Using the Later App as an Author: A review

3 May

I recently took a social media hiatus while moving, but during that time, I reflected on my social media use a lot. To be honest, I felt a lot better mentally and emotionally being off social media. (Not a surprise considering all the studies that have come out talking about the effects of regular social media use.) It’s not that I don’t like social media—I’ve actually met some of my best writer friends online—but reels of bad news, good news, all kinds of news absolutely uses up a lot of time and energy. I knew coming back that I wanted to change things.

For one, I wanted more time to myself. I wanted to get back to blogging more regularly again. I wanted more energy to dream up new book ideas, not tweets or Instagram posts. 

When I took a look at my social media use, I realized that Instagram—not Twitter—actually demanded the most of my time (and for the littlest return). Taking photos, editing them, then writing captions (along with viable hashtags) was just too much to handle on a regular basis. I didn’t like what I was creating, but I didn’t want to shut it down. I just wanted to adjust how I posted. 

I thought, Wouldn’t it be great if you could schedule your Instagram posts?

That’s where the Later app stepped in. 

Later is a desktop and mobile phone app that allows you to schedule your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn posts. For the purpose of this review, I will mostly be focused on Instagram, with a sprinkling of Twitter and Facebook. 

First thing’s first:

I downloaded the app and watched a couple tutorials. 

Pros:

I got my first big hiccup when I connected my Instagram. It was a personal profile, so it wouldn’t let me schedule photos to auto-post. When I changed my Instagram to a business account, Later didn’t notice this change, and I had to reach out for help a few times. But it eventually began working. 

  • You can schedule your Instagram photos and stories to auto-post any time, any day. This cut back on a lot of my free time and allowed me to stay in the moment a lot more. I always dreaded taking photos and then sitting there trying to post while the moment passed me by. It’s nice going about my day knowing that Later is posting my photo at 11 AM while I’m at work and don’t have the ability to check. (And I don’t have to wait until my lunch break to get something out!) I definitely think this feature is my favorite part, and I believe it will keep me posting more than I was able to in the past. 
  • You can use your phone or your computer. I actually used my computer the most, which helped because I type on my laptop a lot faster than on my cell’s keyboard. I scheduled three weeks of content on one Sunday afternoon. 
  • The preview feature on Instagram is so pretty! This is probably my favorite feature. I can preview the future on my Instagram through the app to make sure that my upcoming posts look good next to each other. If they don’t, I can quickly shuffle them around until they look aesthetically pleasing. I’m not *quite* using it that way, but I’m definitely planning on using this to sharpen the look of my social media in the near future. You can see mine from last month in the screenshot below. That said, there is a negative side, which I cover below.
  • There’s a calendar where you can check your timing: This helps if you want to make sure that you’re posting at different times on different days in order to reach new audiences. 

Cons:

  • The preview feature is beautiful, but it doesn’t show you how your feed currently looks. Instead, it updates based on what you’re adding from the top, so the sequence is off. I find this extremely annoying (and odd) that this feature is set up that way, because it’s supposed to be used in a way that helps you coordinate your photos. This oddity in design is definitely one of the biggest drawbacks for me. In order to see my feed the way I like, I often schedule three posts at a time and/or add extra fillers that won’t post so I can get my feed to look the same as my feed on the phone.
  • Unless I’m missing something, you still have to edit your Instagram photos in Instagram if you want a specific filter. The Later app has different filters. I find this design really strange. It would be nice if it could offer the same filters as the app you’re posting on. 
  • It’s not the best for Facebook and Twitter. You have to use an image in order to schedule posts, so if you just want to post a sassy tweet, it’s best to continue using the Twitter scheduler. 
  • If you do schedule through the Later app to post a photo on Twitter, it shows that in the sub-text of your tweet. (My post says Later app rather than Twitter web, if I had just scheduled it through Twitter.) This isn’t really a complaint, aside from the fact your followers will know it isn’t live, which might cut down on interaction. On my end, there didn’t seem to be any difference in how it showed up in the algorithm, which is nice. 
  • You can’t upload videos unless you pay. Not a huge deal breaker for me, especially since other scheduling apps require money far earlier than this app does, but it’s worth noting.
  • You also have to upgrade in order to schedule stories.

There’s a lot more features than just these, but this is what stuck out to me as a first-time user. 

Overall, my only other complaint is that there’s no way to take notes. I really want a place where I can schedule all my social media from one place and take notes, so that I can reference that as I continue to build my schedule. I’ve used Hootsuit and other planners in the past, but so far, I just haven’t found the *one*. 

Maybe one day!

Conclusion: 

I will probably use this app for my Instagram and continue to use individual scheduling for my Twitter and Facebook page. 

Do you use a social media scheduler? What are the pros and cons? What do you recommend?

Also, if you want to follow me on Instagram, I’m @authorsat. Comment on any photo on my Instagram and let me know you found me via this article, and you’ll be entered to win a query critique! Winner chosen Friday, May 7.

