Tag Archives: publishing

When to Begin & End Chapters

18 Oct

When writing a novel, writers must consider a lot of factors: characterization, pacing, plot, etc. Take a look around the internet and you’ll find tons of articles on how to begin a novel, outline a novel, flesh out a novel, and end a novel, but when it starts to get into the nitty gritty details, that’s where most advice will meander toward “every writer has their own method” or “it depends on the project.”

My advice on beginning and ending chapters is going to stand on that previous sentiment—I’m not going to lie—but I am going to dig little deeper on the following questions:

How do you start chapters? How do you end them? When do you know those points are enough to keep the reader interested? 

Aside from the adage “every writer has their own method,” I want to share some basic tips, and then add specific methods that I use. 

First and foremost, the key to finding your sweet spot is to understand your age category and genre. 

A sci-fi thriller is going to have shorter, cut-throat chapters that encourage the reader to keep turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen next. An epic adventure will probably have longer, more descriptive chapters where world-building is key rather than action, especially in the first and second act. Within those genres, age categories will influence word count. Having longer chapters in an adult book is much more appropriate than in middle grade. Not that there aren’t exceptions. There are always exceptions. But these are general tips to keep in mind. 

My first tip would be to go to your nearest bookstore or library and pick up books in your age category and genre. Study their chapter lengths. You should be reading in your age category and genre, too. Seeing how those books find their rhythm will help you find yours. But, at the end of the day, I’m a big believer in finding the right rhythm for your book—not forcing your book into the standard—so make intentional decisions when editing your book. I mention the editing phase on purpose. I don’t worry about chapter lengths until I’m revising. That first draft is just to get the story down. Most of the time, rhythm comes fairly naturally to me, but without fail, I’ll always find a ridiculously long chapter or choppy section that needs reworking. 

As you consider revisions, ask yourself: 

  • How can these chapters be reworked?
  • Are there sections that can be combined? (Especially with “talking head” scenes. If your characters are just talking, figure out if they can be physically doing something in another chapter at the same time.)
  • Does this chapter move the story or characters forward? If not, can I cut it and save it for “extras” for my readers?

Now that we’re past the revision setup, here’s some general tips about ending and beginning chapters. 

The beginning of your chapter should ask a question. The end should answer it. 

This is how I treat every chapter in all my books. I approach each scene like a mini-short story. This is done for many reasons. A) When readers are deciding if they want to pick up a book, they will only read a handful of pages. Show them you can tell a story in that handful. B) Feeling as if you’ve jumped over a hurdle as a reader gives you an accomplished feeling, and that feeling will propel you forward. 

Now, ending a chapter doesn’t mean you’ve answered every question that comes up in the chapter. Oh, no. Quite the contrary. Between asking the chapter question and answering that specific question, you must pose another question. This will end up being your cliffhanger that makes the reader turn the page. 

Formulaic, I know. But trust me, it works. 

For example, I just picked up my book Minutes Before Sunset and turned to a random chapter. In Chapter Thirteen, which is from the perspective of my hero Eric, it literally starts out with the supernatural girl he found in the forest asking him, “What are you going to teach me tonight?” (The literal question I pose.) By the end of the chapter, instead of teaching her magic techniques, which is what she was hoping for (and probably what the reader was expecting), they’ve fallen into a conversation about magic’s past. (Hey there, world building.) This conversation leads to him admitting there’s a war coming that he must survive. He doesn’t tell her he is at the center of it, but she’s grown suspicious. Telling her the truth, though, would expose his identity as heir. Something he’s not allowed to do, at the risk of his own life. But not warning puts her in danger. The new question posed: is he going to come clean about his identity in order to warn her? Will he choose his safety or hers? You must turn the page to find out. 

Now let’s look at how that example specifically begins and ends. The chapter starts out with positive energy. Two secret lovers meeting up in the woods, excited to see each other, learn from each other, etc. But it ends on a negative note. There’s dangerous truths he’s not telling her. She’s starting to sense that. Tension. BAM. Now two lovers are having a bad night. This exchange of rhythm is also key to shaping your chapters. 

Pay attention to your negative and positive energy. I believe this comes from a famous writer’s beat sheet, but I can’t remember who it was at this time. (If someone recognizes it, please let me know, and I’ll edit this to credit them.) Basically, every scene should be shifting your energy. If the beginning of a chapter is negative, it needs to end even more negatively or become positive. There are only four energies. Extra-positive, positive, negative, extra-negative. You shouldn’t have the same one in a row. Especially not over and over again. If your chapters are continuously ending on an extra-negative and starting there, your story will become stagnant, and the reader will grow bored. Even in survival novels where everyone is dying, you can find positive notes to end on. (Example/ Someone finally found food or shelter.) 

