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See You Later, September!

4 Sep

It’s that time again. Every year, I take one month off of blogging and social media to reevaluate, get organized, and…well, relax. (And by “relax” I mean write more books.) I’ll probably be around on Twitter and Instagram still. Other than that, I’ll be signing books and talking about young adult literature at Barnes & Noble in Zona Rosa in Kansas City, Missouri for BFest on September 23. (And I’m attending my first writer’s retreat this month, too!) If you’re interested in my articles, check out the list below, and if you have any changes you’d like to see across my platforms, share away! That being said, I’m still working, so if you’re interested in my Services, feel free to message me any time. Also, you can check out my books here. Right now, two of my young adult titles are free. Whew…okay, now I’m off to write!

See you in October!

~SAT

Reading

I DNF a Book: Feeling guilty about not finishing a book? I’ve been there.

My Hate-Love Relationship with Historical Fiction: I’m reading, watching, and writing historical fiction right now…but my relationship with it is quite complicated.

Writing

When Your Writing Issue Is…: Let’s be real. There’s a lot of them. But what about the solutions?

The Ideal Writing Pace: It’s not a race. Or is it?

First or Third Person. Present or Past Tense. How Do You Decide?: A guide to options, decisions, and how I choose a path.

Marketing

The Difference Between a Fan and a Follower and Why It’s Okay to Have Both: Not everyone follows you to buy your books…and that’s okay.

Book Marketing Woes: Marketing is hard. But don’t let that stop you.

Two free YA SFF books!

 

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Editing the “Final” Draft

10 Jul

This month, I’m covering my editing process. If you haven’t read the first two steps—My Editing Process Starts in My Writing Process and Editing (Rewriting) the First Draft—then check those out now. Today is the last post about editing, but, as always, feel free to ask questions! We are discussing the “final” draft.

The “Final” Draft

So you have a solid manuscript. This means you have written, rewritten, and revised everything a couple of times. You’ve checked your weak spots and tightened your prose and wrote the best damn thing you could write. Awesome! But the editing process is not over. This part of my editing process focuses more on grammar than anything else, but as usual, I almost always continue to edit my prose. I might find weak sentences or (gasp) a contradiction in my story. That’s okay. It’s important to not get deterred, but there’s a few things you can do to help yourself out in this stage.

Here’s some photos from my editing process! (Cats are necessary.)

Print it Out

There’s only so much you can accomplish on the computer. You might think you can see all of your errors on your laptop, but trust me, reading your work through a different medium will show you new mistakes. On a side note, you can also try to read your book in a different font or color before you print it out. I tend to print it out when I know I still have a lot of editing to do, including rewrites. Why? Because I love to physically cut up my manuscript and shift things around. (This might be a result of passive-aggressive behavior, also known as rage writing, but it helps.) I’m also obsessed with different colored pens. I’ll use one for grammar, another for story issues, and another one that has authority over my other pens. (Like if I change my mind about a particular edit.) Other office supplies that come in handy include binder clips, paperclips, and Sticky Notes. But—basically—get physical with your “final” copy. Feeling it in your hands might help you feel better, too. The weight of all those pages can be a little overwhelming, but think of all you’ve accomplished! You. Are. Awesome.

Read Out Loud

I cannot stress how important this is…Though, I also want to admit that I used to NEVER do this. I thought it was one of those writing tips that could be skipped over. I mean, reading it out loud seems like it would take a long time. And it does. I won’t lie to you. Reading my manuscript out loud is probably the most time-consuming task in my editing process, but I also learn more than ever when I read out loud. I stumble over awkward sentences. I hear unrealistic dialogue. And I reread the same sentences over and over again, just to check the flow of the overall section or piece. Reading out loud, or listening to your book out loud, will help you discover more than you realize.

Check Back In With Those Notes

Remember all those notes that you took in the first two steps? Read through them again. Get to know every inch of your manuscript and make sure each thread is carried out consistently and accurately. In regards to grammar, keep a list of issues you know you struggle with. If you’re constantly switching then and than around, check every single one of them, and then check again. I am super bad about soldier, for instance, though I think my computer is the one autocorrecting my typing to solider. Knowing yourself—and your technology—will help you find mistakes faster…which means you get to that final draft quicker, too. Though, don’t forget, editing is NOT a race. Do not rush it. Take your time. Breathe. Ask for help. And keep going until you have that final draft you love.

