Friday, October 31, 2014

A Big Thank You To My Prose & Cons Family

There are times when we all need help. Seeing our own work as others see it is extremely difficult.  We spend countless hours crafting our characters, plot lines and twist, shaping and reshaping our story until we’re happy with it.  We set it aside for weeks, sometimes months, in the hopes of coming back with clear eyes.  And sometimes when we come back we still can’t see our stories like someone would reading it for the first time.
Mistress of Lies

I struggled with this very thing a couple of weeks ago.

My protagonist is a wise-cracking, hardened, foul-mouthed thief whom I love.  But in order for my readers to love her too I needed to make sure they could relate to her in some way, or at the very least like her.  When you’re dealing with a character who’s on the wrong side of the law this isn’t always easy to pull off.  In fact, it’s downright difficult.
Swann's Lake of Despair

So I turned to this group of talented authors on Prose & Cons-- one of the benefits of blogging with them-- and sent out a group-wide email asking if anyone would be willing to read the first ten pages of my manuscript and tell me if they could relate and/or if they liked my main character.  Mind you, I wasn’t very optimistic.  After all, these authors are extremely busy people with their own lives and work to worry about.

The response was overwhelming.

Within minutes I was bombarded with emails telling me they’d be happy to read for me.  I was blown away.  Not only was my manuscript’s initial pages-- the most crucial pages-- going to get a once-over, but by expert eyes.
Words That Bind

After five or ten minutes I had to send another email telling them that I was all set, because they kept coming and coming and coming.  This is how great this group is.  Now I’m sure they’ll tell you they were just lending a hand, no big deal.  But it was a big deal.  And I knew it.
Ocean Of Fear

I won’t mention which ones responded and which ones didn’t, because that isn’t relevant here.  The point is everyone would have if I hadn’t shut them down.  I truly believe that.

I’m telling you this because it’s important that we writers don’t lock ourselves away and not ask for help when we need it.  Don’t work in a vacuum. This business can be lonely enough without making it any worse.  In my opinion, and the opinion of many highly successful authors, you should at least have writer friends, groups, beta readers and/or critique partners to turn to after your manuscript is complete, or when you hit an especially difficult scene that you don’t know is working. Because no matter how good you think you are I guarantee you’ve missed something.  We’re human.  Humans make mistakes, pure and simple.

I’ve been burned by beta-readers in the past which made me very leery to go down that road again.  But I’m smart enough to know that I couldn’t go it alone, either.  This put me in a tough position.  Do I write in a bubble and hope I’ve caught everything, or do I reach out again?  You already know what I did.  But I haven’t told you the best part.  By doing this, by telling everyone that I needed help, I found a permanent critique partner.  The lovely, talented, brilliant Susan Clayton-Goldner graciously offered-- and I jumped at the chance to work with her. 
A Question of Morality

And that brings me to my next point.  When we take the time to help someone, whether it be escorting an elderly person across the street, helping the disadvantage with a meal, or being another set of eyes for our writer friends, often the reward is much greater than the effort we put in.  So take the time today to thank your writing partner, spouse, friend, beta-readers, etc.  You are lucky to have that support. It should be cherished and not squandered. Many don’t have anyone.

Now let me brag about my partner for a minute. Susan has a fantastic story that I can’t talk about in detail yet.  When it comes out, however, you’ll be the first to know.  Let me just say, it’s an amazing, heart-wrenching, gripping, suspenseful and sometimes funny family drama that will keep you flipping the pages to find out what happens next.  What a beautiful writer she is. Wow, that’s what I said when I finished reading her manuscript. Wow!
The Quinoa Cookbook

So this is my “Thank YOU!” to all that read over my initial pages and offered their sound advice.  I will forever be in your debt.  And to my new critique partner, Susan, I love working with you!  You’ve become an integral part of my writing process.  I could never have enhanced my story without you.  Thank you! *tips hat and bows*

To show my appreciation I am writing this post.  You’ll notice book covers along the way.  These are some, but not all, of the authors’ novels who helped me.  Please show your support by clicking the captioned title of the ones that interest you and buying their books.
The African Contract

For those of you who are struggling to go it alone-- reach out, ask for help.  I promise it will be the best thing you’ve ever done.  

