Tag Archives: middle grade

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

2 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

Dear (Agent):

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

[insert two paragraphs about book]

[insert small bio] 

Sincerely, 

Me

[insert contact information]

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

Now get to pitching! 

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

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

18 Apr

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

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. 

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

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

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

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

So what is my advice for querying right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish all of you the best of luck!  

~SAT

February Writing Journey Wrap-Up

28 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

So what about my writing journey? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~SAT

January Writing Journey Wrap-Up

31 Jan

I recently heard from a long-time reader, who mentioned my old Ketchup posts as blogs that inspired her. Basically, at the end of each month, I used to summarize all the blogs I’d written and showed behind-the-scenes glances at my stats: my top three blog posts, the #1 search term that brought readers to my website, views/comments, etc. I stopped the practice when I stopped blogging so often. (I couldn’t justify a summary post when I only blogged twice a month as compared to my previous twelve-a-month schedule.) However, her comment got me thinking about what I could wrap up at the end of each month. 

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

For those who don’t know me, creating this is actually pretty simple. I keep a motivational calendar on my wall, where I write down what I do to pursue my writing dreams every single day. This post will basically make that calendar public. 

Without further ado…

In January…

I had my blog post – Yes, Writers Need to Hear the Hard Truths. But Warnings Can Go Too Far. – featured on Jane Friedman’s website. It actually just went live today, and I am beyond thrilled by this. I have followed Jane Friedman for a lonnnnnnnng time. I am a huge fan of her website, her nonfiction book, and her Business Clinic. I hope you enjoy the blog post! Blog-wise  on my website, my most popular post this month was The Truth About Giving Up Writing. Other than the WordPress Reader, Twitter was my best referrer. I wish I could share search terms like I used to, but they were all “unknown search terms,” and have been that way in my stats for a while. I think that feature has since changed. 

In other news, I chose my mentee for the SCBWI KS/MO YA mentorship. Her name is Anna LaForest, and she wrote a hilarious coming-of-age friendship story that takes place during two girls’ freshman year in college. You can follow Anna here

Our Pitch Wars mentee also submitted her materials for the Pitch Wars Showcase that takes place in February! Sandra and I are so excited for Damara and her novel, Don’t Play the Bone Flute. It’s a super spooky middle grade horror, and we’re so proud of all the work she did to shape up this book over the last few months. Go Team Stellify!

I also wanted to give a shoutout to author M. Phoenix. She is actually the long-time reader who inspired this post. She also read my free trilogy on Wattpad and gave not only an amazing shoutout to Take Me Tomorrow, but she also wrote a lovely review that meant so much to me. It makes my day to hear from readers. Knowing that y’all are still reading my work and enjoying it means more to me than I can express. It truly keeps me believing in the dream. 

Aside from all that news, here’s what I did writing-wise:

I started off January with 8,545 words of my middle grade novel-in-verse revised. I end the month with a finished manuscript, coming in at 23,000 words. I also sent it to five beta readers and revised the entire novel. What can I say? This is one of those projects that is coming way too easy to me. But that’s because it’s based on my childhood. I decided to finally write a middle grade book about an 11-year-old girl who loses her mom to the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, that’s how my mom died when I was 11. Back then, I couldn’t find a book in the kid’s section about what I was going through, and ever since then, I promised myself I would write it. I finally found that strength. Going into February, I am hoping to finally put it out there! I want to especially thank my long-time friend and critique partner, Sandra Proudman, who not only helped me write this entire novel but also gave me the most thoughtful shoutout on Twitter. She also recently started a graphic design business for authors. If you need book banners, bookmarks, etc., check out The Book Bruja.

My plan to put my work out there is why I spent a mass majority of my January researching agents and agencies. I wrote a query letter, revised it a million times, wrote a 1-page synopsis, revised that, double-checked my formatting, and got my submission package prepped. I then sent my prospective agent list to my writer friends, and I just got feedback on that last Thursday, so I’m doing a little bit more research before I finalize my first round. I probably won’t query until the end of February. 

For fun, I actually dreamed up a brand-new book: an adult fantasy. I wrote the entire outline for it, created a Pinterest board, and started getting it organized in Scrivener. We will see if it goes anywhere beyond that, though. (You never really know. I have so many outlines for books I never actually pursued.) 

