Writing Tips

Writing (And Working) While Pregnant: First Trimester 

You may or may not have seen my social media recently, but for those of you who didn’t, well, I have some news to share. 

I’m pregnant!

I’m currently 24 weeks, but I wrote most of this blog post during the first trimester when I wasn’t yet comfortable sharing my status. (I still wanted to blog about it, though!) I figure I can do a three-part series, one post for every trimester, and will inevitably post about being a working-writing mom in the future, too. 

Oh, cue the baby anxiety (and excitement). 

This is my first pregnancy, so everything is very new to me. The first side effect that affected my writing was the brain fog. I had absolutely no clue that it starts so early. I had brain fog before I even knew I was pregnant. (I suppose I should’ve side-eyed that lazy Saturday more suspiciously.) Strangely, though, it came with some perks. 

First trimester pregnancy brain fog brought me a lot of peace. My usually high-strung, ever-plotting/dreaming brain became a rolling tide of sleep, lazy days on the couch, and playing with my cats. Where I’d usually feel bad for laying around all Saturday afternoon, I quite enjoyed it. I slept better than ever before, too, which was weird. And holy dreams. So many vivid dreams. I’ve always used my dreams as inspiration for my books, but that’s because my dreams are typically mind-blowing adventures. Pregnancy dreams? Not so much. They happen in abundance and are completely nonsensical. So, I guess it’s a no on inspiration. 

No writing or inspiration? Surely I can use that energy for something else. 

Oh, wait. The fatigue. 

I was lucky enough to avoid morning sickness until week 9, which was nice. But I still didn’t have much energy for anything other than work and taking care of my cats. 

I have literally never had an issue creating like I did in my first trimester. The brain fog was unreal. No matter how often I sat at my desk or how long I stared at my computer, I just sort of zoned out. I tried everything: creating something new, working on an old favorite, revising one of my novels that’s 90% the way there. But I just couldn’t.

Getting through work was enough of an accomplishment to be honest. 

All that being said, I work full time. Working full time while pregnant is a lot, let alone using up any additional time to create. I’m not pushing myself super hard.

I also heard that a lot of the energy comes back in the second trimester, so we’ll see how that goes in that blog post. 😉 

I’m definitely having some anxiety about how writing will fit into my working-mom life, but hey, many people have done it before, and I have no doubt I’ll keep pursuing the dream as much as I can. 

I won’t lie, though. I’m already looking at my WIPs differently. Which ones can I finish before the baby is due? Which ones will require less energy/research/strain?

I decided to stick with my haunted YA instead of my adult fantasy or historical fantasy. 

I started my writing career by writing paranormal romance. It’s always been my happy place. Why not stay there for the time being? 

My kid is due in late Sept-early October, so it’ll be spooky season all around. 

~SAT

P.S. I have two upcoming events!

On Thursday, June 9, I’ll be teaching How to Write a Series at the Midwest Romance Writers meetup in Lenexa, Kansas. If you’re interested in attending, contact them here.

On Monday, June 13, I am teaching Starting a Writing Project via ZOOM for The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library. This program is free, virtual, and open to anyone in the world. Dive deep into creative inspiration, and learn tricks to prevent writer’s block. Then discover tools to help you set realistic goals and stay on track. Come prepared to put pen to paper. More information and registration here.

Publishing Advice

Researching Literary Agents in 2022

As promised in my last post – Writing a Great One-Line Pitch for Your 2022 Query LetterI wanted to talk about researching literary agents in 2022. Granted, I am going to start with the caveat that I only have experience querying kidlit books. More specifically YA/MG, contemporary and fantasy. So that’s where this post will lean. 

That said…

Let’s start by talking about Query Tracker. Why? Because it’s a godsend. Not only is it free to use–unless you want to pay an annual fee of $25 for the premium version (which I recommend)–it’s also a fantastic research tool for querying writers (and a super easy way to stay organized). I cannot emphasize this enough: I love Query Tracker. Not only can you look up agents by genre and age category, you can also track your letters, see agent response times, read comments from other querying writers, and put agents on a to-query/not-to-query list. But there’s even more tools than that! Did you know you can look up the representation of specific authors? It’s called the Who Reps Whom page. This is a fantastic tool if you are looking at comp titles and the author doesn’t list their agent on their website or social media profiles. Granted, it’s my understanding that this page is showing who currently represents the author, not necessary who sold their books, so if you have a specific book you’re looking at as a comparison title, it might be a good idea to look up that particular sale or look in the acknowledgements page to see if the author mentioned that agent. 

Query Tracker also shows response/request rates, which I think can help you decide who to submit to (particularly at agencies where a “no from one means a no from all.”) It’s also really easy to see if the agent is even open to queries before you dive deep into researching. (There’s nothing more frustrating than spending thirty minutes researching an agent only to find out they’re closed when you finally go to submit.) So many agents/agencies are closed right now! I cannot tell you how much time you’ll save by checking Query Tracker first. 