Finally, Why Final is “Final”

No matter how many times you edit your own work, you will have to edit it again. Take publishing as an example. When you complete a manuscript and submit it to an agent, they might request a Revise & Resubmit. Even if they offer representation, chances are they are going to go through some edits with you before they submit to editors…and when you’re chosen by an editor, chances are they will have additional editing notes for you to work with…and then, it’ll be out in the world and there will still (inevitably) be mistakes. So new editions will have corrections. And editions after that will have even more corrections. (They were finding mistakes in the fifth edition of Harry Potter, for instance.)

Your work will never be perfect, and while you should always strive to create the best product possible, you should strive to embrace the editing process more…because you’re going to be editing often. 

I try to think of editing as another writing process. That way, it feels more fun and less overwhelming. Taking breaks between edits has helped me immensely and so has falling in love with new office supplies.

Create rituals, take care of yourself, and keep writing.

Editing is just another part of your publishing journey.

Embrace it.

~SAT

Reward Your Writing

13 Mar

Writing is hard. So is publishing. It’s easier than I want to admit to fall into a downward spiral of imposter syndrome. Or something worse. But there are ways to combat that spiral of doom. For me, that spiral consists of workaholic syndrome. I will write, write, write until I burn out, and sometimes, I’ll try to write even when I know I’m burnt out and need to rest. I mean, there’s always something to do, right? Whether it’s outlining, writing, editing, querying, or marketing, a writer ALWAYS has something on their To-Do list. It’s easy to lose yourself in that madness.

So what’s one thing you can do to prevent writer’s madness?

Reward yourself.

Reward yourself when you finish a novel or sign with an agent or get your first publishing deal. Get those new office supplies you’ve always wanted. Or take the day off to read.

Writing is often a lonely, thankless endeavor. After spending months writing a novel, it can hurt to hear questions like “When will it get published? Where’s your movie deal? Oh, you’re still doing that writing thing?” It can gnaw at you. Granted, I don’t expect anyone to thank me just for writing—don’t get me wrong—but it’s okay to thank yourself for continuing to follow your dreams.

So many people claim they will write a novel and never write a word. The fact that you are moving forward is worth something. You haven’t given up, and that’s awesome. By taking a moment to acknowledge that, you’re encouraging more positive feelings than negative ones. You won’t get so lost in the pressures of publishing or succumb to imposter syndrome. You will enjoy the writer’s journey.

My advice? Make goals, and when you reach them, take a moment to celebrate.

Every time I finish a novel, I buy myself a trinket—like a coffee mug or, more recently, a Funko Pop of Tuxedo Mask for my desk. Why? Because it’s part of my writing ritual. Every gift is under $10, but each item feels priceless. It represents time and effort and the passion I have to move forward. Those trinkets remind me of that on the hard days in between.

Maybe you’ll buy a coffee mug like I do—or maybe you’ll bake brownies on the weekend. Something. Anything. Even just a nap. Let yourself enjoy that goal you reached. And then, set a new one.

You’re worth it.

~SAT

Give An Author A Second Chance

6 Mar

Recently I came across a poll on Twitter.

How many times do you give an author a chance before you swear off their work indefinitely?

Before I get into what everyone said, please take a minute to consider this question for yourself. Do you pick up every book someone writes and try it out? Do you skim the first chapter or so? Why did you pick it up in the first place? Was it because the author is extremely popular or because you liked the cover/genre/concept? Is it a debut or an author with numerous books under their writing belt? How many times have you given them a shot? And how do these questions affect swearing someone off indefinitely?

This week, check out a book from someone you've tried to read before.

This week, check out a book from someone you’ve tried to read before.

Personally, I’ll pick up any author’s work, numerous times, before I decide they are not for me. Why? Because authors grow and change. So do their ideas. Even their voice will morph overtime. If I only read authors’ debuts—or only one of their books—I would’ve never found some of my favorite authors. For instance, I literally just tried Maggie Stiefvater for the first time, EVER, this past year. I loved the Raven Cycle so much, I am now buying all of her books from the past decade. In contrast, I read Claudia Gray’s Evernight series when I was younger…and wasn’t the biggest fan, but her Firebird trilogy was one of my favorite reads last year. I didn’t even consider her past when I picked up her new work. It’d been eight years. It was also a different genre. All I care about is the storyline, the voice, and how it resonates. If I had considered how much I didn’t like her previous book, I would’ve missed out on one of my favorite reads of the year.

Granted, I have authors I stalk admire. Cassandra Clare is one author that I always buy. Maggie Stiefvater and Claudia Gray are now on that list, too. But if I read their next book and didn’t like it, I doubt I would remove them from that list.

