You Shouldn’t Query Your New NaNoWriMo on Dec. 1—And Here’s Why

For those of you reading who have crushed your NaNoWriMo goals—congratulations! While I’ve never completed a proper November NaNo challenge,  my first manuscript was assembled in a 30 day/50k marathon. I still remember the moment I finished: I was sitting at my dining room table in the head chair on a late August afternoon. I saw that word count cross 50,000 and immediately started crying. I couldn’t remember another moment where I’d felt so proud about something I’d accomplished.

If you’re reading this after 30 days of later nights, earlier mornings, and forgone social engagements—I cannot applaud you enough. YOU DID IT. And I hope you got your moment.

But, for the love of all that is good on this planet, don’t you dare query your fresh NaNo project tomorrow.

There are SO many reasons for not to query your NaNo immediately (the obvious one being that December being a traditionally busy month, both for those who celebrate Christmas and those who need to get a lot of work done before the end of the year)—but I’ve narrowed it down to what are, in my opinion, three of the most logical reasons not to shoot yourself in the foot by querying on December 1st:

1. It’s too short. 

50,000 words is not a lot.

It is a lot to write in 30 days—that’s valid. But it does not mean your manuscript is a book.

As a writer and future author, it’s critical to know the typical lengths of books for the audience you are writing for. This post by Chuck Sambuchino lays it out really well. Exceptions do happen, but they’re rare—and after busting your butt for 30 days, you don’t want to approach querying from so narrow an angle as “maybe I’ll get lucky?”.

When agents see word counts that are egregiously low (or high) for their age group, it’s an automatic red flag. Search #querytip on Twitter and you’ll see tweets from a lot of frustrated agents getting books that radically deviate from standard word counts.

Learn all you can about your genre and target age group (and yes, they are different things). Go to the library and check out every book on publishing, even ones that don’t relate directly to what you’re working on (the more you can learn about the industry, the better). Get to know the ballpark word counts, and make sure yours fits. Don’t blow your chance with a dream agent by turning them off with word count.

(You’ll notice that in Chuck’s post, he says 50k is healthy for a MG book,—but you still shouldn’t query for reasons 2 and 3 below)

2. It’s a mess.

A lot of writers I see participating in NaNo know this already, but it’s worth discussing.

If J.K. Rowling wrote 50k in 30 days, she wouldn’t send it to her editor the next day. If [insert your favorite author here] wrote 50k in 30 days, they wouldn’t send it to their editor the next day. No way.

I promise you, I promise I’m not saying that because the writing is bad—but it’s probably not your best.

When you write so quickly and never look back, you miss things. You will call a character’s brother “Chad” in one chapter and “Charlie” in another. You’ll write a character walked out of a room, only to magically be back in the room a paragraph later. And how long was Aunt Martha’s hair in Chapter 2? Which side was the hot guy’s dimple on again? You may not remember—and that’s okay! Inconsistencies add up when you are not allowing yourself time to revise. I had more than a fair share of characters reappearing in rooms when I went to revise my NaNo project.

Be patient with yourself and with your work, and give it the time it deserves. This may mean 3 more drafts; maybe 10. You only get one shot to query—make sure your work is edited, revised, and polished to perfection before you ever hit “send”.

3. You need more than a manuscript to query.

But I wrote the darn thing! Yes, you wrote the darn thing. I will say once more that that accomplishment is big, special, and worth celebrating. You are worth celebrating.

However, you’ll need more than a manuscript to query.

Before you hit “send”, you should have an arsenal of materials at the ready, and then those materials should be formatted to the guidelines that apply to each agency. These guidelines are not the same for all agencies, so take your time to review the agency’s website and make sure what you’re sending them is what they want (and nothing else. If they want more, they will ask).

Things you should have at the ready:

  1. Manuscript
  2. Synopsis
  3. Query Letter

I also recommend having chunks of your MS saved—Chapters 1-3, the first 50 pages, etc.—as docs, so that you can more quickly assemble your emails to agents. Don’t forget to properly title your files with your book’s name as well as your own, lest your work be  in a swamp of docs called “NaNoWriMo2017_FINALFINALIdidit.docx”.

That’s all for now! Whether you hit your NaNo goal or not, I’m proud of you. Every day that you get in a chair and write out the story of your heart is a victory, and victories should be celebrated (just don’t celebrate with querying too fast)


How I Got My Agent: By The Numbers

Now, for a post I’ve been wanting to write for a long, long time—how I got my agent! I remember how interesting and inspiring it was to read other writers’ How I Got My Agent posts while I was querying, so I hope someone out there finds inspiration in mine.

A few useful terms:

ER= email rejection
PR= partial request
FR=full request
NR= no response
R&R= revise and resend

I wrote and queried two books before writing the one that got me my agent.

