Tag Archives: Authors

How I Revise My Novels

3 Aug

I talk a lot about writing, creating, marketing, editing, etc. But I haven’t specifically discussed the revision process. But isn’t revising and editing the same thing, you ask. No, not really. Though the lines can definitely blur, revising is a stage that comes before editing. Revising is knowing what to keep in your work, what to cut, and what to adjust; editing is making all of those changes pretty. You’ll do a ton of both during your writing journey, so I wanted to discuss how I revise my novels.

I have three main revision stages:

  1. Major Revision
  2. Beta Reader Revisions
  3. Final Revision

So let’s go through them one by one.

The Major Revision:

After the first draft, I start my “major revision,” which is basically a giant rewrite. I used to be a big believer in outlining, but the more experimental I got with my writing, the more I realized my outline was holding me back. I was always trying to force my characters to do what they needed to do, not what they wanted to do. Nowadays, I still rely on a basic outline, or what I refer to as my road map. (I know where I’m starting, where I’m ending, and a few pit stops in between, but I mostly let the book lead itself.) Granted, this method definitely creates a lot more revising in the end. In fact, there’s enough revising needed that I’ve also stopped going back and revising as I write. If I did that, I’d constantly be going backward. Instead, I jot down notes as I go and let it go until the end. (No point in making sense of it until I have all the puzzle pieces, right?) In my WIP, I have editing notes on almost every chapter; on top of that, I keep two documents: To-Do Editing and World Building Needs. These will anchor me when I’m finished and need to organize my thoughts. At the end, I look at all my notes, probably take even more notes, and revise. A lot.

Beta Reader Revisions:

I tend to send my work to beta readers after I’ve significantly revised. (More on that later.) Right now, I have 2 or 3 different groups of betas I work with. Typically, my in-person writing group here in KC gets my work first. (Enter revision.) After that, I send it to 1-2 trusted online friends. (Enter another revision.) Then—and I don’t always do this as much as I wish—I try to get the opinion of a non-writer. During these various stages, I might send the work back to the same beta numerous times. If that’s the case, I love to work in revision mode on Scrivener. (Or Track Changes in Word.) That way, it color codes what version I’m on, and they don’t have to re-read my whole manuscript.

RevisionMode

I’m actually not revising in this scene. I’m using revision mode to organize my thoughts. I love color-coding everything.

Instead they can read the color-coded parts and give me feedback on those. Though, to be honest, I typically use the revision mode during writing by myself too. (There’s also a handy screenshot button that lets you keep various versions of the same chapter in one place…but I’ll stop advertising for Scrivener now.) The key to working with beta readers is finding ones that are compatible with your work and your style. That doesn’t mean you connect with someone who praises everything you do; rather it means that you have an understanding of their goals and know how to approach each other in a positive, constructive way. If you don’t vibe with someone well, that’s okay. Move on. Find someone who works well with you. Two amazing writers can be in the same room; that doesn’t mean they’d make good beta readers for each other. (Or, as my father says, two great people can be in the same room; doesn’t mean they should be married.) And you want a marriage…er, a long-term partnership.

Final Revision:

Once I get most of my revisions done, I take a HUGE break. And I mean significant time away from the manuscript. This helps clear my mind. Without that, I’ll probably make the same mistakes I’ve been making in the past. You want to come at your project with fresh eyes. Once that happens, I focus on a basic read through, and I make no changes. Instead, I put sticky notes on places I want to make changes with later. (Yes, I tend to print out my manuscript. I know, I know, what a waste of paper. But this goes back to getting fresh eyes on everything. You’ll see things on paper that you can’t see on a computer screen.) Here’s a photo of my manuscript I worked on with my agent.

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If you didn’t catch on, I love office supplies. (Seriously, there’s nothing better than fresh pens and paper and Sticky Notes.) In case you’re curious what you’re looking at:

Blue = grammar

Orange = plot I know I need to fix

Pink = other things I want to consider

Green = current reading place

I actually go back and fix my grammar first. But that’s because I have so little to fix at this point. (I work on my grammar during the beta readers stage.) After that, I’ll tackle the orange and make an outline of each issue. Once I have a list of page numbers, I’ll fix each problem at a time. That way I know what the rhythm is like and I have my obvious problems out of the way by the time I move into pink. “Other things I want to consider” tend to be strange bits of info that caught me off guard during my initial read through. Something I wasn’t expecting but something that I might want to reconsider. The possibilities are truly endless, but this is another reason to come at your work with fresh eyes. You might realize you accidentally left something from version one of your book’s world building in the current script even though it no longer matters (or, worse, isn’t true anymore).

