Tag Archives: write

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

February Writing Journey Wrap-Up

28 Feb

Every month, I write a writing journey wrap-up post. It includes how many words I’ve written, what I’m working on, my wins, my losses, and other miscellaneous facts you may find interesting. 

First up this February, I wanted to congratulate our Pitch Wars 2020 mentee, Miranda Sun! She announced her six-figure, two-book deal with HarperCollins for If I Have to Be Haunted, a young adult contemporary fantasy with a gorgeous magic system and a slow-burn romance that will drive you crazy. I know y’all will love this book as much as Sandra Proudman and I did while working on it during Pitch Wars. You can add her book to Goodreads here. Congratulations, Miranda! And go Team Snickersnee!!

In other Pitch Wars news, our 2021 mentee, Damara Allen, had her showcase! Congratulations to Damara Allen for showcasing her middle grade spooky horror novel about family, friendship, and alternate universes. She had 16 requests from agents, and we are so so proud of her and her novel. She worked incredibly hard, and I know good things are to come. Congratulations, Damara! Cheers to Team Stellify! Read her showcase here.

On the heels of the showcase, it was also announced that this was the last Pitch Wars to take place. It was such a joy to be a mentor these last two years. I also used to submit as a writer and, though I was never chosen, Sandra Proudman and I met because of Pitch Wars. I am forever grateful for the annual event, and I will always cherish all my memories and friendships made. 

In other mentorship news, my SCBWI mentee, Anna LaForest, received her edit letter and mentoring plan this month. We’re already on her second round of revisions and so excited to continue her journey! 

So what about my writing journey? 

I admit that I took more time off this month to focus on, well, life. If you look at my calendar carefully, you’ll probably see that I tried not to work on my weekends for once. I wanted to be more present. For Valentine’s Day, we adopted a new kitten! His name is Valentine, but he was called a pirate since he only has one eye. (He lost it in a fight when he was young, but he’s okay now.) He’s eight months old and loves his new forever home. Boo Boo and Bogart are adjusting, too. They’ve done really great!

Personal life aside, I wanted to celebrate finalizing A YEAR OF BLUE, my middle grade novel-in-verse about an 11-year-old girl who loses her mom to an opioid overdose. It’s based on my childhood, and I’m very passionate about getting a book reflective of my childhood grief out in the world. I want to help other kids who have family members struggling with addiction and/or have lost someone to addiction. It’s a heavy topic that is unfortunately very common in the US, yet not present in many MG books. Writing it was a promise I made to myself when I was 11. I am so proud that I finally found the strength to not only write it, but pursue it, too.  

To celebrate my verse novel, I bought myself a new coffee mug. (A tradition I do when I finish writing any new manuscript.) I also commissioned character art from The Book Bruja. I love having character art! It makes Blue feel even more real. It’s like manifesting her into existence. Fun fact: The sweater she is wearing is based off of a real sweater I loved at that age. The Book Bruja also made me a new social media banner that is more reflective of my brand moving forward. I love that my trampoline and cats are present! (Though I only had Boo Boo and Bogart at the time.) 

Writing wise, I finally sent out my first batch of queries! It’s my first time querying since 2019, which is when I connected with my first agent. Not going to lie, the landscape has changed a lot, but it’s so exciting to put myself out there again. I’m so happy to report that I’ve already received full requests. Please keep your fingers crossed for me! I know how important this book could be for kids like me, and it would be a dream to connect with an agent who can see that, too. Honestly, I have to believe I will. I want to believe. 

Other than that, I gained the courage to write and submit my first short story to somewhere pretty special. We’ll see if that works out! In general, I actually wrote very little. Two chapters for my local writer’s group on a haunted house YA based on my teen years and two blog posts. I was a little sad this month! I didn’t get any comments, which is unusual. (I received a few on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., but it’s super strange to get none on actual WordPress. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before.) My views were relatively the same, too, so I thought that odd. That said, my most popular blog post this month was Shannon’s Top Three Tips for Writing Romance, and my top referrer outside of search engines was Jane Friedman. I attended the SCBWI Winter Conference as well, which was really interesting. I also enjoyed speaking on Kid Lit Publishing Roundtable on Twitter Spaces with authors A.J. Sass, Sandra Proudman, and more. I’m planning to speak again soon!

