©2020 by Sarah Penner 

Photo credits - Alison Moore Photography

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ARCHIVED HOMEPAGE UPDATES

Autumn 2019

As we move into the cooler months of the year, I can't help but reflect on the many good things that have happened over the last few months: 

  • In a period of just a few days, I received five (!!) agent offers on THE LOST APOTHECARY; 

  • I signed with literary agent Stefanie Lieberman at the esteemed Janklow & Nesbit agency in NYC; and

  • I traveled solo to London and went mudlarking on the River Thames!

 

I'm gearing up to visit NYC in late September. I'm so looking forward to meeting Stefanie and her amazing team face-to-face to discuss what's next with THE LOST APOTHECARY, and...

My next project! I'm 25k words into the manuscript and aiming for a first draft by the end of this year. So far, I absolutely love the story that has begun to take shape on the page. Set in the lush English countryside, it's full of scandalous evening soirées and shameful secrets.

Wishing you all a wonderful rest of the year full of good things!

S.

Summer 2019

Update! In June 2019, I signed with literary agent Stefanie Lieberman at Janklow & Nesbit. To stay up-to-date about what's next, subscribe to my site! More to come...

It's hard to believe that only a year ago, I was still drafting THE LOST APOTHECARY. It feels as though I've been working on this manuscript for a lifetime! But as you fellow writers know, writing a book is a hell of a way to lose track of time.

​This past spring, I sent my revised draft to a number of trusted readers---about a dozen in all. I've spent the last eight weeks or so incorporating their feedback, and I also sought help from author and editor Heather Webb on my query letter, synopsis, and opening pages. I'll continue edits through mid-July, after which I will begin actively querying. 

I fly to London in just a few weeks. I'm oh-so-excited to visit some of my favorite pubs and cobblestoned alleys. And: I'll be bringing my wellies because I'm going mudlarking on the River Thames! Just like Caroline, one of the main characters in THE LOST APOTHECARY, I'm anxious to explore and see what fate brings my way.

Happy summer, friends! For more on THE LOST APOTHECARY, check out my Writing page. 

S.

New Year 2019

I'm so pleased with my progress on THE LOST APOTHECARY, which is well into its third revision. I adore this book, so much that I've been pulling two edit sessions per day—sometimes at 5 am! 

The manuscript will go off for a developmental edit & beta reads on March 18 (while I head south to Cancun for a well-deserved vacation and, oh yes, my husband's birthday). 

In July, I'm making a short trip to London where I'll be doing a bit of mudlarking (#bucketlist) as well as some research at the British Library. Manuscript edits will continue through mid-summer, and then....I will begin eagerly querying THE LOST APOTHECARY. 

In August, I'm attending PitchSlam at the Writer's Digest Conference in NYC. I'm an extrovert, and I'm anxious to get in front of agents and pitch this book. Fingers crossed!

My mental energy, discipline, motivation, and enthusiasm remain higher than ever; indeed, it's as though the universe has a hand on my back, urging me along. Traditional publication remains my ultimate goal, and I will be thrilled if THE LOST APOTHECARY is the book that commences the journey.  

Time to get back to the edits, friends. For more on THE LOST APOTHECARY, check out my Writing page! 

S.

Autumn 2018

You may remember my Summer website update, with its lofty goal: to complete Draft I of my second book by the end of September.

I'm thrilled to say, I did it (!!) I committed to a strict schedule -- writing 4x/week, 1,250 words/session -- and lo and behold, Draft I is a wrap. 

And now? We fix 'er up. There must be something about Autumn and revisions because, exactly two years ago, I was revising KEPT, my first book. I've tried shelving KEPT several times, but the little thing has taken on a life of its own, and seeds of interest continue to sprout. Suffice it to say, I'm still querying...

I had the good fortune of attending Bouchercon in St. Petersburg this year, and I look forward to attending the 2019 Historical Novel Society Conference in Maryland next summer. I'm aiming to complete revisions on this manuscript in time to pitch to agents at HNS 2019. I look forward to seeing my HNS friends, too!

When the work seems daunting -- which indeed it does, every time I flip through my revision plan -- I remind myself that perseverance is what separates the hopeful authors from the published authors. Perseverance and one steady, slow word at a time.

Wishing you many cozy, candlelit nights as we close out 2018.

S.

Summer 2017

Life is a whirlwind, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Updates:

  • I am still actively querying KEPT. This process is not a quick one. At times, it has been extraordinarily encouraging and, dare I say, fun. At other times, the discouragement has been gut-wrenching. But one thing remains true: this is the life of any hopeful author, and I will persevere.

  • I am roughly 20k words into the first draft of my second novel. This story centers around a 200-year old mystery of unsolved murders, and a young female apothecary in late 18th century London. 

  • It's a lofty goal, but I'm aiming to finish the first draft by end of September. I've paired up with an accountability partner/writer friend in a similar situation, and I'm looking forward to our weekly check-ins. 

  • We bought a house! Though it's not an update on the writing front, it's nevertheless important to me. The best part? My dedicated writing room. We installed a chandelier, a big map of 19th century London, a massive white bookcase, and a cute sofa with furry white pillows. Need I say more?