~SAT

When You Don’t Write As Much As You Should

19 Apr

Recently, I didn’t write as much as I should have over a few weeks. Or should I say, I didn’t write as much as I thought I should have. 

Let me break it down. 

Every first of the month, I take a moment to look at my stats and see how much I’ve written. In March, I wrote significantly less than usual. Honestly, I barely wrote at all. But you know what I did do? 

I closed on my first home. We tore up the old flooring, painted every single room, including every closet and ceiling. (Did I mention sanding all the cottage cheese off every ceiling?) We renovated like crazy. We’re still renovating. But we’re making progress every single day. 

That said, my personal life obviously took priority over my writing life recently, which can spark imposter syndrome. When your writing life comes to a screeching halt, it’s hard not to notice everyone else’s word counts climbing and wondering if you just aren’t cut out for the writing life. I definitely had moments where I didn’t even feel like a writer anymore. There’s just so much pressure to write every day, to always be working on the next best thing. But it’s unrealistic. And it’s important to keep that in mind. 

Here’s some tips for when you find yourself in this position:

First, don’t beat yourself up. 

There’s no point in spending precious time thinking about all the things you didn’t do. Focus on what you can do. 

This can take a lot of self-awareness and correction. (At least, for me it does.) I beat myself up a lot. Too much, really. But I try to be conscious of what I’m thinking and doing. If the doubt bug starts to crawl in, I swat it away and try something new. 

Get creative:

While painting, my hands were obvious full, so writing was out of the question for me. But you could always use a tape recorder or speech-to-text software to keep going. Personally, that just felt like too much, so I decided to tackle an audiobook. I listened to The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene, which is a nonfiction book I’ve been meaning to pick up for another book idea. (It was awesome, by the way. Totally informative but also terrifying. The narrator is so dramatic in such a delicious way. If you want to learn about war strategies, I highly recommend it.) 

While listening, if I got to a point where something demanded my attention, I would stop to take off my painter’s gloves and type a few notes on my phone. I ended up finishing the book so quickly that I had time to download a “for fun” book, too. (These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is amazing. Just saying.) 

Accept the situation that you’re in and know that it will pass. (Or, if it doesn’t, trust that you will adjust.) 

Basically, as a writer, you’re not going to write every day. Maybe a whole season will pass without many words. Maybe a year. What matter is that you keep going and do your best when you are capable of chasing the dream. 

This goes to say: There is no amount you “should” be writing. There’s the amount you can write and the amount you want to write. Often, these two ideals conflict,and that confliction can cause anxiety. 

Being aware of where they collided—and how you feel—can help you side-step it and course correct. Or not. 

Maybe the amount you “should” be writing is exactly the amount you wrote today, 

~SAT

!! ANNOUNCEMENT TIME !!

I miss blogging! When I first started blogging in 2012, I blogged every other day. (Which blows my mind now.) Nowadays, I only blog once a month, but that is soon changing! 

I’m now going to blog twice a month: on the first and third Monday of every month. (And maybe a few extra days in between.)

Did I mention the giveaways? I’m planning some really fun giveaways to appear in the blog posts, so I hope you stick around. The first one will go up on Monday, May 3.

I’ll also be revisiting some of my more popular posts over the years and updating them with new tips and tricks. 

I can’t wait!  

If there’s an old post of mine that you love, please let me know. I’d love to re-tackle it!

Looking Back on my Pantser Novel

3 Apr

“Are you a pantser or a plotter?” is a common question writers hear. Why? There’s something inherently interesting about how someone turns a blank page into a 350-page novel. Sure, it’s easy to say that one word after another leads to a sentence, which eventually becomes a chapter, before those chapters build a book. But there’s so much that happens in between all that. 

Writing a novel is not a linear adventure. Even for a plotter—and take it from me who is a writer who normally has a very, very detailed outline from the start—unforeseen plot twists can throw the entire plan off. An edit letter can trigger a domino effect that tumbles your entire house of cards. Part of the fun is rebuilding your piece over and over, until you have finally found the story it was always meant to be. But this process can also drive you mad. 

Cue the time I decided to be a panster. 

I actually wrote a short blog about this a little while ago. You can catch up here: Finishing My First Pantser Novel

Basically, a few years ago, I was pretty fed up with writing and decided to tackle a “for-fun only” project to take out all my rage in. I had no plan, not even an idea of what I was doing or what my story was trying to say. But before I knew it, I had decided to pursue it seriously, and by the time I finished a first draft, the book was a mess. One that I confidently felt I could polish and fix, because—and I wish I was kidding—I took notes while pantsing. 

To be honest, I severely underestimated how much polishing it needed. I was used to fixing books that had a solid plan from the beginning, not books that were messy from so many angles even explaining it made my mind spin. With my outlined books, a list of notes absolutely helps me revise fairly quickly. With my pantser novel? It honestly became more of a mess. 

