Tag Archives: traditional publishing

Pay-To-Play in Traditional Publishing, and Why We Need to Talk About It

1 Aug

A few weeks ago, I was querying when I kept coming across agent after agent who was closed to submissions except from those who they’ve met at conferences. Below that, a list of conferences was provided, where a writer could go and purchase a ticket (often in the hundreds), and then an additional ticket to pitch them (somewhere between $50 and $200 extra). 

I almost went on a Twitter rant about accessibility and paywalls, but decided against it. 

Then I saw this:

Of course discourse followed, many of whom were against the offering. But honestly? It feels a little hypocritical to me. Or, rather, willfully ignoring the overall bigger issue here. 

There are lots of ways to pay-to-play in traditional publishing, and it was only a matter of time before it got egregious.

The traditional publishing landscape has always had issues–nepotism, lack of accessibility, etc.–but what I find the most frustrating is how contradicting the landscape can seem to a new writer. 

One of the first pieces of advice writers will hear is that money should always be flowing to the author. Agents shouldn’t be charging reading fees, editors shouldn’t be charging packaging fees, etc. However, we have created an environment where there’s exclusive conference pitching, MSWL’s e-consultations, and the freelance hiring of editorial staff and agents for query/manuscript critiques. 

As someone who works in library programming where our speakers are often literary agents, editors, and authors, I understand that we all need to make money here, but we’ve largely ignored how this environment has confused up-and-coming writers–many of whom fall prey to scams because of it. A more common issue I’m seeing, though, isn’t necessarily writers falling for scams, but rather writers feeling obligated to pay-to-play. In fact, I have been one of those writers before. I think most writers have at some point. How could you not, when you keep hearing success stories from those who could afford that one conference, service, or MFA program? The odds feel stacked against you. And the truth is, they are.

Networking is an essential role in any business, and networking—more often than not—costs money and time.   

This reality is why so many turn to buying opportunities. In fact, I’ve blogged about one conference I personally attended when I was not in the financial place to do so (but why I didn’t regret it). You can read that piece here: How Writing Conferences Can Surprise You 

I was so desperate to move up in my writing career that I sacrificed my health, wealth, and other well-being for a measly chance at talking to somebody–anyone, really. I didn’t end up with an agent, but I did find some of my best writer friends that I still have to this day. I don’t regret it for that reason. But I haven’t paid that much to attend a conference since. I just can’t justify it. Not when querying is free. In fact, I got my first agent through the slush pile. Not at a fancy conference. Not through a consultation. A free, one-page query I workshopped with fellow writers I found online. (Again, for free.) 

This is why I tell newer writers that conferences/meetings are great, but not to spend money if you are struggling. Querying is FREE. There are lots of free resources and opportunities, including scholarships. 

Here’s a quick list:

  • QueryShark
  • QueryTracker (there is a premium version, but you do not have to use it)
  • MSWL (search the database for free; some classes are also free; other classes and consultations are not.) 
  • Free newsletters and articles through Writer’s Digest, Publishers Weekly, etc. 
  • Google around for writing blogs! Especially from writers you read. 
  • Jami Gold
  • IWSG (Insecure Writers Support Group) 

We also have free writing and publishing classes at The Story Center, open to anyone in the world. You do not have to have a Mid-Continent Public Library card to use our services or attend our programs.

Speaking of libraries, if you have access to a library near you, you may have free craft books and publishing resources that you can check out. 

These resources are great to help any writer begin their publishing journey. 

You can also apply for scholarships funding memberships and conferences. Many don’t know that you can also volunteer your way into a space. It never hurts to message the conference manager and ask what your options are.   

That said, I’m not asking agents/writers/editors to not charge money for critiques or pitch opportunities. What I am asking for is a greater focus on accessibility and affordability. 