The Midwest Writers of America also reached out to me. I will be speaking at their summer meetup in June, so be sure to check out my Events page for upcoming opportunities. 

If I had any advice for aspiring writers reading this, I’d say it’s okay to take it easy on the creating part sometimes. I’m busy pursuing the business side of my writing career. Authorship requires a balance. Make sure to find time for both, but don’t beat yourself up if you end up spending more time on one or the other for a little while. Let the publishing winds guide you. Follow those paths where you feel best, and everything else will surely fall in place. 

I’m looking forward to seeing where March–and my career–will take me! 

~SAT

I Almost Self-Rejected Myself Out of a Publishing Opportunity

21 Feb

Last month, you may have noticed my blog post – Yes, Writers Need to Hear the Hard Truths. But Warnings Can Go Too Far. – go up on Jane Friedman’s website. I was absolutely thrilled by this. I’m a long-time fan of Jane’s blog and book, The Business of Being a Writer. I also regularly attend her courses at The Business Clinic. But I never in a million years thought my blog posts were good enough to be featured on her website. So much so that I never considered submitting. I didn’t even know it was a possibility. Then, my good friend Jessica Conoley was featured, and I was amazed by her. 

What an accomplishment! What a dream!

She continued to have her blog posts featured on Jane Friedman’s website over a course of weeks. Each one was thoughtful and interesting and so damn inspiring. I realized then that Jessica had inspired me. (And you can read a list of her amazing blogs posts on Jane Friedman’s website by clicking here.) 

After Jessica’s posts went live, I continued writing blog posts for my own website, but I kept thinking about Jane Friedman’s blog. What sort of posts do I have that would be beneficial there? Could I write one? Could I try?

I told myself that when I came up with a worthy idea, I’d put myself out there and submit. Then, BAM. An idea came. 

I wrote it, but I still wasn’t sure. How could I be? I’d never written a blog post to be submitted elsewhere before. Once I decided I wanted to try that, I reached out to Jessica for tips. 

By the time Jessica got back to me (less than a day later), I was already doubting myself. I told her as much, and she pushed me to send it. I clicked SEND a few minutes later. Soon after, I heard back. Jane was interested in featuring my blog post on her website. 

I was amazed. 

If it wasn’t for my friend’s success, encouragement, and tips, I would’ve simply decided I wasn’t worthy of trying. 

It’s scary to put yourself out there, especially when it’s something new, but do it! 

You never know what will happen. 

Who knows? The next time you click SEND, an acceptance letter could be on the way. 

In fact, right after I was accepted to Jane Friedman’s website, I gained the courage to submit my first short story somewhere pretty special. We’ll see how it turns out! Either way, I’m pretty proud that I already clicked SEND again.

~SAT

The Truth About Giving Up on Writing

17 Jan

Have you ever considered giving up on writing?

I know I have. 

Though I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember, I consider myself as having two true starts. 

1) When I was eleven, my mom died unexpectedly, and I told myself that day I would spend my life pursuing my dreams, no matter how short my life would be. 

2) Around my senior year in college, I decided I wanted to pursue publishing again after a major break from writing. For a few years after that, I wrote for two indie publishers, and then made the decision to try to get an agent. I got one! Then I lost one. 

Now I’m out here writing again. Dreaming again. Wondering where my future will take me. 

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of serious decisions to make. Do I want to write in the same genre? Age category? Pursue the stories I’ve trunked or left otherwise unfinished? Do I even keep writing?

That last question is one I know most writers think about at least some point in their career. I certainly have, though I admit that I eventually realize that the question isn’t whether or not I want to keep writing. I always write. Even when I don’t want to, I find a pen in my hand. Writing is my gravity. The real question is if I want to continue pursuing publication. And that’s a whole different can of worms writers have to contend with. 