Returning to Chapter Thirteen, it begins positive, ends negative. Chapter Fourteen starts negative, ends positive. Chapter Fifteen begins positive, ends negative. Chapter Sixteen begins negative, ends extra-negative. Etc. 

If you’ve had lots of negative chapters, have a positive one, and vice versa. 

And don’t forget those cliffhangers!

When I freelance edited, I always found that most writers had natural cliffhangers in their work. They just didn’t recognize them. If you struggle with where to end a chapter, take a look a few paragraphs up from where you lost steam. It’s probably hiding in plain sight. If not, go back to that question you posed at the beginning of your chapter. What’s the next natural mystery your reader will want to know? Head towards that. 

Before I ramble on forever, here’s some fun facts about my work:

My average chapter length in Minutes Before Sunset: 2,123

My average chapter length in Bad Bloods: November Snow: 3,422

The difference? The format. Both are young adult, but Bad Bloods is formatted to show day-by-day plays, so each chapter covers one day. This meant numerous scenes in one chapter versus Minutes Before Sunset, which was set up to show scene-by-scene. Minutes Before Sunset is a much quicker book and centered on romance, whereas November Snow has a much heavier tone and centered on survival. Longer chapters were more fitting for that audience. 

Right now, I’m working on an adult fantasy, and my chapters seem to be landing anywhere between 2,000-3,000 words. As a reader, though, I love those 1,500-word chapters. Turning the pages feels good!

Take that as you will, and good luck,

~~SAT

P.S. I want to thank TJ Horton from my Facebook page who suggested I write about this topic! If you have a topic you want me to write about, let me know in the comments below. 

SCBWI KS/MO Middle of the Map Conference Announcement!

20 Sep

I have A LOT of wonderful events and opportunities coming up, so I wanted to keep today’s post short, sweet, and informative. Mostly, I’ll be teaching and critiquing at the SCBWI KS/MO Middle of the Map conference. I’ll also be mentoring a YA writer throughout 2022, but applications open up on November 7!

It’s all virtual, so I hope to see you there!

I put my specific events below, but you can check out the full lineup here.

November 3, 2021: SCBWI KS/MO Middle of the Map Conference: How to Write a Series WebinarLearn how to write a series by exploring how to use outlines, book bibles, and subplots to keep each book consistent, but also fresh and exciting. We will also cover how to avoid that middle book slump and nail that cliffhanger ending. Walk away with a resource list that includes recommended craft books and websites for further research.

November 6, 2021: SCBWI MS/MO Middle of the Map Conference: Critiques: I’m offering critiques in both YA and MG. Read details here

November 7, 2021: YA Mentorship with SCBWI KS/MO: Don’t miss out on the opportunity to win a free mentorship with our faculty author and local PAL member, Shannon Thompson! The 2022 KSMO Writer’s Mentorship will focus on Young Adult manuscripts.  Applications will be accepted Nov. 7-Dec. 5. Winner will be announced in January 2022! Check out details here.

P.S. Pitch Wars is also going on right now! I’m co-mentoring a middle grade writer. On Saturday, October 9, I’ll be taking over the Pitch Wars InstagramCome stop by to say hi and see the day in the life…

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.

How to Plot a Series and Make Every Book Stand Out

16 Aug

As an author with three series under my belt, I’m often asked how to plot a series, and I thought it was finally time to share a few tips. 

First thing is first, anyone considering traditional publishing should make book one a standalone. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the dream of writing a series, but in traditional publishing, that choice is out of your control. Agents/editors will get discouraged by proposals that say, “this is first book in a five-book series,” because no one can guarantee that will happen. (In fact, a series can be very rare for a debut author.) 

Repeat after me: “standalone with series potential”

But that’s more to do with traditional publishing than writing—and it doesn’t affect those who are self-publishing as much—so let’s get to those writing tips: 

Identify the Sub-Genre of Each Book

When I set out to write a series, I know each book needs to feel special. The way that I do that is by identifying each book’s sub-genre. For example, in my Timely Death trilogy, book 1 is a paranormal romance, book 2 is a paranormal mystery, book 3 is a paranormal action. In the Tomo trilogy, book 1 is certainly dystopian action, but book 2 is dystopian horror. (Time will tell what book 3 is.) 

When each book has its own sub-genre, it’ll help them stand apart while also inviting new energy into the storyline. Personally, I’d recommend every first book heavily lean toward your main genre in order to set the overall tone and expectation. Using my example above, the Timely Death trilogy is a paranormal romance, and book 1 is heavily focused on that, both in the main plot and the subplots. It’s the next books where I allow a little more deviation. 