Do you use writing groups, beta readers, critique partners, or all of the above?  Let me know in the comment section below.  Help me show the lonely writer in the dark room that it’s okay to ask for help.

Sue Coletta is a crime fiction writer and a proud member of Sisters In Crime and CrimeSpace. To find out more about her and her books go to: 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

5 Blogs to Being Agented! Blog #1: How to get an Agent (without the indiscriminate use of Duct Tape.)

Editor's note: In celebration of #NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, I am reposting a foursome of widely popular blogs on the secrets of being published, and posting a guest blog on the subject written by a special guest blogger. (hints to follow, but think really big) So, without further ado, here is blog #1:

I finally did it! After nine years of writing, three manuscripts, and five years of sending queries to literary agents, I finally got the contract for which I have been waiting. (And, yes, it was just as sweet as I had hoped.) But that's not why I am writing this. I am writing because I think I learned a few things along the way that might help someone else navigate through the treacherous waters of the agent-finding process.

When I say treacherous, I mean emotionally treacherous; to my knowledge, no would-be author has ever lost an eye in the process--although I wouldn't rule it out entirely. I have met a good few agents, and to a person they were all genuine, nice people. But they are nice, BUSY people, and therein lies the problem. Despite the fact that many agents still utilize the slush pile to help fill their lists, it is a mixed blessing at best. On average, an agent slogs through hundreds (thousands?) of queries to sign just one client. If you follow a few agents on Twitter--and you should--you will see how they feel about their in-box.

I say this because you need to understand the disparate perspectives held by either side of the process. A query that represents two or three years of effort--and sometimes many more--may be deleted after less than 30 seconds of consideration. I once received an e-reject in less than 2 minutes after hitting send--you know you are Nathan Bradsford! But you have to expect this; everybody gets lots of rejections, especially at the query level. The truly difficult part of the process is at the submission level. The reason behind this is the increase in expectation that naturally follows a request for some or all of the manuscript. Who wouldn't get pumped up to get a request--it is, after all, a validation of your work.

The problem is, the odds are still stacked against you, and you have already gotten your hopes up. Have you ever wondered why an agent only requests a partial manuscript--the first fifty pages or so--when a full manuscript can be sent (by e-mail) just as easily? The answer is expectation management; a request for a partial shows restrained interest, whereas a full request could keep the writer waiting by the phone. (Guilty!) Agents don't want to be dream-killers; they are just trying to make a living, and they do this by selling books to publishers. To do this, they have to read hundreds of manuscripts, which means they are reading your manuscript looking for a reason to REJECT.

The key to getting an agent is to change the way an agent reads your manuscript, from reading with intent to REJECT to reading with intent to ACCEPT. I did it, and you can too. I will explain in the next post.

And oh by the way: The Intern (the serialized novel I am writing on #Wattpad) has been nominated for the #Wattys2014 (Thanks to my mother and her Canasta group). Please click on the link and share it on Facebook and #Twitter with the hashtag #Wattys2014 to vote.
The Intern: A Spinal Needle in the Dark

Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous), and LinkedIn (Tweets, Novels and Blogs); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


Friday, October 24, 2014

Headlines and Hooklines: Writing a Press Release

One morning I thought I'd do something nice for one of my books…so I sent out my press release to almost a dozen newspapers around my area, hoping someone will pick up my story and run with it.

I know this sounds a little intimidating to novice writers (and perhaps a few not-so-novice ones as well.) Press releases sound like terribly official and extremely elevated forms of publicity. Celebrities and experts and gala events get press releases…not us.

But did you ever try writing one? It's really not that bad—and it can do your book a world of good.

A press release is free publicity.
Reporters for media outlets love them because they provide content. You, as a writer, should love press releases because they tell the audience exactly what you want them to know.