Overall, I think this is where my issue began. My issue is that I tackled editing and revising my pantster novel the same way I tackled editing a novel that I had plotted. Looking back, it’s no wonder I got stuck so many times. In fact, I actually put this book down twice—once for over six months—before I got to the point I’m at today. (Did I mention my wonderful beta readers? I had eight people total helping me revise it, including my agent. That’s a lot more than my usual 3-4.) 

To be honest, I’m still working on this book. I’m on the fifth major overhaul and in the last 100 pages. For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling good about it again. I’m excited for what it’s become and how it’s going to read from now on. 

If I could go back and redo my approach, I’d probably throw out the entire first draft and rewrite what I could recall. (I forget which author famously does this, but it is a method I have yet to try. Maybe one day!) If I had done this, I think I would’ve boiled down the substance I needed to keep (and delete) much more effectively. 

Will I pansted a novel again? 

Probably not one I will pursue seriously. Then again, that’s what I told myself last time…

Have you ever pantsed a novel or attempted outlining when you’re not used to it?

I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned along the way!

~SAT 

P.S. I am still moving! Basically, we bought a house in March, and we’ve been using the entire month to renovate. (So. Much. Paint.) I’m really excited though. We’re actually putting in the last of our flooring today, so I’ll be physically moving our belongings over soon. Hopefully by next month we’ll be all settled in. ❤  

On Hiatus!

6 Mar

If you follow me on social media, then you probably already know this, but I am on hiatus for the time being. I’ve recently become a first-time home buyer, and we’re in the process of moving. Life is just a *little* busy. I also want to live in the moment and enjoy this time before dividing my attention between blogging, writing, social, etc. But I will be back! I’m hoping to post my next writing article on the first Saturday of April, like always. 

Until then, stay healthy, keep smiling, follow the dream. 

~SAT  

How to be Flexible with Writing

6 Feb

“How do you have time to write?” is probably in the top three questions I get asked, and I always answer the same way: I don’t have time to write. I make time to write, and I remain flexible. What works one year may not work another year. But if we dive a little deeper, flexibility with your schedule is just one aspect. You should also learn how to be flexible with your writing. 

Flexibility with your writing means you can easily shift from one project to another, even when it wasn’t in the plans. 

Why is this important? 

Whether or not you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing, there’s going to be times where you’re in the middle of writing your urban fantasy and get notes back from your agent/editor/audiobook narrator that means you need to focus on your murder mystery right away. Why does this happen? Working on the next piece while subbing/publishing another one is common practice, and it’s inevitable these two pieces will collide on your calendar. 

Woman in yoga pose
A quick yoga break helps me, too!

Learning how to pivot from one WIP to another with ease will help you be more productive (and hopefully make the process less stressful and more fun). 

Just last year, I was writing an adult fantasy while getting beta reader notes back on my adult science fiction and waiting for the go-to signal from my agent to revise a totally different adult science fiction piece. I’m constantly hopping from one project to the other. It’s been difficult at times, but I’ve certainly learned some tricks that make it easier. 

Here’s some quick ways to help with flexibility:

– Pinterest mood board: quickly scrolling through my inspiration reminds me why I love it and what the tone is. 

– Playlist: Even if you don’t listen to music while writing, try to make a playlist that you associate with your WIP. Maybe you use it when you’re brainstorming. Maybe you only listen to it as you sit down at your computer. Even better if they have totally different sounds. Five minutes of sensory encouragement can make all the difference! 

– Speaking of sensory help: Candles! I am in love with candles. I always have a candle on my desk. It’s my splurge. I actually use two different ones right now depending on the book I’m writing (and they’re both almost out!) Weird way to see how much time I spend on a book, but it certainly helps set the mood. I have a campfire one for my book that takes place in autumn and a fresh one for the project that takes place in winter. It’s calming and energizing. 

 

– Make a plan before you pivot: This is probably the biggest tip that has helped me. Before I leap out of a project to tackle another one, I open a new document and summarize everything I’m thinking/feeling/planning for the next scene. In fact, it’s almost so detailed that I only need to fill in a couple lines of prose to write a whole new chapter. It helps me feel more comfortable when I come back (and confident right away)! 

Finally, setting boundaries and expectations is important!

Right now, I’m in a monsters in space revision (the fifth revision)! I finally hit a spot where I know things are going to get difficult, so I stopped. It was an excellent place to take a break, clear my head, and work on something else. I’m now jumping back into the first draft of my monster murder mystery academia book. Two totally different tones and settings. The genres aren’t even the same. But I know that I stopped right before my midpoint chapter, and I left myself a ton of notes so that jumping into that scene will be as easy as cutting butter. When I get back to my monsters in space revision, an outline of all the major changes I want to make is waiting for me. 

Granted, any day I could get notes back from someone and have to pivot again, but I am ready. I know where and how to make clean breaks, and I’m comfortable with returning whenever I can. 