If you’re only going to be open to those who can attend conferences, make sure you’re contributing to conference scholarships. If you’re often sharing your services, make sure you’re sharing free writing blogs/tips you see that you think your followers will find helpful. You may consider doing a giveaway every once in a while. 

On a larger scale, we need to be advocating for publishers to pay their editors a living wage. We need agents/writers to make a living wage, too. That way, we’re not all side hustling ourselves into a pay-to-play model only few can benefit from. 

Most importantly, we need to be championing free resources more often. 

We need to make sure everyone feels welcome in the traditional publishing landscape, not just those who can pay. 

~SAT

Researching Literary Agents in 2022

16 May

As promised in my last post – Writing a Great One-Line Pitch for Your 2022 Query LetterI wanted to talk about researching literary agents in 2022. Granted, I am going to start with the caveat that I only have experience querying kidlit books. More specifically YA/MG, contemporary and fantasy. So that’s where this post will lean. 

That said…

Let’s start by talking about Query Tracker. Why? Because it’s a godsend. Not only is it free to use–unless you want to pay an annual fee of $25 for the premium version (which I recommend)–it’s also a fantastic research tool for querying writers (and a super easy way to stay organized). I cannot emphasize this enough: I love Query Tracker. Not only can you look up agents by genre and age category, you can also track your letters, see agent response times, read comments from other querying writers, and put agents on a to-query/not-to-query list. But there’s even more tools than that! Did you know you can look up the representation of specific authors? It’s called the Who Reps Whom page. This is a fantastic tool if you are looking at comp titles and the author doesn’t list their agent on their website or social media profiles. Granted, it’s my understanding that this page is showing who currently represents the author, not necessary who sold their books, so if you have a specific book you’re looking at as a comparison title, it might be a good idea to look up that particular sale or look in the acknowledgements page to see if the author mentioned that agent. 

Query Tracker also shows response/request rates, which I think can help you decide who to submit to (particularly at agencies where a “no from one means a no from all.”) It’s also really easy to see if the agent is even open to queries before you dive deep into researching. (There’s nothing more frustrating than spending thirty minutes researching an agent only to find out they’re closed when you finally go to submit.) So many agents/agencies are closed right now! I cannot tell you how much time you’ll save by checking Query Tracker first. 

Other than Query Tracker, I recommend subscribing to Publishers Weekly’s free newsletters. If you know you are about to query a kidlit book, for instance, I highly encourage you to subscribe to Children’s Bookshelf. While writing my novel, I used it to track recent sales and get a feel for how those pitches are worded. (Also, while you’re taking some time to jot down which agents are selling, take note of which editors are buying similar books, too. That may help you suggest some editors you’d love to work with to your future agent!) If you see an agent or agency you’re not familiar with, now’s the time to pop on over to Google and figure it out. There’s a lot more agencies out there than meets the eye. In fact, the trickiest part of researching agents in 2022 is the amount of new agencies and agents on the market. There are a lot of brand-new agents and agencies that are super legit. (Mostly agents who left agencies to form their own or editors who left editing to agent.) That said, there’s also lots of agents/agencies that are…not so legit. When it doubt, check in your writer friends and Writer Beware. Regardless, researching sales is going to be important. Granted, no sales from a new agent isn’t necessarily a red flag, nor is a new agent in general a red flag. (You gotta start somewhere, right?) Just do your due diligence and make sure the agency has a strong foundation and the new agents have good mentorship opportunities. 

The #1 way to check sales is a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. Granted, it’s just too expensive for many folks. That said, if you can afford PM, I’d encourage it. Or, if you have a friend group, pool your money together for one person to be your reference librarian. Also, it never hurts to try to look up the agent on there regardless of your subscription status. Many agencies/agents have pages that are open to the public for free. 

