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Behind the Scenes of Pitch Wars with Team Stellify

15 Nov

In case you missed it, Team Stellify announced our 2021 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 Stellify.

This year, Sandra Proudman and I decided to mentor a middle grade writer. You can reference our original wishlist by clicking here.  

Here’s our stats: 182 submissions

  • Sci-Fi:
    • Cyberpunk: 1
    • Space Opera: 2
    • Other: 5
    • Military: 1
    • Soft: 3
    • Dystopian: 1
    • Near future: 2
    • Time Travel: 3
  • Fantasy
    • High/Epic: 19
    • Urban/Contemporary: 22
    • Portal: 27
    • Science fantasy: 7
    • Historical: 3
    • Paranormal: 9
    • Magical Realism: 11
    • Other: 25
  • Mystery: 4
  • Horror: 13
  • Adventure: 8
  • STEM: 6
  • Historical: 1
  • Contemporary: 6
  • Thriller/Suspence: 2

Trends We Saw:

–       Parallel universes/multi-verses

–       Portal fantasies 

–       Grandparents 

–       Disappearances 

–       HUGE word counts and TINY word counts. We had one that was under 10,000 words and another that was 100,000 words.

Team Stellify had a blast! We loved reading through everyone’s pages, and we felt so inspired by all the stories. It was so, so, so hard to choose our mentee. 

So how did we break it down? Sandra and I followed the same steps we did last year. We split our submissions in half. She read 1-91, and I read 92-182 with the goal of each of us coming to the table with five each for our top ten. I ended up coming to the table with six. Sandra brought seven. (What can we say, we truly loved so many books!) In our top thirteen, we had 2 adventures, 1 science fiction, 1 horror, 2 portal fantasies, 2 other fantasy, 3 urban fantasies, 1 science fantasy, and 1 epic fantasy. We then met on ZOOM and dwindled them down until we decided to request seven full manuscripts with three questions for the writer. From there, we read the first 50 pages and reconvened. After discussing which ones we wanted to keep reading, we went back and forth on Twitter chat to talk about options.

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 the biggest difference between reading submissions last year and this year?

Sandra: I don’t necessarily know if there was a huge different reading subs this year than last year. I can say what wasn’t different was how amazing everyone’s stories sounded. There wasn’t a single sub that I read where I didn’t think the story concept was fabulous! So much talent!

Shannon: Last year, we were mentoring young adult fiction, so the age category is obviously going to be the biggest difference. It always surprises me to see what is trending in any given season. Last year, we had a rush of elemental powers. This year, it felt like some version of the multiverse theory (which I think is sooo exciting). In the end, I definitely felt the way Sandra did. There truly was so much incredible talent. I had to remind myself that we weren’t looking for a perfectly polished piece, but rather a piece that we knew how to revise and mentor.

Do you have specific writing tips for this cohort?

Shannon: Read a lot of middle grade before writing middle grade, especially if you are converting a young adult manuscript into a middle grade book. There were a lot of fantastic submissions that I felt were originally YA but didn’t have a lot of changes. Voice is different in YA and MG. So are word count expectations and themes. Take a step back and come back to your book with fresh eyes. That can help you see those places that need a little extra fixing. 

Sandra: Oh gosh, let me think for a moment. Well, I guess a couple of specific writing tips that I can offer this cohort of writers is to always be extra careful that you’re writing in a middle school voice, with the syntax of a middle grader. Also, to remember your word counts, which is something I tend to talk about a lot! Especially right now, agents and editors don’t have huge bandwidth to delve into stories that might not be the right word count for your age group. There are a lot of epic stories right now with giant word counts in both middle grade and young adult; however, not all agents and editors are open to stories having inflated word counts when they hit their inboxes and prefer to control word count after signing a story!

How about publishing tips for this group? 

Sandra: My biggest publishing tip right now is to diversify! If you’re planning to have a long-term career in publishing, you’ll notice how lots of full-time writers are writing across genres and age groups. If you’re working on a middle grade manuscript and you plan to query it for six months, perhaps the project that you work on while you query is young adult. That way if you sign with an agent, they’ll be able to not only take your middle grade out on submission, but once that’s off and away, they’ll also be able to send your young adult manuscript out once it’s ready! You might have two, three, etc., projects out on submission at once! Another tip is to stay positive! Publishing was a tough industry before COVID, but now it’s even more so. But keep writing, keep going, keep fighting for your dream!