My First Two Books

Manuscript #1 -YA Fantasy

Total Queries Sent = 45
ER = 26
PR = 2
FR = 3
NR = 14

Time Spent Querying = 10 months

Manuscript #2 – YA Fantasy

Total Queries sent = 52
ER = 29
PR = 0
FR = 3
NR = 20

Time Spent Querying= 5 months

*Note: 5 months isn’t a long time to query before throwing in the towel. For me, I realized quickly that this wasn’t the MS that was going to take me anywhere, and my heart was already invested in the book I wanted to write next.

The Winner

Total queries = 27
ER with no requests made= 4
NR= 10
Partials= 0
Full Requests= 3 before notice of offer of rep; 6 after notice of offer of rep
FR to R&R= 1
FR to Offers of Rep = 3

Time Spent Querying: 5 months

The Takeaway

All things considered, the time it took between writing my manuscript to getting an offer was fairly quick. My first draft of the MS that got me signed was made on August 25, 2015. Six drafts later, I sent my first query on June 14, 2016. After just five months of querying, I received an offer of rep from Elana Roth Parker (woohoo!).

Ten months between writing a first draft and querying is pretty fast. I don’t necessarily recommend such a timeline if you MS is your first book ever. If it’s your first book, you’ll probably need more time to edit, revise, get feedback from your CPs, etc.

I only felt confident about querying when I did because a.) I was working part-time and using every waking second of my off hours to write/edit and b.) because I’d been through the querying process twice before—in other words, I’d been around the block and I knew when my book was as strong as I could make it. Don’t rush your MS, and don’t rush to query and/or enter Twitter contests without a complete, polished, perfected MS (and synopsis) at the ready.

I targeted agents I felt were a good fit for the book and for my career as a writer. Querying a lot like job hunting—you want to find an employer who you’ll enjoy working with as much as they enjoy working with you. Same goes for an agent. It’s better to have no agent than an agent whose goals and vision for the book don’t align with yours.

Lastly, I hope that everyone reading this knows that it’s standard procedure to notify all of agents you’ve queried (and are still waiting to hear from) once you’ve received an offer of rep. I sure did, and even though many of the responses were passes I got quite a few “thank you”s for sending those emails at all. Cement this into your brain now—BE SURE TO NOTIFY ALL THE AGENTS YOU’VE QUERIED ONCE YOU RECEIVE AN OFFER OF REP. This is keeps agents from spending time on an MS that’s already been scooped up. It’s also a cue to them to be all “hey, someone is interested in this book, maybe I should too.” And, it’s just polite.

So, there you have it. How do my querying numbers and times compare to yours? Got any burning questions about what my rejections said, or do you need tips on forging ahead in the query trenches? Let me know!


Writer Exercises: How Working Out Improves Your Writing

You’ve been at your desk since 9AM. The coffee’s gone cold, and the sparkle of inspiration that got you a thousand words on your WIP has become more of a sputter. You’re tired. You’re frustrated. That itch creeps up: “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

My best trick to beat that feeling? Get moving.

Go for a walk. Do some yoga. Go do your exercise of choice and let your creative side exhale. Devoting yourself to a non-writing related task for at least thirty minutes will help rid you of the negative “I-suck-at-this” feeling that comes with writer’s block.

For me, nothing is as potent as a good run. It gets me mentally and physically away from my desk, and with that distance comes clarity of how to move forward in my writing.

Exercise also helps you critique your own work. If you character goes through any sort of physical test in the course of your novel, it’s your responsibility as a writer to accurately convey how that feels. Is your protagonist running for his life? Lace up your sneakers and sprint for 30 seconds. What muscles are working? How do your lungs feel? Where on your body are you sweating? Little details are what give writing life.

Go one step further: it feasible for your character to sprint for minutes at a time? Katniss wouldn’t have lasted long if she worked a desk job and her fridge was full of pizza and beer. Be realistic about what your character can do physically.

The workout-then-write approach works for any genre. Writing about mermaids? Go for a swim. What does it sound like underwater? How does your hair move as you kick forward? If your story is set in a desert, take a few minutes and stand in the midday sun. Look around you. Does it hurt to keep squinting? Would your character have the luxury of sunscreen, or would they burn? Is there any wind to provide relief?

You want your writing to be an immersive experience for your readers, and that begins with immersive experiences.

Be an active writer. It’s good for your mind, good for your heart, and great for your novel.


‘Round the Nautilus: April 2016

Welcome to the first in a new blog series, ‘Round the Nautilus!

This monthly series is aimed at helping writers-who-are-readers set the spotlight on the most interesting book they read that month.

Note that I didn’t say books they liked best. This series is for books you can’t shut up about, good or bad. That may mean a new favorite novel, but it also may mean a bestseller that was a bit of a letdown. As long as blurbs are respectfully and tastefully written, they are more than welcome.