Event-wise, I taught Starting a Writing Project via ZOOM for The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library. I will teach it again in June, so keep your eyes on my Events page. I also had the utmost joy of guest speaking at Kearney High School’s Writing Club. What a talented group of teens! If you are a teacher or book club, and you’re interested in having me virtually visit, please visit my books clubs/teachers page. 

I also attended virtual write-ins every Tuesday evening, critiqued pages for some friends, hired a friend as a graphic designer, and attended a virtual writing conference. 

In my reading life, I read 9 books: 2 adult romance, 1 adult fantasy, 1 young adult fantasy, 4 graphic novels, and 1 nonfiction. My favorite? House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland. It had the perfect amount of body horror and spookiness.

All this while working full-time and recovering from COVID. Not a flex. Just blows my mind. 

I really want 2022 to be a successful year. I want to make my dreams come true, and I want to get my books back out in the world again. 

I will do my best to make that happen. I have to believe that it’s only a matter of time (and a little bit of luck). 

Thank you for supporting me, 

~SAT

P.S. My quarterly newsletter goes out in February! It includes a $25 gift card giveaway to any bookstore near you. Subscribe to my newsletter here

The Truth About Giving Up on Writing

17 Jan

Have you ever considered giving up on writing?

I know I have. 

Though I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember, I consider myself as having two true starts. 

1) When I was eleven, my mom died unexpectedly, and I told myself that day I would spend my life pursuing my dreams, no matter how short my life would be. 

2) Around my senior year in college, I decided I wanted to pursue publishing again after a major break from writing. For a few years after that, I wrote for two indie publishers, and then made the decision to try to get an agent. I got one! Then I lost one. 

Now I’m out here writing again. Dreaming again. Wondering where my future will take me. 

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of serious decisions to make. Do I want to write in the same genre? Age category? Pursue the stories I’ve trunked or left otherwise unfinished? Do I even keep writing?

That last question is one I know most writers think about at least some point in their career. I certainly have, though I admit that I eventually realize that the question isn’t whether or not I want to keep writing. I always write. Even when I don’t want to, I find a pen in my hand. Writing is my gravity. The real question is if I want to continue pursuing publication. And that’s a whole different can of worms writers have to contend with. 

Do I want to keep pursuing traditional publishing, or do I want to find another method? Do I want to share my words with the world at all? Why do I feel the need to?

These questions are important for all writers to ask themselves. Why? Well, because of surrender. 

Giving up isn’t a giant Aha! moment, where you throw your pages in the trash and set it on fire, declaring your rage-freedom. 

It’s a culmination of a million little moments, where you prioritize this over that, miss deadline after deadline, trunk project after half-written project, until a striking amount of time has passed without much done. It happens. Sometimes, it happens again and again and again until you no longer remember the last time you gave yourself an afternoon to weave words together. Maybe one quiet morning you find time to sit, only to find all your old weavings in tatters, old files corrupted, versions unsaved or lost. Time now shows the errors you couldn’t once see. Which is just more reason to sigh and click delete, delete, delete until you’re staring at a blank page and have no self-confidence to begin anew.

Why write, you think, when you can buy perfectly good books at the store? There’s no point in making your own. It’s a waste of time and resources. You can simply enjoy what others have made. And yes, maybe you would be happy with that. And entertained. But would you feel pride? 

That’s what I am chasing. 

Pride. Not ego. But rather, feeling proud of myself for pursuing the life I always wanted. The dream I cultivated. Worked hard toward, year after year, no matter what stood in my way.

Writing takes a lot of momentum. For me, it’s not difficult to take breaks, but it is difficult to get started again. Which is why I’m so weary of pauses, especially long ones. During those pauses, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been chasing the dream so long, I don’t even know if I’m dreaming anymore. Have I gotten so used to this chasing that it has become an accepted chore? Is writing more habit than happiness?

Writing used to bring me such joy. Such high. There was nothing like sneaking pages of my romance novels between taking notes in biology class. Nothing like passing pages along to my best friend and chat-giggling about them over the phone late into the night. It was fanfiction of my own imagination. Wild ideas and even wilder characters. Dreamy as they were flighty. Emotions high. Secrets higher. 

The structure of what I’ve learned over the years has broken that all back down. 

Now I look at the Timely Death trilogy—a series I first wrote when I was 14—and wonder if I’d create two-faced, sword-dwelling, Midwest magic teens now. 

Probably not. 

Too bizarre, I’d think. Not in line enough with the market. 

Besides, my teens skip school, and students are on lockdown nowadays. Not to mention the homework on paper rather than take-home laptops.

