Tag Archives: novel writing

The Difference Between a Fan and a Follower—and Why It’s Okay to Have Both

21 Aug

Marketing books can be difficult. And confusing.

When I talk to brand-new writers who venture out into the marketing side of things, one of the first discussions we have is the difference between a fan and a follower.

A fan = someone who reads and/or buys your books

A follower = someone who follows your social media, but doesn’t buy or read your books

Why do I separate these two types of people? Because many newcomers get confused when they send out a newsletter to 800 people and only get 100 buyers. (Or post to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or so-on.)

Extra thought: A “follower” is also a fan. They are a “fan” of you. 🙂

Take my blog for instance. I currently have 21,000 followers. Did I sell 21,000 copies of my latest release? No. Because not every follower of mine is here to buy my books. They are here for my writing tips, my publishing insight, and (hopefully) my cat photos. And guess what? I’m perfectly okay with that.

There’s huge pressure to convert all your followers into fans, and I’m just not buying it. Don’t get me wrong. I would be ecstatic if 21,000 of you bought my book, but I also understand that my books aren’t for everyone.

What if all 21,000 of you bought my book, but it was only written for 10,000 of you? Well, that’s 11,000 1-star reviews just based on the work being inappropriate for that audience. My ratings would tank. Not that ratings are everything—but I’d rather have those who are genuinely interested in my books try them out. Attracting the right audience for the right things is more important to me than tricking the wrong audiences into buying something they probably won’t enjoy.

Granted, I get it. Sometimes it can hurt that thousands of people are following you for (insert # of reasons here) for years but won’t check out your books to show support, but, at the same time, aren’t they showing support by connecting with you? By cheering you up on Twitter? By reading your articles? By sharing your posts? By simply being there?

Don’t let the marketing world convince you that your work is only worth what is bought.

Your work connects you with others. It builds relationships. It allows you to reach out and be a part of the world. It gives you a way to express yourself.

You may have fans, you may have followers, and you may have both. But converting those into sales isn’t the most important thing in the world. (And those sales will come in time.)

What matters most are those connections you’ve made—and you’ve made those by chasing what you love.

Enjoy that,

~SAT

P.S. If you’re a follower who is considering becoming a fan, I have two free young adult books out right now on Amazon. 😉

Two free YA SFF books!

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YA Female Protagonists in STEM

7 Aug

We need more female protagonists in STEM fields, especially in YA. For those of you who don’t know, STEM covers science, technology, engineering, and math. The reason STEM needs to be explored more in YA fiction is to encourage young women to explore those fields in real life more.

Hold the eye rolls.

I get it. I know that there are real-life role models to look up to in those fields already. But a lot of younger people—myself included—enjoy looking up to fictional role models, too. When I was a kid, fictional characters strangely felt more attainable, more inspirational, more…like me.

Sometimes, it’s easier for a fourteen-year-old to look up to a fourteen-year-old scientist rather than Marie Curie. (And more fun.) This is why I’m advocating for a bigger emphasis on STEM in YA fiction, but there’s another, more personal reason as well.

Oh, hey there, science.

Here’s the deal. I hated science in school. Loathed it. Biology was the hardest course for me in high school and college. I hated biology…but I loved chemistry. I also love math. I also love technology and engineering. But as a young girl, I hit a couple roadblocks while studying it.

In school, for instance, I signed up for Tech 101 instead of Home Ec. I was immediately approached by an office clerk who thought I made a mistake. On top of that, one of my teachers actually had to the gall to “make sure” I wanted to take Tech 101 instead of Home Ec since I didn’t have a mother at home. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, I came second place in a bridge building competition later that semester…only for the teacher to pull me aside and tell me I should’ve won. (The winner, it turned out, had cheated. But did the school correct it? No. I just got a secret pat on my back.) If I could tell you what it felt like to then see that boy congratulated, to hear my fellow classmates say “You almost lost to a girl, dude” like that was the worst thing ever, I would. But I still don’t have words for it.

STEM didn’t exactly welcome me.

I recall these moments in my life where I loved science, technology, engineering, and math—and I was good at it, too—but numerous adults in my life discouraged it anyway. Granted, I’m not saying I would’ve chased an engineering degree if these things hadn’t happened. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would’ve chased English no matter what. Why? Because my university asked me to become a math major after I scored 100% on one of their harder exams…and I still turned it down.