I hope these tips help you, too!

~SAT

P.S. I’ve added a new page for book clubs & teachers! It includes fun questions to lead a book discussion about Minute Before Sunset, book 1 of the Timely Death trilogy. There’s also a fabulous lemon bar recipe, in honor of Mindy Welborn who constantly bakes these throughout the series. If you’d like me to stop by your book club or classroom virtually, be sure to use my contact page! I’m happy to if my schedule allows.

Writing Method: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

2 Jan

With the New Year upon us—HALLELUJAH—I know many of you are gearing up to tackle your 2021 goals. Whether that’s to finally finish that WIP you’ve been working on or to start writing a novel for the first time, I thought I’d share a new writing method I’ve been using to crank out more words than I have in a long time. 

It’s what I call the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.

You might be able to guess what I do just by the title, but a little background first. 

I’m constantly trying to find ways to better my writing. I read craft books. I study writing tips. I play with new tenses, POVS, age categories, and genres. I love to challenge myself. But sometimes I can get caught up in all the writing advice and lose sight of my own knowledge, specifically my gut instinct. 

One example is my writing output. 

Three years ago, I used to revise while I was writing, but then a writer friend of mine talked about how they finished first drafts so much faster if they just kept going. I took a hard look at my own productivity and realized I could benefit from the same method. I’d work on the same section for weeks—only to completely cut it by the third or fourth draft. What a waste of time, right??? 

Wrong. 

Despite finishing my first draft so much faster when I ignored revisions on the first go-around, I got stuck pretty quickly. In fact, I printed it out, readied myself to revise it into a second draft, and completely froze. Despite keeping an organized list of revision notes while I was writing, I was immediately lost. I forgot what certain notes meant. Some notes canceled out other notes. I couldn’t find notes I swore I took down. I didn’t know where to begin or even if any of it made sense anymore.

Cue the panic. 

Once I put my Imposter Syndrome aside, I realized that I wasn’t so organized, after all. (And admittedly, that book is still not where I want it to be.) That said, I’m really glad I tried the no-revising method. It helped me face the fact that I would get too caught up in perfectionism in a first draft and, regardless of how I felt about not revising while writing, that part of me had to change. I didn’t want to fall back into the pits of perfectionism. I knew I had to find a balance.   

End of story: Not revising at all while drafting wasn’t working for me, but neither was revising whenever I felt like it.   

I needed to find my rhythm again—a new one that worked for me that embraced all I had learned from my recent experiences. 

So, on my next WIP, I tried an experiment, and I found a happy medium that became the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.  

Basically, I let myself write 2-4 chapters at a time. Then I stop and reevaluate what I created. Did all go according to plan? If it didn’t, why not? What did I learn? What was unexpected? How does that change where we’re going? 

If I spot something in that window that I realize I want to adjust, I allow myself to go back, but only if it’s in that 2-4-chapter window. Anything outside that window I jot down for my first major overhaul. 

What I’m left with is a piece I’m feeling more proud of and less notes for future me. It was a little less confusing for my beta readers. (Yes, I share my first drafts with betas, but that’s another story for another day.) 

I truly enjoyed creating it, and I think I’ll stick to this method for a while. 

Who knows? Maybe you’ll love it, too! Maybe you won’t. 

Either way, don’t lose sight of what works for you and your book. It might change from project to project, or youmight change from project to project. What’s important is that you’re learning and enjoying the process.  

You can always find that happy medium. 

~SAT 

P.S. I’m teaching Starting a Writing Project for The Story Center at MCPL on Wednesday, January 13 at 6:30 PM (CT). The event is virtual, completely free, and open to anyone in the world. I’d love to see you there! 

2020: The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?)

19 Dec

Every year I like to reflect and talk about expectations, goal-setting, writing life, changing trends, etc., and as strange as this past year has been, I still want to keep that tradition going. That said, looking back, January feels like it happened three years ago, not eleven months. In fact, right at the beginning of 2020, I taught my first writing course—Starting a Writing Project—and over 40 people attended. I was super proud. Still am! But seeing photos of everyone crowded into one room has me reeling now. 

That’s why I decided to name 2020 the strangest writing year. Not only because it was absolutely bonkers (and still is), but because current events have also shifted our way of thinking about other times. They’ve also affected us emotionally, physically, and spiritually, too. For me, spiritually has more to do with energy levels. You know, keeping your hopes up. Holding onto focus. Maintaining a level of discipline and using your energy to keep on keeping on. 

That was hard this year. But I’m choosing to focus on the positive.