Shannon: Pay attention to word counts. We had a HUGE range this year. A few were near 10k; others were near 100k. Broadly, middle grade tends to be between 20,000-55,000 words. Fantasy can go a little higher than that, but the higher you go, the harder it can be to sell as a debut. Beta readers always help me figure out where I can cut or add. If you haven’t had a critique partner go through your work, I highly recommend it. (Plus, you can make the bestest of friends that way.) 

What are we most excited about?

Working with our mentee, D.S. Allen! She wrote such a fun, spooky horror story that we both immediately ate up. It has a magical flute, old revenge, family, friendship, and parallel universes. What more could you need? Give her a follow on Twitter and stay tuned! (Fun fact: D.S. Allen’s submission was #118!) 

How I Use Social Media as an Author

2 Aug

Social media is generally seen as a must-have nowadays for creatives. Some writers love it. Others hate it. I find most fall somewhere in between. Which is why I wanted to talk about it. 

Being online can certainly come with its pros and cons. I have days where I love the connections I make and the information that I learn—and I have days where I feel how much of a time suck it can be. (Not to mention the dreaded imposter syndrome.) That said, I learned a long time ago that you must treat social media like a job. That often means adjusting your approach, researching new options, and paying attention to stats. 

Here are the main platforms I use in the order that I prioritize them and why (and a few tips along the way). That doesn’t mean this will work for you. It’s just to show you why I chose the platforms that I’m on and how I utilize them to the best of my ability. 

First and foremost, I recommend utilizing a third-party scheduler. I use one for every single platform that I’m on. I typically use the one integrated into the platform, which is why I’m putting this at the top with no specific name. For Twitter, I use the “Schedule Tweet” feature. For Instagram, I use the Later app. For Facebook, I use the Creative Studio. And so on and so forth. Scheduling saves me a lot of time and effort (and it prevents me from spending all day online). I highly recommend it! There are third-party schedulers that will cross-post on multiple platforms, but I’ve found those to look clunky and less than ideal on certain places. (Ex. An Instagram link will post on Twitter rather than the photo.) 

Finally, I’d recommend having an easy-to-remember, relevant username that is consistent across all your platforms. I use @AuthorSAT. I could’ve been @Coffee&Cats23, but that name doesn’t tell people what my platform is about. Make yourself easy to look up, and connect all your platforms on your website.

Without further ado, here are the specific platforms I use: 

TwitterI’ve met some of my best writer friends on Twitter, and I’ve also come across hundreds of writing opportunities on there. If you’re a writer, Twitter is the place to be. That said, more writers are leaving Twitter than ever before, too, so that may change in the near future. For now, I really enjoy my interactions. I aim to tweet at least once a day, and I log in twice a day to respond to interactions or DMs. Overall, considering the trend of leaving Twitter, I think Twitter is a lesson in not putting your eggs in one basket. What’s in one day could be out the next. So make sure you have 2-3 platforms that you use throughout the year. Be authentic, and honor the 80-20 rule. (20% or less of what you post should be about your products.) 

InstagramI’ve definitely ramped up my Instagram as of late. (Like, really recently.) It used to be a place where I periodically posted what I was reading, but as of January 2021, I realized that I truly enjoy the photo-focused feed. I like to take photos, so it seemed like a natural fit. I also find it a lot easier to interact with writers and readers on Instagram, rather than just writers on Twitter. 

FacebookI admit, I neglected my Facebook page a lot in 2020, but now that I’m back on schedule, it only takes me a minute to copy and paste my Twitter/Instagram posts onto the Creator Studio in Facebook so that it shares on there, too. And that pays off! I’m actually getting a lot more interaction on Facebook than I ever expected. So much so that I’m considering spending a lot more time and effort on there rather than other platforms. This might be because I mostly focused on Facebook when my novels were releasing a number of years ago, so I have a lot of readers who’ve actually read my work on there. It’s hard to say. But I’ve enjoyed it, and I find it much easier to keep the page going with fun memes and book/writing discussions than other platforms that favor more independent content. 

