What I’ve Learned from Querying so Far- A Guest Post by Jessica Jade

Pen Friends, welcome Jessica Jade, a fabulous addition to the Spinning Pen. She’ll be joining us for a few months, sharing her journey on becoming an author — tips on writing, querying, YA fantasy, rejection, success, book reviews, and more! You’ll want to connect with her on twitter (link below) and see her beautiful novel aesthetics on her YA fantasy that she’s querying at the moment!

~~Welcome Jessica~~

When I first started querying over two years ago, I thought I was ready—the manuscript, the query letter, everything.

Oh, I was wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.


Right before that unfortunate round of querying, I applied for PitchWars 2015. Didn’t get a single request. Perhaps I’d picked the wrong mentors to submit to, or perhaps my story just really wasn’t their cup of tea. But I couldn’t let that get me down. Nope! I had to persevere.


So I queried 16 agents, and not surprisingly, received 16 rejections (there was one request for a partial, but that ultimately turned into a pass).


Obviously something wasn’t working with my query or my first pages (spoiler alert: all of the above). In the meantime, I reached out to a couple of beta readers. One was super supportive and positive, the other was…harsh–but that might be an understatement. She pretty much didn’t like anything about the story. My precious characters! The plot! The pacing! The setting! The dialogue tags! The repetitious body language descriptions!



I cried. Threw a tantrum (of the private, in my home, and offline variety). Flippantly tried to attribute her opinions to subjectivity and—in my wounded arrogance—ignorance about what makes a good novel. But a nagging little voice in my head kept whispering there was probably some truth in what she’d said, especially amid all the rejection I’d already faced.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t begin to work out solutions for the problems in my story. I was too burnt out. So…I took a year off (long story) to gain some perspective. Instead of obsessing over what was wrong with my story and how to fix it, I focused on family. Learned how to cook a bunch of new recipes (hummus in a blender! Life changing!) Read a whole lot. Then I came back to my story with fresh eyes and realized that super harsh beta reader was 95% right. After I threw myself a pity party, and steeled myself with all the positive encouragement from the other beta reader, I tore my manuscript apart and chucked my query. I delved into revisions, despaired in my incompetence, rejoiced in my progress, then despaired some more over whatever plot hole I couldn’t figure out, but eventually felt like I’d fixed most of the issues.



Then came PitchWars 2017. History repeated itself. No requests (and I even had 2 extra mentors!). Pitprom…same. Author Mentor Match actually came with some bites, but I wasn’t chosen as a mentee.

So I found more readers and critique partners. 13 of them, actually. I also entered pretty much every query and first pages critique drawing available on Twitter, and was super lucky. Finally, after all that toiling over revisions and integrating feedback from various readers and editors, I felt like my manuscript was ready.

But something about my query still felt off. I sent it to a writer friend (Nova, a member of The Spinning Pen team), who’d read the query before she read my manuscript, for a last pass.

Her feedback was exactly what I needed. She explained how the story she thought she was getting based on the query was completely different from the one she got when she read my manuscript. I’d captured the basics of the plot well, but had somehow missed the actual heart of the story—that the story was so much more than what I’d described in the query. And then she had to tell ME—you know, the writer of said story—what the heart of the story was.



But you know what? That changed everything.

I revised my query letter and started querying more agents. And guess what? It’s already gone so much better than my first round of querying. Yeah, there have been some rejections already too, and it’s totally possible some of the requests might eventually turn into rejections as well, but at least I am now confident (not deluded like before) I have a query that works.

So here are the lessons:

  • Don’t rush it. The drafting, the revising, the readers, nothing.
  • Sit on your manuscript and your query letter for a few weeks—maybe a few months—then come back to it with fresh eyes after each revision.
  • Find your people! Those readers and critique partners? They’re invaluable. Even if they might not like certain aspects of your story, they’re your support system. They’re there to help you make your story (and query) the best it can be.
  • Find your Nova (someone who will tell you whether not your query captures the heart of your story). You know…in case you somehow don’t know it yourself.
  • Make sure the query letter and first pages are so sparkly and shiny you can see your reflection in them.
  • Spreadsheet the heck out of agent/agency manuscript wishlists and submissions instructions (next time I’ll share the craziness that is my spreadsheet).
  • Personalize those queries whenever you can.
  • And send away! Query in batches every few weeks so you can judge how successful your query letter and first pages are, and query widely.