Now these stages aren’t necessarily taken so cleanly. My latest piece for instance? I started taking the very first draft to my writers’ group, no revisions beforehand. Why? It felt right to me, and sometimes (okay, all the time) you gotta go with your gut. In this case, I wanted to revise as I created. I think a part of the reason this happened was because I began this book for fun. I literally never thought I’d pursue it seriously, so I had no plan, no outline, no road map. It’s been really exciting, but also very challenging. Having beta readers help along the way was the right move. My point being, of course, is that just because you find a revising style that works for you doesn’t mean that you won’t adjust your own methods from project to project.

Be honest with yourself while revising. Find others who will also be honest with you. And revise as many times as your writing heart can take it (and then a few times more).

~SAT

P.S. I recently made the leap and decided to pay WordPress for the premium edition, so you shouldn’t have to see any more ads. I hope you enjoy the cleaner look! (The ads were really starting to bug me.) If you see an ad, take a screenshot and send it to shannonathompson@aol.com. Because they def should not be there.

P.S.S. I also decided to shut down my editing services. After six years of editing, I came to love so many of y’all’s work, and I will forever be a fan. (Shout out to C.E. Johnson, Steve Ramirez, Grant Goodman, Rich Leder, Kristin and Ryan King, and so many more.) I didn’t make this decision lightly. Between my new job at the library and my new goals with my writing career, though, I just couldn’t keep up with the quality and demand anymore. I know this is the right move for me (and for my authors), but my little editor’s heart is sad. I’m sending good vibes to all my authors out there. Thank you for trusting me with your words all of these years. ❤ It was an honor.

How I Outline (And Write) My Novels

4 May

Foreword: This week has been crazy. Between attending the LitUp Festival today, trying to coordinate the cover for TOOK ME YESTERDAY (the sequel of TAKE ME TOMORROW) on Wattpad, and some other crazy exciting news, I almost (ALMOST) let this blog post get away from me. (Thank the writing gods for iCalendar reminders.) That being said, I didn’t have time to plan a topic, so I reached out to you all via my social media to see what you were curious about, and writer Hannah mentioned outlining. (Shout out to Hannah!) So, I thought I’d show you how I outline my books as best as I can. (Which, surprise, surprise, has turned into a HUGE post about how I chaotically write novels.) Enjoy…

Now it begins.

Typically, I start outlining the moment a character/scene/world comes to me. All books approach me a little differently, but I always start off lying to myself by acting like I can stay organized as all these chaotic ideas flood in. Inevitably, I end up opening a new Scrivener project and creating a document called “Chapter One” – like all my ideas will come to me in cute, organized chapters ready to be written. This results in the first few paragraphs being my opening scene…and the rest being a scrambled mess. After, though, is where the real outlining begins.

I suggest starting off a book idea with a couple of documents:

  1. Book Bible: Maybe you don’t need a book bible at this point, but I always start it right away. Even though everything inevitably changes, this gives me one place to organize focused ideas so that they don’t get intermingled with my scenes. I typically have three main ones in separate documents:
    1. Character Sheet is where I collect basics: personality, looks, and character motivation. Character motivation is the most important. Obviously. But you also might not know it at this point, and that’s okay. Try to guess anyway. Get a real feel for your character and/or what you want this book to be about. Without knowing motivation, it might be hard to know why/how your character makes decisions, which, in turn, will make it harder to outline how your scenes move. 
    2. Past Timeline is where I start to collect my lead-up to the beginning of the novel. How did your characters get here? Why are they here? When did certain events shape them into who they are today? Why, out of all times, is this novel starting now?
    3. The World Building sheet is where I start to collect world building ideas. Think of things that happen in the background but won’t be a focus of a scene. Most important thing to ask here: What makes your world unique from all the rest in your genre? Try to emphasize that from the beginning.

