What to do When You’re Done

Wall of text incoming; wear protective gear.

You’re finished your manuscript. You’ve put it away, and you’ve done extensive revisions. It’s ready. You’re pretty sure it’s ready for the hunt for an agent. What do you do now?

This is partly what I did, and also partly what I learned while in the querying process.

Step One – Make Sure.

Get three beta readers.

Look for people who don’t sugar coat the bitter truth, and who also point out what’s good. When you get them, tell them that it’s okay if they quit reading, but ask them to tell you where they quit reading if they lose interest in the book, and why, because that information is gold. Use a format that will allow them to comment on your work directly in the file, so a .doc or .docx file, or a set of files in a cloud document service like google docs.

Consider the feedback. Make a list of problems based on what the beta readers say, but take any suggestions to fix the problems with heavy consideration. Do ANOTHER revision and edit pass based on their feedback.

Step Two – Query and Synopsis

I am so sorry for this next part.

Write a synopsis of your work that fits on a single page of paper when written in Times New Roman 12 Point, single spaced. Getting this right will probably take you about 6 weeks if not longer. Something that might help you is to plug your book into the 9 Box Plot Outline Tool and then use those nine points as the skeleton of your synopsis.

Write the heart of your query letter, the “pitch,” which is about 100 to 250 words long, but the closer to 100 words, the better. This is possible, even with a complicated book. Query letters are some of the most difficult writing you will ever do. Expect getting your query letter to satisfactory after about 2 months of work.

This is a painful and frustrating process. It’s okay. Most everyone hates it. And I’m going to tell you something potentially painful: if you can’t manage to write a query letter with an intriguing, active character who is facing an interesting setting and its obstacles while pursuing a goal that has terrible and personal consequences for failure…it might be that you have to go back to the drawing board with your book.

I’ve seen a number of query letters where my feedback is, “This character seems passive. what actions do they take that ignite the story and start the forces of conflict to stop your protagonist?” or “These stakes seem a little flat. What are the external effects and the personal failure inherent in the consequences?” If these questions have disappointing answers, the problem is likely in the manuscript.)

Step Three – Agent Research

Okay, while you’re doing that, it’s also time look for an agent who will represent your work to the big five.

Get together a list of 50 – 100 agents who represent the genre and age category of the book you have written. Every single agent gets a ton of letters from people who don’t pay attention to guidelines, and they reject them outright. You don’t want this happening to you.

Look into their clients, and the sales they’ve made, and make sure they match up with your decisions about how you want to run your career. Some of the agents on your list will be established, and some will be new. Both choices are good, but they have different advantages.

Look not just at the agent, but the agency they’re with. Do they have someone who handles subsidiary rights like foreign language translations, audiobook rights, and tv/movies? Is that a direction you’d like to have a chance with for your book? Do they have a self-pub arm to help you go hybrid, if that’s part of what you want to do? There’s a lot to consider.

Look at the agent’s deals and who those deals are with. If you dream of being published by a certain publisher, you might want to look for evidence that the agent has a connection with that publisher – but no deals doesn’t necessarily mean no connection.

You can use a spreadsheet and DIY but I used querytracker. I paid for the premium service and I found it incredibly useful. When recording your list of potential agents, you want to list agents you’d like to query, be able to check their guidelines, whether you have a sub out, and what became of it. I did a list of 50 agents. Other people say that’s not enough. You get to decide how many you will try.

Step Four – Test Your Query

From that list of agents, find ten who are currently open to subs. Query them, obeying the instructions for how to query based on the research you did. (This may seem obvious to you, but I’m not kidding–about 10% of total queries follow the guidelines correctly. The rest are rejected outright. You’ll have an edge if you take care of the details.) Pick a variety of agents of varying levels of experience, and here’s why – you’re testing your query letter, synopsis, and pages.

Now wait for responses. Did you get a partial or full request from any of these agents? No? Revise your query, have a reader look at your first 5 pages. Don’t pick somebody nice. Pick someone who will tell you flat out what’s wrong. Whatever they tell you, look for those same problems in the entire manuscript, and revise. (I revised my manuscript during the querying process. it happens. it’s OK.)

Did you get a partial request? Great. Your query and your pages are probably good, but you might want to give it a polish, depending on what your rejections said. Query 3 – 5 agents a week. Did you get a full? Up your query rate a little. Did you get more than one request? You’re hot, my friend. Go for more, and be daring.