I feel so out of touch sometimes, I think, who am I writing for?

Years ago, I set out to write for kids like me, but do kids like me still exist? Not really. 

Even the book I am currently writing—a personal story about a child affected by the opioid crisis—would hit differently now than when I was young and needed it. When I was eleven and my mom overdosed, it was unheard of in my neighborhood. I got picked on for it. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died until I was 16, and that was from cancer. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died from a drug overdose until I was well into college. And by then, my classmates were overdosing, too. 

Most recently, I’ve written poems about her skipping from pharmacy to pharmacy to fill the same prescription over and over again—and now, there are laws in place that prevent that. (Thank God.) But by God, my truth died with her. Of course there will always be universal truths—grief and all that. But the details of the moment are so dependent on the environment that I fear being unable to connect with the audience I once promised myself I would go back and write for. 

I was 11 and lost in the bookstore. There are still 11-year-olds lost in those stores. But can I help them? Reach them? Will it matter or make a difference?

I have to believe I can. I have to believe in myself. I have to believe that I’ve turned writing into a habit, because it takes dedication to succeed. And honestly, it still brings me a lot of joy. 

Most importantly, to this day, I have yet to find a book that was made for a kid like me. (Though I’d highly recommend “Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.) 

I cannot put into words how much it would’ve meant to me to see a book in the middle grade section that covered what I was going through. And though I still made it in real-life without those sorts of books, I wish I could tell you about the many kids I met who didn’t make it. But their stories aren’t mine to tell. I can only tell mine. And for now, I haven’t given up.   

I am still writing. I am still pursuing publication. 

For 11-year-old me. For other 11-year-olds like me. For that college senior who knew she wanted something different out of life. For me now, who still enjoys the written word over much else. Who now chat-giggles about her work over ZOOM with her writer friends.

Giving up may not be a giant Aha! moment, but neither is deciding to continue the pursuit. 

It’s a decision you make every day. It can be undone. It can be remade. 

The choice is up to you.

For now, I am still here, writing, dreaming, doing my absolute best. Tomorrow, I hope to make the same decision to continue. 

~SAT

2021: The Year of Dramatic, Unfinished Change

20 Dec

Every year, I take time to reflect on where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Last year was deemed The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?), and this year, I’ve decided to call it The Year of Dramatic, Unfinished Change. (Though, that may be too dramatic in itself.) Onto why that is (and also unfinished)… 

At the beginning of this year, my agent was taking my young-adult-turned-adult sci-fi novel out on submission. I was rewriting a different adult science fiction novel and halfway through writing an adult fantasy novel. At work, I had just been chosen to attend the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell College, and in my personal life, my fiance and I were considering buying a house. 

I end the year in a very different place. For one, I’m no longer agented. My agent decided to leave agenting back in the fall, so I’m now free to query. That said, I haven’t yet begun. Mostly because I’ve had a lot of other things going on. 

  1. I attended and graduated from the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell. 
  2. I was chosen to mentor in Pitch Wars with my longtime critique partner and friend, Sandra Proudman. We’re now mentoring D.S. Allen, a middle grade writer, on her horror until the agent showcase next year!
  3. SCBWI KS/MO also hired me to teach at the Middle of the Map conference in November. I taught How to Write a Series, and it was so much fun! I offered critiques to writers, and I will be mentoring a young adult writer in 2022. Announcements go up in January. 

Did I mention my personal life?

In 2021, I got married, and we bought our first home together. We’ve been renovating, too. And traveling a bit more. (My favorite trip was when we went ziplining through the Ozarks.) I also turned the big 3-0. 

It truly has been a joyous year. 

Writing-wise, I finished rewriting that adult science fiction book…only to shelve it. I also added 30,000 words to that adult fantasy book…only to put it on pause at 77k. I switched gears to re-read one of my old adult fantasies, made a plan to revise, and then…put it down. Between all that, I worked on a dozen other ideas and outlined a few of them in full, which is exciting. But mostly, it was the year of the unfinished piece. Not that I can’t finish something. I totally can. What happened was that so many life changes made me redirect my path that I ended up half-traveling down a few opportunities to try to make the best decision about which one to commit to. 

Overall, I estimate that I wrote over 100,000 brand-new words, rewrote 50,000, and outlined 30,000. (And that’s not including this blog or other platforms.) Now, at the end of 2021, I can safely say that I’ve made a decision. 