I encourage anyone writing a series to keep that tip in mind when plotting out numerous books that follow the same characters. If you’re unsure what sort of sub-genres might work with your overall genre, “20 Master Plots and How to Form Them” by Ronald Tobias is a fantastic resource that helps explain plot and genre expectations. Play around with a few and see how they feel. 

Avoid the Dreaded Middle Book Slump

Avoid that middle book slump by throwing everything you can at it. What do I mean by that? I mean that a lot of writers stop themselves from using amazing material because they want to save it for the big, explosive finale. And that’s valid. But personally, I disagree with that method. Trust me when I say not to hold back. Give each book everything you got. You will come up with something even bigger for the next book. I know it can feel scary, but I’ve done it before, not knowing what I was going to do with the last book, and everything came together perfectly. 

If you want that example, I’ll explain, but it does spoil book 2: 

In the Timely Death trilogy, there’s a prophetic fight-to-the-death between two clans alluded to in the first book. Every reader expected it to be in book 3. And guess what? It’s in book 2. Though it seems to be set up as the ultimate climax from book 1, I knew I wanted to push against that formula the moment I started writing book 2, so I trusted my gut and used it in book 2. Book 3 ended up being even bigger and followed the fallout of that fight. Using everything I had in book 2 opened the series to even more dramatics, plot twists, and drama than I ever could’ve planned had I tried to save material for the finale.  

Don’t Fear Character Change, Including Relationships 

Too often I read series where characters’ friendships and romances remain intact book after book. Granted, the romance genre requires a happy ending, but you can still have a happy ending while pushing what it means for a couple to be together. You can break friendships and meld them—or break them up forever. You don’t have to have a happy ending for everyone. In fact, if I know my main couple won’t work out, I make sure to show one that will, and vice versa. 

To me, this tip is reminiscent of being willing to kill your darlings. 

If no one’s relationships ever suffer, then readers might get too comfortable with the stakes. Be willing to part family, friends, and lovers. Allow them to make new friends and find new families. This will allow for fresh scenes and stakes because new relationships mean something new to lose. New relationships will also show how your characters are changing. My favorite kind? A villain who joins the good side in the end. There’s something so interesting about showing what it takes to get the hero and villain to see eye-to-eye, even if one of them can’t exist in the end. 

These are just my top three tips for planning a series.

How do you plan yours?

~SAT

Want an Accountability Partner? Consider This First.

19 Jul

Maybe you’ve heard of accountability partners. Maybe you’ve considered getting one. But what is an accountability partner, really, and how do you get someone to help?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “accountability partner” is teaming up with someone who will keep you accountable for your writing progress. For example, your friend may check in with you every Tuesday to make sure you’ve written 1,000 words that week, and if not, you may jump on Zoom for a quick write-in.

Accountability partners look different to everyone because every writer has their own unique goals.

It may include critiquing, or it might only be a verbal check-in. The partnership can go both ways or not. Your accountability partner might not even be a fellow writer. Finding what works for you is what’s key.

Here’s how I set up my accountability system without anyone but me knowing.

As of late, I’ve spent most of my writing time revising rather than writing a first draft. That said, I have a hard time concentrating on one novel at a time. On any given day, I tend to have three going: One I am revising, one I am writing, and one I am dreaming about (or outlining). That way, I have different projects for different energies. (If I only revise, I lose my motivation fast.) But working on three separate projects doesn’t come without difficulties.

How do you know you’re writing enough? What time do you dedicate to which project? When will you get it all done?

These were questions I had to ask myself. When it comes to revising, I know that I need to get it done as fast as possible, but I also need it to be quality edits, not just speed. That’s why I put most of my energy into that project. That said, I know I need to honor some creative/writing time for myself. If I don’t, I get burnt out. Nevertheless, it’s easy for me to forget that and fall into a responsibility trap, where I end up drained and frustrated.

This was why I knew I needed to make a specific, time-set goal around creative writing.

That goal? Every month, I will write two new chapters for my monthly critique group.

Sometimes I send more if they have the reading time and I had the writing time. But I tend to only manage two chapters. That’s about 20 pages. It’s very minimal. But guess what? It’s better than nothing. Believe it or not, by the end of the year, I tend to have a full-length novel.

But do my critique partners know about this? No, not really.

Here’s the deal: I don’t have accountability partners in the traditional sense. No one is going to email me and say, “You told me you’d have X done by this date, so where is it?” The way I approach it is a lot more light-hearted.

No one in my group knows that my goal is two chapters every month. No one gives me a hard time if I don’t meet that. But every month, my iCalendar bings the week before our meetup and asks me if my pages are ready. If they aren’t, I focus solely on those pages until they are good to go.

For me, accountability is about giving yourself permission to set everything else aside to focus on that one time-set goal you promised yourself.