(cue Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical).

  • Finally, don’t give up. Maybe your current manuscript isn’t the one that will get you an agent, nor the one that gets you published, but you’ll 100% never get an agent or become a published author if you throw in the towel.

Best of luck to all of you who are in, or will soon be, in the query trenches! Please share what you’ve learned about querying with us J.

Jessica, signing off.




Prompt: The Tree


No one knew what was under the tree except me…


Finish this prompt in 300 words or less. Post your prompt in the comments below or email it to us! We would love to read it!



Nova, signing off.

Teen Participation:



Photo by Brandon Green on Unsplash

How to Read Like a Writer


If you’ve hung around here at The Spinning Pen at all, you’ll know a fun fact about us that isn’t very surprising: we all LOVE to read.

Last week, Caleb talked about the Reading Only Challenge he’s embarking on, and I thought I would add a little writing tip to go along with his fantastic idea. Missed his post? Check it out at the link above.

The Most Common Writing Tip I’ve Heard

When you move into the Writing Neighborhood, you start to hear things about best practices, strategies, and tools to help you become a better writer. After going to conferences and reading blogs for a number of years now, I’ve noticed patterns of advice that crop up. And here’s one that comes up more than just about anything else when someone asks how to become a better writer:

Continue reading

The Reading Only Challenge

Not the catchiest challenge title, I know, but I think it gets the point across. This challenge is pretty straightforward: stop watching Netflix, log off social media, and start reading.

I already lost about half of you. To the other half, thanks for sticking around to at least read why anyone would do something so preposterous. But you’ve been warned- you’re about to be challenged to do something that will benefit your writing career more than anything you’ve tried yet, and it’s not going to be easy.

“How will this help me?”…

…you might ask. Good question.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King.

That’s a quote from one of those authors a few of you might know. Chances are, you already knew reading was a good way to become a better writer. But if you’re like me, then you also don’t read as much as you should. You might say something (also like me) like…

“I don’t have time to read.” – Every other writer.

That might be valid, but only at a glance. The truth is, we all have snatches of time here and there, but we spend them on social media and Netflix. Maybe you only have 30 minutes between classes, 15 minutes on the subway home, or 20 minutes between dinner and when you need to get to bed. Those bite-sized amounts of time are consumed by Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr to name a few. Why not spend these 15-30 minutes gaps reading a chapter or two of a novel?


That’s not even including the times when we hunker down and watch a few episodes of The Walking Dead or New Girl. Those 30 min or even 2-hour gaps are absolutely crucial. If you used all the time you spent watching Netflix to read books, you would see an increase in the quality of your writing almost immediately.

“But Caleb, reading takes energy now-a-days. I can’t focus! I just want to relax.” – Possibly You

That’s exactly how I felt when I first started this. My mind kept drifting off and thinking about other things- did I hear my phone go off? Did I remember to respond to the comment on my Instagram? Man, I’m hungry…

The truth is, reading isn’t like it used to be. We aren’t kids anymore. The world got fast and complicated, and now we have to keep up. The rabbit-hole nature of the internet has shortened our attention spans and limited our focus.

So here’s my advice- TRY! I’ve been doing this challenge for about a week, and I have already felt the results! I can focus longer each time, and I look forward to when I can crack open my book and escape for a while to another world. This is drastically different than when reading was a chore on my checklist. How did this happen? Well, when you don’t have the instant gratification (I know, I hate that phrase too) of social media and the binge-y qualities of Netflix, reading becomes the best form of entertainment available!


“Something amazing happens when you keep reading. The magic returns, and you feel like a kid again.” – Caleb.

Cheesy? Absolutely. True? Absolutely-er.