Do I want to keep pursuing traditional publishing, or do I want to find another method? Do I want to share my words with the world at all? Why do I feel the need to?

These questions are important for all writers to ask themselves. Why? Well, because of surrender. 

Giving up isn’t a giant Aha! moment, where you throw your pages in the trash and set it on fire, declaring your rage-freedom. 

It’s a culmination of a million little moments, where you prioritize this over that, miss deadline after deadline, trunk project after half-written project, until a striking amount of time has passed without much done. It happens. Sometimes, it happens again and again and again until you no longer remember the last time you gave yourself an afternoon to weave words together. Maybe one quiet morning you find time to sit, only to find all your old weavings in tatters, old files corrupted, versions unsaved or lost. Time now shows the errors you couldn’t once see. Which is just more reason to sigh and click delete, delete, delete until you’re staring at a blank page and have no self-confidence to begin anew.

Why write, you think, when you can buy perfectly good books at the store? There’s no point in making your own. It’s a waste of time and resources. You can simply enjoy what others have made. And yes, maybe you would be happy with that. And entertained. But would you feel pride? 

That’s what I am chasing. 

Pride. Not ego. But rather, feeling proud of myself for pursuing the life I always wanted. The dream I cultivated. Worked hard toward, year after year, no matter what stood in my way.

Writing takes a lot of momentum. For me, it’s not difficult to take breaks, but it is difficult to get started again. Which is why I’m so weary of pauses, especially long ones. During those pauses, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been chasing the dream so long, I don’t even know if I’m dreaming anymore. Have I gotten so used to this chasing that it has become an accepted chore? Is writing more habit than happiness?

Writing used to bring me such joy. Such high. There was nothing like sneaking pages of my romance novels between taking notes in biology class. Nothing like passing pages along to my best friend and chat-giggling about them over the phone late into the night. It was fanfiction of my own imagination. Wild ideas and even wilder characters. Dreamy as they were flighty. Emotions high. Secrets higher. 

The structure of what I’ve learned over the years has broken that all back down. 

Now I look at the Timely Death trilogy—a series I first wrote when I was 14—and wonder if I’d create two-faced, sword-dwelling, Midwest magic teens now. 

Probably not. 

Too bizarre, I’d think. Not in line enough with the market. 

Besides, my teens skip school, and students are on lockdown nowadays. Not to mention the homework on paper rather than take-home laptops.

I feel so out of touch sometimes, I think, who am I writing for?

Years ago, I set out to write for kids like me, but do kids like me still exist? Not really. 

Even the book I am currently writing—a personal story about a child affected by the opioid crisis—would hit differently now than when I was young and needed it. When I was eleven and my mom overdosed, it was unheard of in my neighborhood. I got picked on for it. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died until I was 16, and that was from cancer. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died from a drug overdose until I was well into college. And by then, my classmates were overdosing, too. 

Most recently, I’ve written poems about her skipping from pharmacy to pharmacy to fill the same prescription over and over again—and now, there are laws in place that prevent that. (Thank God.) But by God, my truth died with her. Of course there will always be universal truths—grief and all that. But the details of the moment are so dependent on the environment that I fear being unable to connect with the audience I once promised myself I would go back and write for. 

I was 11 and lost in the bookstore. There are still 11-year-olds lost in those stores. But can I help them? Reach them? Will it matter or make a difference?

I have to believe I can. I have to believe in myself. I have to believe that I’ve turned writing into a habit, because it takes dedication to succeed. And honestly, it still brings me a lot of joy. 

Most importantly, to this day, I have yet to find a book that was made for a kid like me. (Though I’d highly recommend “Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.) 

I cannot put into words how much it would’ve meant to me to see a book in the middle grade section that covered what I was going through. And though I still made it in real-life without those sorts of books, I wish I could tell you about the many kids I met who didn’t make it. But their stories aren’t mine to tell. I can only tell mine. And for now, I haven’t given up.   

I am still writing. I am still pursuing publication. 