Now I’m an author…and authors are engineers of stories. So, I set out to write a book where my protagonist is involved with science.

Kalina came to me that night. She’s sixteen, a botanist, and she invents machines that help water her plants when she’s too busy studying them. Botany takes on a huge role in my book. So much so that one of my critique partners asked an interesting question: How are you going to get readers to sympathize with plants instead of people?

Well…I’m not.

I’m not asking readers to sympathize with plants over people. I’m asking readers to see how interesting plants can be. To see an awesome, smart, and talented young woman studying her scientific passion. To open their minds to science.

Kalina opened my mind, and I love everything she taught me. Granted, I still can’t grow a flower to save my life (especially with cats in the house), but I have a deeper appreciation for botany. Above all, I have a deeper appreciation for science.

YA readers deserve more of that, too.

~SAT

World Building: Where to Start, What to Consider, & How to End

17 Jul

I mainly write science fiction and fantasy, and both of those genres tend to come with heavy world building. A few of you have asked me where I begin. How do I start? How do I know when to write? When does world building end? Well, if you read my editing tips series, then you probably know my answer to most of this.

I don’t think it’s that important to have your world building down in your first draft or while you’re outlining. Why? Because you don’t know everything your world needs yet in order to tell your story. All that matters is having your world building down by the end of your drafts. That being said, I tend to spend more time on initial world building than I do with character profiles or plot outlines. Why? Because my world will affect my characters directly—and that tends to be when I start writing.

That’s right. I begin most of my stories with a scene or an idea, and then I world build…and I keep building until the world affects my characters directly. Then I start to write.

So how do I build my worlds?

Extra tip: World build together. Try to explain your world to a friend. If they ask questions you can’t answer, find an answer.

Well, let’s start with the foundation.

Think of the basics. Where are we? What is the climate? Is it temperate, freezing, humid, etc.? What are the seasons like and which season/s is your story taking place in? How does this location relate to the locations around it?

My favorite place to start is clothes. Why? Because clothes tell us about societal structures—like income class, careers, etc.—and also about the land/weather patterns. Are they wearing cotton? If so, where does the cotton come from? Who collects the cotton and uses that cotton to create clothes? How much does it cost, and who would wear it? Example: Throughout history, the upper-class generally wore clothes from far away to emphasize how rich they were; those clothes were expensive because of how far the materials had to travel (and how expensive the upkeep was.)

The next element I consider the most is water. Why? Because water is essential for life, including animal life, which means you’re looking at how people eat, clean up, make medicine, etc. Not to mention that water, like rivers and lakes, have been used as natural borders for a long, long time (along with mountains). So where does the water come from? How were borders decided? Start thinking about other natural materials on your land. What materials are used to make buildings, for instance?

Now time: What year is it, and how does that year in particular define your character/s? I tell new writers to at least understand their main characters and their family structure for three generations back. This information doesn’t have to go into your book, of course, but knowing where your protagonist came from, including how their parents raised them and why, will help you shape their family unit and beliefs. This brings me to my last two topics: Religion and language.

  • With religion, personally, I think the most important part of a person’s religion can be summed up in their burial practices. Start there. Most of the time, burial practices relate to how that person sees life, death, and how both their life and their death is connected to the land. This includes if your characters don’t have a religion at all.
  • When I am building a language, I focus on two elements first: How do people curse and how do people say I love you. Why? Because humans are built on emotion, and hate/love are the two strongest emotions and the biggest umbrellas of emotion out there. By finding out how they express those emotions, both as a culture and as an individual, you can start to shape everything in between.

Please keep in mind that this information—like where materials come from—doesn’t have to be explicitly stated in your book. In fact, I can’t recall a time where I talked about where water came from in most of my books. But it can help to know the simple, basic elements of your world. They are your foundation, after all. And the stronger your foundation, the stronger the rest of your world building will be. In fact, I only covered where I begin. I didn’t even get into magic systems, for instance. (Another favorite topic of mine.)

Build and keep building. Don’t be afraid if you feel intimidated, and don’t get frustrated when your world contradicts itself or doesn’t make sense at all. You have all the time in the world to…well, build your world. Take your time. Take notes. And enjoy the journey of discovering a brand-new place that your characters—and you—will call home.

~SAT

Editing (Rewriting) the First Draft

3 Jul

This month, I’m covering my editing process, so if you haven’t checked out the first part— My Editing Process Starts in My Writing Process—check it out. Today, I’m continuing the writing journey by explaining what happens after I finish writing a first draft.