Step Five – Get to Work On Your Next Book

Somewhere in the midst of all this, start working on your next book. You need to do this. It’ll keep your mind off the bewildering process of querying agents, and you’ll have another book to talk to your prospective agent about when the time comes.

But write another book, and maybe think about writing it to a reasonable deadline, and consider it practice for when you’re writing a book because you have a contract and a deadline to go with it. Depending on genre, you might get a year to complete another manuscript. But you might get less – a lot of romance publishers work on a very tight schedule, for example.

The Second Book – Should it be a sequel to your first book?

This is controversial. I’m going to say it won’t hurt to do the planning for the sequel in detail, producing a solid outline so you have a head start on the sequel if they request it. (if you got multiple requests from the first test, and you’re the gambling type, you might want to take the chance and write it.)

But if you can, write a totally different book that is part of the career path you want. It doesn’t hurt to have a second book in your pocket for multiple contingencies… but be sure it’s in a genre that you can see yourself writing for the next ten years if that book hits.

Step Six – Camp Your Name on the Internet, and Wait

Secure your author name’s domain. You can do this fairly cheaply. I did it with WordPress, but there are other choices. Also camp your name on Patreon, if you haven’t already. If you’re doing promo and marketing online, secure your name on your social media platforms of choice. If you hear of a new one, get your name on it. Do it now, even if you’re not ready to do anything with them.

But now you’re querying, working on a new book, securing your social media. Have patience. Agents read potential client manuscripts when they get time. I waited months for responses. That might happen to you too.

Step Seven, Happy Ending Version – the Offer

You got an offer? OH GOOD! Now hit your spreadsheet and tell everyone who has a query that you have an offer of rep, and that you’re looking to give an answer in two weeks. Most of these agents will congratulate you and step aside, but some will quickly read your MS and decide to offer or not. You could have multiple offers of representation, but this doesn’t always happen.

Now you decide: who are you going to sign with? Ask for a copy of the agreement from every agency who offers rep. Check out their terms. Use this as a part of your decision on who to sign – not all agencies have the same agreements. Know what you’re agreeing to on paper.

Step Seven, Maybe Not so Happy – Time to Move On

Maybe you don’t get an offer of rep for this book. Gosh, this sucks. I am so sorry.

That’s why you’re working on your next book. Get back on that horse, friend. Many writers write multiple books before they get an offer of rep. Here’s the thing about people who get published – they didn’t give up.


Two Books without Music: My Persnickety Playlist Needs

There’s something really unusual about the creation process of both Witchmark and its sequel, Stormsong: they were mostly written in silence. I’m usually a playlist maker. I usually write to music, a habit that sparks debate among writers about whether sound or silence is the better environment.

Now with my fanfic, I was forever making soundtracks to go with them, music that characterized the setting, the characters, specific scenes. Some of them could play for hours without a single repeat. But I never really found the sounds that matched with Kingston, and I never took the time to really search out a list. Early Jazz Age music sort of fit, but I was always hoping for something more atmospheric. I never settled on anything, and so I wrote two books without music to go with them.

But right at the end of Stormsong, I realized that I needed music to help me set the tone of the final scenes (no spoilers.) and so I took a few days to try and find music that fit my criteria:

  • No vocalists singing lyrics I can understand.
  • Music that prompts and supports a certain mood appropriate for the setting.
  • A collection of songs that fit together seamlessly, or have a strong reason to change the tone
  • Music that fit this setting’s feeling of danger, disorientation, menace, and profound wonder.

Naturally, I started with movie score music and video game score music, orchestrally arranged. Tempo is generally around Andante, so not too fast or frantic. And it had to fit that dreamy, dangerous feeling I’m looking for to go with the imagery on my (top secret!) pinboard. (well. It’s not really top secret.)
I’ve barely gotten started, but here’s the spotify playlist. If you have any recommendations, give me a shoutout on twitter!

Doing it backwards

plot arc backwards (1)

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to yoke your Character arc to the external plot. When I’m planning, I have a series of questions I ask myself when I’m making sure that I have the right character for the shiny plot idea I figured out, but when I’m making sure that the arc hangs together and makes sense, I run the progression backwards to make sure everything is connected.

The #onebookjuly Challenge!

I had mentioned in my previous post that I was a bit of a journal junkie. And I thought I had made my peace with that. I thought I had a system. I had my bullet journal, my morning pages journal, and my commonplace book. You know all this; I just wrote a post about it.

But a minute after I made that post, I hit upon this hashtag: #onebookjuly. And I thought, Oh? What’s that?