Other than Query Tracker, I recommend subscribing to Publishers Weekly’s free newsletters. If you know you are about to query a kidlit book, for instance, I highly encourage you to subscribe to Children’s Bookshelf. While writing my novel, I used it to track recent sales and get a feel for how those pitches are worded. (Also, while you’re taking some time to jot down which agents are selling, take note of which editors are buying similar books, too. That may help you suggest some editors you’d love to work with to your future agent!) If you see an agent or agency you’re not familiar with, now’s the time to pop on over to Google and figure it out. There’s a lot more agencies out there than meets the eye. In fact, the trickiest part of researching agents in 2022 is the amount of new agencies and agents on the market. There are a lot of brand-new agents and agencies that are super legit. (Mostly agents who left agencies to form their own or editors who left editing to agent.) That said, there’s also lots of agents/agencies that are…not so legit. When it doubt, check in your writer friends and Writer Beware. Regardless, researching sales is going to be important. Granted, no sales from a new agent isn’t necessarily a red flag, nor is a new agent in general a red flag. (You gotta start somewhere, right?) Just do your due diligence and make sure the agency has a strong foundation and the new agents have good mentorship opportunities. 

The #1 way to check sales is a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. Granted, it’s just too expensive for many folks. That said, if you can afford PM, I’d encourage it. Or, if you have a friend group, pool your money together for one person to be your reference librarian. Also, it never hurts to try to look up the agent on there regardless of your subscription status. Many agencies/agents have pages that are open to the public for free. 

Another fan favorite is MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist), where agents post their dream wishlist items. That said, the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter has gone to hell in a handbasket with spammers and disgruntled trolls, so I don’t recommend it anymore (unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time muting.) I do, however, recommend the main website, with one caveat: Keep in mind that these are dream wishlist items, not necessarily everything that agent represents, so I suggest using it more as a reference tool. Same with the agents’ personal website. (Not to be mistaken with the agencies’ websites.) Double check both of those for special wishlist items, interviews, or other insight that may be relevant, such as their Goodreads reading list. 

If you can attend in-person or virtual conferences/webinars where agents are speaking, great! This is particularly helpful with agents who are closed. (Sometimes they give special permission to those in attendance to query them.) But again, don’t feel obligated to spend tons of money during your querying journey. I did that a few years back, and it was one of my biggest regrets. And the time I did end up with an agent? I didn’t spend one cent.

I personally love Lit Rambles’s agent interviews. They give really good insight, not only into what the agent is currently looking for, but what kind of agent they are (editorial, hands-off, etc.) This is SO important and yet the information is so rarely shared at the querying stage. (Agents, if you’re reading this, I wish y’all would include this information on your submission page. Just the basics: editorial/not, preferred method of communication, etc.) 

Other than that, I recommend creating a private list on Twitter with the agents you are planning or thinking about querying. Why? Because agents often announce when they are going to open/close to queries, and it’s good to keep an eye on that in one place so you don’t miss out on an opportunity. Also, while you’re on Twitter, take note of agents that request books from pitch parties (or any competition, really) that sound similar to yours. Chances are they’re a good fit for your work, too! 

These places and resources might seem very similar to those that were available a few years ago, but many of them have changed in significant ways. MSWL, for instance, has a much more in-depth search engine than it used to (with instructions on how to use it). I personally believe Query Tracker is a lot more accurate than it used to be. And there’s so many more virtual conferences/webinar opportunities. 

At the end of the day, research is key. But also, don’t spend too much time researching. At some point, you gotta hit SEND. 

Try to do that this week. 

Pick three agents to do a deep dive on, and query one by Friday night. 

I believe in you! 

~SAT

Boo Boo the cat

P.S. For my regular subscribers, some sad news: My cat Boo Boo passed away on Monday, May 9. He lived 22 years. We were super lucky to have him in our lives, and I am still missing him like crazy. You may recognize him as the face of my newsletter on the righthand side of my website. I’ve also put one of my old favorites right here. I’m keeping him as the face of my newsletter for now (and for the foreseeable future). It’s nice to still have him in some places, even if only virtually. Hug your pets tight. ❤

Publishing Advice

Writing a Great One-Line Pitch for Your 2022 Query Letter

Last month, my post—The Difference Between Querying in 2019 and 2022, and Why Your Well-Intentioned Advice May Be Doing More Harm Than Good.—got some attention on writing/publishing Twitter, and I received a lot of great questions. The top two that stood out?

  1. How do you write a fantastic one-line pitch? 
  2. Where do you recommend I research agents right now?

I wanted to tackle writing a one-line pitch first, and then talk about research strategies during my next post on May 23. (For those of you who are new here, I post writing/publishing tips every first and third Monday of the month.) 

So let’s talk about the one-line pitch! 

In my opinion, a great one-line pitch covers your whole book. It’ll highlight character, the stakes, the world, everything–all in one sentence. The shorter, the better. Below I’ve included a logline template that has helped me in the past. 

I encourage you to try this exercise out right now. Take each color/subject, make a list, and shift the order around until you get three pitches you love. Once you have that, send them to beta readers and get their opinions on it. (Don’t tell them which one you love the most. Simply ask them which one caught their eye and why.) Use that information to either revise or choose. 