It’s investing in your work, your future, and your writing. Finding a pattern that helps you do that is key. Sometimes discovering that requires help from a friend or a family member (or an alert on your calendar). Don’t be afraid to ask those around you if they’d be willing to check in. That said, I’d recommend considering your goals before you talk to others. That way, you can tell them what you need.  

My advice?

Set a small writing goal, but don’t forget to consider your accountability.

I will write (# of words) every (time: month, week, etc.) for (my critique group, my website, myself).

If you’re feeling really brave, add stipulations: As I approach my deadline, I will set aside (TV, other projects, dessert) until I complete it. I will also not hesitate to ask for help on (laundry, dishes, childcare, etc.) if I need extra time.

Lastly—and as always—it’s okay to adjust your goals.

Even your accountability partner will understand if you say you can’t write the same amount of words in the fall as you can in the spring. Life happens. Don’t punish yourself for not hitting your goal. Instead, ask yourself why. Are you being too hard on yourself? Are your expectations too high? Adjust your word count or time, and try again.  

It took me a long time to find my happy place with creative writing vs. revising, but I would never have found it if I hadn’t adjusted along the way.

For instance, I used to write 10,000 words a week. That number makes me gasp now. With a full-time job, a house to take care of, and the understanding that I need more time to be human, I’m nowhere near that output anymore. And that’s okay! I have new goals now. And with those, I am staying accountable.

What about you? Do you have accountability partners?

~SAT

2020: The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?)

19 Dec

Every year I like to reflect and talk about expectations, goal-setting, writing life, changing trends, etc., and as strange as this past year has been, I still want to keep that tradition going. That said, looking back, January feels like it happened three years ago, not eleven months. In fact, right at the beginning of 2020, I taught my first writing course—Starting a Writing Project—and over 40 people attended. I was super proud. Still am! But seeing photos of everyone crowded into one room has me reeling now. 

That’s why I decided to name 2020 the strangest writing year. Not only because it was absolutely bonkers (and still is), but because current events have also shifted our way of thinking about other times. They’ve also affected us emotionally, physically, and spiritually, too. For me, spiritually has more to do with energy levels. You know, keeping your hopes up. Holding onto focus. Maintaining a level of discipline and using your energy to keep on keeping on. 

That was hard this year. But I’m choosing to focus on the positive.

When we went into lockdown in March, I thought Kansas City would be back to normal by June, August at the latest. Well… I’m still working from home, and I barely leave my home office. Sharing my workspace with my writing space has certainly taken a dent on my productivity, but going virtual hasn’t been all bad. In fact, my virtual world is pretty neat. I attended WriteOnCon, the Kansas City Writing Workshop, and YALLFest online. I also taught my first writing class online for Woodneath Writers. More regularly, I attended virtual write-ins with friends in California and Canada! I also continued to see my two local writers’ groups every month via ZOOM. 

my life pre-lockdown teaching to a crowded room vs. my life after lockdown at virtual write-ins

In my spare time, I also wrote an article for my local SCBWI scribbles newsletter, and later that year, I was the local author feature. Even more mind-blowing? I was chosen as a co-mentor in Pitch Wars with long-time CP and friend, Sandra Proudman. Only three years ago, I was submitting to Pitch Wars as a hopeful mentee, so being able to give back to that is so much fun. (Fun fact: Sandra and I actually met because of Pitch Wars.)  

At work, I was awarded Maggie Jackson Community Spirit Award for helping The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library go virtual. It’s the first time I’ve been awarded anything. It was a true honor. I’m so proud of everything my team and I were able to do for The Story Center and our customers during the lockdowns. In fact, I recently got to watch 21 of my students complete the Storytelling Certificate Program (which is currently free, virtual, and open to anyone in the world). What a way to celebrate all their hard work!

In personal news, I got engaged! My partner and I have been together for almost nine years now, so this is an exciting step for us. We’ve been house hunting, too, which is fun and new to us. I also became student debt free this year, which, if you remember my post from last year, I never thought I’d get to see that day. I am so relieved. And happy. (And absolutely still rooting for student loan forgiveness! It’s such a predatory system, and I hope others get forgiven soon.) 

In publishing news, I went out on sub with my agent, and I’m soon to go back out on sub in the new year. 

Over this past year, I sent my first-ever adult science fiction novel to my agent and started an adult fantasy novel. Since then, I’ve completed one major overhaul of my adult science fiction book and I’m currently working on revising it some more. I also revised a totally other book, too (which is what we’re going out on sub with)! In regard to my adult fantasy book, I’m currently 40,000 words in. I also played around with four new ideas and even received some feedback from an editor through SCBWI on my first middle grade verse novel!

