Posts by S.M.Johnston

I'm a writer of both the fictional and corporate communication persuasion. By day, I am a senior specialist in public relations and internal communications. Occasionally I’m a mascot wrangler, a merchandise purchaser, a social media strategist and an event coordinator. In my spare time I write weird fiction, blog, tweet and post on FB. I recently completed my first novel, 'SLEEPER', a YA Speculative Fiction, which I am currently querying. My short story, GROWTH, was published in the anthology THE BASICS OF LIFE. I was also the runner-up in the Australian Literary Review's YA short story competition with KARMA. I have also written a short story for THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHESTER LEWIS anthology, which will be released in 2012. I primarily write for the YA market or short stories.

When to engage a sensitivity reader

The publishing world is changing, I believe in large part, because advancements in technology is giving people more of a voice. And this is a good thing. One of the key things of note is the issue of representation in novels, and how poor representation is harmful.

For me, personally, I understand these concerns. I’ve been quite open about the fact I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People associate this with obsessive cleaning, counting, and washing hands. I’m not a clean freak. I don’t have any set numbers. Though occasionally I use too much sanitiser. Also, a family member of mine has epilepsy, and I regularly see the misconceptions people have about the condition.

Misrepresentation can occur across many areas, including, but not limited to, culture, medical conditions, mental health, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Poor representation is harmful. It can perpetuate stereotypes and alienates readers in that group.

One of the ways that authors are attempting to address this is to engage a sensitivity reader. But when is the best time to do that?

I’d like to point out now that the use of a sensitivity reader should not be an author’s only tool when trying to ensure that they deal with issues of representation in an appropriate way. And it definitely shouldn’t be the first port of call. Research is important, especially during the plotting and early stages of drafting. Don’t rely on “what you know” as it’s likely what you know is tainted by stereotypes rather than reality. And research can include talking to people.

For example, one of my stories including a subplot involving a survivor of sexual assault. As I haven’t experienced what my character had, and something nagged at the back of my mind as I was doing my first round of revision. I asked for some advice from some author friends who had. My author friends were very supportive, and helped me with solutions to take away the problematic issues that arose from my ignorance. And I was grateful that I was made aware of the issue early.

Research should give you a good basis for starting your story. And if you’re like a lot of authors, you would only want early drafts to be viewed by trusted readers, so this is not the time for a sensitivity reader. But it’s probably a good idea to asks your readers to give you a heads up for any red flags for representation.

Once you have your story to a point where you’re comfortable with sharing it beyond your inner sanctum, this would be a good time to engage a sensitivity reader (in my opinion).

You don’t want your story before an agent with poor representation in it. And, if your agent misses it, you don’t want your story before an editor with poor representation in it. And if your editor misses it, you don’t want your story out with advance reader copies with poor representation in it. And in the unlikely event that it makes it past ARCs with poor representation, you don’t want your story on the shelf with poor representation in it. While an agent and an editor should be helping authors identify problematic issues in a story, it’s your name on the cover, and you should be taking whatever steps you need to in order to ensure that your novel is the best novel it can be.

And, in my opinion, you also don’t want a sensitivity reader to be giving you feedback at a point where you feel like your novel is basically complete as it could make you resistant to changes.

Which leads me into the next important point. If you engage a sensitivity reader, listen to them. Take onboard their feedback and incorporate it into your story. If you use a sensitivity reader, and you ignore their feedback, then you could be alienating your first reader. People who do sensitivity reads are doing it because they want good representation in novels. They aren’t out to wreck your story.

Now this is something else that is important to consider and understand. Everyone has different experiences, and having a sensitivity reader is not a get out of jail free card to stop people being offended by representation in your story. You still could have people saying your portrayal is unrealistic as what you’ve written doesn’t reflect their experiences. You may want to engage more than one reader, especially if your first reader highlights issues that are problematic.


Readers expect authors to do their homework and get things right. Even though you’re writing fiction, representation is important. If you were writing a novel about pilots, your reader would expect you to have researched pilots, planes and airports. If you’re writing a story about someone with a mental health condition like OCD, your reader would expect that you had researched OCD, the triggers, the treatments and the condition’s impact on people with OCD. This goes for cultural groups, sexual orientation, gender identity, medical conditions.