For 11-year-old me. For other 11-year-olds like me. For that college senior who knew she wanted something different out of life. For me now, who still enjoys the written word over much else. Who now chat-giggles about her work over ZOOM with her writer friends.

Giving up may not be a giant Aha! moment, but neither is deciding to continue the pursuit. 

It’s a decision you make every day. It can be undone. It can be remade. 

The choice is up to you.

For now, I am still here, writing, dreaming, doing my absolute best. Tomorrow, I hope to make the same decision to continue. 

~SAT

2021: The Year of Dramatic, Unfinished Change

20 Dec

Every year, I take time to reflect on where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Last year was deemed The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?), and this year, I’ve decided to call it The Year of Dramatic, Unfinished Change. (Though, that may be too dramatic in itself.) Onto why that is (and also unfinished)… 

At the beginning of this year, my agent was taking my young-adult-turned-adult sci-fi novel out on submission. I was rewriting a different adult science fiction novel and halfway through writing an adult fantasy novel. At work, I had just been chosen to attend the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell College, and in my personal life, my fiance and I were considering buying a house. 

I end the year in a very different place. For one, I’m no longer agented. My agent decided to leave agenting back in the fall, so I’m now free to query. That said, I haven’t yet begun. Mostly because I’ve had a lot of other things going on. 

  1. I attended and graduated from the Doniphan Leadership Institute at William Jewell. 
  2. I was chosen to mentor in Pitch Wars with my longtime critique partner and friend, Sandra Proudman. We’re now mentoring D.S. Allen, a middle grade writer, on her horror until the agent showcase next year!
  3. SCBWI KS/MO also hired me to teach at the Middle of the Map conference in November. I taught How to Write a Series, and it was so much fun! I offered critiques to writers, and I will be mentoring a young adult writer in 2022. Announcements go up in January. 

Did I mention my personal life?

In 2021, I got married, and we bought our first home together. We’ve been renovating, too. And traveling a bit more. (My favorite trip was when we went ziplining through the Ozarks.) I also turned the big 3-0. 

It truly has been a joyous year. 

Writing-wise, I finished rewriting that adult science fiction book…only to shelve it. I also added 30,000 words to that adult fantasy book…only to put it on pause at 77k. I switched gears to re-read one of my old adult fantasies, made a plan to revise, and then…put it down. Between all that, I worked on a dozen other ideas and outlined a few of them in full, which is exciting. But mostly, it was the year of the unfinished piece. Not that I can’t finish something. I totally can. What happened was that so many life changes made me redirect my path that I ended up half-traveling down a few opportunities to try to make the best decision about which one to commit to. 

Overall, I estimate that I wrote over 100,000 brand-new words, rewrote 50,000, and outlined 30,000. (And that’s not including this blog or other platforms.) Now, at the end of 2021, I can safely say that I’ve made a decision. 

I am focusing on a middle grade verse novel that is super close to my heart, and I hope to query it in 2022 once I finish revising. (Please send me ALL the good luck and well wishes.) 

Maybe I’ll find the perfect agent to champion my work. Maybe I won’t. But I’ll never know if I don’t try! 

There are so many dreams I am already chasing going into 2022. Hence why I’m calling this year unfinished. I still have so much to do. 

Other than what is to come, my trusted almost-eight-year-old laptop died in November, so I had to say goodbye to it. After all the projects I’d completed on that computer, it was hard! But now, it’s the era of Rosie, my new laptop. I also finished uploading Took Me Yesterday to Wattpad and guest spoke at Kearney High School’s creative writing class and at the Lake Waukomis Women’s Club. I created a Teachers & Book Clubs page for readers to use, and it’s been utilized a handful of times. One of my favorite moments this year was when I was interviewed by Austin Gragg for Space and Time Magazine. It is so incredibly neat to hold a printed interview in my hands—and in such an incredible magazine. 

I was also lucky enough to teach Starting a Writing Project for Mid-Continent Public Library (twice)! For those of you who are interested, I’m teaching it again on January 12, 2022. You can learn more here. It’s virtual, open to anyone in the world, and free.

