high enough to know anything about what happened in the New Mexico desert in 1947. Or so I tell people. I’ve published short-short stories (at Toasted Cheese, Verbiage, and Clever Magazine, all online), poetry (in Darkwaves and Larkwings, Vol. 1; and iMPS iN THe iNKWeLL, from a gleeful press!), murder mystery party games (the best of which are at Freeform Games, online). I volunteer for the Pikes Peak Writers as a reporter and Published Writer Liaison. I have a blog at (shh).

Thank you for your time.


DeAnna Knippling

[contact info]

*Probably not. It’s a dry heat.

Thanks to everybody with comments from last time.

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