By no means am I perfect in this area. I am striving to do better with every novel I write. I hope that you do too.


Sharon M. Johnston is a New Adult and Young Adult author from sunny Queensland. Her OCD has resulted in Sharon making way too many bead bookmarks, way too many cat t-shirts and way too many toys. It’s also result in her breaking down in tears, calling for support, messaging friends for help and withdrawing from family and friends. She gets annoyed with people who don’t have OCD think they do because they’re clean freaks. If your obsessions and compulsions don’t cause you pain, it’s probably not OCD.

How do you move on from a series?

Have you ever fallen so in love with a book series that you’ve just devoured it, and then suffer from post series withdrawal. Or, if the series isn’t finished yet, you’re getting a bit book hangry for the next book in the series?

I sure have. I end up feeling a bit lost and end up searching aimlessly through my purchased books, and often then through online book catalogues trying to find my next read, or putting call outs on social media for recommendations.

Currently I’m listening to The Wise Man’s Fear. I had the Kingkiller Chronicle recommended to my by a couple of friends at work, and then through Twitter as well. Even though it took me a little bit to get into the story, I’m pretty hooked now. I know i”m going to be pretty gutted when I get to the end and I’m going to have to wait who knows how long for the third book.

Because I primarily consume via audio books now, I’ve found myself listen to a series I adored, but not connecting with the narrator, and then not following through with the series. And when I find a narrator who sweeps me up in the story, like Will Patton who narrated The Raven Cycle. This adds a whole new complication to finding my next new read.

I get torn between wanting to listen to completed series so I can binge listen, and getting the latest release so I know what everyone else is referring to, and then have the agonising wait for the next instalment.

How do you move on from an amazing series? Do you give yourself time to recover? Or do you throw yourself into your next read?Sharon Johnston

Sharon M. Johnston is an author and PR professional from sunny Queensland. Her Open Heart series novels, DIVIDED and SHATTERED, are out now with City Owl Press. Sharon is a Pitch Wars mentor and a Pitch Madness host. She loves cats and unicorns, and her family.

How do you like your endings?

A piece of advice often given to writers is to make sure your book can work as a standalone story, even if you have sequels planned. And when a writer queries an agent, or a submission to a publisher, there’s an importance placed on stating the story has ‘series potential.’

While this advice is predominantly from a marketing/sales point of view (there’s no guarantee a publisher will give a multi-book deal, and if the book doesn’t sell well enough there may not be a sequel), I wonder about how readers feel about the topic.

In my Open Heart series, it’s quite obvious there’s more to the story, that there’s more in store for the characters. I wouldn’t classify the ending in DIVIDED (Book 1) as a cliffhanger ending personally, but it may be viewed that way by some. The main thread of the story is answered, with new revelations at the climax offering the series potential.

Other authors take a different tact. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is one of my favourite YA stories, and it was originally intended to be a standalone novel. Beth Revis worked with her editor and her agent to move it into a series. Then Gayle Forman had IF I STAY that works completely as a standalone, followed by WHERE SHE WENT, set well after the events of the first novel. Other authors have companion novels where the stories are set in the same world, but with different characters. Then other authors focus on books that are truly stand alone.

With so many different way to approach novels from an authors perspective, how do you feel about this from a readers perspective. Do you like cliffhanger endings, or do you want your stories wrapped up at the end of the book? AND do you prefer to read a series or a stand alone novel?


Sharon Johnston


Sharon is a Young Adult and New Adult author from sunny Queensland. Her OCD has resulted in her making far too many bookmarks and pieces of jewellery (her husband is very surprised that the postman has reported her for the number of small packages arriving at the house). She’s a Pitch Wars mentor, and is available to run Pitch Wars Roadshow workshops at events. Her OPEN HEART series is out now with City Owl Press.

Cleaning out your stereotypes from your writing

There is even more emphasis on writers creating realistic worlds in relation to diversity. But with that comes the responsibility for authors to develop real characters that don’t perpetuate stereotypes that are harmful to minority groups. These groups are more than just ensuring cultural representative, but gender identity, sexuality, disability, and mental health, just to name a few.