It might seem like a lot to start off with a Book Bible, but I have found it helps me keep my outline simple when I move into scenes and dialogue. If I have all my world building notes intermingled with dialogue, scenes can get lost and/or confusing. Granted, once I finally choose a path, I will start to mix these, but in the beginning, I try to keep everything very minimalist. That way, I can see more of the big picture in an easier format.

  1. Unorganized: This document is where I begin writing dialogue or scene ideas. Go ahead and word vomit. Put all your ideas, scenes, etc. here when you have no idea where it is going to go. That way, it’s all on one page, and you can start moving it around when you’re ready. In this stage, I don’t even try to be coherent. I want those ideas down so I don’t forget them. I can reorganize later. Hence, “unorganized.” Embrace the chaos.
  2. Organized, a.k.a. Plan A: Once I finish my “unorganized” sheet, this is where I’ll start to try organizing my thoughts. Ex. Maybe I know I want the book to start with a bank robbery and end with a bigger heist, so I know where those two go. I will also know some basics. Ex. The love interests can’t fall in love until they meet, right? So I can put “X and Y” meet somewhere near the beginning, and then I go from there. This will eventually evolve into Plan B, Plan C, Plan Infinity.

If you’re still with me, yay! I know that was a little confusing. But I like to start where I begin in order to show where I end up. I’m the sort of outliner that’s always building on outlines upon outlines upon outlines upon outlines. So let’s move onto when I’m in the writing stages.

When I begin writing my books, I write a sort-of screenplay version first. This means bare bones, no descriptions, no prose, just dialogue and a few notes about what is physically happening. Below is an example from my current WIP. This tiny paragraph will literally become an entire chapter. It might not make sense to you, but it does to me, and that’s what matters. Take notes the way you need to take them.

After I have a screenplay version down for a couple of chapters, I stop to write in the prose. I may have an idea of where I want to go, but I don’t like to get too ahead of myself, because I know how characters can be. They don’t always follow the plan. In my current WIP, for instance, I have a plan for the rest of the book, but I’ve only written a screenplay for the next three chapters. (I’m also in the climax, so things are getting hairy!) Now that I’m writing, though, my outline will change dramatically. I’ve also learned that I’m not the type of writer who should edit as I go. I may edit prose to get back into what I wrote before, but I have stopped trying to edit whole scenes if I realize it needs to change while I’m writing. Ex. In my current WIP, my beta readers pointed out that one of my side characters needed (and, yes, I forgot this in a first draft) purpose in their own life rather than just exist to serve my MC. Instead of rewriting every scene they appear in, I kept writing, let myself explore the side character’s plot more, and realized what they needed earlier on in order to make their final actions exciting and, well, purposeful. If I had gone back and tried to force it, I would’ve wasted my time. Instead, I just put a little note (okay, a huge note, along with my beta readers’ notes) back in their opening chapter. Here’s a live shot of my beta readers putting me in my place. (God, I love them.)

Once you begin writing, I suggest keeping new documents and folders to stay organized, especially the deeper you get into your work. (And this is why I love Scrivener. It helps me stay organized at all stages in the process.) Currently, here’s what my WIP looks like. (And I’ll discuss what each of these are.)

CURRENT WRITING NOTES: This folder gets created as I get closer to the end of my book. It’s when I know I need to start making hard decisions, and I’m approaching the revision stage of my work. This is what all my other folders will eventually be placed into as I work through edits.

Completed outline:This is an outline of all the chapters I’ve already written. I always keep this as I create, as it helps me look back if I need to.

Past timeline: Same document as explained above. How did your characters get to the beginning of your book? It will grow as you write.

Written: I should call this “Written, but unused.” This is typically sections of the book I cut out while editing while writing. (I know, I know, I said I didn’t do that above, but alas, I lied to myself.) Also, this might happen in the screenplay version moving into the prose version. But it’s parts I love too much to let go and might reevaluate as I move into revisions.

Ideas: Similar to above, except never used ideas that I will reevaluate moving into revisions.

To-Do Editing: This is where I put my notes for things I know I will edit. Ex. That section about Scram above.

World Building Final: This is where I solidify my world building.

MANUSCRIPT

Beta Read: This folder includes all the chapters that have been beta read, along with their notes.

Drafted: This folder includes all the chapters that are written but haven’t been beta read yet.