Another fan favorite is MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist), where agents post their dream wishlist items. That said, the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter has gone to hell in a handbasket with spammers and disgruntled trolls, so I don’t recommend it anymore (unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time muting.) I do, however, recommend the main website, with one caveat: Keep in mind that these are dream wishlist items, not necessarily everything that agent represents, so I suggest using it more as a reference tool. Same with the agents’ personal website. (Not to be mistaken with the agencies’ websites.) Double check both of those for special wishlist items, interviews, or other insight that may be relevant, such as their Goodreads reading list. 

If you can attend in-person or virtual conferences/webinars where agents are speaking, great! This is particularly helpful with agents who are closed. (Sometimes they give special permission to those in attendance to query them.) But again, don’t feel obligated to spend tons of money during your querying journey. I did that a few years back, and it was one of my biggest regrets. And the time I did end up with an agent? I didn’t spend one cent.

I personally love Lit Rambles’s agent interviews. They give really good insight, not only into what the agent is currently looking for, but what kind of agent they are (editorial, hands-off, etc.) This is SO important and yet the information is so rarely shared at the querying stage. (Agents, if you’re reading this, I wish y’all would include this information on your submission page. Just the basics: editorial/not, preferred method of communication, etc.) 

Other than that, I recommend creating a private list on Twitter with the agents you are planning or thinking about querying. Why? Because agents often announce when they are going to open/close to queries, and it’s good to keep an eye on that in one place so you don’t miss out on an opportunity. Also, while you’re on Twitter, take note of agents that request books from pitch parties (or any competition, really) that sound similar to yours. Chances are they’re a good fit for your work, too! 

These places and resources might seem very similar to those that were available a few years ago, but many of them have changed in significant ways. MSWL, for instance, has a much more in-depth search engine than it used to (with instructions on how to use it). I personally believe Query Tracker is a lot more accurate than it used to be. And there’s so many more virtual conferences/webinar opportunities. 

At the end of the day, research is key. But also, don’t spend too much time researching. At some point, you gotta hit SEND. 

Try to do that this week. 

Pick three agents to do a deep dive on, and query one by Friday night. 

I believe in you! 

~SAT

Boo Boo the cat

P.S. For my regular subscribers, some sad news: My cat Boo Boo passed away on Monday, May 9. He lived 22 years. We were super lucky to have him in our lives, and I am still missing him like crazy. You may recognize him as the face of my newsletter on the righthand side of my website. I’ve also put one of my old favorites right here. I’m keeping him as the face of my newsletter for now (and for the foreseeable future). It’s nice to still have him in some places, even if only virtually. Hug your pets tight. ❤

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

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

When Are You Ready to Query?

7 Mar

Writers who want to publish with the Big Five need literary agents. To get a literary agent, one must query. To do that, you need your entire publishing package ready. That includes your formatted manuscript, query letter, and 1-page synopsis. Let’s say you have all three of these items right in front of you. 

How do you know when you are ready to query?

First, your entire publishing package should’ve gone through revisions with beta readers. I would say you need three minimum:

  • One who reads the first draft you send out. 
  • One who reads the first draft, second draft, third, etc. (However many times you need before you feel like you can’t edit anymore.)
  • One who reads your final draft and has not seen previous drafts before. 

The last one is super important, and I see people skip this step all the time. The reason you need fresh eyes on your final manuscript is because your previous readers have already seen other versions. That means they might remember details that you’ve now cut. (This is particularly important in world building in science fiction and fantasy.)

I tend to have 3-4 betas on my first draft, 1-2 who read every version, and a new 1-2 on my final draft. Total, you’re looking at 3-6 betas on every book, query letter, and synopsis. 

I also recommend completing your book revisions before revising a query or synopsis, since those items might be affected by changes made. That said, I almost always write my first query before I start writing a book. But that’s another post for another day. 

Now that you’ve completed revisions, what’s next?

Let your querying package sit. 

It might sound counterproductive to sit around twiddling your thumbs the minute you feel ready. But trust me, you need to do it. If you rush right in, you might not notice a simple mistake. You may skip across a webinar that gives you a fresh perspective on querying or synopsis writing. It’s okay to give yourself some time to breathe. And while you’re breathing, start your research.