That said, this environment definitely took a toll. I used to write about 10,000 words a week pretty consistently, and that did not happen for me this year. Between adjusting my day job and just life in general, my overall productivity was down, but I’m pretty happy with what I managed to cover this year. (Also a little sad I didn’t complete anything brand-new, but I did what I could.) 

I have no idea what 2021 will hold. Then again, I never know what the next year will bring. 

Maybe 2021 will be stranger. Maybe good-strange. Maybe not. 

All I can do is keep writing, keep trying, keep dreaming.

My only goal? To do the best that I can!

Here’s to 2021,

~SAT

If you’re interested, here’s my previous years:

Behind the Scenes of Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

14 Nov

Behind the Scenes at Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

In case you missed it, Team Snickersnee announced our 2020 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 Snickersnee. 

We asked for anything under the science fiction or fantasy sun, including young adult and new adult (if willing to age down to young adult). You can reference our original wishlist by clicking here.  

Here are our stats: 133 submissions 

Sci-Fi: 

  • Space Opera: 4
  • Near Future: 2
  • Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic: 11
  • Cyberpunk: 2
  • Steampunk: 1
  • Soft: 15
  • Military: 1
  • Science-Fantasy: 2
  • Time-Travel: 2
  • Other: 3

Fantasy: 

  • High/Epic: 21
  • Urban/Contemporary: 19
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism: 5
  • Historical: 2
  • Portal: 11
  • Paranormal: 1
  • Other: 22

Horror: 4

Thriller/Suspense: 2

Contemporary: 2

Adventure: 1

Top three trends we saw: 

  1. Elemental powers
  2. Zodiac 
  3. Witches 

We definitely had a blast reading everyone’s words! In fact, we put more than half of our submissions in the “maybe” pile. It was really hard to dwindle down to just one person. 

So how did we break it down? 

As a team, Sandra and I split the submissions in half. She read the first half, and I read the second half. We took notes on the ones we loved, and then we sent each other the list so that the other person could take a look at the submissions, too. We made it a goal to choose 5 manuscripts to request. We then read the first 50 pages of each and discussed again. (We even requested two more fulls!) We messaged each other a lot, discussing various aspects of the manuscripts, possible edit letters, etc.—until we felt that we had found the manuscript. Our final decision happened over an hour-long ZOOM call. Ultimately, while we loved so many manuscripts, we had to factor in how much work the manuscript needed in the time allotted, if our vision aligned with the author’s, and if we were the right mentors for this particular mentee.   

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 your biggest surprise reading through submissions this year?

Shannon: This was my first time being a Pitch Wars mentor. Going in, I thought the writing itself would be the ultimate factor in choosing which manuscripts to read more of, but honestly, all the writing was so good! I relied on the synopsis a lot more than I thought I would. It showed me how the story unfolded and if I felt like there were structural issues we could help with or not. I was definitely looking for someone we could mentor. If someone’s package was 120% perfect, I moved on. Some writers are definitely ready to query without a mentorship!

Sandra: This was my second year mentoring, and what was surprising was how different the submissions were this year from last year! I loved getting to read a whole new batch of stories from writers who might not have subbed to me last year. I was also just in awe of the quality of work submitted; there is so much talent in the world right now. There’s not one entry that I read that I didn’t think the writer would find representation, whether with the manuscript submitted or with another.

Any writing tips for those who submitted?

Shannon: Use beat sheets (like this one on Jami Gold’s website) and swap with critique partners. Most importantly, make sure each scene is driving your story forward, and that your protagonist has agency. (They should be happening to the story, not the other way around.) A common mistake I saw is a scene where we meet the protagonist’s best friend or family, and that’s it. See if you can combine your meeting scene with an actionable scene. (Ex. Could the best friend be introduced while the protagonist is dealing with an unexpected issue?) If you have any scenes that feel like your protagonist’s “regular” day, it should probably be changed or cut.

Sandra: To Shannon’s point, knowing your character’s arc is in my opinion the most important part of any story. Who is your character at the beginning and who do you want them to be by the end of the manuscript? And what turning points will help you get them there. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, or somewhere in between, knowing the turning points you want to hit is so important to keeping the pacing and character arc’s moving forward. And hitting them at the right places. One of the things I love doing with my work is deciding the word count I want to hit before I start to write. So if I want to write an 80K manuscript, I know I need to hit that first turning point at 25% of the book, so at 20K, and my midpoint at 40K. Aside from that, to just keep writing and reading! I didn’t land my agent till my third queried manuscript, so perseverance is key and learning what you can from other writers and published works.

Publishing tips?