1. Review Your Notes & Plans

Hopefully, you took a break between finishing your first draft and this step. Why? Because you’ve been really close to this manuscript for a while now, and you need to clear your mind in order to see issues you couldn’t see before. Think of writing a book like creating a painting. You were painting one bit, inch by inch, but now you need to step back to take a look at the whole picture. Once you step back—and reevaluate—make sure your notes are in order, so you can create a clear plan for moving forward. (Caveat: It’s okay if you don’t have a clear plan yet; you can rewrite your draft as much as you need to.)

2. Start with Sweeping Changes

I always start with my biggest changes. Is Chapter Three now Chapter Fourteen? I move it and make sure everything else is in chronological order. That way, as I move through the manuscript, I can take new notes on what is revealed and in what way. After that, I move through each chapter, along with those chapter notes, and tighten everything, including my prose. I’ll keep grammar in mind, but the focus here isn’t to nitpick every little thing but rather solidify my story. This is also where I’ll make big decisions—decisions that, I hope, will be final. Maybe I’ve been on the fence about that one side character being five or eight. This is where I’ll choose. That doesn’t mean it won’t change again, but I’ll try to stick with a decision throughout the final manuscript to see how it flows. If it doesn’t, I’ll try again. If I cut out whole scenes, I put them in an “Unused” folder, in case I decide to add them back later.

Much like you’d create a writing plan, create an editing plan and a deadline goal.

3. Address Weaknesses—Big & Small

Maybe you’re cringing at your kissing scenes. (Like I do, every time.) Or maybe you use the same word way too often. (We all have a crutch list, whether we know it or not.) Personally, I keep a small list of elements I know that I will have to look out for, no matter what. Example? I have a note to take my time on romantic scenes, because I often brush over them during first drafts. I go back and make sure to give each scene added attention to detail. I also keep a vocabulary sheet. This helps me track words I overuse and also reminds me of words I typically forget but are perfect words for certain situations. In some cases, I keep whole vocabulary sheets for sections of books, because the demanded vocabulary might not come as naturally at first. (I even keep notes on gestures, descriptions, etc., because it’s easy to fall back on the same notion over and over again.) Examples?

Crutch words to avoid: though, worse, curious, all the while, eyed

Gestures/Description Example:

  • Brow Action: pinched brow, lifted brow, raise one brow, a frown etched between her eyes, regarded her with a crease between his eyebrows, her brow narrowed, wiped his brow
  • Brow description: sparse, plucked, trim, thick, bushy, caterpillar.

Words about Light/Bright:

  • Prismatic: of, relating to, or having the form of a prism or prisms
  • Effulgent: shining brightly; radiant.
  • Phosphorescent: light emitted by a substance without combustion or perceptible heat
  • Scintillation: a flash or sparkle of light.
  • Refraction: the fact or phenomenon of light, radio waves, etc., being deflected in passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another or through a medium of varying density.
  • Luster: a gentle sheen or soft glow, especially that of a partly reflective surface:
  • Lambent: (of light or fire) glowing, gleaming, or flickering with a soft radiance: lambent torchlight

Words relating to the ocean: Aquatic, briny, breeze, barrier reef, bays, beach, birds, body of water, breaking, breakwater, buoy, climate, coastline, crustacean, coral, current, depth, dock, diving, froth, tides, waves, sand.

This method isn’t for everyone, but I love having lists of words that I can reference for fun—and helpful—reminders. It both challenges me and aids me when I have that word on the tip of my tongue but can’t remember it.

Once I finish polishing up my drafts into something I absolutely love, I know I’m ready for a “final” edit. However, there’s one more step. When I get that polished draft in my hands, I send it to a few trusted beta readers. Why? Because what’s the point in perfecting the grammar if my beta readers point out half of it needs to be rewritten? Granted, this is going to differ for everyone. Some beta readers, for instance, are going to want grammar to be as perfect as possible before they read, because they are also looking for grammatical errors, but I tend to have different types of beta readers: ones who help me with the basic story and ones who will read later and help me polish the technical stuff (and ones who do both). The key is to communicate with your beta readers about what you’re looking for and when they want to participate in your writing process.

So send off the manuscript to your beta readers, get some feedback, write/edit some more, and soon, you’ll be on your way to the next and final step: the final draft.