Another way to write pitches is by looking at pitches. Search through Netflix and see how they summarize each show in one sentence to really grab the viewers’ attention. Even better if you can find some shows that are similar to your book. (Don’t forget, folks, you can always use movies/TV shows as comparison titles, too–though I recommend having at least one recently released book comp.) That said, I like to look at deal announcements. Those often summarize the book in one hooky sentence that is designed to entice readers. (In fact, I based my most recent pitch off of similar deal announcements in the Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf newsletter.)

Honestly, there are pitches all over the internet. From Query Shark to participating in pitch parties on Twitter, you’re going to see hundreds and hundreds of pitches. So how can you make sure your pitch is standing out? First and foremost, you should be studying others’ pitches as much as you can. You should also practice writing them. (Sometimes it’s easier to write a pitch for something you didn’t create, like a favorite show you’re currently watching. That way, the pressure is off your shoulders, and you can focus on the how is this working, not the how is this going to do on sub.) While you’re studying pitches, ask yourself why a certain pitch worked. What caught your eye? What made you sit up in your seat? One of the best posts I’ve seen on writing pitches was by literary agent Ali Herring: The Art of the Quick Pitch. Why do I love this post? Because she shares her clients’ pitches. It’s such a rare gem for agents to share such information, and it’s worth taking a couple minutes to look through. 

Once you have a one-line pitch, take a look at your query. 

Pitches should go at the top. This is for easy access. Agents are slammed right now. I doubt they have time to read every sentence of every query letter they get. Though I’m sure there are agents who do, I like to err on the side of caution and make sure they are getting the best information upfront. I personally like to include my metadata as well. This means I’m defining my age category, genre, word count, and (possibly) my comps. (More likely my comps will come right after the pitch. 

For example:

Dear (Agent):

[Insert personalization of why I believe they are a good fit], [insert pitch and metadata]. This book will appeal to fans of (comps) or This book has the atmosphere of (comp) with the snarky friendships of (comp). 

[insert two paragraphs about book]

[insert small bio] 

Sincerely, 

Me

[insert contact information]

This is the formula that has worked for me. That said, there’s lots of formulas out there that have worked for others, so don’t feel beholden to my method. Try a few different types out and, again, seek out betas who can give you an unbiased opinion about which ones read the smoothest (and, even better, were the most enticing). 

Now get to pitching! 

~SAT
P.S. My quarterly newsletter is going out soon! It includes exclusive writing tips, a giveaway, what I’m currently reading, and so much more. This time, I’ll be giving away a $10 gift card to any local bookstore. Subscribe here.

Publishing Advice

The Difference Between Querying in 2019 and 2022, and Why Your Well-Intentioned Advice May Be Doing More Harm Than Good.

When I signed with my first agent, it was 2019. I’d queried two manuscripts by then between 2017-2019. In 2021, my agent left the industry. I took some time off, then wrote the book of my heart, and now I’m back in the query trenches for the first time in three years. As an author with books under my belt and previous querying experiences, I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning authors posting querying tips for those currently looking for representation. But you know the saying. 

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Okay, so that may be a little harsh, but I mean it when I say that times have changed. Advice that previously used to be sound is no longer relevant or an accurate depiction of what’s going on in the trenches and publishing industry in general. 

For one, in 2019 turnaround times were typically 2-3 weeks, and I’d often hear back way before that. In 2022? Turnaround times are staggeringly different. Yes, there are some that still get back within the 2-3 week timeframe, but for the most part, I am seeing 6-10 weeks as the norm. In addition, there are a lot more agents saying “no response means no,” so getting closure isn’t even a guarantee. (Did I mention that so many more agencies have adapted a “no” from one is a “no from all” policy?) No shade here, of course. I understand how busy everyone is. But this certainly makes querying via rounds a lot more time-consuming for writers. You used to be able to send out queries knowing that you’d get an answer within a month or so, and then you could readjust for a second round. Not so much in 2022. Not only are response times longer than ever before, but feedback (even on full manuscript requests) is rarer, too. That makes the “query in rounds” advice a little moot. I still recommend it, of course! Just not for the same reasons as I have in the past. This time around, I’d recommend it for sanity reasons. Too much at once can be overwhelming for anyone. I also stand by the fact that you should be getting some requests on your query. Just not as many as before. 

In the past, for instance, some folks would say you should have a 75% – if not higher – request rate. That sort of statistic is just unheard of right now. Granted, it’s hard to discern the actual stats from anecdotes I’ve read online and heard from friends, but the trends I’m seeing are a lot less than 75%. Lots of folks on Twitter today have been sharing that a 10% request rate is good right now. (You can also see trends on Premium Query Tracker.) 

Full disclosure: At the time of writing this, I’ve sent out 10 queries. I’ve been lucky enough to get 4 full requests right out of the gate. 3 of my other queries got denied, but 2 of those were personalized and encouraging (a wrong-fit scenario). The other 3 are still pending and won’t get a response for another 3 weeks. I definitely know I’m the exception. 

So what is my advice for querying right now?