This could be a personal preference, but I don’t recommend writers research agents while they are writing the project. Why? Because the agents who are asking for what you’re currently writing may change their minds by the time you are ready to query them. 

Hold off on choosing your list until you are ready to pursue that list. That said, it’s totally valid to keep tabs on certain agents you may have noticed before. Just don’t spend too much time obsessing. You need to get your publishing package ready first. 

Now that your publishing package is complete and polished, start your research. 

You may want to use Publishers Marketplace or Manuscript Wishlist. Find reputable agents and agencies. Take a look at their Twitter. Read some of their recent interviews. Check in with your writing friends about who they do (and don’t) recommend. Different agents offer different things. (Do you want an editorial agent? Do you want someone who will rep more than just this book or different genres? Are you interested in IP?) Knowing these things about yourself will help you find the perfect fit. 

When you have a list of well-researched literary agents, you will know: what they represent, what they’re asking for, and their submission guidelines.

Now you think you are ready to go. 

But are you?

Take another day to decompress. Afterward, choose a handful from your list that you are undoubtedly excited to work with, and then set aside a time to send them out. Last thing you want to do is make a huge mistake because you were trying to squeeze querying in between work and dinner. Try for a relaxed Saturday or an early morning when life is still quiet. That said, don’t query your whole list. You will want to make adjustments if your first round doesn’t work. I suggest getting the Premium version of QueryTracker to track submissions and keep all your notes in one place. (The free version is really nice, too!) 

Last but not least, don’t self-reject. You worked hard on your novel. Let yourself enjoy this moment. Rejection can be scary. I get it. I do. But remember: agents are trying to find novels they can fall in love with and sell. They want to like your work. They want editors to like your work. That said, rejections are part of the publishing landscape. Don’t take it personally. Agents reject for all sorts of reasons, including knowing they aren’t the right person to champion your work. Writing is very subjective. Try to remember that we are all out here looking for good matches. 

Once you click SEND, you’re now ready for your last step! 

Get a list of questions together that you want to ask an offering agent, and start working on your next manuscript. 

You have more stories to tell, 

~SAT

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

How to be Flexible with Writing

6 Feb

“How do you have time to write?” is probably in the top three questions I get asked, and I always answer the same way: I don’t have time to write. I make time to write, and I remain flexible. What works one year may not work another year. But if we dive a little deeper, flexibility with your schedule is just one aspect. You should also learn how to be flexible with your writing. 

Flexibility with your writing means you can easily shift from one project to another, even when it wasn’t in the plans. 

Why is this important? 

Whether or not you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing, there’s going to be times where you’re in the middle of writing your urban fantasy and get notes back from your agent/editor/audiobook narrator that means you need to focus on your murder mystery right away. Why does this happen? Working on the next piece while subbing/publishing another one is common practice, and it’s inevitable these two pieces will collide on your calendar. 

Woman in yoga pose
A quick yoga break helps me, too!

Learning how to pivot from one WIP to another with ease will help you be more productive (and hopefully make the process less stressful and more fun). 

Just last year, I was writing an adult fantasy while getting beta reader notes back on my adult science fiction and waiting for the go-to signal from my agent to revise a totally different adult science fiction piece. I’m constantly hopping from one project to the other. It’s been difficult at times, but I’ve certainly learned some tricks that make it easier. 

Here’s some quick ways to help with flexibility:

– Pinterest mood board: quickly scrolling through my inspiration reminds me why I love it and what the tone is. 

– Playlist: Even if you don’t listen to music while writing, try to make a playlist that you associate with your WIP. Maybe you use it when you’re brainstorming. Maybe you only listen to it as you sit down at your computer. Even better if they have totally different sounds. Five minutes of sensory encouragement can make all the difference! 