Think about the world you live in. Everyone isn’t cis white and straight. Then think about the people you know who are from minorities. Do they tick all the boxes for the stereotypes of that group? Probably not.

I’m a classic example of someone who does not fit in the stereotype box. in regards to mental health. I’m diagnosed with OCD, and am still undergoing treatment for it. But you might not know it when you first meet me.

What do you think of when you envisage a woman with OCD?

  • Clean freak?
  • Obsessed with hand washing?
  • Obsessed with numbers?
  • Worried about germs for fear of getting sick?
  • Physical compulsions?

Only one of the above really applies to me, and even then, it’s pretty mild by OCD standards.

  • I’m one of the biggest slobs ever.
  • I do use more hand sanitiser than the average person, but not over the top (I think).
  • I have no deal with numbers.
  • I’m more worried about infecting other people with germs (sometimes I hold my breath when out shopping if I’m sick).
  • I have no physical compulsions. All my compulsions are mental.

Here’s a great article that explains more about OCD myths.

I have OCD, and don’t fit the stereotypes for the condition. Chances are, the people you know in minority groups don’t fit in the stereotype box either.

Push yourself further with your writing. Be more inclusive with minority groups. Be more observant and challenge the stereotypes that society has given you when you people watch.

Write diversely and have a diverse range of beta readers and CPs. Use sensitivity readers, and LISTEN to them. And be prepared to take on criticism and learn from it. (And note that having sensitivity reader doesn’t stop you from receiving criticism).

Also make sure you LISTEN to minority groups. Be present on social media sites, such as Twitter where you can find lots of threads that talk about problematic representation. Research issues around problematic representation and LISTEN to what’s being said. (I’m not going to list anything other than OCD as that’s the only minority group that I have the knowledge to talk about.)

Our country is diverse. Our world is diverse. And that diversity should be reflected in our literature art.

So, if you haven’t already, clean out your stereotypes to make your stories a richer place, and a safer place for your readers who might belong to the minority groups that are hurt by those stereotypes. 13007082_1280076712019775_6555372396011975558_n

Sharon is a Young Adult and New Adult writer from sunny Queensland. Her Open Heart Series is out now with City Owl Press. Sharon loves helping out other writers as a Pitch Wars mentor and Pitch Madness hosts. She occasionally has pink hair, loves cats, makes jewellery and bookmarks, and plays far too much Pokemon Go.

Spring Cleaning Your Stories

November is Spring Cleaning month at Aussie Owned & Read. This month we will be looking at different ways you apply spring cleaning to your writing.

If you’re an author like me, you write because your imagine runs wild. Sometimes I people watch and create weird stories a scenario. Like when I was at a charity ball and I saw two security guards heading for the main room doors while I was existing to get some money from the ATM. My mind jumped to the fun conclusion that I was about to be John McLean as these bad-arse looking dudes were about to take everyone hostage. I do make myself laugh at the absurd tangents my mind goes on sometimes.

And if you are like me, with this weird imagination, you may end up with a truck load of plot bunnies and a number of unfinished manuscripts. If you’re not participating in NaNo, then this is a perfect time to spring clean out your writing.

How can you do this?

  1. Make a spreadsheet of all of your unfinished stories (ones that a both partial written, as well as in draft) and include the category, genre and current word count.
  2. Rank the stories in the spreadsheet based on your level of desirability to continue with them.
  3. Create a schedule (if you’ve got yourself into this situation you are likely easily distracted by shiny new things and have trouble sticking to a schedule – but it’s worth a try) to determine which story you want to work on next. You may want to consider which stories are closest to completion, or which ones are closest to your heart.
  4. Enlist Alpha readers to keep you accountable.
  5. Start writing/revising!

Sharon JohnstonSharon M. Johnston is a Young Adult and New Adult author from sunny Queensland. She loves her family, her fur babies, and writing intriguing stories.

Her novels DIVIDED and SHATTERED are out now with City Owl Press.


My dad, my writing and his poetry

My father influenced my love of literature. He would read to my sister and me a lot when


My Dad, me (left) and my sister.

we were growing up. I remember the three of us snuggled together as Dad would read out loud fables and the like. He fostered our love of books, and continued the tradition with my children as well.