Next week, I’ll cover editing your “final” draft.

Stay tuned,

~SAT

The Ideal Writing Pace

19 Jun

Writing is a different experience for everyone. Just check out the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter and you will see authors hitting 50,000 words in two weeks…and in two years.

So how long should it take to write your book?

Stephen King claims to give up on a book if you can’t finish the first draft in three months. Others claim a book is rushed if it doesn’t demand years of your attention. But here’s the deal—

I used to run in Track & Field, and Track & Field taught me something important that I think the writing community could benefit from. (Stick with me for a second, okay?) I competed in races all year long. I thought I knew what the end-goal was in Track & Field… Whoever was fastest was the best. And the fastest girl on our team was a girl I’ll call Darla.

Darla was fast—like super fast—and since I was running long distance for the first time (when I was used to sprinting races), I tried to keep up with her. She was the fastest, after all, and I was able to run at her pace. (Not that I enjoyed it.) One time, while we were running a practice race (and I was majorly struggling), she turned to me and asked why I hadn’t found my own pace. My own pace. This concept blew my mind. I never considered how fast I “wanted” to run or what speed I was comfortable running. No way! I had only considered the start line, the finish line, and nothing in between…you know, because this was a literal race. But this was Track & Field. Your team isn’t judged for each little race, but rather all of your team’s races combined. It was about winning together as a team, not competing against one another, and above all, we were supposed to enjoy the run. (We were in seventh grade, after all, but twelve-year-old Shannon was just as competitive and way-too serious as modern me.)

That being said, I quit Track & Field the next year. Not because I wasn’t fast enough, but because I finally found my pace. And my pace was writing instead of running. Though, I admit running was still my exercise of choice growing up, I learned an important lesson from running that I’ve carried into my writing life.

Finding my own pace is key, not only for my health but also for my happiness.

If that means I write 50,000 words in two weeks, awesome. But it’s also awesome if it takes me two years.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with this. It took me two months to finish my first manuscript of 2017, including a significant amount of editing. Two months. And now I’m halfway through June without a second manuscript. That’s four months on one project. I’ve been working on it twice as long as my previous project, but I’m barely halfway through a first draft. (This is probably the opportune time to mention I’m slightly obsessive about numbers… and I’m a competitive person by nature, so I’ll turn anything into a competition, including competitions with myself. So, sigh…) I feel as if I’ve been writing sooooooo slowly. And I’m struggling with that confession.

As someone who is competitive, I understand how overwhelming seeing others’ word counts can feel. Sometimes, word counts can start to feel more important than feeling good about those words you wrote down. But I try to keep that Track & Field lesson in mind.

We’re in this together. Some of us will write 50,000 words in two weeks, some of us cringe at that idea, but we will all reach the “finish line” together. And the more we enjoy the middle, the better the “race” will feel. Though…I forgot to mention the most important fact about this post. Writing isn’t a race at all. This is a journey. There isn’t a set finish line. There isn’t even a solid start line. (I often can’t tell you when I first got an idea for a specific project, for instance.) But your happiness should matter. If it takes two months or two years, it shouldn’t matter. What matters is how much you enjoyed the writing process.

Find your writing pace, and enjoy your journey.

~SAT

Challenge Your Writing

12 Jun

Challenging your writing is important, but what does that mean?

It means trying something new—attempting a project outside your box of comfort—or switching everything up entirely. Challenging yourself can be a big or small adventure. You can try a new genre in a short story rather than a novel, for instance. But pushing yourself to try a new genre, tone, perspective, etc. can only benefit you. As an example…

I mainly write YA SFF, and I have done so for ten years now, but recently, I set out to write a historical novel. Not only that, but it is my first serious project written in third person. Why? Because I’m challenging my writing…and myself.

Challenge: Try a new utensil. If you normally type your books, try a pencil. See if that changes your perspective.

You see, I’m comfortable with first-person science fiction and fantasy. Almost too comfortable. I find myself flying through drafts and ideas—and I love that, don’t get me wrong—but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something more. A hurdle. A bit of fear. A semblance of discovery. By challenging myself, I can learn more. I might even fall in love with a new style, genre, or voice. The possibilities are endless.

It’s easy to write with your strengths, but what about overcoming your writing weaknesses?