It’s more important than ever to have a great query letter. More so, a fantastic one-line pitch. Even if you feel like you are a seasoned writer with seasoned beta readers, I encourage you to branch out and try to get feedback from a new source. Even better if it’s someone who has secured rep recently. Other than that, I recommend keeping your query as short as possible. (Everyone’s swamped, right?) I, personally, put my pitch and all my meta data at the top (comps, word count, genre, age category). I also add in personalization if applicable. (We met at a conference, you told me to send you more of my work in the past, MSWL fits, etc.) That way, an agent can see right away if they’re interested before diving into the long part of the query. My bio is at the bottom. Once I start querying, I keep track of when I’m supposed to hear back, and if the agent isn’t a “no response means no” agent, then I send a polite one-sentence nudge. Don’t be afraid to nudge! One of my full requests happened because of a nudge. If you can get referrals, great! If you can attend conferences to meet agents, wonderful! But don’t feel like you must spend money to up your odds. If you query in rounds, check out the agents’ response times via Query Tracker, and try to pick a few that have faster turnaround times. That way, you can more easily discern when you want to do a second round. (Remember: Publishing is not a race. It’s better to query well than fast.) Prior to querying, I’ve also asked myself these tough publishing questions to make sure my book has a place in a competitive market. This has worked for me. 

Does that mean I’ll secure rep? Nope, not necessarily. 

Of course I hope that I will. I have 150% confidence in my book, writing, and platform, and my MG novel-in-verse about the opioid crisis is an important story that needs to get into the hands of kids like me, who lost a parent in such an awful way. But I also recognize that the industry is in a tough place. Agents and editors and writers are swamped. We’re all just trying to do our best out here. Which is also why I think out-of-date tips can be harmful.

Try not to give out old-school querying advice without understanding the current landscape. Take a minute to look around at the agencies and agents, both new and established. Talk to those who’ve secured rep recently. Listen to those who are currently in the trenches. Without doing so, traditional advice could ultimately be more discouraging or even point the writer in the wrong direction. For example, if you tell someone that they should revise their book or opening pages because they don’t have a 75% request rate, you could be causing the writer to make unnecessary revisions.

For my fellow querying writers, if you’ve been thinking about taking a break, do so, especially if it’s for your mental health or general well-being. It never hurts to take a pause, consider your options, refresh the creative well, or just step away for a while. In fact, it might be just what you need. Either way, I recommend taking old-school querying advice with a grain of salt. The basics still stand, absolutely. But don’t get discouraged if you aren’t getting a 75% request rate. Try not to let the old way of doing things get you down. Concentrate on the now instead. Find writer friends that are in the trenches with you, join a querying group, and help each other through the process. Friendship truly can go a long way. So can keeping track of all the encouraging notes you receive. Do yourself a favor, and open a Word doc right now. Title it “Book love for (title)” and start saving every compliment, including the encouragement you may receive in a rejection. An example I received? 

“I do hope you find the right agent as you’re pitching around! Stories like these are so wildly important and needed.” 

It was a rejection from an agent who just wasn’t the right fit. But it means a lot to me to have their support! 

No matter what happens, I know I’m going to keep trying. I’ve already started revising my historical fantasy with the hopes of querying that by the fall, should my novel-in-verse not pan out. I also have two other completed manuscripts and two new ones I’ve started drafting (and so many more I’m dreaming about). It’s always good to be looking ahead (and you’re a lot less likely to be disappointed if you have something new and shiny to focus on). 

I wish all of you the best of luck!  

~SAT

Writing Tips

Every Detail in Science Fiction and Fantasy Doesn’t Need to Make Sense

This is probably an unpopular opinion–and perhaps a less-than-stellar writing tip–but every detail in science fiction and fantasy doesn’t need to make sense. I’m talking about characters, world building, traditions, landscapes, magic systems, etc. Granted, of course most of your story needs to. Like 95% of it and certainly the most essential parts. But every little detail doesn’t require an origin story or explanation. 

I’ve been writing science fiction and fantasy (SFF) for over a decade now and reading it for much longer. Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in word counts escalating, and while I love large books as much as the next SFF reader, it’s often unnecessary. 

You can have a fantastic, vibrant magical world without dedicating 700 pages to it. 

The way I write SFF might be a little different than others, but I tend to focus on my point of view (POV) character and plot before I flesh out my world. I mean, of course I know the basics of my magic system, but I don’t get into the nitty gritty until I know exactly what’s needed for the actual story to take place. In fact, I tend to write my first draft without much of my world figured out, not only to see what literally happens but also to get to know my POV character. It’s important to understand what your POV character would truly know. Yes, even about their own culture or circumstances. 

Look at your own world. 

Do you know why daylight savings started off the top of your head? Where wedding traditions stemmed from? How the border of your state or country was decided? What about why your neighbor is rude one day and sweet the next? 

No one knows everything, even if they love random fact-checking. 

Your science fiction or fantasy novel needs to make sense just enough for the story to suspend disbelief. Yes, some readers’ standards are going to be higher than others. But you’re not writing to satisfy every reader out there. You are writing the best story that you can. Sometimes that means cutting back and focusing on the elements that are most important. In fact, I’d love to see more SFF that is as quick and light as a cozy mystery. I want to flip through a SFF book in one afternoon and be blown away. And I know it’s possible. 

Look at The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells or Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (both published by TOR.) 

