Tag Archives: Shannon A Thompson

Writing (and Working) While Pregnant: Third Trimester

5 Sep

I am 37 weeks pregnant, which means I am full-term, but have a few weeks to go and, honestly, I didn’t want to wait any longer to write this blog post. Why? Because I’m tired. If I wait any longer, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get the blog post out on time. (Not to mention if baby girl decides to show up early.) 

So here we are—pregnant in the third trimester, working full-time and chasing the writing dream on the side. 

Admittedly, sleepiness is a near constant thing at the moment. Though I’ve had a really easy pregnancy, the third trimester has certainly brought its challenges. Mostly with discomfort and insomnia. (I swear I can’t get any bigger. Right?!) With all the weight gain, I started experiencing pain in my right foot and left hip, and sleeping is a nightmare. (But it’s going to be worse with a newborn. Right?!) 

I have to admit that avoiding all the negativity has become a priority. I asked for positive newborn stories on my Twitter, and that’s been my bit of sunshine every week. 

To help even more, I decided to use up some PTO to work four-day work weeks during my last month. That way, we can spend the extra day meal prepping and getting the last details of our house together. If I have extra time after that, I’ve been pursuing writing. 

Writing-wise, things have been good! I currently have six fulls pending with agents, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something pans out one of these days. In fact, overall, my querying journey has been really fun. I even had a great phone call with an agent about my verse novel. That said, I couldn’t help but start calculating the next few weeks in my head. 

If someone offered right now, I’d have two weeks to talk to the other agents and make a decision…and baby girl is due the very next week. What happens if she shows up early? What happens if an agent emails me while I’m recovering from labor and I miss it? What if they rescind their offer? What if…?

I’m terrified of missing my window. 

I know my writing life isn’t over once I have a baby, but I confess that I was really hoping to have an agent secured by the time baby girl arrived. I think it would’ve given me peace of mind knowing that the next steps in my writing career are already underfoot (rather than knowing that I have a longer way to go after recovery). 

No matter. I’ve been doing my best, and that’s all I can do. 

Other than querying, I finished polishing my historical fantasy, and I’ve started getting my to-query list together (just in case my verse novel doesn’t pan out). I may even send a few queries out soon. I wanted somewhere to be creative, too. (Mostly so that I had pages to send to my monthly writers’ group.) I opened up my dark academia monster WIP that I had previously frozen in August of 2021 and got to work. I am now a few chapters away from THE END. I’m pretty proud of that. 

I’m also really happy about the baby’s room. I was lucky enough to have two baby showers–one at work and one with family/friends. It was so nice to see everyone again and to celebrate baby girl’s impending arrival. We now have everything we need, and I think I feel as prepared as any first-time parent can feel. The reality of baby girl is really setting in. I’m both excited and terribly nervous, but I’m mostly looking forward to getting to know her personality, watching her discover the world, and being part of her life as she grows. (Also, sleeping on my stomach again. I’m looking forward to that.) 

One of these days I’m sure I’ll start blogging about writing as a working mom. 

Until then… 

~SAT

Should You Talk About Querying While Querying?

29 Aug

Only a few years ago, it was a huge no-no to talk openly about querying while querying. Sure, you could DM your closest writing friends, but tweeting about it openly? Hard nope. It was seen as unprofessional, a sign that the author wasn’t able to keep a level head when negotiations are taking place. You mostly learned about other writers’ querying journeys through friendship or by reading the “How I Got My Agent” posts after the author had signed with someone. Nowadays, though? A lot more writers are talking about their querying journey while they are currently in the trenches. 

But should you?

This is a hotly debated topic. Mostly because there are two types of writers in the trenches at any given time: 

  1. The writer who has been around for a while and remembers how strongly it was frowned upon. They mean well when they tell other writers not to do it. I mean, why would you write a novel, polish it, and get a query package together just to ruin your chances by oversharing (and perhaps appearing less appealing to agents)?
  2. The newer writer (or new-to-querying writer) who is pushing back against long-held rules written by…wait, who did come up with these rules? This group also means well. They often believe a lack of transparency is keeping other writers in the dark and therefore perpetuating nefarious behavior that should be called out.  

