Tag Archives: novel in verse

Why We Need More Books Like Jennette McCurdy’s I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED

15 Aug

Controversy erupted in publishing last week when child star Jennette McCurdy released her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died. Ever since, I’ve seen various discussions being bounced around online. Some supportive; some not. 

I get it. I do. There’s lots of folks out there who cannot imagine disliking their mother so much that death feels like a reprieve. But this is one of those times that folks need to step back from their own lived experiences and listen to the voices of others. 

While my mother was a supportive, nurturing person, she definitely had her faults—faults that eventually led to her overdose and untimely death. There were many other women who entered my life after her death that also had major faults. When I set out to write a middle grade verse novel about my mom’s death, I made it a point to include more than one female character who was not supportive and, in fact, discouraging. 

Why?

Media all too often shows moms and women as naturally nurturing people when many aren’t. Unfortunately, many, many children are abused by their mothers. But when we show abuse in media, we tend to lean on physically abusive men, alcoholic men, absentee men, etc. We rarely acknowledge moms can do the same thing. For that reason alone, Jennette McCurdy’s book is resonating with a lot of folks. 

These types of stories have been going unseen for a long time. I myself had beta readers tell me I should add more positive female figures to my book (though there already are two. I didn’t exclude positivity altogether, but it certainly was not my focus). 

My relationship with women from a young age was unhealthy. It took me a long time to understand my trauma and how it unfolded in my personality. It took me even longer to find female role models and friendships that I felt safe relying on. And though I know I’m not alone in that, publishers and directors alike tend to shy away from stories involving negative depictions of mothers and motherhood. (The most popular mom trope we get is the burnt out mom who wants to go out for a night on the town with her mom friends. Usually this appears in a comedy of some sort. Trying to pursue a drama? Good luck.) 

Granted, I’m not saying stories with depictions of abusive moms don’t exist. They do, but sparsely, and they tend to be in the adult sphere of entertainment, including Jennette McCurdy’s recent release. 

I’m making a call to publishers to have more books where moms aren’t perfect in kidlit fiction. 

One of the main reasons I set out to write my novel-in-verse about my mother was because of what happened to me at the bookstore when I was a kid. Shortly after she died, I found myself lost amongst the kidlit bookshelves, unable to find anything that I could relate to anymore. There were no stories about addiction or grief stories about losing moms…and so, I ended up in the young adult section at 11, where I found One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones. I immediately felt seen. 

I promised myself right then and there I’d write my story for 11-year-olds like me, and that it would go in the middle grade section. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that it ended up being a novel-in-verse, too. But that’s a story for another day. 

I’m in the middle of querying it right now, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed about my pending fulls, but regardless of where my story ends up, I hope publishing is taking note of people’s reactions to Jennette McCurdy’s book.   

Moms aren’t perfect. They can, in fact, be our biggest adversary. By showing that through storytelling, we can help empower readers to recognize that in their own lives. Who knows? They may even find the strength and resolve to share their own stories with the world one day. 

~SAT 

Sometimes Writing That Book Was A Waste Of Time

20 Jun

Before you freak at the title, please know that the point of blogging titles is to get you here, and now you’re here, so voilà. 

That said, I really do believe writing a book can be a waste of time. Why is that such a controversial thing to say? 

I know that the publishing industry loves the sentiment of “every book teaches us something new about our writing!” And though that may be true, that doesn’t mean the time and effort we put into the project was equivalent to the lesson learned. It might not have been worth your time. There are, in fact, other projects you could’ve been pursuing with that time that might have had better results. 

Saying that shouldn’t be controversial. 

I’ve personally felt like I’ve wasted time on a project before (and recently). From late 2020 to late 2021, I worked on a science fiction novel for adults that just wasn’t working. I rewrote it three times with my agent at the time, before deciding enough was enough. I put it down. I haven’t opened it since, and I don’t miss it at all. I don’t even want to think about it. 

Sure, there were parts of it I loved. I mean, it was monsters in space. Who couldn’t have fun with that? The world building was interesting. My main character had dynamic qualities. But the manuscript lacked focus. Besides the fun pitch, I couldn’t really tell you what I was trying to do or why I was trying to do it. Maybe I can’t now because I’ve done my best to forget the experience so that I could move on. (Leaving projects unfinished once I’ve decided to pursue them is hard for me! It wasn’t easy to trunk it.) However, I also believe it was a project that lacked focus at its core. In fact, I started writing it as a rage piece. It was just supposed to be a place I went when I was angry to get out my frustrations. I never intended to pursue it. At some point, though, I convinced myself I should and, honestly, I really regret it. I not only regret the time I spent, but I feel guilty for all the beta readers who I brought on to try to help me with the work, including my agent at the time. I feel like I failed them and myself. Not because I eventually said no, but because I didn’t do so sooner. 

Instead of spending the year writing a piece that ultimately fizzled out, I wish I had spent my time cultivating a new project. I could’ve written my novel-in-verse earlier on, or I could’ve already finished the revision of my historical fantasy (which is what I’m working on now). I’ve since written an adult fantasy and started a YA novel-in-verse, as well as a YA horror story I absolutely love. All of these projects are going 1000% more smoothly than my sci-fi ever did.

That said, there were some lessons (I think) I learned:

  • Three POVs is too much for me right now. I love writing two POVs. Both of my published series are written in alternating POVs with the love interests. It’s my jam. That said, I’ve written numerous novels with one POV. Two aren’t always necessary. Three just got out of control. 
  • Too many plot twists is too many plot twists. Enough said.
  • Same with betrayals/switches in alliances. I had wayyyy too many of them. 
  • Blending sci-fi and fantasy tropes can be awesome, but it can also be really hard! I should’ve been better about owning which genre my book would sit best in and leaning into those elements more. 

I acknowledge I learned a few things. But I think I learned these lessons early on in the process. I could’ve stopped a few months in, instead of dragging the book out for a whole year. Maybe I had a harder time discerning lessons earlier on since we were in the midst of a pandemic. But I’m much happier now that I’ve moved on and tackled other projects. Still, I keep regretting all the time/energy/stress I put into that sci-fi (and I’m a little paranoid I’ll do it again). I keep checking in with myself and where I’m at with my current projects. I keep questioning my intensions and my chances of success. If anything, I recognize that I lost some of my confidence writing that book, yet another reason for regret.

Right now, I feel like I wasted a lot of time and energy writing that book. Granted, that doesn’t mean my opinion won’t change one day, but I’ve felt this way for half a year now. 

But, Shannon, you might say, don’t you learn something from every book you write?

Yeah, I learned not to waste my time. 

~SAT

P.S. Usually, I post on the first and third Monday of the month, but since the first Monday next month is July 4, I will share my next post on Monday, July 11. Enjoy the holiday and be safe!

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

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