– Speaking of sensory help: Candles! I am in love with candles. I always have a candle on my desk. It’s my splurge. I actually use two different ones right now depending on the book I’m writing (and they’re both almost out!) Weird way to see how much time I spend on a book, but it certainly helps set the mood. I have a campfire one for my book that takes place in autumn and a fresh one for the project that takes place in winter. It’s calming and energizing. 

 

– Make a plan before you pivot: This is probably the biggest tip that has helped me. Before I leap out of a project to tackle another one, I open a new document and summarize everything I’m thinking/feeling/planning for the next scene. In fact, it’s almost so detailed that I only need to fill in a couple lines of prose to write a whole new chapter. It helps me feel more comfortable when I come back (and confident right away)! 

Finally, setting boundaries and expectations is important!

Right now, I’m in a monsters in space revision (the fifth revision)! I finally hit a spot where I know things are going to get difficult, so I stopped. It was an excellent place to take a break, clear my head, and work on something else. I’m now jumping back into the first draft of my monster murder mystery academia book. Two totally different tones and settings. The genres aren’t even the same. But I know that I stopped right before my midpoint chapter, and I left myself a ton of notes so that jumping into that scene will be as easy as cutting butter. When I get back to my monsters in space revision, an outline of all the major changes I want to make is waiting for me. 

Granted, any day I could get notes back from someone and have to pivot again, but I am ready. I know where and how to make clean breaks, and I’m comfortable with returning whenever I can. 

I hope these tips help you, too!

~SAT

P.S. I’ve added a new page for book clubs & teachers! It includes fun questions to lead a book discussion about Minute Before Sunset, book 1 of the Timely Death trilogy. There’s also a fabulous lemon bar recipe, in honor of Mindy Welborn who constantly bakes these throughout the series. If you’d like me to stop by your book club or classroom virtually, be sure to use my contact page! I’m happy to if my schedule allows.

#WW The 90-10 Rule for Marketing and Writing, and How To Love It.

18 May

I recently attended the 101st Annual Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference, and a lot of aspiring authors asked about how much marketing they would be expected to do. One instance in particular seemed to shock many. Janell Walden Agyerman from Marie Brown Literary Agency stated most of her authors followed the 90-10 rule. What’s the 90-10 rule? 90% marketing, 10% writing.

This is a standard many writers don’t like to hear, and it’s true all across the board. Whether you’re self-published, indie published, or traditionally published, you should prepare for the 90-10 rule.

Granted, I understand dreading marketing. I understand worrying about getting so caught up in the sales part that you forget the writing part. I understand feeling like you’re not sure what to do or how to do it.

This is why I suggest keeping a writing-marketing calendar.

What is a writing-marketing calendar? It’s a calendar ONLY used to keep track of how much marketing and writing you’re doing and why.

And today, I’m going to show everyone mine. Granted, this method is NOT for everyone, but I swear by it. My calendar keeps me organized, inspired, and motivated. I can see where I wrote, how far I’ve come, and if I need to step up my game somehow. This particularly helps me, because I work a full-time job outside of my writing. Granted, I consider my writing career my SECOND full-time job. Why?

Well, you’re about to see. But my writing-marketing calendar keeps me motivated outside of my other job. It forces me to keep going, even when I’m exhausted, even when I feel like I want to lay on the couch and watch TV, even when I don’t feel like I can go on anymore. So…here we go:

My Author Calendar

In reality, I keep a notebook, but I couldn’t take a picture of it, because I have information in there I can’t release publicly. So, to show everyone what I do, I adjusted my calendar onto the iCalendar. This is my real-life events for April of 2016. That being said, this is the BASICS. For instance, I wrote down when I wrote articles on this calendar, but I didn’t take note of when they were posted or how many comments and interaction I had to do. Why? Well, I always post on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and I record social media stats every first of the month. So that’s an entirely different file I keep. (Can you tell I’m a file person?) Writing is business. Staying organized is key…and below, you can read my calendar key.