Shannon: Watch your word counts. There was a surprising amount of manuscripts that were 100k and higher, which is a really hard sell to an agent or editor for a debut. Make sure that your manuscript is in line with the expectations of your age category and genre. If you’re struggling to cut, ask a beta reader to help. Consider combining characters or scenes. Don’t be afraid to take a break from your story and come back at a later date to analyze what is truly, absolutely 100% necessary. In regards to querying, I highly recommend Query Shark and Query Tracker

Sandra: Totally agree with Shannon on word counts! I’ve seen some agents and editors talk about this on Twitter lately as well!

It’s also interesting seeing trends as well and what ideas seem to spread like wildfire and become popular. This is also really hard to see because it means the market is saturated in these stories, and you’re likely competing for an agent’s attention who has already received several stories with the same general idea. One of my biggest publishing tips and something I’m working hard to do myself, is how to take a common idea and have a twist to it. So if your book is about vampires, how can you freshen up a trope that an agent has seen often? Same if your story has elemental magic. Can you do something in your manuscript that sets the story apart so there’s a good spin in the query you’re sending out? Just making sure that your story is as unique as you can make it, and that you’re showing off what makes it unique to the fullest! Genre-bending is also very popular and a great way to freshen up tropes!

What are we most excited about?

Working with our mentee, Miranda Sun! She wrote an amazing heartfelt #ownvoices YA contemporary fantasy filled with magic forests, generational secrets, and humor! Did we mention the slow-burn hate-to-love romance with a ghost? Give her a follow on Twitter and stay tuned! (Fun fact: Miranda’s submission was #31!) 

~SAT

Shannon’s Top 5 Scrivener Tips

18 Apr

It’s no secret that I love Scrivener and have since I first bought it back in 2016. In fact, here’s my first ever post about it: Writers, Should You Get Scrivener? Granted, I’ve learned a lot about Scrivener since 2016, and the software has upgraded, which is why I thought an updated post talking about my favorite features might give some insight into those who are curious and/or help out those who have it but feel lost.   

Before I begin, I want to clarify that this isn’t a paid promo. Scrivener has NO CLUE I am writing this. I am just a regular author, who bought and explored the software all on my own, and I’ve used it ever since. These are my favorite features and ones I actually use every day. 

1. Keeping Track of Writing Stats (Including Overused Words)

The other day online, a fellow writer asked me how I kept track of my stats. (For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, I often chat about how many words I write a day, or month, and what that means to me and why.) I’ve always been a numbers person. Spreadsheets are where I LIVE. I tend to use them in retrospect, meaning I like to look back at what I accomplished every month, and seeing all that work helps me stay motivated the next month. (I’m the type to feel like I didn’t do anything if I don’t have something tangible in front of me, and since writing tends to be on a virtual space, my spreadsheets become that tangible thing.) Scrivener actually tracks stats for you. Select Project from the top menu, then Writing History, and it will break down your averages for you, day-by-day, and monthly. In March, I wrote on average 1,193 words a day, but if you look at the breakdown, I have days I never wrote as well as negative days (days where I deleted more than I added). It’s really interesting because you might also notice patterns. Ex. I wrote 3,365 in one day. If you check March 22, you might notice that’s a Sunday. Of course I was more productive. I wasn’t at work. 😛 If you really want to go deep, explore Project->Statistics->Selected Documents->Word Frequency, and it’ll show you your most frequently used words. Might help you find those pesky repeats that you can change or cut.

2. Color Coding revisions

I didn’t want to start with this one, because I’ve been talking about it on the blog a lot. Like, a lot a lot. In fact, I just wrote a blog post—How I Revise My Novels—about this very topic. I use the Revision Mode in Scrivener all the time, even while I’m initially creating, but I mostly use it when I’m revising. To get there, you’re going to want to click, Format->Revision Mode->Select Color. Be warned: Once you’re in that mode, you will have to turn it off to get back to another color. I love this because it helps me keep my revisions straight. But another tool that does that is the snapshot features. 

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

3. Snapshots of previous versions 

The Snapshot feature allows you to save various versions of your book. I have screenshot me snapshotting. (I hope that makes sense.) You can find that screenshot below. Basically, after every time I finish writing a chapter (or revising it), I take a snapshot. (Which is the little camera icon on the far right.) I name the file something that makes it clear to me what version it is and hold onto them. This is super helpful while revising, mostly because you can go back if you realize Version 2 was better than Version 3. You can also click the “Compare” button and it will show you the differences. The photo below is showing you my very first draft compared to my most recent draft. As you can see, there were a lot of changes. In fact, you can see from this photo that I’ve been writing this scene since February 2018, I’ve rewritten it four times, and had it beta read. Another huge feature that I use in this part of Scrivener is the Comments button to add comments from betas, but that’s another feature entirely!  