We need shorter, quicker SFF. Not only for fun, but for accessibility, too. Not everyone can undertake a 700-page novel. Not everyone wants to. 

Allowing space for shorter, quicker SFF stories may also allow publishers to take more risks on genre mash-ups. Bigger books are more costly to print and shelve. With shorter books, we could experiment and see if readers would love that quiet fantasy that takes place in a fairy’s coffee shop. That coming-of-age story about a tech geek that invents a pet robot and then loses it. A fun rom-com in space. Graphic novels are already doing this. Check out Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O’Neill. I desperately want more novels like these. 

Science fiction and fantasy doesn’t have to be dark. (Perhaps another post for another day.) It doesn’t have to be 700 pages either. Readers deserve variety in tone, length, and more. In order to achieve this, we need to remove the pressure of explaining every little detail in our stories. Readers and authors alike need to be open-minded to exploring novels with lighter structures. If we do that, I think we’ll see new genres emerge. 

The possibilities are truly endless. 

~SAT 

Miscellaneous

Publishing Questions I Ask Myself Before I Start Writing a Book

Publishing is hard. We all know that. What makes it harder is bad timing and unclear focus. It’s easy to get lost in the art of writing long before you consider the business of writing, but at the end of the day, publishing is a business. You should have your business plan in mind before you set off on your writing journey. By doing so, you’ll be a lot more prepared for pitching and revisions.

That said, I want to add a caveat before I start sharing the publishing questions I ask myself before I start writing a novel. I’m pursuing traditional publication. That requires different techniques than self-publishing. Putting the publishing method aside, though, if you want to write a book that brings you joy and that’s it, then go for it! I am not here to stop you. It’s important to write and be happy. I have learned that lesson the hard way before. However, I am here to discuss how to hone your skills and focus that joy into a project that stands a higher chance at success. 

By being purposeful in our writing decisions, I believe we increase our chances of success. That doesn’t mean it will absolutely work. But there is something to be said about timing (and a little bit of luck). If you can put the odds in your favor, why wouldn’t you? To do that, I’ve learned to ask myself some pretty hard questions before I start writing. 

Here’s that list:

What does this novel add to the market? 

Maybe it goes without saying, but I think this is probably the most important question you must ask yourself. How does your book stand out from what’s currently out there? How is it relevant but also fresh? Do you have a twist on an old trope that hasn’t been done before? Are you writing it from a perspective not often seen? My advice is always to lean into your most unique aspects as hard as you can without breaking the story. This will help it stand out. 

Are there unique elements that need to be pushed or scaled back?

Once I have a list of my unique elements, I have to take a hard look at the plot/characters. I don’t want to push my unique elements too hard. By doing so, you can break a story. It’s important to understand your limitations as a writer. If you are trying to push yourself to try something way outside your norm, make sure you’re enlisting help from experienced writers or beta readers who avidly read your genre. (You should also be reading avidly within the genre/age category that you’re writing.) Remember: unique is great, but readers also love an old trusted trope. Having some familiar expectations can be a fantastic selling point, too. 

Is the pitch succinct and commercial? 

You certainly have time to figure out your pitching materials, but personally, I start working on a pitch and query letter before I start writing the actual book. Why? Because it quickly shows me if I truly understand the novel I am about to write. Who wants to get 80k into a piece only to realize they aren’t positive about the main themes or twists? Have you attempted to write a query letter to get a better idea of the main theme/plot/character? I stand by attempting your query letter (and maybe even your synopsis) before you start writing. It will reveal the glaring flaws you already have, before going in and finding out the hard way. I will also add that it’s important to recognize that this query isn’t truly your query. I’ve literally never used my starter query as a draft query for when I start to query agents. It’s more like a tool to get me started on the best writing path possible. I often still discover many new (and fun) elements in my work once the writing begins, but having the bare bones of a strong plot keeps me on track and confident that the work won’t fizzle out due to confusion or roadblocks. 

Why would someone pick up this book compared to a comparative title? 

Pretend you’re at a bookstore and your novel is nestled between its comparative titles. Cover aside, why do you want to pick up this book the most? This might go back to the earlier question about what makes your book stand out, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to try out from a reader’s fresh perspective instead of a writer’s. 

Why would you choose to work on this book compared to your other WIPs?

If you’re anything like most of the writers I know, then you probably have a dozen or so ideas bouncing around your noggin that you are dying to write. So why this one? What makes this WIP better than the other ones you are currently playing around with? Not just better to you, but also better to the market? I will caution you not to pick out the idea you have the most fleshed out. Just because you’ve spent more time with it, does not mean it is the best one to pursue right now (or ever). I, myself, recently put my historical fantasy aside to pursue my middle grade novel-in-verse. Why? I’d already written three drafts of my historical fantasy. I had a great revision plan and betas lined up ready to read again. I even had an agent who already requested the full from a writing contest I won before I decided to revise. (They said they were happy to wait until I was done.) By all means, I should’ve concentrated on the historical, right? Wrong. The more I looked at where I stood with that project, the more I realized now was not the right time to pursue it. While I wasn’t confident I could revise the historical and secure representation with it (mostly due to where the market is at with this particular kind of story), I was ready for my middle grade book. Plus, novels-in-verse are finally picking up steam. I wanted to ride that wave before it became a hurricane and mine got lost in the flood. So, I took that leap of faith. I put everything aside to start a brand-new project that I was truly passionate about. I’m now querying and have more fulls than I did with my historical. Sometimes, it’s about reading the water and following your gut when you decide which river to take. (Okay, I’ll stop with the bad water metaphors.) 