If you want a calendar key:

Red is physical work: moving offices, book swaps, shipping, shopping for desks, organizing my stock piles of books, letters, stamps, etc.

Orange is my website only: writing articles, updating links, etc.

Green is meetings: This is the stuff I have to censor. It includes discussions with my publisher, with fellow authors, with bookstores, and other business professionals. I kept some details in there, like my attendance to the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference and prepping the first pages for said conference, but it’s too complicated to fit and/or get into. This would be where you’re calling bookstores for signings or a beta reader for progress and suggestions.

Purple is marketing: This includes my Twitter series #AuthorinaCoffeeShop, and shopping around for stock photos and creating teasers and book trailers. I include formatting here, since it was visual, but this is mainly where I work on my overall marketing plan for upcoming releases. That being said, this is BY FAR all that I do. I post on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. almost every single day, and I don’t include any of that, because it’s a give-in.

Only blue is my writing…if I got to write that day. You’ll probably notice I don’t write in novels every day, but hey, I went from 27,457 words to 76,617 in one month. I was pretty happy with that. You might notice I have different books, too (S and D). I also include research and editing under this. I probably won’t record any writings I do “for fun.” This is strictly for books heading toward a publication path.

Again, this is everything I do OUTSIDE of my full-time job. You might notice that I’m missing this lovely thing called weekends. Out of thirty days, I either took two days off or I was too exhausted that I didn’t write my days down. It’s honestly hard to say, but if I had to guess, it’s probably the latter. I try to do something every day, no matter what, even if only for an hour.

I highly believe in keeping track of your progress for organizational purposes as well as motivational ones. For instance, if I see I’ve been marketing a lot but not writing a thing, I know I can give myself a day to step away and get some words down, and visa versa. Some might be discouraged by this, but I suggest trying it out for one month before you decide. You might be surprised by how much more you get done or how nice it is to see a physical representation of all of your hard work. I don’t know about you all, but since almost everything is on a computer, I sometimes walk away feeling like I did nothing all day. This helps me see that I, in fact, accomplished a lot. It helps me feel proud. It helps me feel like I’m moving forward and working as hard as I can for a better future for both myself and my readers.

I live the 90-10 rule, but I don’t FEEL like I live to 90-10 rule. I feel like I live the 100 rule. 100% focus, work, and dedication to the thing I love most: writing. And now, after I record this article in my writing-marketing calendar, I’m going to sit down to do just that. Write another chapter.

~SAT

instaThe news is out! Come see me at the Barnes & Noble in Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, KS on Saturday, June 11 from 1-3 PM for a book signing and author panel. More info on my Events page.

Did you see this week’s #TeaserTuesday? If not, check out my right side panel. You can also pre-order BOTH Bad Bloods books. A newsletter will go out later this month with more details and prizes, so I hope you’ll sign up for your chance to win.

There’s also a FREE Bad Bloods Prequel releasing on Wattpad, and you can now read Adam’s origin story as well as Michele’s. On top of that, Maggie’s story will release THIS Friday! I hope you’re enjoying it! Don’t forget to pre-order your Bad Bloods books while they’re on sale for a limited time. 😉

November Rain, Part One, releases July 18, 2016

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November Snow, Part Two, releases July 25, 2016

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#MondayBlogs: My Writer’s Story: Different to the One I Imagined

9 Nov

Intro:

While many claim there is one publishing formula, there are hundreds, and the more writers you meet, the more variations of publishing journeys you hear. I find them fascinating, and I’m always eager to hear another’s story. Today’s writer is sharing his. Welcome author Shane Joseph.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in guest articles are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect my own. To show authenticity of the featured writer, articles are posted as provided (a.k.a. I do not edit them). However, the format may have changed.