When we went into lockdown in March, I thought Kansas City would be back to normal by June, August at the latest. Well… I’m still working from home, and I barely leave my home office. Sharing my workspace with my writing space has certainly taken a dent on my productivity, but going virtual hasn’t been all bad. In fact, my virtual world is pretty neat. I attended WriteOnCon, the Kansas City Writing Workshop, and YALLFest online. I also taught my first writing class online for Woodneath Writers. More regularly, I attended virtual write-ins with friends in California and Canada! I also continued to see my two local writers’ groups every month via ZOOM. 

my life pre-lockdown teaching to a crowded room vs. my life after lockdown at virtual write-ins

In my spare time, I also wrote an article for my local SCBWI scribbles newsletter, and later that year, I was the local author feature. Even more mind-blowing? I was chosen as a co-mentor in Pitch Wars with long-time CP and friend, Sandra Proudman. Only three years ago, I was submitting to Pitch Wars as a hopeful mentee, so being able to give back to that is so much fun. (Fun fact: Sandra and I actually met because of Pitch Wars.)  

At work, I was awarded Maggie Jackson Community Spirit Award for helping The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library go virtual. It’s the first time I’ve been awarded anything. It was a true honor. I’m so proud of everything my team and I were able to do for The Story Center and our customers during the lockdowns. In fact, I recently got to watch 21 of my students complete the Storytelling Certificate Program (which is currently free, virtual, and open to anyone in the world). What a way to celebrate all their hard work!

In personal news, I got engaged! My partner and I have been together for almost nine years now, so this is an exciting step for us. We’ve been house hunting, too, which is fun and new to us. I also became student debt free this year, which, if you remember my post from last year, I never thought I’d get to see that day. I am so relieved. And happy. (And absolutely still rooting for student loan forgiveness! It’s such a predatory system, and I hope others get forgiven soon.) 

In publishing news, I went out on sub with my agent, and I’m soon to go back out on sub in the new year. 

Over this past year, I sent my first-ever adult science fiction novel to my agent and started an adult fantasy novel. Since then, I’ve completed one major overhaul of my adult science fiction book and I’m currently working on revising it some more. I also revised a totally other book, too (which is what we’re going out on sub with)! In regard to my adult fantasy book, I’m currently 40,000 words in. I also played around with four new ideas and even received some feedback from an editor through SCBWI on my first middle grade verse novel!

That said, this environment definitely took a toll. I used to write about 10,000 words a week pretty consistently, and that did not happen for me this year. Between adjusting my day job and just life in general, my overall productivity was down, but I’m pretty happy with what I managed to cover this year. (Also a little sad I didn’t complete anything brand-new, but I did what I could.) 

I have no idea what 2021 will hold. Then again, I never know what the next year will bring. 

Maybe 2021 will be stranger. Maybe good-strange. Maybe not. 

All I can do is keep writing, keep trying, keep dreaming.

My only goal? To do the best that I can!

Here’s to 2021,

~SAT

If you’re interested, here’s my previous years:

My Favorite Books of 2020

5 Dec

At the end of every year I like to blog about my favorite reads—the books I couldn’t put down, the books that shocked me, the books that will stay with me forever—and this year is no different. I’m going to be talking about my 2020 favs. If you’re interested in my previous years, here’s 2019, 2018, 2017. To add a little clarity, these are books that I read in 2020, not necessarily books that released in 2020. You can see the full list of books that I’ve read this year on Goodreads.

This year, I read a total of 96 books (though I admit I’m still adding to it)! It’s kind of funny actually. Last year, I remarked that it was the year of the audiobook, because I listened to a lot of them while driving for my day job. Well, that came to a screeching halt this year. I’ve been working from home since March, so I haven’t listened to many audiobooks this year. Instead, I spent a lot of time reading Webtoons and re-reading old favorites. I guess you could say it was the year of nostalgia for me. But there was still plenty of new reads, too! Out of all the new reads I came across, these were my favorites. 

Favorite series:

The Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black

I was way behind on this trend and picked up this trilogy for the first time this year. It’s also my audiobook exception. I listened to all three during my commute to work before the pandemic sent me home, and I gotta say that I devoured these. I started taking the long route just to listen to more (or sitting in my driveway after getting home from work just to listen to the next scene). The audiobooks are fantastic. I, like many YA readers, loved this trilogy from beginning to end. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found Jude so easy to cheer on. Cardan had to grow on me (but that’s the point!), and the magic was super fun. The second book was probably my favorite. But in the end, I am convinced that Holly Black is the queen of fae. 

Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy

Sci-Fi: Skyhunter by Marie Lu: I’m a huge fun of Marie Lu, so I’m always looking forward to her latest. This book is wild, and I especially loved the first half. It was really imaginative, from hints of our world as a lost-past, to vampire-zombie-like beasts that are attacking everyone, my heart was pounding. I knew I’d love it from the opening pages alone.  

Dystopian: All These Monsters by Amy Tintera. I picked this up on a whim when I saw it while scanning the library catalog. If you loved 2009 dystopian books, this is the perfect read. It has all those elements that you used to love, plus some. Clara, the main character, is really easy to root for, and I think the second book will be even more explosive! 