Personally, I think both of these groups are right in their own ways. 

There are pros and cons to sharing your querying journey while querying, which is why—at the end of the day—it’s a personal choice. You must weigh the risks and rewards for yourself to decide how you want to interact in that conversation. 

Personally, I’m more comfortable with long-form writing. I enjoy blogging and connecting with readers via my newsletter. I feel like those two formats give me time to process and consider my feelings/options (rather than posting live reactions on Twitter or Facebook). I also have a close-knit group of writer friends who are or have been in the trenches, so I have a safe space to go to when I want to celebrate or need advice. The idea of posting “I got a full request” or “I didn’t need that rejection today” on an open forum gives me the heebies jeebies. But seeing others doing it doesn’t bother me a bit. I think it’s pretty awesome actually. 

Transparency is a good thing. Not everyone has access to the whisper network (or even knows there is one.) The folks who are sharing openly are breaking down that barrier. I also don’t see why it should deter agents. 

Agents are looking for a good fit for their particular list and style. Hearing another agent rejected a work shouldn’t be a deterrent on its own. Agents reject for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes the book isn’t the right fit for their list or they have no editorial vision. Maybe they ultimately didn’t vibe with the author on the phone call, whether that be career goals or IP connections or anything really. 

A rejection alone doesn’t say anything about the piece or the author. Not even a handful of rejection does. 

Granted, that’s not to say that some agents wouldn’t see sharing openly as a red flag. Everyone is going to have their own opinion and stance about what should and should not be talked about on certain forums, so I definitely recommend proceeding with caution. 

If a new writer today asked me what I think they should do, I would tell them to sit back and observe for a while. Ask yourself what would make you uncomfortable and why. Don’t feel pressured to share any more than you want to. And know that you can change your stance at any time. That said, I would recommend leading with kindness. 

It’s one thing to say you’ve received a rejection; another thing entirely to rant about rejections or make assumptions about others’ actions. 

A rule I live by is typing a tweet into my Google drive and sitting with it for 24 hours before I hit send. That way, I can better discern which emotion is driving me to participate in the conversation. If I’m too emotional in any way, I don’t send it. Not because I’m trying to be a writing robot, but because I prefer to lean on positivity. I enjoy sharing the good, and I feel more comfortable sharing the bad with close friends in private. It’s about how I feel. It’s not about how many others will like or retweet me. It’s about my mental health. My journey. And that’s what’s right for me. 

It may be totally different for you, and that’s okay!  

Keep doing your thing. And definitely never feel deterred about calling out predatory behavior. (In fact, I recommend reporting any red-flag behavior to Writer Beware.)

So what about talking about being on sub? That may be a different story. 

I’d recommend taking your agent’s advice on that one. 

~SAT

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 

Writing (And Working) While Pregnant: Second Trimester

11 Jul

The second trimester is known as the best trimester, when most women get their energy back and glow.

Mine started out terrible. 

I got COVID-like symptoms. Though I tested negative, it was still pretty scary being sick and pregnant. I promised myself I’d stop Googling things that week. Getting sick also made my morning sickness horrible. If that’s not bad enough, I learned that getting sick while pregnant means twice as long as a recovery time. What should’ve lasted a few days lasted a little over two weeks. Our cat Boo Boo’s health started to go downhill too… He unfortunately passed away shortly after. It is a lot dealing with loss and grief while simultaneously creating life. 

Writing? Yeah right. 

I was a mixture of puke and tears. 

It was also uncomfortable not wanting to share with folks what was going on with me while not having a reason to tell them I wasn’t making writing progress. I spent most of my time querying and beta reading for friends instead. During that time, I did tell my boss at work and my dad and stepmom. I told my best writing friend shortly after, too. Then, I found out we were having a little girl. Having people to talk to helped a lot, but I definitely started having a lot more anxiety in this trimester. I didn’t get a magical baby bump or feel the baby move as early as others. Once that started happening, it felt a little easier. 