Even if you don't need a press release yet, it's a good writing exercise. We've all practiced writing log lines and queries and elevator pitches. With that practice came ease and familiarity with simmering our 90k word masterpiece into pure concentrated glory. Use this as another writing exercise so, when the time comes to finally make an announcement, you can rip out a press release and send it to your editor so fast her head will spin.

Exercises like these often help writers find new focus in their manuscripts, as well. Writing a press release provides a sort of goal for the work-in-progress—how you want your book to be viewed once it's released into the world.

A Press Release is NOT an Advertisement.
The key to writing an effective press release is to keep in mind who your target is: the journalist.

Weird, right? It's not necessarily the publication's audience. Just as a query letter is designed to snare the agent, a press release is meant to snare the journalist and get him to explore your story further. A press release is a huge billboard that says THERE'S A GREAT STORY HERE! and it lures all the news-hungry journalists over to see what's going on.

Advertisements are for customers, not for journalists. Journalists aren't looking to shop—they are looking to write articles for their publication.

Never exaggerate or hard-sell your book. Write the press release as if you are an objective reporter who found a news-worthy topic. Share an overview of the book and a general bit about the author.

Keep it clean, keep it short, and keep it sharp. Don't give a journalist the excuse to skim or, worse, pass on it.

Anatomy of a Press Release
Traditionally, a press release has a few main sections: the headline, the lead paragraph, the body, the boilerplate, and the close.

Headline: the title of your press release. This is the eye-catcher, the sparkling summary, the hook. Write it as you would a hook sentence. Inspire curiosity and an intense need to read further. You can also add a subhead, which is in smaller type below the headline. It's another sentence or two providing more information—and more hooks. They aren't always included but since this is an exercise for some of you, go the distance for extra credit. Make those hooks sharp.

Lead Paragraph: This should be informative, nothing more. This is the spot for the who-what-where-when of the press release. If you're promoting fiction, you have a little wiggle room. Make it interesting but make it tight.

Body: Use this paragraph to elaborate and support your news. Provide examples and author quotes and remember: you are still trying to sell this story to a journalist so write like one. Keep it clean of adjectives and sales pitches and puffed-up claims.

Boilerplate: otherwise known as the biographical section. Write a bio for yourself, much the same way you'd write in an agent query letter. Say good things about yourself, your accomplishments, or your relevant qualifications. Direct the audience to a website or point to other resources that might elaborate on the subject of your book. Again, keep it short (but make it sweet.)

Close: Your contact information. That way a reporter knows who to call to get his next story.

Additional Essential Elements
The press release also has two more details to include in order to maintain proper structure. I'll list the parts we already discussed and slip in the missing lines in bold face.

# # #

Release Information: generally written as "for immediate release" but can also be altered to fit your needs by writing, for instance, "for release after XXX date".

# # #: Tells the reporter this is where the printable text ends.

That's all there is to it, folks. Use this template to plug in your information and away you go. You and your book are newsworthy!

Helpful Tips
There's a few extra nuggets of wisdom to remember.
·         Use your headline as your email's subject line.
·         Keep it to one page-- 400 to 500 words is the sweet spot.
·         Write it in third person.
·         Research your target publications and tailor the release to keep it audience-specific.
·         Keep it factual. You sell yourself by giving the facts and making them interesting. No one wants fluff unless they are shopping for pillows.
·         Cast a wide net—approach newspapers, online news publications, and radio stations. Can you think of other places that might promote you by reporting about your book?

That's really all it takes to write a successful press release. It's a unique writing exercise that gives us the opportunity to create another effective marketing tool for our books. There is a world full of free press out there—and now you know how to grab some of it.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) as well as her newest release, the paranormal romance WORDS THAT BIND. Ash is also a contributing editor at the QueryTracker blog. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

3 lessons from TV

I am a writer, one on the cusp of getting his first novel published. But as I stand on the cusp, teetering back and forth like Humpty Dumpty, I feel like I need to make something happen, to do or write something that will move me into the current. Especially in the publishing industry, where upheaval is a weekly occurrence.