Fantasy: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: If you want to sink into prose like it’s a warm, rose-petal bath after a long, terrible day, then this book is for you. I definitely think it’s among Schwab’s strongest work. It’s slow, but in a delicious way. So if you need constant action, it might not be for you. But if you want an emotional discovery of what happens when a woman wishes for independency from a god of the night, then pick this up immediately. You will not be disappointed. 

Favorite Contemporaries

Favorite Thriller: They Never Learn by Layne Fargo. I’m starting this off with a trigger warning: TW: sexual assault, especially to do with college campuses. This book was hard to read, but oh so worth it. It deals heavily with themes of sexual assault, especially in regard to what is happening on college campuses. That said, it’s about a professor who is taking matters into her own hands and killing men who have done horrible things but weren’t punished. It’s a brutal, raw book, and I couldn’t put it down. But the trigger warning should not be taken lightly. Take care of yourself while reading, and be careful when recommending it to others please!

Contemporary: Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan. (It’s also a movie now!) I read this at the very, very beginning of 2020, but it has stayed with me! It starts off in Missouri, which is where I currently live. At the time of publication, a minor could only get an abortion with a parent’s consent form. Since then, Missouri has shut down all abortion clinics. So this book was really timely. It follows the story of a girl who wants an abortion in Missouri, but can’t get one, until an old friend offers to help drive her to New Mexico. An insane road trip happens, and you have a really great story about friendship and family, while tackling some important issues. 

Verse: The Truth Project by Dante Medema: This book is written in verse and follows a girl who takes a genealogy test only to learn that she is the result of an affair—one her father and siblings don’t know about. It’s a powerful story and such a quick read. Definitely recommended. 

Favorite Fun Categories

Favorite debut: Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen: Ever is sent away on what is supposed to be an educational Taiwan trip over the summer, but it turns out to be a place where usually strict parents look the other way. For the first time in her life, Ever has lots of room for rebellion, parties, and boys. I won’t lie, I am Team Xavier, and I really hope we get to see more of him in the sequel. This book is so much fun. 

Favorite What-is-happening-right-now: Horrid by Katrina Leno: This was my favorite horror read. I picked it up over Halloween and read it in one sitting. It’s such a quick read, and it slowly immerses you in the uncomfortable until you are stuck flipping pages, gapping. It’s so good, and the ending—CHILLS.

That book I should’ve read forever ago, but finally got to it: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson: This book is also that book. You know, the one I should’ve read forever ago, but somehow just read this year and totally loved. It sat on my TBR pile forever, and now I have no idea why. Goes to show you that sometimes you can find those favorite reads in those unread books piling up on your nightstand. If you love magical prose and books that are magic, then this book is for you. It’s one of my favs. 

Biggest surprise: 

Creatures by Chrissy Van Meter: I think I heard about this book through Shelf Awareness, a library newsletter, but don’t quote me on that. I just remember seeing the cover, stopping, and reading the description, then needing to read it. Friendly warning, you will feel like you are drowning while reading this book—which is the whole point. Talk about atmosphere. It is done with terrifying perfection in this novel, and that alone makes me recommend it to everyone I know. The content is really focused on family sins and how generational trauma is passed on from one person to another, but you will feel like you’ve lived in a coastal lobster village after putting it down. SO. GOOD.

Webtoons

I needed to make an entire section dedicated to Webtoons this year, because I read so many of them and loved them even more. If you haven’t yet checked them out, I highly recommend doing so. In case you missed it, I also wrote a small article: What Novelists Can Learn From Webtoons. That said, my top three are:

Thriller/Mystery: The Purple Hyacinth, which follows a cop who teams up with a serial killer’s henchman to catch the ultimate crime boss, a person who caused an act of terror ten years prior. Did I mention the cop can tell when someone is lying? Also, this Webtoon has the best soundtrack ever. 

Fantasy: Siren’s Lament: A young adult fantasy romance that really focuses on grief, loss, family, and friendship after Lyra, who’s broken hearted falls into the sea and is kissed by a merman. The exchange is supposed to turn him back into a human and her into a mermaid, but instead they both get stuck in-between. Now the mystery must be solved before Lyra turns into a full mermaid and loses her memories—and her chance at love.  

Sci-Fi: In the bleak midwinter: A sci-fi for all terminator fans. Really, though, I’m not even the biggest fan of the terminator, but I LOVE this webtoon. It starts in the present day, but quickly devolves into the future, where Anya finds herself immortalized against her will, and the world as she knows it is gone, robots hunting down humans. Did I mention that she has a soulmate timer? (A timer that goes off when you meet your soulmate??? AND it goes off when she meets one of the killer robots.) Dun. Dun. Dun.   

Ultimate favorite:

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: I read this front to back without stopping, which was a big deal in 2020. I had a really hard time getting into books this year, I won’t lie. Not because I don’t love reading, but because this year was so damn hard. THIS book made me forget everything, and that is why it gets my favorite slot. It follows Avery, who inherits a lot of money from a total stranger, but there’s one rule: She must live in the mansion for one year, and the mansion includes the billionaire’s four grandsons—not to mention dozens of head-twisting puzzles that Avery must solve in order to understand why she inherited his wealth. It’s full of mystery, family secrets, a true tragedy, and a little bit of falling in love. I cannot wait for book two. 