Can you spend 3-5 years on this project and be happy? This includes revisions, rejections, more revisions, etc. 

Maybe you thought I was a kill-joy, but I promise, I’m not. I know how important your mental health is when pursuing publication. Writing can be a long, lonely adventure, and those feelings can only get worse if your current WIP is dragging you down. When folks tell me they’re writing a novel (and planning to pursue traditional publication), one of the first chats I have with them is how long it can take. Writing the first draft is typically the fastest part. Beyond that is beta readers, revisions, querying, rejections, more revisions, signing with an agent, going on sub, more rejections, hopefully a book deal! Yay! But 3-5 years between writing your first draft and the actual book release date is pretty common if not expected. Granted, that doesn’t mean you have to be happy every single day for 5 years. That’s unrealistic. But, realistically, will you enjoy working on this book for a long time? The reasons for saying yes, or no, will vary from writer to writer. Some writers can write purely from a business angle, no problem, but others require a little bit more excitement in order to pursue an idea for a long time. 

All of the answers to these questions will be unique to you. They may not even be the best questions to ask yourself. These are just the ones I ask myself before I start writing, and they help me make decisions every time. Maybe they’ll help you, too. 

If you have additional questions, I’d love to read about them in the comments below! 

~SAT

Publishing Advice

When Are You Ready to Query?

Writers who want to publish with the Big Five need literary agents. To get a literary agent, one must query. To do that, you need your entire publishing package ready. That includes your formatted manuscript, query letter, and 1-page synopsis. Let’s say you have all three of these items right in front of you. 

How do you know when you are ready to query?

First, your entire publishing package should’ve gone through revisions with beta readers. I would say you need three minimum:

  • One who reads the first draft you send out. 
  • One who reads the first draft, second draft, third, etc. (However many times you need before you feel like you can’t edit anymore.)
  • One who reads your final draft and has not seen previous drafts before. 

The last one is super important, and I see people skip this step all the time. The reason you need fresh eyes on your final manuscript is because your previous readers have already seen other versions. That means they might remember details that you’ve now cut. (This is particularly important in world building in science fiction and fantasy.)

I tend to have 3-4 betas on my first draft, 1-2 who read every version, and a new 1-2 on my final draft. Total, you’re looking at 3-6 betas on every book, query letter, and synopsis. 

I also recommend completing your book revisions before revising a query or synopsis, since those items might be affected by changes made. That said, I almost always write my first query before I start writing a book. But that’s another post for another day. 

Now that you’ve completed revisions, what’s next?

Let your querying package sit. 

It might sound counterproductive to sit around twiddling your thumbs the minute you feel ready. But trust me, you need to do it. If you rush right in, you might not notice a simple mistake. You may skip across a webinar that gives you a fresh perspective on querying or synopsis writing. It’s okay to give yourself some time to breathe. And while you’re breathing, start your research.

This could be a personal preference, but I don’t recommend writers research agents while they are writing the project. Why? Because the agents who are asking for what you’re currently writing may change their minds by the time you are ready to query them. 

Hold off on choosing your list until you are ready to pursue that list. That said, it’s totally valid to keep tabs on certain agents you may have noticed before. Just don’t spend too much time obsessing. You need to get your publishing package ready first. 

Now that your publishing package is complete and polished, start your research. 

You may want to use Publishers Marketplace or Manuscript Wishlist. Find reputable agents and agencies. Take a look at their Twitter. Read some of their recent interviews. Check in with your writing friends about who they do (and don’t) recommend. Different agents offer different things. (Do you want an editorial agent? Do you want someone who will rep more than just this book or different genres? Are you interested in IP?) Knowing these things about yourself will help you find the perfect fit. 

When you have a list of well-researched literary agents, you will know: what they represent, what they’re asking for, and their submission guidelines.

Now you think you are ready to go. 

But are you?

Take another day to decompress. Afterward, choose a handful from your list that you are undoubtedly excited to work with, and then set aside a time to send them out. Last thing you want to do is make a huge mistake because you were trying to squeeze querying in between work and dinner. Try for a relaxed Saturday or an early morning when life is still quiet. That said, don’t query your whole list. You will want to make adjustments if your first round doesn’t work. I suggest getting the Premium version of QueryTracker to track submissions and keep all your notes in one place. (The free version is really nice, too!) 

Last but not least, don’t self-reject. You worked hard on your novel. Let yourself enjoy this moment. Rejection can be scary. I get it. I do. But remember: agents are trying to find novels they can fall in love with and sell. They want to like your work. They want editors to like your work. That said, rejections are part of the publishing landscape. Don’t take it personally. Agents reject for all sorts of reasons, including knowing they aren’t the right person to champion your work. Writing is very subjective. Try to remember that we are all out here looking for good matches. 