My Writer’s Story: Different to the One I Imagined by Shane Joseph

Our times are generating many more writers than demand can bear. This is due to better education, improved health, technology, inflated egos in an age of “me first,” and due to our eternal quest for immortality. The ambition to be a writer usually begins in our formative years and is inspired by our favourite writers. As a teenager, I was greatly influenced by Greene, Steinbeck and Hemingway; I dreamt of sending manuscripts out into the world where they would become best-sellers and make me a reclusive millionaire. I would hide out in some remote island and submit more manuscripts and continue to dazzle the world with my brilliance until I was invited to a cold capital in Europe to accept the Nobel Prize. And I would refuse that honour, making me an enigmatic figure like Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Pasternak or J.D. Salinger. It was nice to dream!

The reality, even back then, was different. I had chosen to gloss over the private demons my literary heroes had to overcome in order to achieve their fame: dual lives, alcoholism, drug addiction, persecution, shell-shock (called PTSD today), hypertension, depression, divorce, estrangement, chronic pain, and suicide staring out of the barrel of a gun. Not forgetting the early struggles with rejection and penury that they each triumphed over. These trials gave impetus to their work and are mentioned only in discreet biographies, not on the glossy covers of their books.

My writer’s story turned out differently to my idealized dream. For instance, I didn’t imagine that after hacking away at this craft in my early twenties in a developing country where English was a second language, and after having a handful of stories published, I would pack up my authorly tools and try something easier to earn a living – Greene, Steinbeck et al, be damned! I never realized that the “other living,” at a corporate job, would come so easily, and earn such a handsome income, that I wouldn’t bother with the writing game again for another twenty years. I didn’t realize that it would be the curse of “guilt” that would bring me back to reopen the dusty toolbox and start to catch up to where the literary world had evolved in the intervening years.

Once “Take Two” started however, the stories and novels came easily, and are likely to continue into the future, health permitting. It was like a dam had burst and all that had been stored for years came gushing out. But the publishing landscape had changed, drastically. Prizes sold books now. And the prize money was cornered among the “1% of the 1%” in the literary hierarchy. There was no middle class in publishing anymore – there was a huge gulf between the self-published and the best-seller, and the only way to bridge the two was with a stroke of luck.

But with every closing door there were others opening. There were now many ways in which to be published, I discovered, thanks to evolving technology that had finally demolished the dominant publishing model of eons, which was: publish a large quantity of paper books on ancient printing presses until unit costs become affordable, ship them across the land in trucks into stores that couldn’t keep track of them, receive most of them back after awhile to be shredded, then start the cycle again, and hope like hell that governments or private donors supported this inefficiency in the interest of promoting the arts. That was the model in which my heroes had thrived, and now it was dying, supplanted by DIY publishing, POD, electronic media, subscriptions services, free story sites, social media, and blogs like the one you are reading. And my heroes were dead too.

Shane Joseph

Shane Joseph

I enthusiastically tried all the models available, traditional and new, and discovered that they all had their pros and cons, but as their readerships’ were distinct, this lack of homogeneity helped plaster me all over the map, assuaging my guilt for having neglected “the gift.” There was also no way I could hide out in a remote island, I realized; I had to be front and centre in the global public domain (a.k.a. the Internet, which also never existed during the time of my literary heroes) selling my wares like a shoe salesman. I even started a publishing house, using the new technology, and have helped bring other writers into print, ones who may have been sitting for years in the slush piles of the Big Five (or is it Four, now – hard to keep track!). The joy of bringing others’ work into the world, to watch them stand on the podium reading from their debut novel at their book’s launch gives me immense satisfaction. I was doing my bit to restore the middle class in publishing. And I finally faced the darker side: the rejection, the shrunken revenue streams, the even further shrunken attention spans, and the need for that other source of income to fuel this one. None of this had been part of my teenage dream.

And so I have accepted that my writer’s story is different from the one I had visualized in my youth. Creative visualizers, take note: it doesn’t always turn out the way you paint it in your mind. But it can be a damned sight more interesting and surprising. Why go on a trip where every stopover is carefully laid out, predictable and boring? Where would the thrill of the unexpected lie? Isn’t that what we try to create in our work – the unexpected?