The question is, WHAT IS THE CORRECT PLAY My son is sitting next me as I write this, going back and forth between writing college essays and watching re-runs of The Office on his computer (you'll never guess what is winning out?) So I can't help but be inspired by Michael Scott (and yes, I do realize this is a bad idea.) WWMSD? Michael Scott would climb onto the roof to pretend he's considering jumping as a ploy to draw attention to himself, and then almost kill himself trying to pretend he's killing himself, and ultimately succeed in fulfilling his goal. But The Office is not like real life--at least I really really hope not. So I need a Plan B.

Keeping with my current theme of employing tactics I learned on TV (I can see the book now, Everything I Need to Know I Learned on Television) we turn to everybody's favorite, Scooby Doo. In this analogy, Velma, Daphne and Fred research and write The Next Great American Novel but are unable to find a literary agent to represent it, while Scooby and Shaggy jot down a few jokes on a napkin as they eat hamburgers in a diner, and then literally run into the CEO of a publishing company as they walk out onto the sidewalk, who picks up the napkin, laughs hysterically, and publishes their best-selling humor book. Ok, Plan C.

Let's go Old School, Seinfeld-style for C.  Jerry and George write a book (about nothing of course) and Elaine edits it to a state of near-perfection, but she is accosted by a gang of street midgets on the way to the publisher, and the one and only copy of the manuscript is stolen and ultimately used as raw material for a paper airplane contest. Meanwhile, Kramer trips on a popsicle stick, lands on a large stack of 1950's pin-ups someone is recycling, and makes them into a best-selling coffee-table book.

I am about out of ideas for now, so I will end here, plus I need to pick my fall raspberries

 before the birds eat them all. Please visit MY WEBSITE and leave me a Plan D (you can tell I sorely need one.) If I don't hear from you, I will have no alternative to spend my hours watching sitcom re-runs on TBS. (Please help!)

To reward you for the endurance you showed for getting through this post, here is the link to the serialized novel I am publishing on #wattpad, to great acclaim (from my mother and her Canasta group): The Intern. For those of you who have not read it, The Intern is the story of a young woman trying to keep her identity and ideals amidst the chaos of her internship at a busy inner-city hospital.

Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous), and LinkedIn (Tweets, Novels and Blogs); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


Friday, October 10, 2014

Today’s Ebola Crisis in Fiction


Arthur Kerns

Unfortunately, at times reality mirrors fiction. As the story of the Ebola crisis develops in the news, I went back to the scene in my thriller, The Riviera Contract, published in year 2013. Hayden Stone’s companion CIA case officer Sandra Harrington tells him that the terrorists intend to spread the Ebola virus throughout major US cities. You may find the following excerpt interesting if not unnerving:

Stone recalled images of the village of Mnemdo, on the border of Sudan and the Congo. Three years before. His team hadn’t needed map coordinates to find the sad collection of huts; they’d just headed toward the circling vultures. He remembered standing in the center of the village and feeling the eerie silence broken only by the scavengers arguing over the corpses scattered on the hard-baked ground. The three CIA technicians, one still barely alive, lay in a low-hanging thatched hut. Blood flowed from all their orifices: even, it seemed, from the sockets of their eyes. Before the last man died, they watched him go through mental and physical convulsions. He had pleaded for them to shoot him. Instead, they’d waited for him to die, and then burned the village and all the bodies.

“I understand it’s bad shit. No cure, right?” Sandra asked.
“So far, no. In Africa, some say it’s bad Juju. Even the scientists don’t know where it originates, only that if a person touches or eats a piece of contaminated bush meat, say a chimp, they can catch the virus.”
“What are the chances they’ll spill some of it?” Sandra said, more to herself. “Best for the French to wait for those biohazard people.”
“Handling Ebola is tricky. All research is done in a maximum biological containment setup known as Biosafety Level Four.”
She studied him. “You know a lot about it.”

“I was exposed to it, so I learned all I could.” Stone thought for a moment. “The way I see it, Hassan plans to ship the virus to the States and then spread it. God knows how. Can you imagine the number of deaths? Horrible deaths?