Once you click SEND, you’re now ready for your last step! 

Get a list of questions together that you want to ask an offering agent, and start working on your next manuscript. 

You have more stories to tell, 

~SAT

Miscellaneous

February Writing Journey Wrap-Up

Every month, I write a writing journey wrap-up post. It includes how many words I’ve written, what I’m working on, my wins, my losses, and other miscellaneous facts you may find interesting. 

First up this February, I wanted to congratulate our Pitch Wars 2020 mentee, Miranda Sun! She announced her six-figure, two-book deal with HarperCollins for If I Have to Be Haunted, a young adult contemporary fantasy with a gorgeous magic system and a slow-burn romance that will drive you crazy. I know y’all will love this book as much as Sandra Proudman and I did while working on it during Pitch Wars. You can add her book to Goodreads here. Congratulations, Miranda! And go Team Snickersnee!!

In other Pitch Wars news, our 2021 mentee, Damara Allen, had her showcase! Congratulations to Damara Allen for showcasing her middle grade spooky horror novel about family, friendship, and alternate universes. She had 16 requests from agents, and we are so so proud of her and her novel. She worked incredibly hard, and I know good things are to come. Congratulations, Damara! Cheers to Team Stellify! Read her showcase here.

On the heels of the showcase, it was also announced that this was the last Pitch Wars to take place. It was such a joy to be a mentor these last two years. I also used to submit as a writer and, though I was never chosen, Sandra Proudman and I met because of Pitch Wars. I am forever grateful for the annual event, and I will always cherish all my memories and friendships made. 

In other mentorship news, my SCBWI mentee, Anna LaForest, received her edit letter and mentoring plan this month. We’re already on her second round of revisions and so excited to continue her journey! 

So what about my writing journey? 

I admit that I took more time off this month to focus on, well, life. If you look at my calendar carefully, you’ll probably see that I tried not to work on my weekends for once. I wanted to be more present. For Valentine’s Day, we adopted a new kitten! His name is Valentine, but he was called a pirate since he only has one eye. (He lost it in a fight when he was young, but he’s okay now.) He’s eight months old and loves his new forever home. Boo Boo and Bogart are adjusting, too. They’ve done really great!

Personal life aside, I wanted to celebrate finalizing A YEAR OF BLUE, my middle grade novel-in-verse about an 11-year-old girl who loses her mom to an opioid overdose. It’s based on my childhood, and I’m very passionate about getting a book reflective of my childhood grief out in the world. I want to help other kids who have family members struggling with addiction and/or have lost someone to addiction. It’s a heavy topic that is unfortunately very common in the US, yet not present in many MG books. Writing it was a promise I made to myself when I was 11. I am so proud that I finally found the strength to not only write it, but pursue it, too.  

To celebrate my verse novel, I bought myself a new coffee mug. (A tradition I do when I finish writing any new manuscript.) I also commissioned character art from The Book Bruja. I love having character art! It makes Blue feel even more real. It’s like manifesting her into existence. Fun fact: The sweater she is wearing is based off of a real sweater I loved at that age. The Book Bruja also made me a new social media banner that is more reflective of my brand moving forward. I love that my trampoline and cats are present! (Though I only had Boo Boo and Bogart at the time.) 

Writing wise, I finally sent out my first batch of queries! It’s my first time querying since 2019, which is when I connected with my first agent. Not going to lie, the landscape has changed a lot, but it’s so exciting to put myself out there again. I’m so happy to report that I’ve already received full requests. Please keep your fingers crossed for me! I know how important this book could be for kids like me, and it would be a dream to connect with an agent who can see that, too. Honestly, I have to believe I will. I want to believe. 

Other than that, I gained the courage to write and submit my first short story to somewhere pretty special. We’ll see if that works out! In general, I actually wrote very little. Two chapters for my local writer’s group on a haunted house YA based on my teen years and two blog posts. I was a little sad this month! I didn’t get any comments, which is unusual. (I received a few on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., but it’s super strange to get none on actual WordPress. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before.) My views were relatively the same, too, so I thought that odd. That said, my most popular blog post this month was Shannon’s Top Three Tips for Writing Romance, and my top referrer outside of search engines was Jane Friedman. I attended the SCBWI Winter Conference as well, which was really interesting. I also enjoyed speaking on Kid Lit Publishing Roundtable on Twitter Spaces with authors A.J. Sass, Sandra Proudman, and more. I’m planning to speak again soon!

The Midwest Writers of America also reached out to me. I will be speaking at their summer meetup in June, so be sure to check out my Events page for upcoming opportunities. 

If I had any advice for aspiring writers reading this, I’d say it’s okay to take it easy on the creating part sometimes. I’m busy pursuing the business side of my writing career. Authorship requires a balance. Make sure to find time for both, but don’t beat yourself up if you end up spending more time on one or the other for a little while. Let the publishing winds guide you. Follow those paths where you feel best, and everything else will surely fall in place. 

I’m looking forward to seeing where March–and my career–will take me! 