WordPressObviously, I’m using WordPress right now to write this blog post. I’ve been on here since 2012, and my blog has gone from posting every other day to once a month to today’s schedule of every first and third Monday of the month. I love blogging. When I first started, a lot of others did, too. I admit, blogging has since fallen out of favor—and that might’ve been one of the reasons I stepped back—but at the end of the day, I love blogging, so I am going to continue to do so. Weirdly, statistically speaking, my views haven’t dipped much at all. It’s the interactions that have slowed down. It can be discouraging, but I am trying to give myself more room to do what I want to do, and blogging is one of those joys for me. 

MailchimpI have a newsletter that I send out four times a year. It used to be more, but with no book news, I think four times a year is enough (for now). My newsletter includes an exclusive sneak peek at my WIP, giveaways, secret writing tips, and a behind-the-scenes look at where I’m at in my writing career. I love this newsletter, and I look forward to the day I can send it out more often! Just need to get that book deal first. 😉 I recommend every author have a newsletter. It might not feel necessary now, but you’ll be grateful that you have one when you need to share exciting news and you don’t have to depend on social media feeds to favor you that day. 

GoodreadsAs a writer, I’m also a reader, and I love nothing more than tracking what I read. Goodreads has been that place for me. I don’t necessarily use it to interact with folks, but I do notice readers who follow me elsewhere liking and commenting on my reading updates. To me, it seems that readers enjoy seeing what authors are reading. It gives us something to fangirl over together, and to me, that’s precious. That said, if you are an author, I would discourage you from writing reviews, especially poor reviews. I only rate my favorite reads with five stars, and that’s it.  

PinterestI mainly use Pinterest for writing planning. I love nothing more than pinning inspirational pictures to secret boards for WIPs I’m still dreaming about. But I also use it to share blog posts. No matter where your content is, make sure you’re sharing it on other platforms. One of my biggest articles on this website is because it became a popular “Writing Tips” pin that still circulates today. If you can create custom images for Pinterest, even better. But I don’t have enough time for that. I just pin the image of the article and make sure to use good SEO. 

LinkedInI certainly use LinkedIn more in my library career life, but I also have my blog synced with my LinkedIn, so every post on here goes directly to that website. It’s a simple way to spread content without much hassle, and it works! I get a dozen or so views from there every time. Again, make sure you’re sharing your content on other platforms and not become siloed.  

WattpadI’ve been on Wattpad for years now. My novel, Take Me Tomorrow, actually started as a Wattpad book, before it was published by a small press that later closed down. When that press closed down, I decided to put it back on Wattpad rather than try to get it published elsewhere. It’s a fun place to share stories that you don’t plan on pursuing traditional publication with. I now have Take Me Tomorrow and Took Me Yesterday (book 2) on Wattpad for readers to catch up on, as well as some Bad Bloods prequel stories that die-hard fans can check out. But again, I wouldn’t recommend posting any work that you plan on pursuing traditional publishing with. Only side stories. And those definitely come last on my radar. My books that I am pursuing publication with must come first. But having a piece that I can share with readers is really delightful since I’m in between publications at the moment.

Of course there are plenty of other socials out there. TikTok is on the rise, for instance. I actually have one, but I’ve only used it to watch. I also used to have a YouTube channel, and it’s still up, but I haven’t updated it in years. I just didn’t have the time, energy, or technology to make that platform what I wanted it to be. And that’s okay. 

I’m a big believer in being on the platforms that you love the most. I also believe you should be spending more time creating art than talking about it. So, writing comes before socializing online. But that’s just me. 

For those of you who love stats, I thought I’d share my biggest referrals to my website: 

My biggest referring to my website by far was Google, and then the WordPress Reader. After that, in order, I have Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, with others’ blogs scattered in between. Interestingly enough, these are a different order than what I prioritize. But that comes down to one fact: These are just referrals to my website. Of course WordPress Reader would be at the top, because my website itself is a WordPress site. That stat may seem interesting, but it doesn’t show how many people find me on Twitter and go to my Facebook or Amazon page, or vice versa. 

Basically, keep your stats in mind, but also trust your gut. You may not be getting the whole picture through behind-the-scenes numbers.

I actually wrote about this in July 2014, if you want to see how my socials have changed. Here’s that post. If I were to sum it up, I actually used to spend a lot more time online being social. Mostly because it was my day job at the time and I had books actively releasing. I didn’t like Twitter much, mostly because my timeline was full of spam in comparison to today, but I’ve definitely started spending more time on what I want to do rather than what I think I should be doing. 

How do you use social media as an author?

~SAT

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