Wishing you all a warm summer season of rest, sunshine, and good company. And remember, in all things that you do, do not give up. Grant yourself rest and respite, but get back at it.

S.

Autumn 2017

It's almost "go time," folks.

I feel like I'm standing at a precipice—but instead of fear, I feel courage

I began writing KEPT two years ago, and what a journey it has been. I'm very close to wrapping up revisions and querying this "word baby" of mine. I'm working through line edits now, and I've compiled an initial list of about sixty agents to query.

But let me tell you this: if this manuscript goes absolutely nowhere, I will still consider KEPT one of my greatest achievements. Until you've penned a 100,000+ word novel, then disassembled and re-written the entire thing, and then submitted it to strangers for their feedback, and then re-written the entire thing again, you cannot understand the work that is Novel Writing. 

#omg.

So here I am, standing strong and courageous, and I'm ready to put this thing out there. I expect disappointment (mind you, KEPT has already been rejected by five agents) and I anticipate frustration. But this is what makes life worth living: the wait. the work. the hope.

Happy Autumn wishes to you as we approach this season of change.

-S.

Late Summer 2017

Draft IV is underway and I'm finding this revision to be particularly high-energy and full of momentum.

 

Here's the status of things:

  • Revisions: My pretty little manuscript is printed, bound, and rather colorful with its many tabs and post-it notes. This draft will have several passes: I'm going after characterization, setting detail/description, and removing those pesky cliches. 

  • Querying: I've queried both agents who attended the HNS 2017 conference and requested partials. One of them declined with a lovely, albeit depressing, email. The other is still outstanding. 

  • Beta Readers: Two very generous individuals are reading the manuscript & reverting with feedback.

  • Critique Partner: In exchange for my feedback on his manuscript, I've made friends with a fellow in Canada who's also giving me feedback.

  • #PitchWars: Along with 3,032 other hopefuls, I submitted my manuscript to a team of published mentors. Fingers are crossed!

  • Gotham NYC Publishing Class: This 4-week class allowed me the opportunity to seek feedback (from an actual agent) on my query letter. My query letter is now ready & waiting to hit agent inboxes this Fall! 

Stay tuned,

S.

Mid-Summer 2017

I recently returned from Portland, Oregon where I took part in the Historical Novel Society's annual conference. Despite long days and early morning cross-country flights, it was one of the most beneficial and rewarding experiences of my life. 

I had the opportunity to pitch to two separate agents, both of whom actively seek historical fiction. During my first pitch, the agent's exact words to me were, "Your story sounds so...original." I have to agree with her, but it certainly didn't hurt to hear it aloud. Both agents requested my work, and one of them also critiqued the prologue to my book, calling it the "best she'd read" at the conference.

 

All of this, of course, is meaningless unless I can submit an impeccably-written and compelling story. It's not an easy feat. So although I was thrilled with the outcome of my agent pitches, my focus returned to my manuscript the moment I returned home.


Draft III is nearly complete and I intend to begin draft IV in mid-July (as always, my edit schedule seems to run 3-4 weeks behind my goal.) I intend to print my manuscript before tackling draft IV as the edits will soon take on more granularity. Hand over the red pens.

Best,

S.

Early Summer 2017

With our big move from Kansas > Florida now behind us, I feel as though my life now has some semblance of sanity. Calm. Routine. This has allowed me to make substantial progress on my manuscript revisions over the last month.

I finished Draft II (essentially a complete re-write) in mid-April. And as tedious as the revision was, it was necessary. I re-wrote the beginning (three new chapters) and altered the ending somewhat. I removed extraneous characters, eliminated a few irrelevant subplot strings, and fixed plot holes.

Now to Draft III. Oh, what a breeze it has been in comparison! In only two weeks, I've revised 27k words. Now, to be clear: I'm not currently working a day job. So this pace is the result of 3-4 hours each weekday of dedicated revision. In mid-May when I'm working again, I expect things to slow down. 

In late June, I'm attending the Historical Novel Society's annual conference in Portland. I'm pitching to two agents so in addition to my current revisions, I'm also starting to practice my pitch. I'm very extroverted by nature so the difficult part, for me, will not be meeting the agents: it will be relaying the intrigue of my story in a matter of seconds. If nothing else, I hope to walk away with useful advice from these two agents so that I can be well-prepared this Fall for querying.

Wishing you plenty of sunshine as we move into the warmer months!

S.

Spring 2017

It’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve opened my manuscript in Scrivener. Two weeks since I’ve delved into the 18th-century world that I’ve created. Two weeks since I’ve greeted my characters, listened to them banter, and stepped into their homes and workplaces. Just as my characters were approaching the “climax” of their story, I put revisions on pause.

Not by choice, of course, but by necessity. Earlier this month, my husband and I packed a three-story house into a 16-foot moving truck and then we (tearfully) closed the sale of our 1925 home. We spent three days on the road with our dachshund and made the arduous journey from Kansas to Florida. And now that we’ve unpacked and mostly settled into our new home, I can finally curl up with a mug of lavender green tea and my manuscript.