2021 was not what I expected. But then again, neither are any of my past years. 

Publishing is an unpredictable game. Maybe that’s why I like to roll the dice. I never know what’s going to happen, but I know something will as long as I keep trying. 

Here’s to all the surprises to come in 2022. 

~SAT

Want to see what’s happened throughout my years of blogging?

An Ode to My Laptop

29 Nov

My trusted laptop since 2014 died the other week. I know that may not sound like a big deal, but for me, it was like letting go of an old friend.

You see, writers spend an extraordinary amount of time on their computers. There are very few days in the year that I don’t use my computer at least once, if not to write, then to work on my platform or connect with writer friends.

Maybe I should blame The Brave Little Toaster for instilling in my Millennial brain that inanimate objects are living, breathing friends to be cherished. But the truth is, when you spend as much time as I do with these computers, you can’t help but feel some sort of connection with them. In fact, I’ve always named my laptops, just like some people name their cars.

This past laptop was named Luna P, after the loyal toy Chibi-Usa carries from the future into the past in Sailor Moon. It helps bring her joy, but it also keeps her company and assists her in fighting the enemy. That’s what my laptop was to me. A companion that encourages me to follow my dreams, defeat my doubt, and continue on my writing journey.

Since 2014, Luna P has been with me through three moves, five job changes, and eight book releases, not to mention signing with a publisher and connecting with my first agent. I’ve written upwards of 15 manuscripts on this computer. Sent out my first queries. Dreamed up countless amounts of ideas and outlines. I took it to Penned Con in St. Louis, YALL Fest in Charleston, and Wizard World Comic Con in Tulsa. Most recently, it ventured to a week in the Ozarks for poetry writing and ziplining. (Okay, so I didn’t take it ziplining with me.)

Over the years, we’ve written in coffee shops, airports, bookstores, and at whatever desk or kitchen table we could find. I secured my first book signing at Barnes & Noble on that laptop. I made many writer friends on that laptop, attending virtual write-ins, critique groups, and chats. I also taught from the first time–both in-person and virtually–via that laptop. I ran my editing business through that laptop. I’ve stayed connected with friends and family throughout the pandemic on that laptop.

There are so many times that my laptop was my connection to the world, but also to myself.

Over the past eight years, I’ve learned so much about my writing style and publishing dreams. I’ve made changes. I’ve made mistakes. Most importantly, I always made the decision to keep going.

Without my Luna P laptop, all of those memories would have been so much harder to make. Maybe even out of reach. I’m very grateful for the access to technology that I am able to have in my life. I’m thankful for how long Luna P lasted and how much we accomplished together.

Alas, it was time to lay her to rest…and begin anew.

It’s scary trying to decide how to move on. So much has changed in laptops since 2014. I spent a few days researching to figure out my needs and what best suited those. I ended up with a MacBook Air. I’ve named my new laptop Rosie, not just for its rose-gold color, but for all the rosie times to come. I’m really looking forward to all the stories we’re going to write together. All the dreams we’re going to meet. All the lessons learned.

Here’s to Luna P and all those fond memories.

Here’s to Rosie and her rose-gold future and friendship,

~SAT

Writing the Cliffhanger

1 Nov

Love them or hate them, cliffhangers are popular and utilized in lots of books nowadays, even the ones that never get (or intend) a sequel to follow up the ending. 

So what’s the difference between a cliffhanger that makes a reader pick up the next book and the one that makes the reader chuck the book across the room? 

That’s what I’m here to discuss. 

First, there are three ways to end your book:

  • Complete conclusion
  • Non-Ending Ending
  • Cliffhanger

Second, if you’re here to learn about cliffhangers, you’ll want to focus on the non-ending ending and the cliffhanger. What’s the difference?

A Non-Ending Ending doesn’t answer most (or any) of the questions posed, not even the ones asked at the beginning of a story. This is becoming more common. I personally dislike it a lot, but alas, this isn’t about my feelings. As an example, consider a murder mystery. The main question posed at the beginning of the book is “Who is the murderer?” The secondary question might be “Why/How did this murder take place?” 

