Tag Archives: how to write

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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Writers, Stop Comparing Yourselves

20 Feb

Recently, I finished my first manuscript of 2017. It was also my first pantsing novel…and a novel that I’m truly excited about. So excited, in fact, that I think it fueled me to write more than usual and share more information about a WIP than I normally do. If you follow my social media, you might have seen my adventure as I shared my growing word count over the last two months. It was a fast first draft. And wonderful, too! But when I shared that I finished, I received a few messages: How do you write so fast? Should I be able to reach that word count every day? Is it even a good draft? How many drafts do you write? What do you recommend I do?

All reasonable questions. Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than happy to answer them, too, but at its core, the answer is simple: My writing methods will not be your writing methods, and your writing methods won’t be mine. You have to find what works for you.

I never share word counts or inspiration boards or sneak peeks, because I want you to compare yourself to me. I share those things, because they are fun—and writing can be lonely and hard work. You see “The End” on my Instagram, while I see two months without weekends and wayyyy too much caffeine in my blood (and maybe one mental breakdown in between Chapter Sixteen and Chapter Twenty-Eight).

Taking a small breather to have fun on Instagram with fellow writers and readers is often the only breather I get all day. And I love seeing other writers share those milestones, because we’re in this together. We love the same thing: words. And it’s a delight to share them. (Especially after said mental breakdown between Chapter Sixteen and Chapter Twenty-Eight.)

That being said, I understand that social media sharing can bum other writers out. It can make a writer feel like they’re not doing enough, accomplishing enough, or sharing enough. The comparison bug hits writers a lot. And trust me, it isn’t worth it. You’ll only end up in a pity-party hosted by your worst inner critic.

I mean, does this even look fun?

I mean, does this even look fun?

Kick that critic out of your writing office right meow. Why? Because no writing journey is the same. No story is the same. No writer is either.

The key is figuring out what works for you, and then moving forward every day to the best of your ability.

That’s it.

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep trying. It will work—though I will admit that it will be difficult. You will absolutely struggle and get rejections and feel like giving up. We all have felt bad/sad/hopeless at some point in our writing journey. (And more than once.) That fact sometimes helps more than anything.

Comparison, in practice, isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes seeing a writer friend of mine hit a huge goal pushes me to sit back down to achieve my own goals. Often, when I’m feeling down, I research my favorite authors and read about their writing journey to see how they struggled and achieved and kept on keeping on. That could be considered comparison, but at its core, it isn’t comparison. It’s inspiration. By reading about others’ journeys, I’m reminded that we all have our own future ahead of us. I am who I am and I’m trying to get to where I want to be, and there are millions of authors who did the same before me. It’s inspiration. And hope. And fun.

But comparison is a precarious edge—one that anyone can slip over easily at any moment.

Always remind yourself that you are you, and this is your journey.

So next time you see someone hit a word count or get a publishing deal or finish a first draft, and you feel that sting of jealously/resentment/exhaustion, take a step back and relax. (And kick that inner critic out.)

You don’t need to write 1,000 words every day. You don’t need to go to a million conferences or garner a movie deal before the age of 32.

You just gotta be you.

Keep writing, and keep achieving goals your way, and trust me, you’ll get there.

You’re already on the way.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

22 Aug

Naming characters is really important! It can also be fun…and a little daunting. Choosing them can take hours, and on top of that, publishers might change them anyway. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the process. In this article, I’ll list a few aspects to consider while naming your characters, and I’ll include websites you can use as tools to find the perfect name.

Have fun!

1. Time & Culture

Is it believable that your character’s parents would name them something within the setting’s restrictions? Of course, there are exceptions, but consider the year. 1880 is going to be VERY different from 2030. Research your setting! If you want, you can actually look up popular names through the years at SSA, [Social Security Association.] Also, BabyNames.com allows you to explore baby names based on origin, ex. Irish names, Persian names, etc. Babynames.com provides thousands of names within cultures, meanings, genders, and more. You can even save your favorite names as you skip around. (Don’t be surprised if people ask you why you’re looking up baby names in public. I’ve been “congratulated” on a number of occasions.)

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2. Last Names and Family Lineage

Remember most parents use iambic pentameter for names. The rhythm should work. On top of that, you can consider naming a character after another character. A son may be named after his father or grandfather. Last Name Meanings provides a list of last names and where they derived from, along with the meaning behind them.