To be honest, I spent as much time as possible relaxing. Life is about to get crazy, right? You’d think I’d want to get as much writing done as possible, but I just didn’t in the first half of my second trimester. I wanted to enjoy time with my husband and get our house where we want it to be. 

That said, I set a goal of revising my historical fantasy and getting it ready for querying before baby girl arrives. And that’s it. If I get more done, great. But I think querying two novels this year is more than sufficient.

We also started putting together the baby’s room, which was my previous office. There’s a mixture of emotions of creating a space for your future daughter while simultaneously giving up a space you had for yourself. (I share this thought even though a few people have scoffed at me for doing so, but alas, I like to be honest.) The weather also started to get nice and my favorite type of exercise is my trampoline, so it was really depressing seeing my trampoline out back but not being able to use it. I got lawn furniture instead so I could still sit outside and enjoy the nice weather. 

Honestly the first half of my second trimester was depressing and lonely, and it’s hard to admit that. The 20-week scan is what I kept crossing my fingers about. Once we got the all-clear, I felt a lot better about everything. 

The second half of my second trimester was a lot more uplifting and fun.

I finally got that boost of energy everyone talks about. With it, I hit a stride in my historical fantasy and figured out what was wrong with the third act for the first time in four years. (It never takes me this long to finish a manuscript. I actually finished writing it four years ago, but I never pursued it, because other publishing opportunities kept pulling me away. I’ve finally gotten back to it and giving it the time it deserves.) If you remember my last post – Writing (And Working) While Pregnant: First Trimester – I obviously changed gears from my YA paranormal back to revising my adult historical. 

That said, I took a babymoon the week of my birthday, and that helped my mood a lot. Though my doctor didn’t want me traveling, we visited a lot of local restaurants we’ve always wanted to try out and spent a day at the lake. It was really nice. And definitely boosted that boost of energy I already had. Returning from my vacation, I actually finished my historical fantasy revision! Honestly, it sometimes felt like that would never happen. I’ve worked on this novel on and off for so long. But this time, I’m finally going to query it and give it a shot. Now I’m in the polishing phase. One more read-through to make sure all my i’s are dotted and my t’s are crossed. The good news is that my query package is already put together, and I already have an agent waiting for the full! 

When I’m not working on that revision or at my day job, I am prepping for the baby, and her room is starting to have the theme…It’s Under the Sea…with lambs and bunnies. (In case you want to know how terrible I am at thematic design.) My husband and I started flipping through baby names and looking at baby things. Buying baby items was fun and so was feeling the first flutters of baby squirming around. I finally told everyone, too. 

I’m polishing my historical fantasy with the hopes that the book is in tip-top shape before little girl arrives. And maybe, just maybe, if I can muster any energy at all, I’ll send out my first batch of queries while on maternity leave. (Maybe sooner!)

Usually, I am outlining a new idea and drafting another while revising a third. Right now, I’m just revising, and that’s okay. I still have fulls pending with agents on my middle grade verse novel, and I have two other books completely written (not to mention more ideas outlined than I can handle.) I’m letting everything rest for now. Polishing my historical and beta reading for friends is the only thing on my writing life to-do. 

Heading into my third trimester, I am signed up for the baby care/delivery classes and looking forward to a baby shower with friends and family. And, of course, baby girl is set to arrive in late September. Maybe I’ll get an offer of rep, too? (A writer can dream.) 

I’m excited to see what life brings, 

~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!

Writing (And Working) While Pregnant: First Trimester 

6 Jun

You may or may not have seen my social media recently, but for those of you who didn’t, well, I have some news to share. 

I’m pregnant!

I’m currently 24 weeks, but I wrote most of this blog post during the first trimester when I wasn’t yet comfortable sharing my status. (I still wanted to blog about it, though!) I figure I can do a three-part series, one post for every trimester, and will inevitably post about being a working-writing mom in the future, too. 