(I will be coming back to the idea of main and secondary questions, so keep that difference in mind.) 

By the time you get to the end of a Non-Ending Ending book, you still have no idea who the murderer was. You may know how the murder took place, so some of the secondary questions might be answered, but the main question is not. 

A popular one that I can think of off the top of my head is The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The first book asks, “Who will be chosen to marry the prince?” The ending of that first book doesn’t answer. It just dwindles the group down to the top ten. If you take a careful look at the trilogy, you’ll notice all three books follow a one-book arc versus a trilogy arc. But that’s another post for another day. 

As much as I hate to say it, a Non-Ending Ending is a valid choice. But I recommend you be intentional when making this decision. By choosing this, you are risking the reader feeling duped and not trusting you to finish the story. I myself typically put a series down if they have a Non-Ending Ending. However, I finished The Selection series, so there’s always exceptions. Typically, though, the traditional cliffhanger is more likely to get readers coming back for more.  

In my opinion, reading and writing a traditional cliffhanger is a lot more satisfying. Why? Because you will answer that main question. Your reader will know who the murderer is. But those secondary questions might lead them into a new mystery. For example, instead of wrapping up why the murder happened, the murderer tells us they were under orders and don’t know the answer themselves. An underground organization hired them–and a few others. There are more murders to come. Now your hero isn’t trying to solve murders; your hero is trying to stop them. EEK! That’s a cliffhanger. 

Readers will be much more likely to trust your stories if you answer the main question posed at the beginning of your book. They know they might not get all the answers they want, but they know they’ll get a story that is satisfying, even in its twists. Whereas, in a Non-Ending Ending, they might ask themselves where the book is headed or how long the story will be stretched out. 

Don’t know which ending your book has?

Read other books. Have you ever been twenty pages away from the end and stopped, wondering how the author is going to wrap it ALL up? That’s either the best pacing ever or extremely poor pacing. Spoiler alert: It’s more often poor pacing.

Most of your story’s questions need to be wrapped up by the 75% mark. The subplots, the clues, etc. As your characters head into the climax, they need to know everything they are going to know about their opponent. Of course there might be that single plot twist that sparks the “hero is absolutely alone, hopeless, and at their lowest” part, but other than that, having your protagonist learn anything new after the 75% mark is going to feel convoluting, and it risks your ending spiraling out of control. 

So where do you throw in the cliffhanger?

Typically in the climax aftermath. 

Most writers have a natural cliffhanger buried somewhere in their work. I recommend taking a look at your main and secondary questions again. Typically, one of your secondary questions will serve as a lead-in to the next book. Make sure your cliffhanger is small enough that it doesn’t leave your reader feeling robbed of an ending, but big enough that they cannot resist the urge to pick up the next book to experience how your universe expands. Promise another story in that cliffhanger. This is also a great place to ask yourself what you have planned for book two. If book one’s cliffhanger is easily dismissed in the first few pages of book 2, it’ll feel cheap, and readers might put book 2 down before they’re invested in the next plot. Book one’s cliffhanger should lead us to the inciting incident of book 2. Example from our murder mystery: Book opens up with the detective tracking down the organization he believes hired the murderer. Instead of arresting, he poses as a hitman to infiltrate. He’s handed his first assignment… 

Now we’re invested in book 2, and the cliffhanger isn’t resolved. Rather, it’s evolved into a new story. 

A great cliffhanger will feel inevitable. 

A fantastic cliffhanger will appear right as the reader feels comfortable and believes the book is about to end with a satisfying conclusion.

Last piece of advice? All choices are valid. You don’t have to have a cliffhanger to have a fantastic book. Some readers love Non-Ending Endings. Some readers hate any type of cliffhanger. You can’t satisfy everyone all of the time, so make the decision you need to make to have a book you love. 

~SAT

When to Begin & End Chapters

18 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As you consider revisions, ask yourself: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And don’t forget those cliffhangers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that as you will, and good luck,

~~SAT

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

%d bloggers like this: