Monday, March 4, 2024

I don't seek to write tropes, but I end up writing them anyway


Some tropes and storytelling elements resonate strongly with many readers, so I often see them used to market books. When I’m writing a story, though, I don't consciously think about tropes, and I don't aim to include or exclude any of them.

The stories I write explore some themes and conventions often, though. The romantic trope I use most often is "Friends to Lovers." I find I can write more convincingly about a couple who has an existing dynamic and I enjoy writing about how friendships can change.

I don’t hate any tropes, but there are some that my writing hasn't touched on so far. In science fiction and fantasy, I haven't written a "Chosen One" storyline. In the real world, I find the background of extraordinary people is often already compelling story. No predetermination is necessary.

I also haven’t written a story in which two characters in a romantic relationship are "Fated Mates." I prefer to write stories about the reasons why two people may continuously choose to be each other’s partners and how they build a lasting relationship.

Both of these tropes I haven't written rely on fate or predetermination, which I don’t know how to write about in an interesting way. I won’t rule out writing stories with these elements in the future, though! My writing, like the rest of my life, has changed over the years, and I believe it will continue to do so.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Trope-tastic - Love 'Em and Loathe 'Em

 This week at the SFF Seven. we're asking each other which tropes you love to write and which do you loathe?

The tropes I love are pretty easy to identify for anyone who's read more than one of my books. My favorites are:

  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Marriage of Convenience/Political Marriage/Marriage of State
  • Forced Proximity
  • He Falls First 
  • Learning to Use magic/special abilities/wrestling own power


As for the tropes I loathe? Loathe is a strong word. I'm not sure I loathe any tropes. Ones I'm less fond of are:

  • Second chance (I just don't believe that whatever broke them up the first time won't break them up again)
  • Bully Romance (no no no - toxicity and abuse isn't romantic to me)
  • Fated Mates (hard to make this one work)
  • Faux Medieval Fantasy Worlds (Enough already - and besides medieval times were never like that)
  • Chosen One (yawn)


The ones I truly dislike are the damaging ones, like: 

  • Woman in the Refrigerator (women are people, not plot devices)
  • Clumsy Heroine (it's not endearing to me)
  • Racist Cliches (enough said)
  • Bury Your Gays (see Woman in the Refrigerator)
  • Having Kids as the Solution to Happiness (Spoiler: having kids is *hard* - they don't solve your problems or give your life the meaning it lacked)

Friday, March 1, 2024

When Conventions are Worth It

 I haven’t been to a book convention in – a long time. A looooong time. However. I do have a history with cons of all kinds, and so, while I might not be especially qualified to talk about whether book cons are worth it, I do have thoughts.

IMO, a con is worth it if:

You enjoy the premise of the con as a fan. You won’t be making the money you spent on attending the convention. Make sure you’re parting with your hard-earned dollars for a good reason – that being that you are engaging in an experience that brings you joy (outside of selling books).

You’re nominated for an award. Even then, I’m on the fence about this one these days. So many awards are problematic enough to include a cringe factor to them. This one must be a personal call. Am I relieved and grateful that the award nominations I once had were before the industry had its eyes unwillingly opened to the mounting issues? Heck yes.

You’re looking for an agent or you’re shopping a manuscript AND you can get pitch appointments. Pitch appointments, especially with editors for houses you’re targeting, are an amazing source of submission invites. I favor smaller, more local events where there aren’t 10k of my nearest and dearest vying for the same appointments. Getting in front of editors and agents is absolutely worth the time and trouble. Get a chance to put ‘Requested Material’ on a submission just once and see if you don’t agree.

You’re into meeting other authors, book lovers, and assorted weirdos. The breadth and depth of humanity is usually represented at a conference. If you enjoy striking up conversations with strangers about shared interests – cons are for you.

You’re using the con as a mini writer’s retreat, to recharge batteries, or to remember who you are outside of the roles and expectations of the rest of your life. Sometimes, a con is just a good excuse to get away so you don’t have to threaten the very next person who won’t leave you alone for five minutes while you pee, for the love of pete.

Cons are not worth it if:

You expect a return on investment. This is not why we con. At least, not why 98% con.

You’re expecting a miracle – like an agent begging to rep you or an editor begging to buy your book on the spot, you will be disappointed. If you’re signing and expecting to see lines out the door, you probably will see that. For someone else. At least initially.

You’re immunocompromised or live with someone who is. Fact of our lives, now, I’m afraid. Anyplace a large group of people are gathered indoors is a super spreader event. It might be Covid. It might be flu. It might be RSV. It might be measles. It might be TB. It might be the common cold. I hate it with every fiber of my being but every con now requires a fully informed, individual risk assessment.

Will I go to a con again? Yes. Comicon is still my happy place and I'd really like to get to one of the big SFWA cons at some point. Darn day job, tho. 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Want to Book Con?

a set of double wooden doors with the upper half in frosted fleur decorated glass

Book Conventions: love them or leave them?

When you read a book you love what’s one of the first things you want to do? Talk about it with someone else who loves it too! And that’s how book conventions came to be.

At least in my mind. 

But as an author conventions become more than being a fan, they also become work. If you’re new to the book/author convention world maybe you’re wondering which ones are worth the money. Or maybe you’re wondering which ones will give your shiny new book the most exposure. Or maybe you want to meet other writers who might end up becoming writing buddies, or critique partners, or mentors. 

All of those reasons and more are why attending one might be right for you. But every con is different and you’ll need to research to find out which ones match with your goals. And no matter what goal you’ve got, attending a con will cost you $$. So, let’s take a look at what’s out there!

This list is by no means comprehensive. There are cons of all sizes that cater to all genres. The easiest ones to quickly look up are the ones connected to professional writing groups and associations. SFWA holds the Nebulas. Worldcon has the Hugos. If you’re looking for a fantasy specific con check out They list these smaller conventions by date and show the location.  

If you’re looking for general fiction ones, check out the list The Write Life put together. Select by genre or location, they’re all on the same page. Or maybe you’re looking for something local to do a signing at or rub elbows with authors within driving distance of you. In that case, check out Writer’s Digest’s list of book fairs and festivals

There are also plenty of writing conventions aimed at teaching you how to put together a novel, how to format, how to pitch, how to self-publish, etc. Watch out for those. Some have useful information, but sometimes it’s packaged at a steep price or the information could’ve been gleaned by reading some free online resources. Some offer pitch appointments with agents if you're on the traditional publishing pathway, which can be the highlight of attending this type.

Attending a book/author convention can be energizing! Meeting people in the same writing stage as you can be uplifting. And making connections with industry professionals can be beneficial. Weigh your pros and cons after doing your research. Hopefully you’ll find one that’s easy to get to that you’ll enjoy!

Do you have any cons on your wishlist or ones you’ve been to that you’d recommend?

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Cons: Better for Fans than Authors

This Week's Topic: Conventions (Cons): They're Morphing, But Do They Provide What Authors and/or Readers Want and Need?

Four years after the lockdowns of Covid, Cons are in full swing...though they might look a little different from their pre-Covid formats. Some are embracing virtual formats, either in their entirety or as special breakout sessions for those who can't attend in person. Some are scaling back their size to control costs, while others are expanding to lure more diverse audiences. 

Not being a Con girl, I don't have first-hand experience of the post-Covid landscape. The Cons I attended were all before the Great Plague. 'Bout the only advice I can give as an author is that unless you're a Big Name with a large fan base in the area where you're signing, don't expect to make a profit by attending in person. In fact, you're most likely to have a notable net loss when you factor in costs for transportation, lodging, staging, product, etc. Now, that loss may be deductible depending on your tax situation. If you're attending as a virtual panelist (from the comfort of your office), then your out-of-pocket costs are obviously less but don't dismiss the opportunity costs. Also, remember that "exposure" is not payment, particularly if you've been invited by a for-profit host. If you have to pay-to-play, don't go, then be realistic in your expectations and honest with your budget. Donating your time to a non-profit Con as a marketing tactic won't measurably move your sales and revenue, but it might fill a personal desire to contribute to your community (check with your tax professional to know if any costs are tax deductible).

If you're attending a Con as an author, do so because you love meeting new people or because you're really going as a fan of other attending artists. Heck, some authors attend because, for them, it's a vacation with their besties. 

Monday, February 26, 2024

Exciting New Book Deal - NEVER THE ROSES

Sharing the OFFICIALLY OFFICIAL super exciting news today on NEVER THE ROSES, the book I sold to Tor. I'm explaining the Publisher's Marketplace lingo, how foreign sales work, and why creatives can't be thick-skinned.

I burble about this on my podcast, First Cup of Coffee.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

How do you stop overthinking your writing?

Everyone does it. Your thoughts circle in an endless loop – anxiety and doubt overtake your ability to move forward. Unfortunately, it's common. I don’t know how to eliminate it, but I can share ways I’ve found helpful to move past it.

1. Find your process. Whether you’re just starting or have written dozens of books, find a process that works for you and use it. This may look a little different for each writer, but I’m talking about how you go from idea to done. I rely on the process I’ve built to help get out of the overthinking cycle. Overthinking hits hardest for me in the first draft and self-edits–before anyone else sees the story. I remind myself to trust the process. That my critique partners and editors will help me flesh out the areas that don’t quite make sense yet. We have dev editors, alpha and beta readers, and writing critique partners for a reason. We’ve selected them because we trust them to give us honest feedback. Especially if you’re struggling with overthinking an early draft, trust that you’ll work through the details, but you must get the story out first.


If you’re just starting and you don’t have people like this, whether they are fellow writers you can critique swap with or paid partners like dev editors or beta readers, I highly recommend finding them. Not everyone uses every type of partner. Find the ones that work for you.