So without further ado, here is April 2016’s ‘Round the Nautilus:


Astonish Me
By Maggie Shipstead


A novel as sinewy in strength as its ballet dancers’ muscles. Shipstead tells a story of longing with a melancholic echo that rings for days in the heart. As a writer, the story of dashed hope and undying ambition rings painfully true as Shipstead’s protagonist comes to terms with her faults and failures.

—Amy Thomas




A Thousand Pieces of You
By Claudia Gray

Gray throws her readers into the plot, expertly supplementing en media res action with enough backstory to keep the reader from wandering. Each character, from the two protagonists down to the smallest sidekick, are so well-rendered that by the end I would have recognized them on the street. Gorgeous world building and sharp pacing: this book is a marvel.

—Shannon Price

If you are interested in joining ‘Round the Nautilus for May 2016, please send me a DM and I’ll be happy to fill you in on dates and details. All are welcome!

Photo Credits:
Astonish Me

Thousand Pieces of You –




AWP 2016 Recap


Last weekend I (and 11,999 of my closest literary friends) went to Los Angeles for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, aka AWP.

LA is not my favorite city to say the least – the sky outside the plane’s window got visibly darker as we descended into smog (ick).  Still, the location gave me a chance to wear some outfits that would have given me frostbite at last year in Minneapolis. As for the conference itself: that gave me much, much more.




For AWP 2015, I was part of a group of students representing the Santa Clara Review, Santa Clara University’s literary magazine.

This year, my time was split: I was there first and foremost for myself. As a writer polishing her third MS, my priority was attending panels to help sharpen my skills. Beyond that I wanted to attend talks about trends in publishing, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and (of course) how to secure representation.

The rest of my time was spent helping represent Counterpoint Press, where I currently work as an intern. It was exciting to see our titles – some of which I’d helped proofread or publicize – all lined up and ready to go.  Working the booth also meant I got to socialize with co-workers out of the office and meet some new ones (looking at you, Dan Smetanka.).

I also got to meet some of Counterpoint’s authors – John Jodzio, Tod Goldberg, and Brett Fletcher Lauer, to name a few. After seeing their names printed on galleys and press releases, it was surreal to shake the writers’ hands and tell them how much I enjoyed their work.



Last year’s panels did not blow me away. No matter the subject, panelists had a tendency to talk about themselves…and only themselves. I have a distinct memory of nodding off during a magical realism panel while my friend, already asleep, drooled on my shoulder. Turns out even magical realism can be made dull.

So for AWP16, I hedged my bets- and it worked. I went to twice as many panels and judged them using a very offical smiley face rating system.

The verdict: one frowny face, two “so-so” faces, and five big smiles.

The most instructive panel was title Treating Your Setting Like A Character. The panelists – Elizabeth Briggs, Jessica Love, Kathryn Rose, and Rachel Searles – divided up the sections of how they treat character and offered a stellar mix of personal anecdotes, recommendations for books that use setting intelligently, and useful questions a writer can ask themselves when developing setting. The result? A perfect panel that left me energized and inspired.

A Touch of Kismet

My AWP highlight came on Saturday morning (and pinch me here, because I’m still reeling that this actually happened), the last morning of the conference. While en route to a panel, I shared a taxi with a young woman who turned out to be Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management.

I write YA. She reps YA. We discovered this connection immediately, at which point Erin smiled introduced me to my new favorite word: kismet.

We got to talking, and I pitched her my books. She asked me about my writing background and my internship at Counterpoint. We joked about the strange vastness that is LA. When we parted ways – coincidentally, Erin was on the panel I was attending – I thanked her and promised to send my MS when it was ready.

Note: Thank you, Erin, for your kind words and listening ear. I throughly enjoyed meeting you; look for my query in the coming months!

Closing Thoughts

IMG_1750My experiences at AWP15 and AWP16 were radically different. I’ve grown as a person and a writer since Minneapolis, and it showed. This year I knew to bring business cards, ask better questions, and to take advantage of each aspect of the conference. In short, this year I felt like I belonged.

Attending a conference like AWP isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. My sleep schedule went out the window. My eating schedule went freely with it.

But in the end, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not the three days of living off coffee and free chocolate. Not the tired feet, or the dent in my bank account, or eating concessions on the bookfair floor (see left).

None of that matters because of the people I did it all with. I reconnected with former college professors, talked to alumni, and met dozens of publishing professionals who are just as in love with writing as I am. I learned about myself as a person, as a writer, and as a part of the writing community – all in the span of four days.

So thank you, AWP, for another staggeringly amazing time. As I said to my friends when we left the bookfair on Saturday evening: “Next year in Washington”.