Oh, cue the baby anxiety (and excitement). 

This is my first pregnancy, so everything is very new to me. The first side effect that affected my writing was the brain fog. I had absolutely no clue that it starts so early. I had brain fog before I even knew I was pregnant. (I suppose I should’ve side-eyed that lazy Saturday more suspiciously.) Strangely, though, it came with some perks. 

First trimester pregnancy brain fog brought me a lot of peace. My usually high-strung, ever-plotting/dreaming brain became a rolling tide of sleep, lazy days on the couch, and playing with my cats. Where I’d usually feel bad for laying around all Saturday afternoon, I quite enjoyed it. I slept better than ever before, too, which was weird. And holy dreams. So many vivid dreams. I’ve always used my dreams as inspiration for my books, but that’s because my dreams are typically mind-blowing adventures. Pregnancy dreams? Not so much. They happen in abundance and are completely nonsensical. So, I guess it’s a no on inspiration. 

No writing or inspiration? Surely I can use that energy for something else. 

Oh, wait. The fatigue. 

I was lucky enough to avoid morning sickness until week 9, which was nice. But I still didn’t have much energy for anything other than work and taking care of my cats. 

I have literally never had an issue creating like I did in my first trimester. The brain fog was unreal. No matter how often I sat at my desk or how long I stared at my computer, I just sort of zoned out. I tried everything: creating something new, working on an old favorite, revising one of my novels that’s 90% the way there. But I just couldn’t.

Getting through work was enough of an accomplishment to be honest. 

All that being said, I work full time. Working full time while pregnant is a lot, let alone using up any additional time to create. I’m not pushing myself super hard.

I also heard that a lot of the energy comes back in the second trimester, so we’ll see how that goes in that blog post. 😉 

I’m definitely having some anxiety about how writing will fit into my working-mom life, but hey, many people have done it before, and I have no doubt I’ll keep pursuing the dream as much as I can. 

I won’t lie, though. I’m already looking at my WIPs differently. Which ones can I finish before the baby is due? Which ones will require less energy/research/strain?

I decided to stick with my haunted YA instead of my adult fantasy or historical fantasy. 

I started my writing career by writing paranormal romance. It’s always been my happy place. Why not stay there for the time being? 

My kid is due in late Sept-early October, so it’ll be spooky season all around. 

~SAT

P.S. I have two upcoming events!

On Thursday, June 9, I’ll be teaching How to Write a Series at the Midwest Romance Writers meetup in Lenexa, Kansas. If you’re interested in attending, contact them here.

On Monday, June 13, I am teaching Starting a Writing Project via ZOOM for The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library. This program is free, virtual, and open to anyone in the world. Dive deep into creative inspiration, and learn tricks to prevent writer’s block. Then discover tools to help you set realistic goals and stay on track. Come prepared to put pen to paper. More information and registration here.

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

2 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

Dear (Agent):

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

[insert two paragraphs about book]

[insert small bio] 

Sincerely, 

Me

[insert contact information]

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

Now get to pitching! 

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

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

18 Apr

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

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. 

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

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

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

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

So what is my advice for querying right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish all of you the best of luck!  

~SAT

Every Detail in Science Fiction and Fantasy Doesn’t Need to Make Sense

4 Apr

This is probably an unpopular opinion–and perhaps a less-than-stellar writing tip–but every detail in science fiction and fantasy doesn’t need to make sense. I’m talking about characters, world building, traditions, landscapes, magic systems, etc. Granted, of course most of your story needs to. Like 95% of it and certainly the most essential parts. But every little detail doesn’t require an origin story or explanation. 

I’ve been writing science fiction and fantasy (SFF) for over a decade now and reading it for much longer. Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in word counts escalating, and while I love large books as much as the next SFF reader, it’s often unnecessary. 

You can have a fantastic, vibrant magical world without dedicating 700 pages to it. 