The truth is, reading lengthens your attention span and improves your ability to focus. This has transferred into many aspects of my life, namely my studies! Calculus 2 problems that take 15 minutes a pop seem manageable, and reading my textbook is actually not that bad. But more important than that…

“Reading improves your ability to write. You develop a keen ear for how your genre should sound.” – Caleb.

I know writers that, when you read their work, it feels like you’re reading writing. Reading should never sound like writing, it should sound like a story. Truthfully, I’m guilty of this too sometimes, especially since I’ve been slacking on reading. But now, just after a week of reading about an hour a day, I already feel like I have a better understanding of how to capture that magical essence of a story.

“So what’s the actual challenge?”- You.

I haven’t made the challenge official, but I’m thinking of doing it in March (comment what you think). But until then, here’s your “free trial” if you will…

  • Log out of Netflix for a week
  • Log off all social media for a week
  • Block YouTube on your computer/delete it from your phone
  • Read 30 mins – 1 hour a day (or however much you can manage)
  • Sit back and enjoy the results

Obviously, there are a few small exceptions (like if you manage accounts for your work). For those, I would say to do only what you must, then log off before you get sucked in.

Well, I hope you all give this challenge a shot! If you already read, awesome! Keep doing it. For the rest of us, I would love to hear how this affects your life!






Until next time! – Caleb Robinson

Author Interview: Gloria Chao

Pen Friends ~ The Lovely Debut Author of American Panda is our guest today! Welcome, Gloria Chao! Her first book, American Panda will be out very very soon, and you can get the inside scoop!

77dfoo2T_400x400.jpgSP: Hi Gloria! Thanks for joining us. First, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

GC: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so excited to be a part of your wonderful blog! I’m a young adult author based in Chicago, and I’ve been writing for the past five years. I write contemporary stories featuring Taiwanese-American teens struggling with identity, always with humor because life and books are so much more fun with some laughs. Continue reading

Write A Novel Workshop 2018 & Travel Writing Contest

Pen Friends ~ Nova, here. In today’s post I wanted to share a) exciting news b) an international writing contest where you can make a difference c) a final note of encouragement…OK? Thanks!

Write a Novel 2018 Nova

This year, in May, I’ll host an International
Write A Novel Workshop 
In Chengdu, China…
Lorie Langdon & Carey Corp
& Self-Published Amazon #1 Best Seller, Laura Frances, & Upcoming Debut author, Ellen McGinty!!

Check workshop details @ WRITE A NOVEL 2018


*This idea has been brewing in me for a couple years now, and wow, it feels good to see an idea become reality!

As for the amazing international opportunity, look down.

Extravagant Yak Travel Contest 2Free trip to Tibet by writing a 1-2 page story on the theme of transformation? Too good to be true?(It’s legit–I helped organize the contest.) The men who run Extravagant Yak Travel are my dear friends. I can’t express how awesome they are and how much they do for local Tibetans. The winner (s) get a pretty sweet deal and by just entering YOU get to help Tibetans too! So if you have a story to tell, get on it! They want to hear and spread it! You just might end up on the roof of the world!

Check it out @ Extravagant Yak


Friends, there is a right time for everything–for your writing breakthrough, to find your agent, for your novel to come into the world, for it to cross oceans….& for fun writerly challenges, contests, & projects. For those of us crazy enough to dive into the writing & publishing world, I want to say, Don’t give up. Good & right things take time. You’re strong enough. Just keep going. Just keep writing. Keep querying. Your time will come!

Happy writing!


Nova, signing off.


Does Your Protagonist Have To Be Likeable? Guest Post by Aisha Tritle

feedback protagonist photo

“She gets on my nerves…”

A reviewer wrote this about the protagonist of my first novel, Occidis. Nice, huh?

I’ve also received feedback from many readers who appreciate the very characteristics of the protagonist, Sophia, that seem to annoy others.

Several writers that I know have experienced this same situation. It’s hard to create a main character that everyone in your audience will fully appreciate. For every person who goes for the classic supernaturally athletic and brave protagonist with the aesthetic of an undiscovered model, there’s going to be a person wishing for someone who wasn’t quite so athletic or brave or ridiculously attractive.

But does every protagonist need to be likable? Continue reading