3. Unique and Memorable

Of course everyone knows not to use names already used in very famous novels, but what about within your own book? Avoid repetitive names or sounds. You probably don’t want to name everyone with a “J” name. It’d be hard to follow Jack, John, Jared, and Jill around. Personally, I suggest making a list of characters names in alphabetical order so you can physically see what is represented. Consider start, end, and syllables. The exception generally happens within relationships. Example? If you have brothers, maybe they will have similar names, but don’t overdo it.

4. Mixing Names (Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

Listen, we all know sci-fi/fantasy generally calls for unique names, but tread carefully. Having a character names Zzyklazinsky is going to be WAY too hard for a reader’s eyes. Sometimes, your best bet is taking well-known names and simply mixing them to create something more relatable but unique, ex. Serena + Violet = Serolet. Try NameCombiner.com to see what you can come up with.

5. Look All Around You

There are so many references on the Internet to find names. Other than those websites stated above, get creative. Pick up an old yearbook. You’ll be surprised how many different first and last names (along with rhythms) you can find. However, I suggest not using a person’s exact name, but rather use it as a reference. Maybe a first or a last. When I recently atteneded a high school graduation, I kept the pamphlet with all the names on it. There’s nothing like needing a quick reference – a real one – that isn’t online. Even funnier? A real Noah Welborn was on there. (My male protagonist from The Timely Death Trilogy is named Eric Welborn, but his little brother is named Noah Welborn.) Sometimes, reality fuses with fiction. And, of course, life in general. If you’re at a restaurant and notice your waiter’s name on his nametag, jot it down. Even if you don’t use it now, you might in the future…which brings me to my last point.

Keep a list of names that you love (and maybe even why you love them). That way, when you’re ready to write another book, you have a notebook filled with ideas already, and you can start right away.

A mixture of all these things creates a list of believable characters, and I really hope you’ll enjoy playing around with names more than before!

Original posted April 29, 2013

~SAT

Here are two of my FREE books:

Bad Bloods: November Rain

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Minutes Before Sunset

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#MondayBlogs Writing Tips: Different Perspectives

8 Aug

I love writing from different perspectives. Both my YA series—The Timely Death Trilogy and Bad Bloods—are written in first POV but from two different speakers. I love using this technique for novel writing, because I enjoy first person, but I dislike how it restricts the storytelling to one character, especially when a scene would be better from a different perspective. So, I have two protagonists, and of course, there are complications that come along with this. What’s the most common question I am asked?

How do you make each voice unique?

I’ll provide a few aspects to keep in mind, but of course, this journey will be different for every writer and every novel. First, know that every character should have its own distinct voice. A reader should be able to open the novel and know who is speaking immediately. This is more difficult than it sounds, but it can get easier over time.

1. Perspective. 

The most obvious change between one voice to another is their unique perspective. What is their background? How do they feel? Where were they educated? Are they affecting the words, or are you? It’s important that characters have their own voice, and that voice will come out in combination with their personalities and backgrounds. For instance, your character who is a fashion designer would definitely use specific colors and fabrics to describe clothes, but your mechanic character might not.

2. Pay Attention to Diction and Syntax

Just like authors have their own “voice,” so do characters. Because of their backgrounds, characters will have different vocabularies. One character may use very flowery language, while another may have less of a need to elaborate. Consider their education, where they come from, and what they might know. The way they speak should differ, whether they are talking out loud or explaining the scene inwardly. Sometimes, syntax can be used to emphasize certain speech patterns, but be careful not to overuse syntax. Too many exclamations or repeated habits/phrases can become tedious and boring rather than unique and fun. Sometimes less is more. Little clues are normally enough.

3. Consider Rhythm

Honestly, I think rhythm is often overlooked, but paying attention to subtle changes in sound and length of sentences is important. One character’s thoughts may drag on, so their sentences are longer, while another might make short lists to contain their thoughts. Like everything making up your character, a person’s rhythm will depend on their personality, background, and goals. It could even change from scene to scene, but consistency is key.

All four of these women would tell a different story about this picture.

All four of these women would tell a different story about this picture.