I struggle with romance, for instance. Though I love first-person, I find it a bit narcissistic, so concentrating on feelings on top of the I, we, me, etc. has always been uncomfortable for me. So, I thought, What about third person? I had no idea if third person would help me overcome this hurdle or not, but hey, I set out to try…and sure enough, I learned a lot about myself and about writing those more emotional scenes. In fact, I look forward to learning even more about my writing through this challenge, and I look forward to future challenges I set out to overcome.

Granted, challenges come with…well, challenges.

Normally, I would be 60,000 words into this first draft, but I’m currently sitting at 42,000…and it’s a messy 42,000. (A really messy 42,000.) But I’m also in love with the mess.

I have never been so unsure of my writing in my life, but I still believe in the manuscript. I still believe in the challenge. And even if I never finish this book, I already succeeded at reaching my original goal: Learning something new.

Constantly challenging myself helps me learn more about my writing and about myself. So I challenge you to set a challenge for yourself today.

Try a new genre. Write from a new type of character’s perspective. Attempt a different perspective entirely.

Just go on an adventure. Make mistakes. Overcome obstacles. Try again.

You might discover something amazing.

~SAT

 

Not All Villains Think They’re Good

17 Apr

“Every villain is the hero in their own story” is a common, popular writing tip, and while I agree, I think it is sometimes confused with “Every villain thinks they’re the good guy.” There’s a difference between thinking you’re a hero and thinking you’re a good guy, and not every villain thinks they’re a good guy.

Though the word “hero” in itself has a positive connotation, I argue that villains can still be a “hero” in their own mind while also being aware they are doing something wrong or harmful. Take revenge plots as an example. Most often seen in thrillers, a protagonist could be solely out to seek revenge, whether or not that revenge is warranted. In fact, many believe revenge isn’t “justice” and therefore isn’t heroic. But, at the same time, a revenge-seeking protagonist will think of themselves as a hero without believing they are a good guy. A good example of this is Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen. While he is seeking revenge for his family’s deaths, he kills many people who probably didn’t deserve to be hurt at all. And he’s aware of it. In fact, he uses it as a weapon against others. Therefore, he is a hero for his family, a villain to a lot of innocent people, and definitely the protagonist. But a good guy? I think he gave up that concept a long time ago.

Good guy? Bad guy? Who knows?

Granted, don’t get me wrong, I love a villain who thinks they’re the good guy. I love villains who tiptoe on the good/wrong line more. But I wish we saw more villains that were simply villains—bad guys doing bad things because they want to. Their psyche can be just as deep as someone who is doing bad things for “good reasons” or someone who thinks they’re doing good things when they’re in fact doing bad ones. But we’ve sort of obsessed over “bad guy thinks he’s good” recently…when I think we should be focused on making villains round characters.

Round someone who thinks they’re good all the time.

Round = character who does good and bad things based on many types of motivation.

People aren’t so black and white. No one is purely good or thinks they’re good, and no one is all bad either. One of my favorite, eerie quotes is that, yes, serial killers sometimes help grandma cross the street. In fact, serial killers are often some of the most charming people around. But if you study serial killers, (and you’re a True Crime junkie like I am), then you know serial killers are generally aware that what they’re doing is SUPER messed up…yet they do it anyway. And then, they go to work and school and raise families and so on and so forth. Aside from killers like Charles Cullen* (no relation to Twilight), they hardly ever think they’re being a good guy.

Villains can be bad guys who know they’re bad and do bad things regardless. Just make sure they’re 3D while they carry out those dastardly deeds.

Instead of “every villain thinks they’re the hero of their own story”, let’s change it to “every villain thinks they’re the protagonist of their own story—whatever that entails.” In fact, keep this is mind for every character. Your novel will love you for it.

*Charles Cullen, also known as ‘The Angel of Death’, was a nurse in a hospital who killed over 400 patients. He thought he was “mercy killing.” Keep in mind that many of his victims were in good health. He is currently considered the biggest serial killer in American History.

~SAT

My latest Bad Bloods book recently released! I hope you check it out. 

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What are readers saying? 

“I LOVE this! I am a sucker for great characters, and July Thunder has no short of them.” –The Book Forums

“From the start, Thompson grabs your attention. You’re sitting on the edge of your seat until the very last page.” – Infinite Lives, Infinite Stories

“Wonderful writing, captivating characters and a story that will reel you in until the last page, these Bad Bloods may have a tendency of breaking the rules, but their stories are way too good not to read!” – Babbling Books

If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t worry. Book 1 is FREE.

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