I do intend to wrap up Draft II by the end of March, give or take a few days. I’m so close – only a handful of chapters to go – and then I’ll kick off Draft III, which I expect to take about three months. At the end of June, I’m attending a conference in Portland for Historical Fiction writers. I’ll be pitching to two agents and I’d like to have the third draft completed by this time.

Writing a book, like everything else in life, is a series of ebbs and flows, joys and frustrations, revelations and disappointments. I follow quite a few new novelists on Twitter, and I find their journeys to be so inspiring. Truly, none of us are alone in this.

Until next time,

S.

New Year 2017

Happy New Year!

 

I’m quite pleased with the progress that I’ve made on my book since the winter holiday. It’s been such a blessing that our evenings and weekends have slowed down drastically since Christmas, and this has allowed me ample time to settle into my manuscript for several hours at a time, 3-4 days per week. As of mid-January, I’ve revised/re-written approximately 50k words, which is more than half of my first draft. I’m estimating that, by the time my second draft is complete, the manuscript will come in at 115k words. This is within the “sweet spot” for debut historical fiction novels: agents and editors would like to see something in the range of 90-120k.

Harlots on Hulu hits screens in late March. I had a small panic attack when I first learned about this show. The basic premise – prostitutes in 18th century London – is obviously the basic premise of my story, too. But as I read more about Harlots, I breathed a sigh of relief: the conflict and plot synopsis are very different from mine. Let’s hope that the market goes mad for Harlots and agents start demanding manuscripts of a similar nature!

 

And in my non-writing life: big changes are on the horizon! Marc and I are relocating from Wichita, Kansas to Tampa, Florida! We sold our house and will move mid-March. We are so, so ecstatic about the change and we are grateful for the many little things that have fallen into place for us as we prepare for this transition.

 

I hope that 2017 brings you much peace and creativity!

Christmas 2016

Today, while listening to Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See on audiobook, I was struck by a simple yet poignant passage:

"Firelit rooms lined with books – these are the places in which important things happen.”

How fitting! My favorite writing spot is a chaise at home, positioned between a series of sash windows and our wood-burning fireplace, and it also sits directly beneath a bookshelf. The shelf is lined with books, and our fireplace has been lit night after recent night. 

And, of course: very important things have been happening there.

Recently, I struggled to articulate the Draft Two Struggle to my husband; I finally drew a picture, similar to that below. As I explained to him, I didn't anticipate that I would need to spend three months writing new material before I could begin editing existing material. I'm finally at the point where the two have merged, and it's a wondrous thing: to edit a scene that I wrote a year ago, and loved a year ago, and still love today.

 

Winter wishes to you, and may you have your Merriest Christmas yet.

Winter 2016

Greetings! The last several months have been very humbling. As a first-time novelist, I’d been under the (mistaken) impression that a “second draft” is a heavily-improved version of the first draft: more realistic dialogue...stronger descriptive elements...the resolution of a few plot holes.

 

I was so, so wrong. I sat down with my finished first-draft manuscript and summarized each chapter on a notecard. As I lined them up and followed the plot line, I realized that I was missing some key information early in the book: background information that I had internalized, but I hadn’t properly shared with the reader. I also made the insane decision to change from third-person POV to first-person, which impacted some of the information I can share, and when. 

 

At that juncture, I experienced panic on more than one occasion. A little voice kept asking me: “Are you sure you’re up for this? You can quit anytime, or try a new hobby, or come back to the manuscript in a couple of years, or move to a remote island and forget you ever tried...” But something in me kept pushing back at that voice. And whatever this “something” is, it continues to push me forward and there is a momentum within me that I can’t explain. 

 

So, to the task at hand: in order to incorporate the material that was necessary, yet missing, I’ve written more than 20k new words since August. I haven’t even touched my existing chapters. The encouraging thing is that as I continue to re-read my new material and line it up against my first draft, I know I’m on the right track. I know this novel is (already) better. And most importantly, I’m still enamored with my plot line (which remains essentially unchanged.) That’s what keeps drawing me back: a vision of what this story can be, and my desire to tell it.

 

Here’s to hoping that the Winter season offers plenty of snowy, cozy days to write by the fireplace....

See you in 2017 with my next update!

Fall 2016

Revisions to Kept are well underway!

I finished the final two chapters of Kept on a Saturday morning in August, after a solid 3-hour block of writing. When I wrote the last sentence, I stared at it for a moment: I considered changing it, by only one word, and then decided to let it be. It's the least of my worries, anyhow; the real work is about to start.

"Macro" revisions will come first, beginning with a cold, hard read in a single day. Then, a second read in which I'll jot down scene summaries and key characters. I'll begin to consider and challenge my plot arcs, character development, and sequencing. I'll draft scene additions or re-writes. "Micro" revisions will come later, where I'll run through the entire book multiple times focused on a certain element with each pass: dialogue, setting, descriptions. Fact-checking will eventually follow, and an intense self-inflicted line edit.

All of this will take many, many months! In 2017, I intend to send off to a professional for copyedit, and several trusted friends for a read-through. In my newly-found downtime, I'll start scoping out agents.

Stay tuned - my next update will be posted here this Winter!