To-Write: Obviously, what I still need to write.

Current Decision: This is an outline of what I think is going to happen.

Issues: Problems I still have that I need to fix.

Pending Ideas: Ideas that I want to happen, but haven’t found a place yet.

Nixie/Mire climax notes: Obviously, a part of my climax I’m working on, but have yet to place.

Main Plot Holes: Bigger issues to think about as I come to the end of the book. At this point in my process, I’m being brutal on myself. It’s time to be.

Chapter 25: B: Notes: This is the chapter outline for 25.

Chapters 26: M: Notes: This is the chapter outline for 26.

Women of Fates: Also a huge scene I’m working out that I know happens after 25/26, but before the ending.

Ending M/B: The ending is actually already written, but I keep it here in case things change. M and B stand in for my main two characters, Bram and Mireille.

PUBLISH/EXTRAS: My favorite folder. The fun folder.

Songs: A list of songs I’ve used to write. Even better? Try to say what scene it was for. That way, when you go back to edit, you can get back into that headspace.

Query: Yes, I’m already working on my query letter/proposal.

Don’t forget your Pinterest board either!

As you can see, my method is a bit chaotic, but it makes sense to me, and that’s what matters. You need to find what works for you. But maybe there’s something in here you see that you’ve never tried before but might try now.  

How do you outline? If you have any questions about specific folders/documents, let me know. I’m happy to elaborate! 

~SAT

Writing with a Motivational Calendar

13 Apr

My life has changed quite a bit over the past year. Between moving and starting (two) new jobs, I’ve had to adjust my writing life and the way I think about my writing life. As many of you know, I currently work full time at the library and then work part time as a freelance editor. Suffice it to say, I don’t have a ton of time to pursue writing, but I try not to let that get me down (because I definitely don’t have extra time to feel down about it either, though it happens from time to time).

So what does a full-time working adult do to feel like they’re still pursuing their writing dreams?

Well, write, of course, but I also keep a motivational calendar.

What’s a motivational calendar?

Technically, it could be whatever you want. Mine, in fact, has changed over the years. A couple years ago, for instance, I liked to have a “future” motivational calendar. Meaning, I would write down goals for that week, and then get it done. Now my calendar is focused on the past. Every day, I take the time to record everything I did to pursue my writing goals. Mostly, I write down my current word count, how many queries I sent, how many writing-related jobs (such as a literary internship) I applied for, and other miscellaneous info. I also make sure to outline where I started on Day 1 and then I update that info on the last day. That way, I can see progress. Oh, and my favorite part, I highlight major accomplishments, like a full request from an agent. 

Here’s a snapshot of my January calendar.

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Since it’s small, here’s some facts. I started 2019 with my WIP “The Girl With The Thousand Faces” being 26,996 words in first draft/plotting. At the end, it was 31,533 with significant world building being finalized. My other WIP “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” started at 53,633 in its second draft. It ended with 81,938 words and completed. In that time, I also applied for four jobs and sent out five queries on my YA sci-fi “Immersion.” Most exciting of all? I received a full request from an agent for “Immersion” and won the Secret Agent contest with my historical “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” which also resulted in a full request from an agent. (P.S. Both are still pending, so keep your fingers crossed for me.)

It might seem tedious or silly to keep track of all the ways you pursue your dreams, but to me, it keeps me motivated. It helps me remind myself how hard I am working – that I haven’t given up my writing dreams because X, Y, or Z in life – and that I will keep trying. Plus, it’s easy to forget all that you do on a day-by-day basis, and by having a physical representation of it, you won’t forget. You’ll know how hard you work (and also know it’s okay to take a break). You might notice, for instance, that I don’t write every day, or do anything some days. And that’s okay. 

One word at a time, one day at a time, right?

Oh, and one more note of importance.

My calendar is definitely cat-themed.

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~SAT

 

My Average Day as an Author

2 Feb

Despite tons of movies and books revolving around authors and publishers, the life of the average author is still pretty mysterious to most. Why?

  1. Hollywood never gets publishing right. Ever. This is the one fact agents, editors, publicists, and authors agree with.
  2. An author’s journey to publication is unique, VERY unique, and authors’ lives reflect that.