The way I write SFF might be a little different than others, but I tend to focus on my point of view (POV) character and plot before I flesh out my world. I mean, of course I know the basics of my magic system, but I don’t get into the nitty gritty until I know exactly what’s needed for the actual story to take place. In fact, I tend to write my first draft without much of my world figured out, not only to see what literally happens but also to get to know my POV character. It’s important to understand what your POV character would truly know. Yes, even about their own culture or circumstances. 

Look at your own world. 

Do you know why daylight savings started off the top of your head? Where wedding traditions stemmed from? How the border of your state or country was decided? What about why your neighbor is rude one day and sweet the next? 

No one knows everything, even if they love random fact-checking. 

Your science fiction or fantasy novel needs to make sense just enough for the story to suspend disbelief. Yes, some readers’ standards are going to be higher than others. But you’re not writing to satisfy every reader out there. You are writing the best story that you can. Sometimes that means cutting back and focusing on the elements that are most important. In fact, I’d love to see more SFF that is as quick and light as a cozy mystery. I want to flip through a SFF book in one afternoon and be blown away. And I know it’s possible. 

Look at The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells or Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (both published by TOR.) 

We need shorter, quicker SFF. Not only for fun, but for accessibility, too. Not everyone can undertake a 700-page novel. Not everyone wants to. 

Allowing space for shorter, quicker SFF stories may also allow publishers to take more risks on genre mash-ups. Bigger books are more costly to print and shelve. With shorter books, we could experiment and see if readers would love that quiet fantasy that takes place in a fairy’s coffee shop. That coming-of-age story about a tech geek that invents a pet robot and then loses it. A fun rom-com in space. Graphic novels are already doing this. Check out Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O’Neill. I desperately want more novels like these. 

Science fiction and fantasy doesn’t have to be dark. (Perhaps another post for another day.) It doesn’t have to be 700 pages either. Readers deserve variety in tone, length, and more. In order to achieve this, we need to remove the pressure of explaining every little detail in our stories. Readers and authors alike need to be open-minded to exploring novels with lighter structures. If we do that, I think we’ll see new genres emerge. 

The possibilities are truly endless. 

~SAT 

Publishing Questions I Ask Myself Before I Start Writing a Book

21 Mar

Publishing is hard. We all know that. What makes it harder is bad timing and unclear focus. It’s easy to get lost in the art of writing long before you consider the business of writing, but at the end of the day, publishing is a business. You should have your business plan in mind before you set off on your writing journey. By doing so, you’ll be a lot more prepared for pitching and revisions.

That said, I want to add a caveat before I start sharing the publishing questions I ask myself before I start writing a novel. I’m pursuing traditional publication. That requires different techniques than self-publishing. Putting the publishing method aside, though, if you want to write a book that brings you joy and that’s it, then go for it! I am not here to stop you. It’s important to write and be happy. I have learned that lesson the hard way before. However, I am here to discuss how to hone your skills and focus that joy into a project that stands a higher chance at success. 

By being purposeful in our writing decisions, I believe we increase our chances of success. That doesn’t mean it will absolutely work. But there is something to be said about timing (and a little bit of luck). If you can put the odds in your favor, why wouldn’t you? To do that, I’ve learned to ask myself some pretty hard questions before I start writing. 

Here’s that list:

What does this novel add to the market? 

Maybe it goes without saying, but I think this is probably the most important question you must ask yourself. How does your book stand out from what’s currently out there? How is it relevant but also fresh? Do you have a twist on an old trope that hasn’t been done before? Are you writing it from a perspective not often seen? My advice is always to lean into your most unique aspects as hard as you can without breaking the story. This will help it stand out. 

Are there unique elements that need to be pushed or scaled back?

Once I have a list of my unique elements, I have to take a hard look at the plot/characters. I don’t want to push my unique elements too hard. By doing so, you can break a story. It’s important to understand your limitations as a writer. If you are trying to push yourself to try something way outside your norm, make sure you’re enlisting help from experienced writers or beta readers who avidly read your genre. (You should also be reading avidly within the genre/age category that you’re writing.) Remember: unique is great, but readers also love an old trusted trope. Having some familiar expectations can be a fantastic selling point, too. 