One of my favorite exercises:

Write a chapter in which the two characters are talking. Write it from POV 1, and then, rewrite the exact same scene from POV 2. Check to make sure the dialogue and the physical actions are the exact same, but then, compare the thought process. How did the scene change? What does this change mean? Do they each bring a unique perspective? And out of those perspectives, which one is best to use?

As an example, two people can be talking and Person A could notice Person B is fidgeting. Person A may assume Person B is nervous, but when you tell it from Person B’s perspective, you learn that they are distracted, not nervous. These little bits can truly morph the way characters interact. I always encourage this exercise when starting out, even if the writer isn’t planning on telling from another’s perspective.

This exercise helps me understand the characters, and I feel more confident when I move onto a new scene. (Sometimes, it even helps me choose which scene to use…and worse case scenario, you have an extra scene to release as an extra for your readers.)

Have fun and good luck! 

Original posted March 31, 2013

~SAT

Bad Bloods: November Rain is FREE across all eBook platforms right now! (And I’m dutifully working on the next installment, too!) Happy reading. 😀

November Rain

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November Snow, 

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Bad Bloods Free Book

Bad Bloods Free Book

 

Website Wonders

27 Jun

Every month, I share all of the websites I come across that I find helpful, humorous, or just awesome. Below, you’ll find all of June’s Website Wonders categorized into Writing, Fiction, Illustrations, and Photography/Film.

If you enjoy these websites, be sure to follow me on Twitter because I share even more websites and photos like this there.

Favorite Article:

Crap someone should have told you writers by now by Rebecca T. Dickson: I loved this list of truths for writers. It’s humbling and encouraging, while also explaining how things really are.

Writing:

57 Tips For Writers, From Writers “The hardest part is believing in yourself at the notebook stage. It is like believing in dreams in the morning.” – Erica Jong

Chekhov’s Gun: How To Use It When Writing Your Novel: An interesting plot device often overlooked (but easily overused)

The Four Undramatic Plot Structures: I really enjoyed this infographic. It cracked me up.

Fiction:

13350382_1054368928003537_6252562232697559884_o20 Amazing J.R.R. Tolkien-Inspired Tattoos 

What’s The Fastest (Fictional) Spaceship In The Universe? 

Illustrations:

Untranslatable Words from Marija Tiurina: Such a beautiful collection of art! 

Artist Turns Everyday Sayings Into Clever Pun Illustrations: Take Control was my favorite.

Photography/Film:

40+ Astonishing Photographs Of The World That Steal Your Heart Immediately. I love photography, and this is a great collection

Japanese Couple Beautifully Captures Their Cats Watching Them Eat! I love cats. This is perfection.

Fantasy of Flight captured in photo shoots: Gorgeous photos of people flying

Where the Sounds From the World’s Favorite Movies Are Born: An awesome video!

See you next month!

~SAT

What are readers already saying about Bad Bloods?

“November Rain was thrilling and exciting and gets readers excited for more. It really focuses on the attributes of family, friends and loyalty, which was really refreshing to see in a dystopian novel. I will definitely be continuing on with this duology.” – Ronnie’s World Blog

Clean Teen Publishing is throwing a Facebook party on July 8 from 6-8 PM (EST), where you can win prizes and chat with authors. Click here to join.

CTP's Sizzling Summer Reads FB Party

Pre-Order Bad Bloods

November Rain, Part One, releases July 18, 2016

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November Snow, Part Two, releases July 25, 2016

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#WW Website Wonders

25 May

Every month, I share all of the websites I come across that I find helpful, humorous, or just awesome. Below, you’ll find all of May’s Website Wonders categorized into Writing, Reading, and Exploring.

If you enjoy these websites, be sure to follow me on Twitter because I share even more websites and photos like this there.

Favorite Article: What is Your Magic Number? by Kristin Nelson

Kristin Nelson, as many writers know, is a literary agent (Nelson Literary Agency), and she’s a genius. She writes #PubRants and other helpful articles and tidbits to help writers get out there and stay confident. This article is a perfect example of that. It’s short, sweet, and too the point. Nearly everyone writes numerous manuscripts before getting published, and almost no one is an overnight success. I love her honesty and sincerity. Definitely recommended.

Writing:

37 Free Online Writing Courses From Top Universities: For those looking for an awesome place to learn

The Shape of Stories (infographic) Every story you love can be retold with one of eight sentences

21 Pieces of Handwriting So Perfect They Are Borderline Erotic: I have terrible handwriting, so this almost killed me with envy.

How To Write (infographic)

22 of the Best Single Sentences on Writing: Write your heart out.

Love this mug!

Love this mug!

Reading:

7 Books to Make You a Better Critical Thinker

The Top Ten Literary Love Quotes: “Each time you happen to me all over again.” – Edith Wharton

10 Ancient Books That Promise Supernatural Powers: Because why not?

Exploring:

22 Breathtaking Photos of Abandoned Places: I love abandoned places. They are perfect settings for novels (or simply perfect for stirring the imagination).

Mindblowing Photographs of the Last Surviving Tribes on Earth

I’m still posting my usual Saturday post this week, and then, of course, the Ketchup (“catch up”) post on Monday.

After that, see you in June!

~SAT

GoodreadsGiveawaySign up to win a Bad Bloods paperback in this Goodreads GiveawayI mean, who doesn’t want a free paperback? This was also this week’s Teaser Tuesday, but regular ones will continue next week. If you want SIGNED paperbacks, read my news below!

Come see me at the Barnes & Noble for B-Fest in Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, KS on Saturday, June 11 from 1-3 PM for a book signing and author panel. More info on my Events page.

November Rain, Part One, releases July 18, 2016

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November Snow, Part Two, releases July 25, 2016

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#WritingTips No, Reading Is Not An Option.

17 Feb

As an author and full-time editor, I’m coming across more and more writers who don’t read their own genre, or—even worse—don’t read at all. There are generally two types of these writers.

1. Writers who claim to read but obviously don’t (and I’ll get to how it is obvious later).

2. Writers who haven’t read anything since they left high school twenty years ago.

Spoiler Alert: Neither of these options is okay.

Writers, please, oh please, you must read—and you must read often, especially in your own genre. As the famous Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” I adamantly agree with him.

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Reading is the foundation of writing. Much like how crawling helps a child learn how to walk, then run, and so on, reading helps a writer learn how to form sentences, structure a plot, and introduce something new and interesting to the market. That last one is a big deal (and I think the most overlooked one). This is also the main way agents/publishers/readers figure out you’re lying if you claim to read but you don’t. Recently, I was reading an article from an agent who was talking about his number one pet peeve in query letters. There is a huge trend in writers saying, “My work is better than anything X genre has ever produced.” This signaled to him that A. You don’t read X genre, and B. You don’t respect your own genre, fellow co-workers, or your readers. So why are you writing in this genre? He’s not the only one with this opinion either. Another article by Writer’s Digest pokes fun of this trend: 10 Ways to Never Get Published.

Constantly reading allows you to familiarize yourself with the genre and to see how the genre grows. As an example, I’ve seen MAJOR changes in young adult since I was fourteen. (And they are awesome changes!) But if I had stopped reading YA when I started seriously writing it, I wouldn’t know what readers are looking for. I wouldn’t know what has been done already. I wouldn’t know the appropriate language, word count, or topics/themes for that audience. I, basically, wouldn’t know anything. I wouldn’t have those “tools” Stephen King talked about in regards to writing.

So pick up a book. Pick up five. Try a new one, try an old one, try one you never thought you’d read, research the latest releases, talk to authors in your genre, study Writer’s Digest and Publishers Marketplace, and stay up-to-date on publishing conversations like #MSWL. Even if you’re not trying to get an agent or publisher, publishing feeds are great (and easy) places to read about current trends and market needs.

You’re not losing writing time by reading. In fact, you’re enhancing your writing by reading.

So go pick up that book you’ve been dying to read and fall back in love with reading all over again. After all, reading is the reason you started writing in the first place. Reading is why every writer started writing. Reading is why every writer can write.

~SAT

Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.

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If you would like a signed copy of any book in The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at shannonathompson.com. Barnes & Noble in Wichita has a few copies left, and they will ship you one.

Minutes Before Sunset: book 1: FREE 

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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This THURSDAY, I will host #AuthorinaCoffeeShop Episode 7 on Twitter at 7 PM (CDT) via @AuthorSAT. I normally host it on Friday, but a few of you have expressed Thursday as a better day, so I will probably test out the next four episodes (7-10) on Thursday to see which days are best. I hope to see you there!

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