Being an author is hard work. And most authors—yes, even famous New York Times bestsellers—can’t afford to be full-time writers without someone else supplementing their income, health care, etc., and even then most of us have day jobs or a side hustle or both! I could go on and on about the different types of author lives I’ve seen out there, but I thought I’d share mine instead.

So what’s my average day as an author like?

Morning: Time to get up and go to work

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Also, my co-worker got me a desk blanket, so I stay warm all day.

Yes, I work a full-time day job. I currently work in marketing for the Mid-Continent Public Library. Basically, I study our demographics and choose programming that I think would best suit our community. I also change out displays, research tools we could utilize, and work on desk serving the community. (Librarians have to be super flexible. You go wherever demands are needed, and that changes any given minute.) It’s an 8-5 instead of 9-5 (because librarians don’t get paid for their lunch break at my location), so I actually spend a minimum of 45 hours a week at work. That being said, I love my job. It’s pretty fulfilling.

Lunch Break, a.k.a. Precious Writing Time

At my day job, we are required to take a one-hour lunch break (again, not paid). Which is fine with me. I spend about 15 minutes slamming whatever meal-prep nonsense I made the night before, and then I spend the rest of the 45 minutes writing whatever I can in my book. I actually just hit my first 10,000 words accomplished on my lunch break alone, which felt like a huge stepping stone for me. If the writing isn’t working that day, I spend my lunch break writing blog posts (like this one!) or updating my author website, scheduling social media posts, checking my e-mail, reading my beta partners’ latest, or editing work for my clients. Clients, you ask? Yes, I have another job on top of my library job. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

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Finishing Work

Sometimes at work, I get to process books, which basically means checking returned books and giving them the all-clear to go back out on the floor. My work is nice enough to allow us to listen to podcasts or music during these shifts. (They don’t happen every day, but I thought it important to mention since I get some work done during this as well.) Basically, if I’m lucky enough, I can listen to a writing podcast or a podcast focusing on my current research. It helps catch me up some weeks, not going to lie. Also, I’ve learned to love processing as a reader. I stumble across all kinds of books I never would have found on my own, and it’s broadened my reading spectrum like no other. I read more adult books than ever before, and it’s nice to have a reprieve from YA every now and then.

After Work to Bedtime

I drive home, generally listening to more research podcasts. If errands need to be run—groceries, gas, etc.—they’re typically done here. When I get home, it’s time to feed the cats, clean the dishes, make dinner, meal prep for the next day, exercise (or so I tell myself), and get to bed. Very rarely do I have the energy to write during this time frame, but I usually have the time to read. I catch up on my latest and head to bed, ready for another day.

So what about my weekends?

04cc48864d346eebfdf2a4d7e6747617On Saturdays, I spend the entire day working on my services. Between editing during my lunch breaks and editing all day Saturday, I spend about 15-20 hours per week editing. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I won’t lie, I considered shutting down my services when I started my full-time job, but I just couldn’t. I love editing too much, and I have a number of clients I love to work with over and over. (Shout out to Steven Ramirez, C.E. Johnson, Grant Goodman, J.N. Colon, Rich Leder, and more! Seriously, check out their books. They are all so talented.) At the end of the day, editing is still one of my passions, and I want to spend time working with authors on their novels. Not going to lie, though, while I’m editing, I spend time catching up on housework. (Those dishes and laundry won’t clean themselves.) And I drink a lot of coffee. Obviously

I take Sunday off. No emails. No editing. No writing. I even try to refrain from social media. It’s time to spend with family without distractions. And then, Monday starts the chaos all over again.

That’s my average author life.

I work one full-time job and one part-time job, but I try to fit my author life in with everything else.On average, I work 60 hours per week. I may not have the most writing time or personal time or TIME, but hey, I’m doing the best I can every day. Every novel was written one word at a time, just as this blog post was, and I’m about to put more down after this!

Fun fact: I’ve actually covered this three times in the past, because my life has changed that much. If you’re curious, this is what my life was like as a night-working full-time freelance editor and publicist in 2015, and here’s my post in 2013 that covered what my writing life was like as a full-time college senior working part-time at a publisher.

So what’s your average day as an author like?

~SAT

2018: The Year of Writing Limbo

29 Dec

Last year I wrote this article—2017 Wasn’t My Writing Year—and I talked about failing my top three goals. Those goals were wanting an internship at literary agency, working for a library, and signing with a literary agent.