I hope you found some books you might check out! I would also love to hear about your favorites. I’m always looking for recs. 

Who knows? Maybe one of your recs will be on my favorites list next year. 😉 

Happy reading!

~SAT

Behind the Scenes of Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

14 Nov

Behind the Scenes at Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

In case you missed it, Team Snickersnee announced our 2020 mentee for Pitch Wars! (But more on that below.) Since announcement day has come and gone, I thought it would be fun to give everyone a behind-the-scenes peek at what went down with Team Snickersnee. 

We asked for anything under the science fiction or fantasy sun, including young adult and new adult (if willing to age down to young adult). You can reference our original wishlist by clicking here.  

Here are our stats: 133 submissions 

Sci-Fi: 

  • Space Opera: 4
  • Near Future: 2
  • Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic: 11
  • Cyberpunk: 2
  • Steampunk: 1
  • Soft: 15
  • Military: 1
  • Science-Fantasy: 2
  • Time-Travel: 2
  • Other: 3

Fantasy: 

  • High/Epic: 21
  • Urban/Contemporary: 19
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism: 5
  • Historical: 2
  • Portal: 11
  • Paranormal: 1
  • Other: 22

Horror: 4

Thriller/Suspense: 2

Contemporary: 2

Adventure: 1

Top three trends we saw: 

  1. Elemental powers
  2. Zodiac 
  3. Witches 

We definitely had a blast reading everyone’s words! In fact, we put more than half of our submissions in the “maybe” pile. It was really hard to dwindle down to just one person. 

So how did we break it down? 

As a team, Sandra and I split the submissions in half. She read the first half, and I read the second half. We took notes on the ones we loved, and then we sent each other the list so that the other person could take a look at the submissions, too. We made it a goal to choose 5 manuscripts to request. We then read the first 50 pages of each and discussed again. (We even requested two more fulls!) We messaged each other a lot, discussing various aspects of the manuscripts, possible edit letters, etc.—until we felt that we had found the manuscript. Our final decision happened over an hour-long ZOOM call. Ultimately, while we loved so many manuscripts, we had to factor in how much work the manuscript needed in the time allotted, if our vision aligned with the author’s, and if we were the right mentors for this particular mentee.   

It was a hard choice!

There was so much incredible talent, and we definitely would’ve taken on more mentees if we could have. If you submitted to us, thank you for trusting us with your words! We truly enjoyed reading our submissions. 

Now for a fun Q&A: 

What was your biggest surprise reading through submissions this year?

Shannon: This was my first time being a Pitch Wars mentor. Going in, I thought the writing itself would be the ultimate factor in choosing which manuscripts to read more of, but honestly, all the writing was so good! I relied on the synopsis a lot more than I thought I would. It showed me how the story unfolded and if I felt like there were structural issues we could help with or not. I was definitely looking for someone we could mentor. If someone’s package was 120% perfect, I moved on. Some writers are definitely ready to query without a mentorship!

Sandra: This was my second year mentoring, and what was surprising was how different the submissions were this year from last year! I loved getting to read a whole new batch of stories from writers who might not have subbed to me last year. I was also just in awe of the quality of work submitted; there is so much talent in the world right now. There’s not one entry that I read that I didn’t think the writer would find representation, whether with the manuscript submitted or with another.

Any writing tips for those who submitted?

Shannon: Use beat sheets (like this one on Jami Gold’s website) and swap with critique partners. Most importantly, make sure each scene is driving your story forward, and that your protagonist has agency. (They should be happening to the story, not the other way around.) A common mistake I saw is a scene where we meet the protagonist’s best friend or family, and that’s it. See if you can combine your meeting scene with an actionable scene. (Ex. Could the best friend be introduced while the protagonist is dealing with an unexpected issue?) If you have any scenes that feel like your protagonist’s “regular” day, it should probably be changed or cut.

Sandra: To Shannon’s point, knowing your character’s arc is in my opinion the most important part of any story. Who is your character at the beginning and who do you want them to be by the end of the manuscript? And what turning points will help you get them there. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, or somewhere in between, knowing the turning points you want to hit is so important to keeping the pacing and character arc’s moving forward. And hitting them at the right places. One of the things I love doing with my work is deciding the word count I want to hit before I start to write. So if I want to write an 80K manuscript, I know I need to hit that first turning point at 25% of the book, so at 20K, and my midpoint at 40K. Aside from that, to just keep writing and reading! I didn’t land my agent till my third queried manuscript, so perseverance is key and learning what you can from other writers and published works.

Publishing tips?

