Tag Archives: young adult

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. ❤

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

2 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

Dear (Agent):

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

[insert two paragraphs about book]

[insert small bio] 

Sincerely, 

Me

[insert contact information]

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

Now get to pitching! 

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

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

Shannon’s Top Three Tips for Writing Romance

7 Feb

It’s February, so romance is in the publishing air. Whether or not you write romance novels or have romantic subplots in your work, almost every writer has had to think through a couple’s relationship in their work. 

Here are my top three tips for writing romance.

1. Read Romance: As Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the tools to write. Simple as that.” Reading romance novels, or novels that have romantic subplots, will help you learn the beats of a romantic plotline. (You should also check out Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes. It’s a nonfiction craft book dedicated to understanding romance beats.) My favorite go-to romance books are Harlequin. Why? Though the various imprints have particular expectations, every book is focused on romance, and it’s so easy to spot tropes from the cover, title, and synopsis. They tend to run very short, too, so you can read a bunch very quickly. Even with a shorter word count, you’ll be amazed how tight these plots are. These authors will really inspire you to find ways to cut to the chase. Keep in mind that the romance books you read don’t necessarily have to be in the same genre that you’re writing in. I primarily write fantasy and, while I definitely read enough fantasy to study those romantic subplots, I’ve found contemporary romance books have actually helped me understand writing romance more. Probably because there is less distraction (world building, war, magic, etc.) Basically, make sure you’re reading romance in your genre, but don’t be afraid to branch out either. 

2. Requited love is nice, but it doesn’t make much of a ballad. Cassandra Clare’s character Will said that when referring to why characters are put through so much hardship in stories, and I’ve never heard such a true sentiment. Listen, you’re writing a story. Stories require tension and excitement. A what if. In romance, that what if is will they get together? You have to string that question out in some way. If your characters famously get along, your reader will wonder why they aren’t together. Some writers take that to mean that a couple must disagree or not communicate, and that’s not true. There’s lots of reasons people stay apart. Beliefs. Expectations. Distance. Responsibilities, such as taking care of their family. Work that doesn’t allow them time to date. Fear of rejection. I could go on and on. You can definitely still have tension even if your couple is communicating well. But there must be tension somewhere. Your couple is made up of different people with their own goals, who happen to cross each other’s path. I think every romance novel benefits when those paths hit a crossroad in some way. Do they choose themselves or their love for each other? Bam. Tension. At the end of the day, something in their lives is unrequited

3. Couples should complement each other in some way. Is he shy and her outgoing? Is she struggling to find the last piece of the puzzle and her lover has it in her hands? Take a look at your favorite bookish couples and you’ll see that they often complement each other’s personalities and goals. They push each other to be better people or to look at the world in a new way. They experience personality traits of the other that their friends/family do not get to see. When you’re revisiting your favorite couples, ask yourself why they appealed to you. What scenes made your heart pitter-patter? Make a list. You might see a pattern emerge of tropes you love, such as the one-bed trope, brother’s best friend, enemies-to-lovers, etc. Once you know what tropes you want to work with, it’ll be so much easier to form your story.

Honestly, though, I could go on and on about romance. If you love reading romance, I’d love it if you check out my young adult paranormal romance, the Timely Death trilogy. The first book, Minutes Before Sunset, is currently free! It’s set in Kansas and follows two magical teens, who realize they’re fated to fall in love… and die.

AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksSmashwordsKoboGoodreads

~SAT

January Writing Journey Wrap-Up

31 Jan

I recently heard from a long-time reader, who mentioned my old Ketchup posts as blogs that inspired her. Basically, at the end of each month, I used to summarize all the blogs I’d written and showed behind-the-scenes glances at my stats: my top three blog posts, the #1 search term that brought readers to my website, views/comments, etc. I stopped the practice when I stopped blogging so often. (I couldn’t justify a summary post when I only blogged twice a month as compared to my previous twelve-a-month schedule.) However, her comment got me thinking about what I could wrap up at the end of each month. 

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

For those who don’t know me, creating this is actually pretty simple. I keep a motivational calendar on my wall, where I write down what I do to pursue my writing dreams every single day. This post will basically make that calendar public. 

Without further ado…

In January…

I had my blog post – Yes, Writers Need to Hear the Hard Truths. But Warnings Can Go Too Far. – featured on Jane Friedman’s website. It actually just went live today, and I am beyond thrilled by this. I have followed Jane Friedman for a lonnnnnnnng time. I am a huge fan of her website, her nonfiction book, and her Business Clinic. I hope you enjoy the blog post! Blog-wise  on my website, my most popular post this month was The Truth About Giving Up Writing. Other than the WordPress Reader, Twitter was my best referrer. I wish I could share search terms like I used to, but they were all “unknown search terms,” and have been that way in my stats for a while. I think that feature has since changed. 