Well. The idea is that you start the month of July with the basics:

One Book. One Pen. See where it takes you.

And I read that, and thought to myself, Oh hecking darn. Because that’s what I originally wanted, was one book to rule them all hold everything – my planner details, my journal, my commonplace quotes. And here was this challenge, daring me, double-dog daring me to do it. Could I resist this challenge? No way! I would do it! One book, all of July! Let’s see if I really do need a multiple book system! So I agonized over which book would be my One Book. It took a while, but I ultimately decided to use my Scribbles That Matter A5 notebook:

I made the choice because it’s the best journal of the bunch – all the thoughtful details of a Leuchtturm 1917, plus a few more on top of that, with the GSM 100 paper of a Rhodia webnotebook. If any journal in my collection was up to the challenge of being my everything book, my STM was it.

But I had another problem, and I lay the blame squarely on Goulet Pens having Inkapalooza and putting their ink samples on wicked sale! I bought a double handful and they are making their way to me now, and I had planned on sampling them by writing my commonplace quotes and morning pages in different ink, while holding on to the all-black minimalism of my bullet journal.

But now I’m set to go one book, but I have all this ink…

So I decided to compromise by flipping my usual habits. Instead of multiple books, I would use one. And instead of one pen, I would use many. And to celebrate that, I created bullet journal spreads! I spent a ridiculous amount of time on these.

First, I made a 6 month log, and wrote down all my deadlines and scheduled my major projects:

6 mo log

I decided to make everything pop a little bit by making my saturdays and sundays red. Anything with a gray highlighter is a serious deadline/commencement date. I have timed everything carefully, so I can work on project A, come to a natural stopping point, and then work on project B.

Then I decided to do something a little different for my monthly 2 page spread:

july 2017 spread

Goals is new. Right justifying the dates was just to shake things up.

And now something I’m not sure I’ll keep: a weekly spread (this one has 8 days, just because Singleton Saturday makes me sad.)

my 8 day week

I saw that manner of separating the page with the cursive and the “steady hand” underline and I loved it so much, I wished I used weeklies. So I thought I could try it, and see if it works for me.

So that’s my journal challenge for July! Are you trying anything new with your journal this month?

Daily Logging – a 30 Day BulletJournal Experiment

Maybe you’re one of those people, who… even though we have moved beyond pen and paper for our everyday communications, there are some of us who linger over the notebook section in the bookstore (is it me, or is that section getting bigger and bigger?) and pick one to take home, start writing in it, and then…stop. And then another store. And then another notebook. And this time, it’ll be different.

It’s okay. You can tell me. I’m staring at my notebook collection, propped between the edge of my monitor and my SAD lamp, and there are five notebooks there: A Rhodia Web Notebook in black (lined,) a cheery yellow Scribbles that Matter A5, and three A5-sized Leuchtturm 1917’s: One black, one gray, and one in silver. (the silver one is still in the wrap, though. Does that count?)

I might have a problem.

journal collection

Last month I vowed I would do something about my notebook problem. I, like many notebook addicts, discovered by one means or another the Bulletjournal system made popular by Ryder Carrol, and thought, “This is it. This is what I’ve been looking for all along.”

So I ran out and bought the first Leuchtturm 1917 (the black one.) And I began it with all the best intentions. But I found that I made choices I wasn’t happy with later, so along came the new Leuchtturm, this time in gray, where I made a few commitments – 95% black ink, minimalist, simple. I began on Jan 01, promptly messed up my future log, spent time drawing a monthly spread and a weekly spread I NEVER used, and then dwindled off using it on Jan 12.

I tried again, and again, but it wasn’t working for me. And then I realized: I don’t need a planner. I need a log. My urge is to relate what I did, not anticipate what I would do. I’m depressed. I’m anxious. I probably have ADD and no one noticed when I was young. I have to have multiple reminders of appointments set to go off automatically at various intervals, or I will forget that I had a thing I needed to do. I am not a planner. I’m a recorder.

So, why not record what I did, to build a journaling habit?

That was it. I was onto something. I needed a quick logging system where I could track what I did each day, and even sneak in “oh yeah, you have to do this today” on the page to start building up planning habits. I wanted a format that was minimalist, intuitive, and attractive.

So I went with a time ladder. This is what it looks like, filled out:

time ladder may 27-28 2017

I actually started in May, but decided to take an entire month to try it out. I had a debate over the layout – should I write each day as it comes, with journal entries between, or do a solid block of daily ladders for the week, and then journal on the pages afterwards?