Is the pitch succinct and commercial? 

You certainly have time to figure out your pitching materials, but personally, I start working on a pitch and query letter before I start writing the actual book. Why? Because it quickly shows me if I truly understand the novel I am about to write. Who wants to get 80k into a piece only to realize they aren’t positive about the main themes or twists? Have you attempted to write a query letter to get a better idea of the main theme/plot/character? I stand by attempting your query letter (and maybe even your synopsis) before you start writing. It will reveal the glaring flaws you already have, before going in and finding out the hard way. I will also add that it’s important to recognize that this query isn’t truly your query. I’ve literally never used my starter query as a draft query for when I start to query agents. It’s more like a tool to get me started on the best writing path possible. I often still discover many new (and fun) elements in my work once the writing begins, but having the bare bones of a strong plot keeps me on track and confident that the work won’t fizzle out due to confusion or roadblocks. 

Why would someone pick up this book compared to a comparative title? 

Pretend you’re at a bookstore and your novel is nestled between its comparative titles. Cover aside, why do you want to pick up this book the most? This might go back to the earlier question about what makes your book stand out, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to try out from a reader’s fresh perspective instead of a writer’s. 

Why would you choose to work on this book compared to your other WIPs?

If you’re anything like most of the writers I know, then you probably have a dozen or so ideas bouncing around your noggin that you are dying to write. So why this one? What makes this WIP better than the other ones you are currently playing around with? Not just better to you, but also better to the market? I will caution you not to pick out the idea you have the most fleshed out. Just because you’ve spent more time with it, does not mean it is the best one to pursue right now (or ever). I, myself, recently put my historical fantasy aside to pursue my middle grade novel-in-verse. Why? I’d already written three drafts of my historical fantasy. I had a great revision plan and betas lined up ready to read again. I even had an agent who already requested the full from a writing contest I won before I decided to revise. (They said they were happy to wait until I was done.) By all means, I should’ve concentrated on the historical, right? Wrong. The more I looked at where I stood with that project, the more I realized now was not the right time to pursue it. While I wasn’t confident I could revise the historical and secure representation with it (mostly due to where the market is at with this particular kind of story), I was ready for my middle grade book. Plus, novels-in-verse are finally picking up steam. I wanted to ride that wave before it became a hurricane and mine got lost in the flood. So, I took that leap of faith. I put everything aside to start a brand-new project that I was truly passionate about. I’m now querying and have more fulls than I did with my historical. Sometimes, it’s about reading the water and following your gut when you decide which river to take. (Okay, I’ll stop with the bad water metaphors.) 

Can you spend 3-5 years on this project and be happy? This includes revisions, rejections, more revisions, etc. 

Maybe you thought I was a kill-joy, but I promise, I’m not. I know how important your mental health is when pursuing publication. Writing can be a long, lonely adventure, and those feelings can only get worse if your current WIP is dragging you down. When folks tell me they’re writing a novel (and planning to pursue traditional publication), one of the first chats I have with them is how long it can take. Writing the first draft is typically the fastest part. Beyond that is beta readers, revisions, querying, rejections, more revisions, signing with an agent, going on sub, more rejections, hopefully a book deal! Yay! But 3-5 years between writing your first draft and the actual book release date is pretty common if not expected. Granted, that doesn’t mean you have to be happy every single day for 5 years. That’s unrealistic. But, realistically, will you enjoy working on this book for a long time? The reasons for saying yes, or no, will vary from writer to writer. Some writers can write purely from a business angle, no problem, but others require a little bit more excitement in order to pursue an idea for a long time. 

All of the answers to these questions will be unique to you. They may not even be the best questions to ask yourself. These are just the ones I ask myself before I start writing, and they help me make decisions every time. Maybe they’ll help you, too. 

If you have additional questions, I’d love to read about them in the comments below! 

~SAT

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