In other news, I chose my mentee for the SCBWI KS/MO YA mentorship. Her name is Anna LaForest, and she wrote a hilarious coming-of-age friendship story that takes place during two girls’ freshman year in college. You can follow Anna here

Our Pitch Wars mentee also submitted her materials for the Pitch Wars Showcase that takes place in February! Sandra and I are so excited for Damara and her novel, Don’t Play the Bone Flute. It’s a super spooky middle grade horror, and we’re so proud of all the work she did to shape up this book over the last few months. Go Team Stellify!

I also wanted to give a shoutout to author M. Phoenix. She is actually the long-time reader who inspired this post. She also read my free trilogy on Wattpad and gave not only an amazing shoutout to Take Me Tomorrow, but she also wrote a lovely review that meant so much to me. It makes my day to hear from readers. Knowing that y’all are still reading my work and enjoying it means more to me than I can express. It truly keeps me believing in the dream. 

Aside from all that news, here’s what I did writing-wise:

I started off January with 8,545 words of my middle grade novel-in-verse revised. I end the month with a finished manuscript, coming in at 23,000 words. I also sent it to five beta readers and revised the entire novel. What can I say? This is one of those projects that is coming way too easy to me. But that’s because it’s based on my childhood. I decided to finally write a middle grade book about an 11-year-old girl who loses her mom to the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, that’s how my mom died when I was 11. Back then, I couldn’t find a book in the kid’s section about what I was going through, and ever since then, I promised myself I would write it. I finally found that strength. Going into February, I am hoping to finally put it out there! I want to especially thank my long-time friend and critique partner, Sandra Proudman, who not only helped me write this entire novel but also gave me the most thoughtful shoutout on Twitter. She also recently started a graphic design business for authors. If you need book banners, bookmarks, etc., check out The Book Bruja.

My plan to put my work out there is why I spent a mass majority of my January researching agents and agencies. I wrote a query letter, revised it a million times, wrote a 1-page synopsis, revised that, double-checked my formatting, and got my submission package prepped. I then sent my prospective agent list to my writer friends, and I just got feedback on that last Thursday, so I’m doing a little bit more research before I finalize my first round. I probably won’t query until the end of February. 

For fun, I actually dreamed up a brand-new book: an adult fantasy. I wrote the entire outline for it, created a Pinterest board, and started getting it organized in Scrivener. We will see if it goes anywhere beyond that, though. (You never really know. I have so many outlines for books I never actually pursued.) 

Event-wise, I taught Starting a Writing Project via ZOOM for The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library. I will teach it again in June, so keep your eyes on my Events page. I also had the utmost joy of guest speaking at Kearney High School’s Writing Club. What a talented group of teens! If you are a teacher or book club, and you’re interested in having me virtually visit, please visit my books clubs/teachers page. 

I also attended virtual write-ins every Tuesday evening, critiqued pages for some friends, hired a friend as a graphic designer, and attended a virtual writing conference. 

In my reading life, I read 9 books: 2 adult romance, 1 adult fantasy, 1 young adult fantasy, 4 graphic novels, and 1 nonfiction. My favorite? House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland. It had the perfect amount of body horror and spookiness.

All this while working full-time and recovering from COVID. Not a flex. Just blows my mind. 

I really want 2022 to be a successful year. I want to make my dreams come true, and I want to get my books back out in the world again. 

I will do my best to make that happen. I have to believe that it’s only a matter of time (and a little bit of luck). 

Thank you for supporting me, 

~SAT

P.S. My quarterly newsletter goes out in February! It includes a $25 gift card giveaway to any bookstore near you. Subscribe to my newsletter here

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?

My Favorite Books of 2021

6 Dec

Every year I blog about my favorite reads, though I admit that this year was hard! I went really out of my comfort zone and read a lot of age categories and genres, but particularly adult romance, including the famous Ice Planet Barbarians series. This was also just a busy year in general for me. My (now) husband and I bought our first home, renovated said home, planned a wedding, got married, and went on a trip. I went back into the office for the first time since March 2020, and we’re still in a pandemic, so naturally, my focus was a little all over the place. I started so many amazing novels that I never ended up finishing, not because they weren’t amazing, but because I had to return them to the library before I got through it, and instead of checking it back out, more holds continued to roll in. That said, I finished reading 87 books this year. You can see the full list on my Goodreads.  To add a little clarity, these are books that I read in 2021, not necessarily books that released in 2021. My favorites are below! I hope you find something to read. I’d also love to hear what you loved this year. 