I am focusing on a middle grade verse novel that is super close to my heart, and I hope to query it in 2022 once I finish revising. (Please send me ALL the good luck and well wishes.) 

Maybe I’ll find the perfect agent to champion my work. Maybe I won’t. But I’ll never know if I don’t try! 

There are so many dreams I am already chasing going into 2022. Hence why I’m calling this year unfinished. I still have so much to do. 

Other than what is to come, my trusted almost-eight-year-old laptop died in November, so I had to say goodbye to it. After all the projects I’d completed on that computer, it was hard! But now, it’s the era of Rosie, my new laptop. I also finished uploading Took Me Yesterday to Wattpad and guest spoke at Kearney High School’s creative writing class and at the Lake Waukomis Women’s Club. I created a Teachers & Book Clubs page for readers to use, and it’s been utilized a handful of times. One of my favorite moments this year was when I was interviewed by Austin Gragg for Space and Time Magazine. It is so incredibly neat to hold a printed interview in my hands—and in such an incredible magazine. 

I was also lucky enough to teach Starting a Writing Project for Mid-Continent Public Library (twice)! For those of you who are interested, I’m teaching it again on January 12, 2022. You can learn more here. It’s virtual, open to anyone in the world, and free.

2021 was not what I expected. But then again, neither are any of my past years. 

Publishing is an unpredictable game. Maybe that’s why I like to roll the dice. I never know what’s going to happen, but I know something will as long as I keep trying. 

Here’s to all the surprises to come in 2022. 

~SAT

Want to see what’s happened throughout my years of blogging?

Behind the Scenes of Pitch Wars with Team Stellify

15 Nov

In case you missed it, Team Stellify announced our 2021 mentee for Pitch Wars! (But more on that below.) Since announcement day has come and gone, I thought it would be fun to give everyone a behind-the-scenes peek at what went down with Team Stellify.

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

Here’s our stats: 182 submissions

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

Trends We Saw:

–       Parallel universes/multi-verses

–       Portal fantasies 

–       Grandparents 

–       Disappearances 

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

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

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

It was a hard choice!

There was so much incredible talent, and we definitely would’ve taken on more mentees if we could have. If you submitted to us, thank you for trusting us with your words! We truly enjoyed reading our submissions. 

Now for a fun Q&A: 

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

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

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

Do you have specific writing tips for this cohort?

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

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

How about publishing tips for this group? 

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

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

What are we most excited about?

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

Writing About Grief

4 Oct

As someone who usually writes science fiction and fantasy, I decided to take a sharp turn during these last few months of 2021 to write my first contemporary. It’s a verse novel, centered on the loss of my mother when I was 11. (For those of you who are new to my blog, she died from a drug overdose, and I struggled to find books for kids like me in the middle grade section.) I finally want to try to make that happen. Granted, it’s going to be a while before I finish, but I’m halfway through and thought it was time to talk about the lessons I’ve learned while writing about grief. That isn’t to say you must be writing a contemporary novel centered on grief. Grief can be present in any novel in any genre, but these tips are designed for someone who is writing a novel that is exploring grief as the central theme. 

First and foremost, when grief is the central theme of your work, it’s important to keep track of your emotions, especially if what you’re writing about is deeply personal or based on real-life. Check in with yourself. Give yourself permission to put your work down and come back at another time. Have something else to write on the side. Whatever you need to do to stop yourself from rumination. If you’re trying to write about a tragedy that recently happened, that’s okay, but I would caution you to take time to grieve before you dive into writing a book about your grief. Let time give you space to heal.

Now for writing advice:

Read Other Books About Grief

I know this might sound counterintuitive. Too much grief might be too much grief. But for me, I decided to lean onto other works of art. I picked up some nonfiction and fiction that centers on the topic I’m covering, and I’m still combing through them right now. Seeing how others covered grief in their stories helps me see which events in my life will work for a story rather than a diary entry. It can be extra helpful if you can find books in the same age category. That will help you with voice, but also give you some possible comp titles, so that you can pitch your book knowing where it will land on the shelf. 

Balance the Sad with Happy

Even though I’m writing a book about an extremely dark time in my childhood, I still remember happy slices of life. Granted, when I started writing this book and took a step back, I realized those were missing. It takes another muscle to my brain to recall those happy moments that took place in the dark. Though, I think that’s perfectly normal. When you’re dealing with grief—especially the death of the loved one—guilt can be associated with happiness. That might happen in your writing, too. Be prepared to stumble along the way. 

Take breaks. BIG ones. And don’t forget your resources.

You may get overwhelmed, and that’s okay. I made a promise to myself that I’d stop writing any time it started to feel like too much. During those pauses, I liked to search through some resources, such as The Grief Toolbox: How to Write About Grief in a Story or Novel. There’s lot of fantastic articles out there that I’d recommend. Give yourself some time to research others’ methods. 

Finally, it’s okay to get inspiration from real life, but remember that you’re writing a story. My mom’s death didn’t happen in a neat little package that fits on a storyline arc. I didn’t follow the traditional five stages of grief in order, jumping from one period of growth to the next with clear transitions. Life doesn’t work that way. Instead, I am using these events and emotions to write, and it’s okay to write messy, especially on a first draft. From there, it’s my job as a writer to get an actual plot out of it all. 

The biggest surprise for me? Grief can feed off other grief—and spark more inspiration. 

Writing about my childhood grief also brought up my teenage grief. Two tragedies in my life really fed off of the other. I didn’t know why I kept thinking about my teenage years when I was trying to think of my middle grade years, but I realized my teenage years was when I started to come to terms with it, and there is no writing about one without bringing up the other. Not for me. So, I opened up a fresh document and began writing a YA verse novel at the same time. I’m often flipping back and forth between the two with little idea which one I’ll finish first. But at the end of this, I know I’ll have a book about grief. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll make it to the shelves one day, so a kid like me can see it and know they aren’t alone in their grief. 

~SAT

Pitch Wars 2021 Wishlist!

11 Sep

Hello, Pitch Wars hopefuls! For a downloadable, plain-text PDF version of this post, click hereThis year I am partnering up with the fabulous Sandra Proudman to mentor a middle grade science fiction or fantasy writer for Pitch Wars. We are Team Stellify. Stellify means to change or be changed into a star. It’s associated with myths and magic, and we are ready to channel all of our magic to stellify our mentee! We’re going to work hard and fight hard for you and your book, but we’re also here to have fun and be supportive.

If you want more information about Pitch Wars, check out pitchwars.org for more info. If you’ve somehow arrived at my blog first, please take a minute to go visit Sandra Proudman’s blog, where she talks about who we are, what we’re about, and lists the movies, TV shows, and books we absolutely love! Who knows? You might find a good comp title in there 😉

Below, you’ll find our mentoring style as well as our official wishlist! 

WHAT WE BELIEVE WE CAN HELP OUR MENTEE WITH:

  • Character development
  • Dialogue
  • Line edits
  • Pacing
  • Stakes
  • Query letter
  • World building 

If you’ve won a critique from us in the past or know us from social media: Please feel free to still submit to us! We’ll be removing names from submission items to be as impartial as possible.

Our Communication Style:

We’ll be with you every step of the way during your Pitch Wars journey. From explaining why we might be offering a certain comment/suggested change to guiding you through the querying process if this is your first time entering the querying trenches. Our goal is that by the time the showcase comes around, you’ll feel confident querying your work, whether you get one request for pages or thirty. 

We talk on Zoom a bunch, so we are always open to hopping on a Zoom call. If you’re not into video conferencing, we can always hop on the phone or chat online. We’ll work with you at your comfort level! We believe in equal access, and we’re willing to be flexible with deadlines. 

What We Are Looking for in a Mentee:

We are looking to work with a passionate writer who is dedicated to making their story the best it can possibly be, even if this means a possible complete rewrite. Be positive and ready to put in hard work. There is, of course, a temptation to say ‘yes’ to be selected even if you don’t think your novel needs lots of work; if you truly know that you would not be open to major revisions, we may not be the best selection for you. 

CATEGORY: MG 

GENRES: 

  • Fantasy (portal, magical realism, other)
  • Adventure
  • Horror
  • Steampunk
  • Sci-Fi (space opera, near future, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, soft, time travel, other)
  • Retellings
  • STEM
  • Romance (sci-fi, fantasy)
  • Contemporary with a dash of speculative

And now….

OUR WISHLIST:

Diverse characters written as the heroes of their own stories written by diverse writers. Sandra is Latinx, so Latinx (especially Afro-Latinx) stories hold a special place on our wish list. 

Stories by LGBTQIA+ writers also hold a special place on our wishlist. Especially by writers of color.

Lush or strange fantasies with a diverse cast of characters set anywhere! Contemporary fantasies are our specialty!