My tentative conclusion: a week’s worth of dailies all at once and journal entries after is the way to go for me. It organizes nicely in the index, though I now wish I had three ribbons so I could mark my monthly log, the current day, and the first open spot for journaling.

Update: SOLUTION! I used one of my index dots to mark the monthly spread, and then I can ribbon the other two!

I like it. I like using the full page to log my whole day. I like my black ink and block capital lettering. I like the journal entries in between, recording my thinking process about my book, which still doesn’t have a title. I might try to include a task list or something, once I’m solidly in the habit of logging my days.

Coming up in future entries: Meet my Commonplace Book and my Morning Pages.

My Knitting Attention Span is Terrible

Up there is the beginnings of a very simple shawl – once you get past the fiddly cast on, it’s the definition of mindless. Stockinette in the round, with very occasional increase rounds, to make a huge circle out of any yarn you want.

I chose a cashmere laceweight yarn for mine, but you can use whatever you like if you want to join me in the glorious mindless knitting.


Using Emily Ocker’s beginning or Magic Circle, cast on 9 sts. Distribute on 3 DPNs.

Knit 1 round.

Increase row 1: k, yo to end of round. 18 sts. Knit 3 rounds.

Increase row 2: k, yo to end of round. 36 sts. Knit 6 rounds.

Increase row 3: k, yo to end of round. 72 sts. Knit 12 rounds.

Increase row 4: k, yo to end of round. 144 sts. Knit 24 rounds.

Increase row 5: k, yo to end of round. 288 sts. Knit 48 rounds.

Increase row 6: k, yo to end of round. 576 sts. Knit 96 rounds.

If you’re working something huge:

Increase row 7: k, yo to end of round. 1152 sts. Knit up to 192 rounds.


When you have about 20-30% of your yarn left, or if knitting one more round in stockinette makes you want to scream, it’s time to think about your border.

You can finish with seed stitch, garter in the round, a lace border like old shale, a knitted on lace border (and if you do that, you can ignore the bind-off), or an I-cord bind off.


You can stop where you would do an increase round, or when your circle is big enough. Have enough yarn for 4 more rounds of knitting when you stop, because it’s a doozy:

Penultimate round: k1, kfb.

Final round: bind off. The increases will keep the edge from puckering.

I’m Attending a Conference!

I am attending When Words Collide in Calgary, Alberta, from August 11-13, 2017!

I’ll be seeing panels and doing barcon as an attendee. I’m looking forward to attending Taxes For Creative Folk, The Book of Sensations, and Worldbuilding the Lazy Bastard Way.

I won’t have any swag, but I will have business cards, and they’re useful as bookmarks.

Nine Things I Try to Do When I Feel Creatively Drained

  1. I declare a vacation. Usually about a week long. I don’t look at any of my work during that week.
  2. I get out my paper journal and pen and I write in it every day. I just brain-dump, all my complaints and worries and selfish egotistical thoughts. I’m writing to purge myself of the crap that has built up.
  3. And then I read. I read every day. I read in my genre for one story, and then outside of my genre for one story. I’ve been catching up on “great” modern novels this year, but I’ve also been reading historical fiction, mystery, romance, and YA. I catch book recommendations from Stephen King, who hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
  4. I write about what I’ve read. Just free-form stuff about what I like, don’t like, what it sparks in me. It’s all private so I can write whatever I really think; no one is going to look at it anyway
  5. I go out of my way to enjoy art. A gallery or museum visit, getting lost in the met’s website, I listen to genres of music I don’t usually listen to every day but still enjoy. I look for award winning or classic film, but if what I want to watch is Captain America, well then okay.
  6. I read nonfiction. I should read more nonfiction, but honestly I have to be interested or need it for future projects. I read biographies rarely, but I will read about a period of history or something on a subject that fascinates me.
  7. I listen to podcasts. There are literally thousands of them. google “podcast (subject) and you’re likely to find something.
  8. If I get an idea while i’m refilling, i will scribble it down in a bunny folder, but I won’t immediately leap on it to make a story. I need seven ideas for a story, so acting too quickly won’t help…
  9. …But if I get mugged by an idea, then I follow it. getting an idea is one thing. you can scribble it down and forget about it. but sometimes a story comes in and it’s like…I don’t know. an entity. it’s got a setting I can see and characters who were born like Athena and things are happening that I need to write down. There’s no room in my brain for anything else, and I’m compelled to record what I see.