So Dear Reader, what was your writer’s dream, and how did it pan out?

Bio:

(Shane Joseph is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories, and was the winner of the best fantasy novel award at the Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2010. His short fiction has appeared in international literary journals and anthologies. His latest novel, In the Shadow of the Conquistador, will be released in November 2015. For details visit www.shanejoseph.com

Want to be a guest blogger? Now is the time to submit. I will be stopping guest blog posts in December, but before then, I would love to have you on! I am accepting original posts that focus on reading and writing. Pictures, links, and a bio are encouraged. You do not have to be published. If you qualify, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com.

~SAT

Why Are Authors “Hating” On One Another?

21 Sep

Website Update: We hit 9,000 followers on the 19th! That means a HUGE giveaway is coming soon. If you’d like your book to be a part of it, please email me at shannonathompson@aol.com. Other than that, THANK YOU for all of your dedicated support and heartfelt encouragement. 

There are many authors and writers out there, sharing their works with the world, whether it be through books, blogging, or another form of communication. But I’ve come across many who astound me—and these people are preaching hate at one another. This post is my attempt to bring light to why this needs to stop.

Although there are many kinds of publishing, I’m focusing on the three main ones I often see verbally assaulted. 

  1. Traditional
  2. Small Press
  3. Self-Publishing

Unfortunately, I’ve seen hate from all sides, and I’m sure most authors have. 

I’ve seen hate from traditionally published authors, generally saying anyone else is not “good enough” for bigger publishers. Ironically, a lot of these authors have admitted to previously knowing someone in the industry. Even worse, they don’t seem to consider many authors aren’t comfortable with traditional publishing houses monopolizing the market. I’ve seen hate from small press published authors, saying almost the exact same thing about self-published authors. But I also see hate from self-published authors, saying they don’t like traditional publishing houses for the reasons above but also hating on small-press published authors, because they aren’t “capable” at marketing themselves and, therefore, have to rely on someone else by means of payment.

This is ridiculous, and it needs to stop now.

It seems to me that many of these authors have forgotten why we’re all authors in the first place (and, YES, we are ALL authors.) We share the same love of expressing ourselves through words. We love writing, whether it stems from fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or something else entirely. We love words. So why do some use their words to preach words of hate about others who love the same thing?

The most honest explanation I can come up with is insecurity (although I want to clarify that this isn’t the only reason I’ve seen.) Either way, who cares how another author is sharing and publishing their works? Just be happy that they are living their dream and/or chasing after it. Support their decision to bravely share their works of art with the world. It is not your responsibility to decide who is “ready” or “good enough.” Let the reader decide, because, after all, they are the people who are reading our works. You don’t have to support every author out there, but you shouldn’t put down every author out there that isn’t like you. It’s the basic rule to respecting others. You may not respect their work, but you should respect the fact that they are a human being, working hard to follow their dreams—just as you are, no matter what kind of publishing you are in.

 … 

Some comments from my Author Facebook page about this topic:

Scott Collins: Anyone willing to spend that much time and energy to put their book to paper deserves support and encouragement.

Nicole Castro: This is why I use the #writingfamily hashtag on Twitter.

Quinten Rhea: Part of our job is to encourage, support, and help promote each other.

Kyle Garret:  I think the book market is perceived as so crowded, especially these days with ebook “shelves” constantly getting more full and fewer lucrative traditional deals going out, that it naturally conditions authors to turn on each other because there’s this perceived idea that only one can “make it”. I don’t agree with it – and think it’s downright odd given how people in similar markets like music, gaming or film treat each other – but it’s my take.

Feel free to discuss your opinion and/or your experiences below, especially if it includes ways we, as a writing community, can prevent this “hate” from continuing any further.

~SAT

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