Stories about found family and friendships, witty banter a plus!

Retellings, especially with a diverse twist and/or unique tales/myths/creatures.

Immersive settings and awesome world building!

Horror with twists and turns at every corner. We want witches/brujx, ghosts, haunted forests, bloodline curses, all of it! Give us your spooky tales, your ghosts, your monsters, your nightmares that come to life.

We love sci-fi, though tend to lean toward fantasy stories for Pitch Wars. If you do want to send us sci-fi, we specifically love space/androids/robots/AI and parallel universes, or any stories revolving STEM. We would love to see all the genre-bending sci-fi fantasy stories.

Fierce girls that don’t need a hero to save them and who rebel against the life others want for them. 

Epic action scenes reminiscent of the Agni Kai scene between Zuko and Azula in Avatar the Last Airbender! 

What we’re likely to pass on:

  • Most importantly, we are not a good fit for stories with themes of terminal illness or explicit scenes of sexual violence or assault. Please no stories that would require a heavy trigger warning. 
  • We are not mentoring Adult or YA books. Don’t waste a slot sending us your book if it’s in these age groups! *Okay to send us a YA book that you want to age down.
  • We are not the best fit for sports books or hard science fiction with a lot of technical aspects. There will likely be a lot that we couldn’t comment on or help with.
  • Please eliminate as many typos as you can prior to sending as they can often distract from getting into the story!

We cannot wait to read your submissions and no matter what happens, you finished a manuscript, you are amazing!

With all our support, 

Shannon & Sandra

Pitch Wars 2021 Middle Grade Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Tracy Badua
  2. Eric Bell
  3. Julie Artz
  4. Shannon A. Thompson and Sandra Proudman
  5. George Jreije and LQ Nguyen
  6. Darlene P. Campos
  7. Rebecca Petruck
  8. Graci Kim and Karah Sutton
  9. Shakirah Bourne
  10. Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
  11. Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit
  12. Sylvia Liu
  13. Cindy Baldwin and Amanda Rawson Hill
  14. Erin Teagan
  15. A.J. Sass and Nicole Melleby


Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.

What Writers Can Learn from Reading Their OLD Work

30 Aug

I’ve been writing stories ever since I learned how to write. I’m not kidding. My first pieces of work go back to when I was 4 years old. My first story was a 5-page rambling piece about my new husky throwing a party so that the two older dogs would attend and possibly befriend him. (Totally based on a true story. But more on that below.) 

Lots of writers have stories like mine. That first attempt in grade school. Then, the first REAL attempt. You know, the one where you wrote wayyyyy too many words over a span of years. Maybe you finished; maybe you didn’t, but you *think* there’s a copy of it somewhere on an old laptop or shoved in a dresser drawer somewhere. If you have it, I encourage you to go find it today. 

I’m a big believer in keeping old work. I’m a bigger believer in re-reading it. Not just to evaluate where you started and who you’ve grown to be, but also to simply enjoy it. 

Those words brought you joy at some point, and I think you’ll be surprised to find they still do (even if your writing wasn’t exactly what you’d call “seasoned”). You might also learn a thing or two about yourself that you weren’t expecting. 

Let’s take my dog story as an example. I wrote it because we had literally just welcomed a new husky puppy to the family. We had two other dogs. They had to learn to get along. BAM. Storytime. At least, that’s how I saw it at the time. Looking back, the theme of friendship isn’t lost on me. As someone who moved around the country every two-ish years while growing up, I was a very lonely kid, and stories often were the only things to keep me company. My characters were some of my best friends. They still are, in fact. (I certainly spend more time at my computer desk than at brunch catching up with buddies.) Friendship was something that always eluded me and, honestly, it still feels that way most days. I often write about that feeling in my current novels. What surprised me, though, was my four-year-old self considering it. Even before I knew what a theme was, I had threaded it into my storyline while also expressing my own wants and fears. And isn’t that what storytelling is about? Personal expression?

I bring this up because I think it’s quite common to lose sight of storytelling basics the more you learn and grow. In an industry where you constantly hear that’s been done before; everything’s been done before; why is your story unique?; why should we care?, it’s easy to start tweaking plot to add more action; changing characters to shift dynamics; moving or cutting whole scenes to keep up the tension; and before you know it, the story feels stale, and you cannot for the life of you figure out why (especially after twelve revisions).