That being said, I understand not liking an author. I do. I would name a few I dislike, but personally, I like to focus on the positive ones I’d recommend more than the ones I don’t enjoy—because everyone is different. That being said, I am sitting here, at my dining room table, trying to recall an author I’ve sworn off indefinitely, and cannot find one. Not a single person. Because I don’t know what the future holds.

So how many chances did the average reader of this poll give before swearing off an author indefinitely? Most people said one. ONE TIME. One book. One poem. One whatever. I was shocked by how many people said one.

I sort of understand—there are a million other authors on the market. Why keep disappointing yourself with the same person? But what if that same person was like Claudia Gray was to me? You could miss out on a lifetime of brilliant works, because one didn’t suit you.

I’m not asking you to read an entire book or even check out every book someone releases, but I am saying to keep an open mind. If something catches your eye—history or not—check out the synopsis. Check out the first chapter again. Before you swear off an author’s entire career because you didn’t like their vampire book back in 2007, or their dystopian book in 2010, or whatever craze comes next, give them another shot.

I’m not saying you have to pick up every book by every author that ever was. I’m just saying not to give up at the first go.

Writing styles change. Trends change. Stories change. So do authors.

Give an author a second chance. Or maybe even a third.

~SAT

P.S. Calling all book bloggers, the Bad Bloods book blitz is April 10-16 by Xpresso Reads. The sign up form is here. You will get exclusive excerpts, ARCs, and more. ❤

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Is Romance Necessary in YA?

6 Feb

Romance sells. (Or, as they usually say, sex sells.) And now more than ever, sex is being introduced into young adult literature every day. But that’s another debate for another day. Instead, I wanted to focus on the overall umbrella term of romance in YA.

Is romance necessary in every YA book?

The short answer is no, of course not. But the long answer is a lot more complicated.

If you’re a first-time author, then you probably already know the struggles of completing a manuscript, editing one, joining the query trenches, and understanding the marketplace.

More often than not, romance sells better than anything else.

Why? Well, we have to consider our buyer.

Ten years ago, YA literature was widely bought by the YA crowd (ages 14-18), but more recently, the average age of the YA buyer has increased to 20-25. (Hey, look! There’s me!) Granted, there is a lot of debate about this—and it’s hard to prove, considering adults can buy books as gift or teens can borrow books—but I love speaking to teens at my signings, and have listened to them say the same thing. A lot of young adults are reading fanfiction online instead, and hey, no shame! That’s awesome. I’m just happy when people are reading. But this fact has changed the marketplace, and I honestly believe that’s why we’re seeing more sex in YA literature, including less “fade to black” scenes. As an example, a YA book I just read had a one-night-stand between two inexperienced strangers, where both acted as if they were cool with it. Nothing wrong with that. Don’t get me wrong. But I cannot imagine reading that at 14 and feeling like I could relate, even though the characters were that age. However, I know some 14-year-olds can relate, and that’s fine! No worries. Just be safe. 🙂

That being said, at 14, I wanted to hang out with friends. I wanted to read books (and write them), and other than that, I ran around with my husky or my brother or studied a lot.

I particularly loved Ally Carter’s The Gallagher Girls books, because the romance was few and far in between. Same with Meg Cabot (specifically when she was known as Jenny Carroll and wrote the 1-800-Where-R-You series and the Mediator series). Oh! And Lynne Ewing’s Daughters of the Moon series. All of their YA books featured kickass, often hilarious, and always intelligent girls living life, figuring out a mess, and defeating any enemy they came across. Friendship mattered. Family, too. And, sure, sometimes a kiss was shared here or there, but romance never seemed to be the focus. Being a heroine was.

Granted, I must clarify that you can be focused on romance and still be a heroine. Please do not get me wrong. But I wish there were more YA books (in all genres) that allowed the characters to explore space, chase enemies, and save the world without falling in love, too.

Out of the last ten YA books I’ve read, the only one who featured no one falling in love was This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab. Definitely recommended. (By the way, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave them below. I LOVE suggestions.)

Love that will never change? My love for YA

Love that will never change? My love for YA

Granted, I can admit I’m a hypocrite. I write YA, and every single one of my YA books has a romance subplot in it. That being said, my romantic plots are hardly romantic in comparison to popular YA books today. In Bad Bloods, Daniel and Serena kiss….twice?…in 600 pages. And that’s it. But hey, they’re trying to protect their families and survive a government out to kill them, so I think they have a lot on their hands.

They can always kiss later. If they even want to.

That being said, almost every editorial letter I’ve received included the suggestion of getting my characters “closer” or focusing more on their romantic endeavors rather than their friendships or families or fighting for the world they live in. And I find it increasingly frustrating.

While I can see the market value in focusing on these tropes, I feel an increasing value in the opposite of those aspects as well.

It’s okay to focus on studying and family and friendships instead of love. It’s a personal choice. But more than ever before, I feel pressured to include romance where romance isn’t necessary. Because of that pressure, I actually set out to include more romance in my latest, but sure enough, I found myself following the same pattern I always do: There is a romantic interest, but he’s on the sidelines while my protagonist is striving to…I don’t know…save the world or her sister or her friends. She’s too busy studying to think about some boy’s smile or (insert jewel description) eyes. But she does have her moments, albeit they are few and far in between, and at this point, I doubt they’ll survive my editing process. And I’m so torn about it.

I wanted to write romance. I tried. But I can’t. And I’m trying to be okay with that. I am trying to be okay with me.

I love romance. I enjoy reading it, and I sometimes seek it out. But I wish there were more books where girls (and boys) were simply living life or saving the world without romance. It’s okay not to date when you’re a teen. It’s okay not to have romantic feelings. It’s okay to be focused elsewhere.

I wanted to read about girls like that when I was 14, 15, 16, and even now, so I guess that’s why I write my books the way I do. It’s that fact that made me accept myself again. (Oh, and talking to a bunch of my fellow writer friends. They helped, too.)

Romance will definitely help you sell your book—be it to an agent, a publisher, or a reader—but don’t force it. The most important aspect of any book is to be true to your work, and if that means avoiding crushes and angst-ridden kisses, then so be it.

I will continue to have romantic subplots, because that is my style, but as of today, my protagonist will focus on her studies more. She might not even kiss anyone at all. And that’s perfectly A-okay with me. (And more importantly, okay with her.)

If one day she changes her mind, I will listen to her, and if she doesn’t, I will continue to listen to her. Why? My answer is simple.

A protagonist is enough without a love interest to back them up. So is a story.

~SAT

 

Trying to Write as a Pantser

16 Jan

I’m a pantser for the first time.

What’s a pantser? Someone who writes a book with no plan, as opposed to a plotter, who, you know, plots.

Normally, I plot like crazy. I have plots for my plots. (Also known as subplots.) And though I almost always deviate from my original plans, I always have a plan. But lately, I was feeling a little bogged down by all that planning. I yearned for adventure. For mystery. For absolute chaos. Like a road trip with no destination ahead. Just me and the road and whatever will happen.

So, I decided my first book of 2017 would be written in perfect pantser style, full speed ahead.

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would crash and burn. In fact, I expected to. But that wasn’t the case. Let me explain the differences by comparing my normal plotter ways and my current pantser adventure.

The Idea

Plotter: Disclaimer: Almost all of my books start off as a dream, and this one was no different. After I have a dream I think might be worthy of a book, I sit on the floor with a million notebooks and just write down scenes and ideas that come to me. Throughout the next few weeks (or even months), I expand on the characters and world until they blend together and I have a solid plot, character list, and timeline. Sometimes, I even write an entire screenplay, dialogue and all, before I actually write Chapter One.

Pantser: I had a dream, cracked my knuckles, and sat down at my computer.

plotter

Beginning to Write

Plotter: I start in Chapter One after reading Chapter One’s notes thoroughly, and then I repeat with Chapter Two and Chapter Three and so on.

Pantser: Literally, the day I had the dream, I sat down at my computer and wrote down what I saw. I didn’t even know the general theme or my protagonist’s name, or even if she was the protagonist. But she quickly fleshed out into the full-fledged botanist she is today. The world she was in quickly followed. Fun fact: the dream I had wasn’t Chapter One, which is where I usually start. Instead, it turned out to be a mixture of Chapter Two and Chapter Four. (For now.) panster

The Rest of the Adventure

Plotter: I always know where I’m going and what will probably happen. Even if something changes, it doesn’t affect the story too much. I can still stay on course. (Basically, my GPS will reroute me no matter where I go.)

Pantser: I can’t stay on course, because there is no course. Even more confusing, there is no world to navigate anyway. This current project of mine is a YA sci-fi, but I’m letting my world build itself. That is honestly the strangest part for me. Normally, I have an entire system of rules and ideas to constrain my characters to, but not this time. This time, I’m letting the book let me know what it needs to do before I figure out where the boundaries go. We’re very much off-roading in unknown terrain, but I haven’t popped a tire yet. And if I do, I can create a spare out of thin air…because you know, no rules. I’ll make laws up later. And while this might sound reckless, I’ve been keeping a list of boundaries that come up in the text as I go, and it seems as solid as anything else I could’ve created by plotting.

In the end, being a pantser or a plotter doesn’t feel that much different, but this risk helped me fall back in love with the thrill of writing. I’m writing around the same pace as usual, but I do feel like I’m enjoying it more. I already know I’m going to have to rewrite a ton, but I do that when I plot, too, so that doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me. In fact, if I were being honest—if this works out—I kind of like this pantser thing. It feels more vulnerable (and more likely for things to go terribly, horribly wrong), but that vulnerability makes it feel more authentic, too. Like the characters are definitely more in charge.

Recently, for instance, I realized my villain is probably not who I thought it was going to be. And I’m still unsure about where the next chapters are going, but I definitely know the ending. (Or I think I do. Ha.) And I’m kind of enjoying my hesitation and fear and absolute joy when it works out.

Perhaps, this pantser mode worked for this particular book and wouldn’t for others, but I’m glad I decided to try it out. I’m having a lot fun, and I believe the project is forming together beautifully. If I had to guess, I would say a writer could do either one and be successful with it. And it definitely can’t hurt to try. In fact, it helped me.

Now to go write a scene I know nothing about.

~SAT

Writers and Vocabulary

9 Jan

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

The famous Stephen King said it, and so many more agree.

I vehemently say this to every writer I know. Why? Because it amazes me how many writers don’t read on a regular basis.

By reading, you’re expanding your creativity, your stories, your life, and even your vocabulary. And your vocabulary is vital.

Today, I wanted to concentrate on expanding your vocabulary and why it’s so important. I’ve sort of written about this before—Writing Tips: Build Your Vocabulary —where I discussed how you should not only read a lot, but pay attention while reading. This includes marking every word or phrase you come across that you’re unsure of, so that you can come back later to study them. I call this a vocabulary study guide.

books-writing-reading-sonja-langford

So what is my vocabulary study guide?

I create one every time I read a book. While reading, I circle words, and after I’m finished, I study them. This list includes words I don’t know, words that catch me off guard, words I know but forget to remember, and words I simply want to concentrate on more, maybe because they’re beautiful or strange or perfect for certain scenarios.

How do I organize it?

Personally, I categorize words by most likely subject. By feelings or people or places or, my personal favorite, body parts and other medical things. (Example from below? Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.) Sometimes, though, I organize my lists by words I need extra help on. In my below example for instance, I circled inscrutable FOUR times in the SAME book. (And this isn’t the first book I circled it in.) Why? I know this word. I do. But for some reason, whenever I’m reading or writing, my brain stumbles over it. I want, more than anything, for inscrutable to become natural to me.

So here is a literal example from my most recent read.

All of these words come from Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, a young adult book about prohibition, asylums, and hemopaths, people capable of creating illusions through song, poetry, and art. I highly recommend this diverse read, and I hope this list of beautiful words encourages you to check it out. Seriously. Everything in this post comes from that book. If you’re curious, here’s my book review on Goodreads.

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria Study Guide:

Five Senses:

          Sound:

Raucously: making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise

Sonorous: (of a person’s voice or other sound) imposingly deep and full

          Smell:

Redolent: fragrant and sweet smelling OR strongly reminiscent or suggestive of

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Another reason to learn? Wooing women. 😉

Emotions:

Avaricious: having or showing an extreme greed for wealth or material gain

Imperturbable: unable to be upset or excited; calm

Languorous: the state or feeling, often pleasant, of tiredness or inertia

Temerity: excessive confidence or boldness; audacity

Beatific: blissfully happy

Body parts/Medical:

Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.

Paunchy: a large or protruding abdomen or stomach.

Relating to People:

Spectacled: wearing spectacles

Haughty: arrogantly superior and disdainful

Stodgy: dull and uninspired, ex. stodgy old men

Gaggle: a disorderly or noisy group of people (also a flock of geese)

Expression: Speaking/Writing:

Asperity: harshness of tone or manner

Succinctly: (especially of something written or spoken) briefly and clearly expressed

Other Description:

Inscrutable: impossible to understand or interpret

Ostensibly: apparently or purportedly, but perhaps not actually

Anathema: something or someone that one vehemently dislikes

You might think you know every word you read, but really, if you slow down and ask yourself what the literal definitions of words are (rather than relying on context), you’ll force yourself to look up more and more words to learn on your own. It might seem like a waste of time or time-consuming, but I honestly love it. I revel in challenging myself to memorize new phrases and understand a wider range of the English language, and I believe it helps my writing.

Try it out for yourself and see which words you learn.

Who knows? You might need to use it in a novel one day.

~SAT

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