4. Linguistic Focus

Under Edit -> Writing Tools -> Linguistic Focus, you’ll find an array of options: Nouns, adverbs, dialogue, etc. This is one of my favorite tools (and one I think is often overlooked), because it allows you to look at any given file in one way. Looking to cut out those pesky adverbs? Highlight them. Wanting to see how realistic your dialogue feels without the action tags? Make it stand out. In my screenshot on the right, I highlighted my dialogue only. It helps me see the spacing, but also lets me focus on the flow of my characters’ speech. I mostly use this for dialogue, but I’ve definitely used it for other things, too. What’s really neat is how it counts it, too. For instance, I had 93 quotes in this chapter, 944 verbs, 210 adjectives. Granted, it isn’t always perfect, but it definitely speeds up the process of cutting out certain phrases. 

5. Character Name Generator 

Okay, so I admit, I don’t use Scrivener to get my character names. However, I think it’s an awesome tool that is often overlooked, and it’s found in the same place: Edit -> Writing Tools -> Name Generator, and you can select from a variety of choices: names by country origin, first letter, ending letter, alliteration, and more. If you’re curious how I actually name my characters, read my blog post Naming Your Characters. Mostly, I use Babynames.com, yearbooks, and Pinterest boards. The reason I included it in my top five despite not using it is to highlight how neat all the options and tools are, even if I don’t personally use them during my writing journey.

These are just my top five tips, but honestly, I could go on forever. Scrivener has a countless number of tools, like the progress bar and target goals. It can honestly be overwhelming (but in a good way). I admit I don’t use all the tools it offers, but isn’t that the beauty? You can use what you need and want to pursue your art. But first, you have to understand what they offer and why, which is why I want to leave you with one last tip—my #1 tip. 

My #1 tip? Take the time to go through the tutorials when you download it. Without them, I would’ve been lost and confused, either giving up completely or struggling along with very few of the tools Scrivener has to offer. 

Are there tools you love?  

Let me know if I missed your favorites! Maybe there’s a feature I would love but have yet to hear about or use. 

~SAT 

P.S. If you’ve ever wanted to attend any of my events but couldn’t due to distance, now is your time to shine! I’ll be teaching a publishing course virtually on Monday, April 20: Online Publishing Events and Opportunities at 6:30 PM (Central). It’ll be on Zoom, and you can find more details on The Story Center’s Facebook by clicking here. See you then!

2020 Author Goals

4 Jan

2019 is over, and honestly it feels like a blur. 

I know this post is going to seem like a hard brag. I promise that isn’t my intention. I accomplished a lot this year, but I can’t say that I allowed much happiness into my life, especially toward the end of 2019. The beginning felt like a lot of highs: New job! An agent! Another birthday! The end felt like a lot of lows: My cat’s health problems. My health problems. Student loan problems. My depression. 

I’m still in a depression fog at the moment. I won’t lie. I had a really difficult time even stringing together this blog post. At the same time, though, that’s why I forced myself to write it. 

We need to take a moment to acknowledge all of our hard work. 

Today, I ask you to join me. 

Grab a pen and paper. Think of everything you did in 2019, and write it down. Leave nothing out. Include all the things, even the little things others might consider insignificant. With every bullet point you add, really think about all the help you received, the support, the encouragement, the opportunities, the sacrifices, the dedication, the passion. Have you thanked these people? Have you thanked yourself for trying? Have you allowed yourself the space to celebrate and be happy? 

In 2019:

  • I was promoted at the library to Story Center Program Manager. Now I’m surrounded by storytellers all day, and I absolutely love it! 
  • I guest spoke at numerous teen writing groups at various libraries, my local chapter of SCBWI, and at Writers United for Johnson County Library
  • I also had my first school visit, ever
  • I was chosen for a mentorship through Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 
  • I got a literary agent! 
  • I also went out on sub with my agent. 

Capture

Photos show my writing retreat, finishing a WIP, releasing a book on Wattpad, my first school visit, and my new job, which included hosting a publishing panel at Johnson County Library and meeting Janet Evanovich!

But that’s not all! I released Took Me Yesterday (book 2 of the Tomo Trilogy) on Wattpad after readers kept asking for it for five years. I attended two conferences, went on a writing retreat, hosted #BeMyLi, was included in YASH twice, and attended my local critique group every month. (Not to mention exchanged pages with online beta reader friends all year long.) And I tracked my progress. 

I began 2019 with 26,996 words in a YA science fiction novel. I was also, 55,623 words into a revision of my historical fantasy. 

I end 2019 not only with a completed version of my YA science fiction novel, but a majorly revised and polished version, too. I’m on sub with a different science fiction novel, and I finished revising my historical fantasy as well. I even started a new project! And I’m brainstorming even more. 