2. Have a plan. This is not a stand between plotters and pantsers. How you get your words on paper is your own business. I find overthinking to be circuitous, a cycle of worry that isn’t really productive. One way I move forward is by revisiting my plan for publication. If you’re familiar with sales, this is like internal objection handling. Your brain might create reasons to get stuck in a cycle, and you get to sell it on why you want to move forward. It could look like this: 


Brain: this addition to the world-building would be great, but it needs to be in the beginning. 
Plan: Okay, Brain, I will write it down and address it in self-edits. Let's pretend that it has been there from the beginning for now. 


I’ll admit this is less helpful when your brain loops on self-doubt, but that is also an area of overthinking that writers must confront. Not every story is for every reader, and I have to be okay with that to create something and put it out in the world. In those cases, I anchor myself around why I’m doing this. I love writing, and I love sharing my stories. I want to find readers who enjoy my brand of storytelling.


3. Trust yourself. Cliche? Sure. But still fundamentally a way to unstick yourself from the overthinking cycle. I can’t prescribe what will work for you, but you’ll find the things that do. For me, pushing through a draft helps. I make changes as I go and clean up for consistency in self-edits. Each writer has to find their own ways to deal with overthinking because it is a common struggle, and I don’t think it goes away the more you write.

I hope it helps to know you’re not the only one overthinking your writing. Find the people and the process that works for you. Many think of writing as solitary, but storytelling inherently needs others. Find the people who will support you but give you constructive feedback.

Jillian Witt reads more romantic fantasy than is strictly necessary and writes books she would love to read. Her stories unleash powerful women into fantasy worlds, usually turn enemies into lovers, and always offer an escape from reality.
When not reading or writing, she’s enjoying all four seasons in Michigan with her partner and their dog, Loki.

TT and instagram @mythandmagicbookclub 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Overthinking Toolkit

When you look up overthinking in the dictionary, that's my picture beside the definition. Bet you didn't know that. I have a kind of love/hate relationship with overthinking. On the one hand, overthinking is the artistic drive to make a piece match a vision. I'll give that some respect. On the other hand, though, it's paralysis and there's a ton of slow going everyplace in between the two poles. 

I can't tell anyone how to stop overthinking. It's one of my biggest hurdles. I have amassed a toolbox around it, though, and you're welcome to rummage through for useful tidbits. 

1. Binaural beats - 40k in particular which has some bit of science behind showing it helps with focus, attention, and flow. The theory is that varied frequencies going in each ear regulate brainwaves in a particular way and invoke a state of some kind. These require stereo headphones and low volume - just at the edge of awareness. You can find pure pulse tones or you can find the beats integrated into music. Experiment. Your brain may, like mine, find the pure tones too dis-regulating but the musical ones to be just fine. 

2. Enforced speed - Twice a month, a group of writers gets together in a writing game. For two hours we run timed writing sprints against monsters. Each monster is worth a specific word count value. Everyone in the group pools their words against the critter. Each session is timed - if time runs out before we hit word count, the monster wins. If we hit word count before the clock runs out, the writers win. This practice is valuable for me because it forces me to just keep going - no don't go back to correct the typo. Leave the sentence fragment alone. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. I can't say I come away with usable scenes for a book from this exercise but what I do get are snippets of usable stuff. Writing that fast ends up being a lot of stream of consciousness for me. If I can keep my stream of consciousness focused on the story I'm working on, then all of the noodling and overthinking gets channeled out of my head and onto that virtual page. From it, I can glean conversations, conflicts, and opportunities for the actual story. It's a good reminder that it's okay to feel my way through a story and to worry about fixing things later. 

3. Default mode - apparently, our brains have a default mode wherein some much needed sorting and rearranging gets done. This happens when we slip into daydreaming or staring off into space. It happens when we engage in repetitive physical tasks like vacuuming a room or sweeping or washing dishes or ironing. It is a brainwave shift, absolutely, but it isn't something we *do*. It's something that happens. Default mode sort of sneaks up on us. In default mode, it's as if someone is in our heads unplugging this bit over here, untangling the cord and then plugging it in over there but with lots and lots of stuff. Kind of a mental defragmentation process. If I'm really up against an overthinking wall, convinced there's only one right way through a story and I haven't found it yet, I'll get up, walk outside and spend 10 to 20 minutes pulling weeds in the garden. Or I'll sweep up cat litter, or do dishes, whatever simple, repetitive physical task that takes very little thought. A walk around the block would serve as well. Just take note that screens / social media are never ever the answer.

4. Get back in the body - overthinking tends to pull the nervous system into a fight, flight, fawn, or freeze state. Maybe overthinking is an evolutionary trait of some kind that helped our ancestors survive because it often feels like not getting a story exactly right is an existential threat. Yoga nidra is useful, in that case, as it's designed to sooth the nervous system out of fight or flight and reset your brain as well. 

I hope you find something useful in this set of tools. I'm still a work in progress on the overthinking front. Believe me when I say I'm combing the other posts for more tips, tricks, and tools. What a relief it would be to one day just write a story and not hit that wall that makes me look back and wonder if I did all those words, threads, and characters right. Especially since, for me, that wall is never at The End.