Shannon: Watch your word counts. There was a surprising amount of manuscripts that were 100k and higher, which is a really hard sell to an agent or editor for a debut. Make sure that your manuscript is in line with the expectations of your age category and genre. If you’re struggling to cut, ask a beta reader to help. Consider combining characters or scenes. Don’t be afraid to take a break from your story and come back at a later date to analyze what is truly, absolutely 100% necessary. In regards to querying, I highly recommend Query Shark and Query Tracker

Sandra: Totally agree with Shannon on word counts! I’ve seen some agents and editors talk about this on Twitter lately as well!

It’s also interesting seeing trends as well and what ideas seem to spread like wildfire and become popular. This is also really hard to see because it means the market is saturated in these stories, and you’re likely competing for an agent’s attention who has already received several stories with the same general idea. One of my biggest publishing tips and something I’m working hard to do myself, is how to take a common idea and have a twist to it. So if your book is about vampires, how can you freshen up a trope that an agent has seen often? Same if your story has elemental magic. Can you do something in your manuscript that sets the story apart so there’s a good spin in the query you’re sending out? Just making sure that your story is as unique as you can make it, and that you’re showing off what makes it unique to the fullest! Genre-bending is also very popular and a great way to freshen up tropes!

What are we most excited about?

Working with our mentee, Miranda Sun! She wrote an amazing heartfelt #ownvoices YA contemporary fantasy filled with magic forests, generational secrets, and humor! Did we mention the slow-burn hate-to-love romance with a ghost? Give her a follow on Twitter and stay tuned! (Fun fact: Miranda’s submission was #31!) 

~SAT

Tips for Writing Spooky

31 Oct

Happy Halloween! 

I don’t know about you, but Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. In fact, one time my father snuck into my car while I was at school and filled it with Halloween balloons, chocolates, and a pumpkin-shaped candle burner. (I know. He’s the greatest. Though I admit, I didn’t know who did it at first…and that was unsettling. He kind of tricked me at the same time as giving me a treat! Ha!) I think about that Halloween all the time. There’s just something about the fall weather, the darkening days, the cider, the costumes. ::happy sigh:: Obviously, I’ve always loved the spooky, and that includes writing and reading it. In fact, I recently finished reading HORRID by Katrina Leno, and I absolutely loved it and recommend it 100%, but I thought I’d talk a little bit about writing spooky, too. 

First step is first: 

Ask yourself what scares you. 

The dark, the gremlins, the undistinguishable sounds at night—and what caused them. Just sit at your desk and brainstorm all the things that scare you, including everything that used to scare you. It doesn’t matter if you’re over it now. If you can remember that unsettling feeling you’d get in your gut, jot it down and be prepared to use it in your work.  

Now ask yourself what scares you but not other people.

This is an essential step. Why? Because it will help shape your world, your characters, and your story. It will also make it stand out from other spooky stories. I mean, everyone knows the dark scares a lot of people, but what about mascots? (Seriously, I’m very unsettled by mascots. Always have been, always will be.) If you can make your reader feel fear for something they hadn’t considered before, it will be all the more terrifying.

When I jot down “mascots,” I immediately think of a high school murder mystery, where my main character feels like they’re getting stalked at a football game but can’t see anyone following them. When the mascot comes up to her, she doesn’t think anything of it. But then later that night, someone says the costume was stolen. So who was in that costume? NO ONE KNOWS. Eek! (Even worse, if the person who was supposed to be wearing the costume is also found dead. Up those stakes, people!) 

Ask yourself why it scares you. 

Using my example above, when I ask myself why mascots scare me, it’s because I don’t know who is underneath the mask. I don’t know who is standing in front of me. It’s actually a pretty common fear if you think about it. In fact, most of your “uncommon” fears will have common enough reasons behind them, but tapping into that will help you as a writer shape your story and scare your reader. Ex/ The reason mascots aren’t a common fear is because we have an expectation for when they will appear: at games. But if someone unexpected is wearing the costume or you saw one randomly in an alleyway, you’d be a little unsettled, right? 

Taking something and putting it where it doesn’t belong can be spooky in itself. 

People are creatures of habit. We have expectations, rules, understandings. By breaking them, you will bother your reader. Ex. The dark is scary. It’s even scarier when it isn’t supposed to be dark outside and then it suddenly is.

Play around with all these elements and have fun. Once you’ve made decisions, consider your pacing and word choice. 

Personally, I tackle this on a second round of writing, but your pacing and word choice is going to make a HUGE difference when it comes to creating a creepy atmosphere. It can be a delicate balance and not always what you expect going in. For instance, sometimes describing something scary as beautiful could actually be unnerving (think, vampires), but other times, that sort of description could take away (or even confuse) your reader. 

I recommend going with your gut, but always get the opinion of a trusted beta reader. Don’t tell them your intentions going in. Just ask them how they felt as they read the scene. If they describe it as “lovely” when you were going for “unsettling” then you need to rework. 

Here’s to getting spooky! 

~SAT

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