About seven years ago, my dad asked me if I was writing a vampire story when he found out I was attempting to write a novel, and was genuinely surprised when I said no. I didn’t share my secret writing with my parents until I was working on my novel. I’d written poetry and short stories before that. I don’t know why I didn’t tell them. And it’s something I shared with my dad.

Dad was a poet. But he did like to share them. He would write the poem out, as though to get it out of his head, and then throw it away. Until my mum convinced him to let her keep some. He write a children’s rhyming book about a bunyip and did the illustrations in an exercise book. I adore that story.

My dad and I were very different personality wise, but our love of the written word is a bond we will always share, even now he’s gone. While Dad wouldn’t want the fuss, I’m going to share some of his poems that he wrote about me and my sister. They are simple poems, but they mean so much to me. I hope they make you smile too.

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Sharon is a Young Adult and New Adult author from sunny Queensland, who has a thing for unicorns and cats. She plays far too much Pokemon Go, and gets up early in the morning to take down gyms when she could use that time for writing. She loves chatting to people on Twitter so come and say hi!

Pitch Wars Mentor Musing

For the past three weeks I’ve had my nose buried in my Pitch Wars searching for the manuscript and mentee that are a match for me. With a matter of days left to go until the mentor picks have to be in I have yet to mark my top pick, but I’m pretty close.

I won’t give away the top runners for me, but I will share a bit of my reading process and then some tips for improving your chances as snagging a spot in future pitch contests.

So here’s my process for my mentee:

  1. I scan through all the pitches as they come in and get a basic impression. If a pitch piques my interest as I may read the prose. And if that prose makes me want to salivate with literary lust I ask for the full.
  2. I set aside reading time, go back through the pitches and add in the prose. I then categorise the stories into folders in my emails under Full Requested, Maybe, Not For Me.
  3. As fulls come in I save them to Voice Dream Reader and I spend a heck of a lot of time with earphones as I do things like cook dinner so I can get through the requests. I also listen to the manuscripts in my car as I do a fair bit of driving for work.
  4. As I listen to the stories I determine:
    1. How much I enjoy the story.
    2. If I believe I can value add to the story.
    3. If I believe I can value add to the story in the required timeframes for the competition. (Yes this is different to the point above).
  5. I stalk the author. Sometimes this happens simultaneously with other points above. I want to know if I can work with the author, and I want to know if publishing professionals will want to work with the author. The author would have to behave pretty badly for me not to want to take them on.
  6. I begin making notes to get ready for the revision round. If I think there’s going to be a war (which there may be for me this time) I may hold off so I don’t do a stack load of wasted work.
  7. I let Brenda know where I’m at for who I want to mentor and it goes from there.


Now, onto tips!

  • If you are going to enter a pitch contest make sure your manuscript is in a good place:
    • Show, don’t tell: Here is a great article another Pitch Wars mentor shared that I highly recommend aspiring authors read:
    • Foreshadowing: You need to give the reader the opportunity to work things out, or at least be able to connect the dots after the twist is revealed.
    • Learn the technical side of your craft, like how to format dialogue.
  • You need to make sure your pitch glitters so much the contest coordinators have to slide on sunglasses.
    • Research what makes a good pitch and use the formula. And here’s an article on creating a pitch and query that the amazing Brenda Drake prepared earlier.
    • Workshop your pitch/query with both people who do know your story and people who don’t. Yes, pitches need betas too!
  • Make sure you familiarise yourself with the rules of the contest you want to enter and comply.
  • Be nice, professional, and not creepy on social media with contest officials. If you want to be a professional writer, you need to have some level of professionalism online. That doesn’t mean be a robot, but don’t be racist, sexist or any other negative ist that will make someone not want to work with you.
  • Take advantage of the networking opportunities. Connecting with the contest coordinators and other entrants is an amazing opportunity. But don’t just be there when the contest is on (I’ve already noticed my Twitter followers start to dwindle, which happens regularly around this time), say the course and keep in touch because publishing is a community and it actually takes a village to write a book. Despite what people think, writing isn’t a solo sport.

I love being a Pitch Wars mentor. It’s such a rewarding experience. I’ve made so many friends being involved with pitch contests – it’s the reason why I’m on this blog!

What’s your favourite thing about pitch contests? What experiences would you love to share with AO&R readers.