Maybe—in all those revisions—you accidentally lost track of why you wanted to write the story in the first place or why the story mattered to you. Maybe you cut out that theme of friendship in favor of a romance subplot you’ve been told would be more popular. Worse, you can re-read your new version a 1,000 times and never see what’s wrong because it isn’t there anymore. 

That’s why you keep old work and old versions. It reminds you of why you began and what you were trying to express. In fact, I’ve been re-reading a lot of my old work for this purpose. I’ve even been asking myself what I want out of my stories as a whole.  

Call it an existential crisis brought on by the pandemic, or writer’s block, or self-discovery, or whatever. But I decided to do a deep dive into all my old work. 

Some of those ideas I came up with in high school were brazen and wacky and just plain old rubbish. But they were fresh. So fresh, in fact, that I doubt I could come up with some of those ideas today. Back then, I wasn’t worried about writing to hit a trend or fulfilling genre expectations. (Both of which aren’t inherently bad things to keep in mind while writing professionally.) I simply wrote, and within those writings, I found some shiny pieces. Things that, if I came up with today, I might outright dismiss because “no one will want to read that.” I’m re-learning how to love that wild freshness again.

This past month, I sat back and re-read the Timely Death trilogy. (Yes, my own books.) It felt weird at first. Certainly egotistical. (Why spend time reading my own books that are complete and published when I could spend time reading others’ novels or re-reading a WIP that has hope for the future?) Trust me, I thought the same thing. But the books had been nagging at me for weeks. I just had this feeling that I wanted to dive back into that world and re-experience it. 

Some things I learned from reading my own work:

  1. I did not remember large parts of my own trilogy. It’s been so many years, it was almost like reading a book someone else wrote. This helped me judge it from a third-party perspective (and enjoy it)! I tried to take note of which parts of the book I loved and which slowed me down. They were surprisingly different than I remembered! 
  2. I can certainly see where I’ve grown—my word choice is stronger, my transitions are swifter, and my dialogue feels more natural. I also think my world building ability has grown, not just the literal world, but also how it is introduced and why. That’s a good feeling! 
  3. I can see where I regressed. Granted this point is a little bit more complicated. I have to be careful not to compare a final, published piece with my current WIPs, but I still feel like my characters were more vulnerable back then than they are now. They certainly have more imperfections and layers, and so do their relationships. I think there’s a lot of pressure right now for characters to be more “perfect” than they were in the past. For example, if a character thinks or feels something controversial, it can be seen as the author’s opinion, especially if another character doesn’t correct them, and I (personally) think that’s a slippery slope. Many of my characters act and think in ways that I do not. I’m just trying to tell a story, and sometimes stories follow controversial people or situations, especially in fantasy where the rules of that world do not align with the rules in our world. I think it was Will in Cassandra Clare’s book that said, “Requited love is ideal but doesn’t make much of a ballad,” and I feel that way about stories in general. If my characters acted or thought “correctly” all the time (or, in the case of the quote, loved each other correctly), it would become a very boring book. But that’s probably another topic for another day! Basically, I feel like I regressed in the darker parts of my books and characters. I’ve held a lot of their vulnerability back out of fear for how it would reflect on me. And I hope to break that mold again. 

As an extra, re-reading definitely rekindled that flame for the books. I spent a week or so outlining an adult followup for the trilogy, and it was so much fun!

My biggest takeaway:

Looking back on all my old books and manuscripts, I realized I have the same central theme threading through all of them—except for the ones I’m struggling to connect with. It was a EUREKA moment for me. This theme, which I’d rather keep to myself for now, is an essential part of who I am as a writer. Somehow, somewhere, I lost sight of that. I lost that feeling. Now I’m working on getting it back. 

Have you ever read an old work of yours and realized a truth about your writing?

~SAT

P.S. There won’t be a blog post on Monday, September 6th. It is Labor Day, and I will be taking the weekend off. The next blog post will be the Pitch Wars blog hop, which takes place on Saturday, September 11.

For those who didn’t see the announcement, I am returning to Pitch Wars this year as a co-mentor with Sandra Proudman! We’re Team Stellify, and we’re going to mentor a middle grade writer. We’re so excited to meet our mentee! For more information, visit pitchwars.org. You can see my Pitch Wars profile here.

If you’re a middle grade writer interested in this mentorship program, I encourage you to come to the Pitch Wars Middle Grade Mentor chat this Saturday, September 4 at 12 PM EST! Click here to add it to your YouTube watchlist.

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