~SAT

Publishing Advice

I Almost Self-Rejected Myself Out of a Publishing Opportunity

Last month, you may have noticed my blog post – Yes, Writers Need to Hear the Hard Truths. But Warnings Can Go Too Far. – go up on Jane Friedman’s website. I was absolutely thrilled by this. I’m a long-time fan of Jane’s blog and book, The Business of Being a Writer. I also regularly attend her courses at The Business Clinic. But I never in a million years thought my blog posts were good enough to be featured on her website. So much so that I never considered submitting. I didn’t even know it was a possibility. Then, my good friend Jessica Conoley was featured, and I was amazed by her. 

What an accomplishment! What a dream!

She continued to have her blog posts featured on Jane Friedman’s website over a course of weeks. Each one was thoughtful and interesting and so damn inspiring. I realized then that Jessica had inspired me. (And you can read a list of her amazing blogs posts on Jane Friedman’s website by clicking here.) 

After Jessica’s posts went live, I continued writing blog posts for my own website, but I kept thinking about Jane Friedman’s blog. What sort of posts do I have that would be beneficial there? Could I write one? Could I try?

I told myself that when I came up with a worthy idea, I’d put myself out there and submit. Then, BAM. An idea came. 

I wrote it, but I still wasn’t sure. How could I be? I’d never written a blog post to be submitted elsewhere before. Once I decided I wanted to try that, I reached out to Jessica for tips. 

By the time Jessica got back to me (less than a day later), I was already doubting myself. I told her as much, and she pushed me to send it. I clicked SEND a few minutes later. Soon after, I heard back. Jane was interested in featuring my blog post on her website. 

I was amazed. 

If it wasn’t for my friend’s success, encouragement, and tips, I would’ve simply decided I wasn’t worthy of trying. 

It’s scary to put yourself out there, especially when it’s something new, but do it! 

You never know what will happen. 

Who knows? The next time you click SEND, an acceptance letter could be on the way. 

In fact, right after I was accepted to Jane Friedman’s website, I gained the courage to submit my first short story somewhere pretty special. We’ll see how it turns out! Either way, I’m pretty proud that I already clicked SEND again.

~SAT

Writing Tips

Shannon’s Top Three Tips for Writing Romance

It’s February, so romance is in the publishing air. Whether or not you write romance novels or have romantic subplots in your work, almost every writer has had to think through a couple’s relationship in their work. 

Here are my top three tips for writing romance.

1. Read Romance: As Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the tools to write. Simple as that.” Reading romance novels, or novels that have romantic subplots, will help you learn the beats of a romantic plotline. (You should also check out Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes. It’s a nonfiction craft book dedicated to understanding romance beats.) My favorite go-to romance books are Harlequin. Why? Though the various imprints have particular expectations, every book is focused on romance, and it’s so easy to spot tropes from the cover, title, and synopsis. They tend to run very short, too, so you can read a bunch very quickly. Even with a shorter word count, you’ll be amazed how tight these plots are. These authors will really inspire you to find ways to cut to the chase. Keep in mind that the romance books you read don’t necessarily have to be in the same genre that you’re writing in. I primarily write fantasy and, while I definitely read enough fantasy to study those romantic subplots, I’ve found contemporary romance books have actually helped me understand writing romance more. Probably because there is less distraction (world building, war, magic, etc.) Basically, make sure you’re reading romance in your genre, but don’t be afraid to branch out either. 

2. Requited love is nice, but it doesn’t make much of a ballad. Cassandra Clare’s character Will said that when referring to why characters are put through so much hardship in stories, and I’ve never heard such a true sentiment. Listen, you’re writing a story. Stories require tension and excitement. A what if. In romance, that what if is will they get together? You have to string that question out in some way. If your characters famously get along, your reader will wonder why they aren’t together. Some writers take that to mean that a couple must disagree or not communicate, and that’s not true. There’s lots of reasons people stay apart. Beliefs. Expectations. Distance. Responsibilities, such as taking care of their family. Work that doesn’t allow them time to date. Fear of rejection. I could go on and on. You can definitely still have tension even if your couple is communicating well. But there must be tension somewhere. Your couple is made up of different people with their own goals, who happen to cross each other’s path. I think every romance novel benefits when those paths hit a crossroad in some way. Do they choose themselves or their love for each other? Bam. Tension. At the end of the day, something in their lives is unrequited

3. Couples should complement each other in some way. Is he shy and her outgoing? Is she struggling to find the last piece of the puzzle and her lover has it in her hands? Take a look at your favorite bookish couples and you’ll see that they often complement each other’s personalities and goals. They push each other to be better people or to look at the world in a new way. They experience personality traits of the other that their friends/family do not get to see. When you’re revisiting your favorite couples, ask yourself why they appealed to you. What scenes made your heart pitter-patter? Make a list. You might see a pattern emerge of tropes you love, such as the one-bed trope, brother’s best friend, enemies-to-lovers, etc. Once you know what tropes you want to work with, it’ll be so much easier to form your story.

Honestly, though, I could go on and on about romance. If you love reading romance, I’d love it if you check out my young adult paranormal romance, the Timely Death trilogy. The first book, Minutes Before Sunset, is currently free! It’s set in Kansas and follows two magical teens, who realize they’re fated to fall in love… and die.

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~SAT