Verse novels

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Me (Moth) by Amber McBride are fantastic, heart-felt reads about difficult topics. I greatly admired both stories, and I cannot wait to read more from these diverse authors. These are young adult novels written in verse, but if you’re not used to poetry, I think you’d still be able to easily follow them and enjoy the content. Definitely recommended for kids going through hard times!

Graphic novels

All three of these graphic novel—The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag, A Man and His Cat by Umi Sakurai, and The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen—took my hand and held it as we trapezed through fantastic art, adorable storylines, and heartache. I highly recommend all three of them. A Man and His Cat is a four-book series. Each book is a gem. And they’ll make you want to hug your cats even harder. 

Young Adult Novels

Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare: I’m a huge Cassandra Clare fan. I’ve been reading her Shadowhunter books since I was 15, and the current trilogy is one of my favorites. Chain of Iron hits you in the feels so many times, it is cruel. I literally cannot wait for the last book. 

Graceling by Kristin Cashore: This book has been on TBR for years. Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I only just read it. It’s intense, exciting, and fun. I loved Poe so much, and I know it’ll stay with me for a long time.   

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: I listened to the audio book while painting my house and could not have been more enthralled. I actually stopped painting at times just to listen! And honestly, listening to this story was really neat because there are lots of languages, and that narrator speaks them. For me, it added atmosphere. If you haven’t checked out this Romeo and Juliet retelling, do so! The sequel is now out, too. 

Adult novels

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren: This is a pretty well-known adult romance book. It’s heavy on the sex, and yet still has a substantial plot interwoven throughout. I can see why it’s popular. I finished it in a day or so. It definitely comes with alpha male energy, so if that’s not your thing, you may not like this one. But it’s an entertaining read! 

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L Armentrout: This book had very delicious fantasy trope that you want in a great fantasy series. Despite all the tropes, Armentrout found amazing ways to twist them to give this story a fresh, exciting feel. I immediately put book 2 on hold, and I’m currently waiting on book 3. It’s also a rather large read, but you’ll love every minute if you adore paranormal romance or romance fantasy.  

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: This book is epic, both in word count and in content. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s a very, very gruesome read, but I absolutely loved it. Every scene kept me on the tip of my toes, and I was looking for any excuse to get back to reading. I listened to the audiobook as I read along, so that helped! All three books are now out as well, so you don’t have to wait for the sequel to drop. 

Most Surprising

She Wouldn’t Change a Thing by Sarah Adlakha

I picked up this book knowing that it was about a woman who had to face a parallel version of her life and decide between her old life and her new one. I definitely wasn’t expecting such a dark, thought-provoking read. I emphasize the darkness of this piece, because the description didn’t get into the types of trauma this book covers, and it gets into a lot of really serious topics, so be warned if you have any potential triggers. That said, I could not put this book down. Even in the slowest parts, I just had to keep reading to know what would ultimately happen. The entire book is uncomfortable in the best ways. I had to keep stopping to go debat a new question with my husband every chapter. It’s definitely a great book club read. I still think about it from time to time. 

Honorable Mention

Ferryman by Claire McFall

This is a new category this year, because – to be 100% honest – I had already written this entire blog post before I picked up Ferryman by Claire McFall. (That’s the risk of writing one of these posts with one month in the year to go.) If I had read it earlier this year, it probably would’ve been placed in my favorite YA slots. I absolutely loved Ferryman by Claire McFall. It’s about a girl who dies and then must cross the wastelands of the afterlife with her ferryman…who she falls in love with. Problem is, once she crosses, she’ll lose him forever. I mean, the stakes alone were enough to get me to pick up this read. It’s apparently a re-release. This book originally came out in Scotland in 2013, but released in the US this year. There are two more books in the trilogy, and it’s being made into a movie. I can totally see why! I could not put it down. (And I really struggled to connect with books this year.) This one is a must-read.

Ultimate Favorite

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

Never did I ever think an adult nonfiction title would top my list. I mean, I am a fantasy/science fiction sort of a gal. But I was utterly engrossed by this book. It tackles the subject of war by looking at different strategies of battle. What I loved most is that it’s organized by strategy, so the book jumps around time, rather than being written in a historically chronological format. This keeps the stories feeling fresh and exciting, and you can start to see the parallels through time more. I loved that Greene gave credit to women and people of color, particularly Alexander the Great’s mother as an influence when she is so rarely referenced in other narratives. I found myself taking pages and pages of notes for a book idea I’ve been working on for a long time, only to realize I was practically writing everything down. It’s worth picking up, and the audiobook is incredible. The narrator has a way of setting atmosphere while never letting it overtake or exaggerate the facts. A must-read if you’re interested in warfare and history. 

These were my favorite reads of 2021! What were yours?

~SAT

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

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. 

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