Every year, I write an article like this. But this year, despite struggling to find time to blog, I had to make myself follow up about this year. I mean, come on, I succeeded at one of my major goals! Two months after my past article, I was hired by the library, and last month, I was promoted and became full time. In regards to my other goals, I actually had the opportunity to speak to two literary agencies about internships this year, but with all my life changes going on, I had to back out. But hey, I’m still in contact with them about a future opportunity once life settles down.

This year, I didn’t make any goals for myself.Mainly because I realized how hard I was on myself last year due to the goals I created. In fact, I took a long, hard look at those goals and realized I shouldn’t have goals with uncontrollable results. Ex. “Signing with a literary agent” shouldn’t be a goal dependent on one year. The goal should’ve been “finish writing that new book,” or “query X amount of good fits this summer,” or “take a query workshop to improve your skills.” So, yes, signing with an agent is still a dream of mine, but I’ve learned how to redefine my goals overtime.

So what did I do this year to achieve my dreams?

To be honest, I barely wrote. I sent out a limited number of queries. I didn’t have a single publication come out for the first time in six years.

I could concentrate on the negative, or I could concentrate on this:

I was hired by the library, one of my dreams, and I was promoted eight months later. We moved into a better, healthier house and neighborhood, and my health is improving. I was featured in YASH (the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt) twice! I was invited to speak and sign books at the LitUp Festival, a YA festival run by teens. They were amazing, and I had so much fun. I even got to meet one of my memoir heroes, Ishmael Beah. Clean Teen Publishing released  Bad Bloods: November Snow as an audiobook, narrated by Jonathan Johns, and Minutes Before Sunset also released as an audiobook, narrated by Sarah Puckett and Steve Campbell. They were a blast to work with. I also signed books at the Local Author Fair here in Kansas City, and saw my books in a library for the first time. And I never stopped writing. I finished writing my first historical fantasy during NaNoWriMo, worked on lots of beta reader notes, beta read many books myself, and began writing my next sci-fi.

2018 highlights

So you know what? I did just fine, new publications or not, agent or not, internship or not.

I did my best every day, and I’m going to continue doing my best every day, and I feel pretty good about it in retrospect. Now, to be kinder to myself on a regular basis. I think I’d be a much happier, healthier person.

This is my only goal for 2019.

~SAT

Can Someone Steal Your Book Idea?

21 Apr

Can someone steal your book idea?

I tend to find there are two responses to this question:

  1. Absolutely! YES! Someone did that to meeee!
  2. NO WAY. Never happens. It’s impossible, because your idea can only be written by you.

To be honest, I think both of these answers are a little too black and white. If I had to share my opinion—which, obvs, I am—I believe “stealing an idea” lands somewhere in the middle of these two responses.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I agree with both of them. Because, yes, someone can steal your idea. If you hand them your pitch or outline or character sheet, those people can take it and do something with it. Granted, now siding with the second answer, no matter what that person does with your idea, it will never be exactly how you would’ve done it, so one way or another, they will make it their own.

Publishing crimes 101

So is it stealing?

I DON’T KNOW.

I think this is one of those gray, really uncomfortable areas of publishing that many people tiptoe around because they are afraid of looking paranoid or offending others or causing an uproar, but why can’t we talk about it? Why can’t we talk about the fact that this does happen sometimes?

When I was younger, lots of writers were on Wattpad; many of which did blatantly “borrow” premises or literal lines from one another’s work without permission. In fact, sometimes I think this happens a lot when writers transition from writing fan fiction to writing something independent of other works. Fan fiction can be a fantastic place to learn about the craft of writing, but it is one of those blurry places. So is “inspiration.” For instance, we can be inspired by another tale, and recreate it into something new.

We never call a fairytale retelling stealing for a reason. That’s because those writers are making that tale their own. It’s unique in the way they reconstruct the story and how they tell the story throughout the piece. But what if someone took Harry Potter and retold it? Would everyone be okay with that? I think it would depend on how similar the two pieces were and what was changed. And to be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see something like that happen sooner rather than later.

So let’s talk about those blurred lines. You know, the ones that happen when #PitMad tweets suddenly seem the same, or how similar novels get sold to different editors at the same time, or how novelists will use current best-sellers as influences when writing a piece. We could get into trends and talk about how publishing is still a business and la la la. But I could go on forever about that, so I thought I’d share a story of my own.

I’ve had something like idea stealing happen to me before.

About two years ago, when MSWL was first taking off, I had my first manuscript I felt was ready to query to agents, and I found a new agent on that hashtag that I thought was a good fit. I sent her my work. She loved the sample pages and requested more, and then she asked for an R&R, outlining what parts she liked and didn’t like. I rewrote, but it still didn’t work out. Not a big deal, right? Right. I totally agree that we weren’t a good fit for one another with that manuscript. However, to my surprise (and a bit of horror), when I logged into Twitter that evening, she had tweeted out a near-replica of my manuscript’s pitch to MSWL. Long story short, another author out in the Twitter verse responded to that sort-of-mine-pitch (seriously, I wish I could explain how close it was, but just trust me, it was unbearably close), and she signed that author who later went on to get a three-figure deal in less than six months. Granted, the book releases later this year, so I have no clue just how similar it is. I doubt it’s that similar. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that I felt like there was a direct violation of author-agent trust. She shared my pitch without asking me, end of story.

So did that agent steal my idea? No, not really. Because she didn’t go and shop my story pretending she had written it. She simply reached out to others who happened to have a similar idea to mine already written. But was it shady as hell? Yes, I think so. To this day, I have anxiety around MSWL because of it, even though it was one instance that I doubt would happen again. In fact, I still sent my next manuscript to this agent, because she asked me to send her my next piece. Her response? Form rejection. But did she tweet out my new idea on MSWL? No. How do I feel now? Still a little weird about the whole thing, I won’t lie, but I don’t think any of it was that personal either, even if it feels that way some days.

Sometimes many of us have similar ideas at the same time. Why wouldn’t we? We all live at the same time in this weird world, often influenced by the same constructs (whether it be celebrities or politics or social scandals). So, it shouldn’t be a surprise when a dozen, if not hundreds, of writers are writing similar stories. To be honest, I think this is what happens most of the time. We share our idea, someone already has a similar idea, and we automatically think they stole it rather than thought of it themselves. But there’s truly no way to prove it. And that’s why this topic is such a sensitive, slippery slope.

The masses in publishing have deemed this sort of claim as immature rubbish, but I think that’s super harsh. After my experience with having my pitch shared without permission, I felt a little violated. I actually stopped participating in many Twitter events for most of last year because of it. But then, I realized that I let this one shady experience ruin all the fun times I was having with other writers. So, I started to share again, and I am having a blast.

If someone “steals” my idea, fine. I have plenty more, and so do most writers. In fact, I think writers really need to keep that in mind when considering if someone “stole” their idea or not. Most of us already have too many ideas in our own heads to have time to consider other people’s ideas. Also, most writers need to feel passionate about something in order to write 80,000 words or more, and then rewrite it over and over and over again. “Stealing” an idea is probably the last way to become successful. Why? Well, A) It’s not your story, and B) You will eventually burnout, or C) The publishing gods will sick writing-idea demons on you, and you will forever be on the ominous blacklist.

Okay. So maybe not that last one. But you get what I mean.

Someone “stealing” ideas is probably very rare, but if you’re feeling that way, take a few breaths and reflect on if it’s truly stolen, and if so, don’t let it get you down. You thought it up. You planned it out. You can still write it. At the end of the day, your story will always be your story. 

Besides, your voice will be how you tell your story. And no one can steal that.

~SAT

 

Why Some Books Resonate and Others Don’t

31 Mar

I’m here to tell you why some books resonate and others don’t. Why? Because so many publishers/agents/editors are out there searching for the next big thing, and many authors are trying to become that. As authors, sometimes we stare at three or four different projects and wonder which one we should work on next (because we want to know which one would be more successful), and if we somehow knew how to predict that, we could cut back on a lot of work stress (and readers could get more books they love).

So how do you know which books will resonate?

Short answer: You don’t.

But the long answer?

There are numerous “reasons” a book will resonate with millions (or even hundreds) of people, but I put the word “reasons” in quotes for a reason. Most of these reasons are theories. Even if we do “know,” it is not necessarily a fact. Confusing? Stay with me. We’re going to talk about it.

Let’s start with the obvious place. The dreaded M word: Marketing.

It’s easy to see popular authors and their huge marketing budgets and think, “No wonder they are so successful! Who wouldn’t be with a billboard on 5th Ave?” But let’s chill out for a minute. Most authors started somewhere small. Most authors, even the current NYT bestsellers, did not get a huge budget on their debut. Their publishers decided to use a huge budget after the sold well the first time. Granted, marketing definitely has an effect, but it’s not the end all be all. Thousands of books get huge marketing deals a year but still don’t become the franchises everyone on the team was hoping for. Some books get very little marketing budgets, but then ARCs go out in the world and readers start clamoring for them and publishers have to rush to get a bigger budget behind it. (A great example of this is Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. She talked about it on the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast, so go check it out if you want to hear that story. It’s very informative.) Basically, having backing will definitely help get your books in front of readers, but that doesn’t guarantee those readers will fall for the hype.

So now let’s look at books that did succeed.

Twilight! The Hunger Games! The Harry Potter series! Fifty Shades of Grey! Do you know what these books had in common? Lots of rejections. Lots of closed doors. Lots of what ifs. So clearly, “predicting” the books that will succeed is not obvious, not even for the professionals.

Some of the biggest books of our recent times were not expected to be HUGE hits. But there are some reasons that they succeeded that we can discuss.

So Twilight didn’t just have great timing; Hollywood had great timing too. It was arguably the first time Hollywood acknowledged the potential of a female-focused film fan base and they ran with it. Harry Potter, on the other hand, was a book that resonated with everyone between the ages of 8 and 50+, so it was another perfect option for the books-to-film boom. Not to mention all the new tech, with graphics making chasing sci-fi and fantasy films better than before. Granted, these books were already super popular before they were films, so let’s talk about The Hunger Games, because I think that one has an interesting study behind it. 

Looking back on The Hunger Games boom, many theorists believe it took off because it was published at the same time that the teens reading were the same people who were in middle school when 9/11 happened. And I think that study might be spot-on. (I say this as someone who fits into this exact category.)

Teens at that age in that time were searching for books that explained war and government and tragedy, and The Hunger Games gave not only a safe place to explore those themes but a modern place. What do I mean by “modern”? We all grew up on The Giver and Logan’s Run and all the other dystopian classics, but The Hunger Games was the brand-new dystopian my generation was itching for.

But again, that’s just a theory.

Maybe it was just a fantastic book, but there were millions of fantastic books that came out that year that didn’t take off the same way, so I tend to agree with some theories presented.

Timing is everything, and yet timing is rarely predictable.

Lots of editors and agents and publishers and authors want to have great timing (or think they know what the next trend will be), and maybe they’re right, but no one has ever predicted the HUGE breakthrough sellers with extreme accuracy.

To be honest, sometimes I don’t know if there is a reason to it. Everyone says retrospect is 20/20, but maybe we only say that because we can look back and justify the path that it took, rather than truly understand how that path happened in the first place.

At the end of the day, I look at book sales the way I look at my blog posts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve researched and spent hours on one blog post that goes nowhere, while in comparison a blog post I slapped together last minute pulled in hundreds more viewers than I ever expected. I can try to track it as much as I like. My website host will show me where my posts are shared (Pinterest, FB, etc.) and what was Googled to get others here, but even then, most of the stats are nonsensical at the end of the day.

Sometimes things just resonate, and sometimes they don’t, so what I do?

I stopped worrying about what resonates with others and started focusing on what resonates with me.  

As the author, if I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, I know my readers won’t. The first step with any book is to write what you care about first. Finish that. And then worry about editing and getting a publishing deal.

Maybe your next piece of work will resonate with the world. Maybe it won’t. But at least you know that it resonated with you. And if it resonates with you, trust me, it will resonate with someone else out there. So if I would leave you with anything, it’s this:

Write what you want to write, always.

~SAT

P.S. I’m in YASH Spring 2018 this year! If you don’t know what that is, it’s the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt, and my post goes up April 3. This also means my usual blog schedule is getting moved around a bit. I hope you’ll stop by on April 3, because there’s tons of prizes to be won. My regular blog posts will return April 14! 

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