In 2020, I already know that I’m teaching my first writing course. Only in a few days, too. (If you’re in Kansas City, join me for Getting Started on a Writing Project.) I’ll be teaching my first publishing course in April during Publishing Week at the Library. I also have plans to attend the Kansas City Writing Workshop and the LitUP Festival. And I’m sure there’s more to come: more firsts, more rejections, more congratulations, more plot twists, more tears, more laughter. 

I know this because I’ve written articles just like this one for the past four years:

And every year, I read each one in rescinding order. 

This year I didn’t know if I wanted to write this article. I didn’t think I could. But after reading my past posts, I remembered why these have become so important to me. I can look back. I can remember. I can put it all in perspective. 

Right now, my 2020 perspective is hopeful. Grateful. Humble. 

I promise to try my best to be my best self: as a librarian, an author, a cat lady, a friend. 

I promise to continue.

What do you promise? 

~SAT

Finishing My First Pantser Novel

7 Sep

I finished my first panster novel. For those of you who don’t know what a panster is in publishing, it basically means you write with no plan, no outline, nothing. You write by the seat of your pants. Hence, panster.

Typically, I’m an outliner. A pretty detailed one, I might add. There’s something comforting about knowing my characters and their world pretty well before I jump in headfirst. I mean, what happens if I get 30,000 words and freeze? Or decide I hate everything? That hasn’t happened to me in a while, but it happens, which is why I favor spending more time in the heads of my characters/ideas/world before I dedicate a ton of time to a project. But this project was different. This project I never intended to pursue.

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I’m on Instagram! @AuthorSAT

Let me take you back to fall of 2018. (Oh, yes, it’s been one year since I started writing this project.) I was at one of the lowest parts of my writing career. I really felt like giving up. So, while dramatically crying in the shower (because all genius breakthroughs happen in the shower), I told myself it was fine to quit. Fine to write whatever the hell I wanted. Fine to not write at all. By the time I exited, I had decided to write the most ridiculous idea I could think of, and well, this book was born.

Obviously, if you can tell from the backstory, this book was born from a very emotional place, which is one of the reasons I think pansting worked. All I wanted to do was get down my rage, confusion, heartache, frustration, love—damn the timelines. Forget making sense. This wasn’t about sense. It was about nonsense, which is how I felt. And I used those feelings all over ever page of that book.

81,000 words later, and I’ve realized a couple of things.

  1. I had a lot more feelings than I thought—and it was super therapeutic to take a dive deep into them, no holding back. Even the ugly ones. Even the ones I didn’t know I felt. One of the only reasons I feel like I could do this to the extent that I did was because I had written off the idea of pursuing publishing with it. It was just for me. And so I wasn’t writing to satisfy anyone but myself. And guess what? I want to take this mentality with me into all my future projects.
  2. Pansting is a tool. I think it gets a bad rep in the writing world because it seems to be a synonym for those that don’t plan—and publishing does require a lot of planning—but not planning can be a plan in itself. (Crazy, right?) I mean it, though. By not planning, I feel like I have more authentic characters. My plot might need more work than usual. My world building, too. But characters is typically what I struggle with in a first draft, and I didn’t have that issue this time around. I plan on using pansting—even in light instances—to explore characters more.
  3. You never know what you’ll end up pursuing. I sort of already knew this, but this was probably the biggest instance where I seriously never, ever thought I’d share this book, but it’s my next one I’m handing to my agent. Of course, I have a few things to get in line before then. Like, you know, revising. A lot.

I definitely have a lot of revising ahead of me. More than I want to think about at the moment. (I mean, who isn’t burnt out on a piece once they hit THE END? At least, it’s typical behavior from me, which is perfectly fine, because I believe every writer should take a break between revisions. You risk making the same mistakes if you don’t. But I digress.) One tip I suggest: Take notes as you’re writing. I think this is good practice anyway, but it is absolutely necessary when you’re pansting. I already have pages and pages of info I can sort to organize my revision with—and it helps that I already took a significant portion to my writers group. (Typically, I take more polished versions to this group, but again, this book was different. It felt right to take it in early.) Basically, follow your writer’s gut.

My next novel? I’ve already started writing it—and I outlined it. Though I’ll admit my outline is the basics right now, or what I like to call my road map: Where I begin, where I want to end, and a couple of places I want to stop at in between. I’m still world building and getting to know my characters, so I know my plans will inevitably change. I also know I’ll have to return to my panster novel to start editing. But talking about balancing numerous pieces at once is another blog post for another day. (Maybe next month? Stay tuned…)

In the end, I don’t regret pansting my last book. In fact, I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve written. It’s a super wicked world, and I don’t think I could’ve planned such chaos if I had tried. Basically, pansting was right for that novel. It might be right for another novel in the future. It’s most likely not right for the one I currently want to tackle, but who knows? I might change my mind.

Be open to trying different methods of writing.

You might find out it was everything your work needed. 

~SAT

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