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Success Story Interview - Naomi Rockler

An Interview with Naomi Rockler (EZippermeyer on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jim McCarthy of Dystel Goderich & Bourret LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Naomi Rockler:
SPELL is a contemporary middle-grade novel about a girl who places a spell on a spelling bee because she desperately wants to win. But the spell doesn’t go as planned. The contestants are given words to spell that reveal truths about themselves. This idea came to me when my daughter was a contestant in a middle school spelling bee and was given the word “perfectionism,” which is something she was struggling with. (Thankfully, she spelled it correctly!)
QT: How long have you been writing?
Naomi Rockler:
Forever? My mom unearthed a book I wrote and illustrated when I was six called, “The Bird That Gave the Money.” That’s the entire plot. A bird flies around and gives people money. As an adult, I’ve been writing novels for about twenty years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Naomi Rockler:
Spell started as my 2018 NaNoWriMo project. I’ve worked on it off and on since then, and did a heavy round of revisions in 2023.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Naomi Rockler:
I had an agent for a different middle-grade novel, and although she came close, she was unable to sell it. That didn’t make me want to give up, but the moment it became clear to me that she wasn’t going to sell it was exquisitely painful. I stayed on course by pivoting—I attempted to break into the kids’ nonfiction market, and that worked. I also started working heavily on Spell.
QT: Is this your first book?
Naomi Rockler:
I have three published nonfiction books for middle and high school students with ReferencePoint Press, and three more scheduled to be published. In addition to Spell, I also have four “drawer” novels, two for adults and two for middle-grade kids.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Naomi Rockler:
Not in a traditional sense. I used to be a professor and have a good deal of writing experience of various kinds. I have also taken courses at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, including a course in middle-grade fiction.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Naomi Rockler:
I did two major revisions and countless smaller ones.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Naomi Rockler:
I have a wonderfully supportive writing group who read a previous draft and lots of revised chapters. I also worked with a successful middle-grade novelist, who gave me valuable feedback.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Naomi Rockler:
I usually start out with a detailed outline or synopsis, and adjust it as I go along.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Naomi Rockler:
I feel very lucky with Spell—and very privileged to be represented by Jim McCarthy. I started querying at the end of January and had an offer of representation at the end of April. But I’ve queried other books in the past, and it did not go this smoothly.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Naomi Rockler:
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Naomi Rockler:
I was looking for agents who represented contemporary middle-grade (preferably a lot of it), who appreciated magical realism and books that were a little quirky.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Naomi Rockler:
Honestly, I did less of this than when I queried past projects. If there was an obvious tie-in—like the agent represented a comp—then I mentioned this.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Naomi Rockler:
Getting an agent is hard. It’s like applying to an Ivy League school in that the amount of competition is mind-blowing. Since you can’t control this, work on what you can control. Write something amazing, and revise based on as much quality feedback as you can get. And if this is your dream, don’t give up

Query Letter:

Dear Mr. McCarthy,

A spell on the spelling bee? What could go wrong?

I am writing to seek representation for SPELL, a quirky contemporary middle-grade novel with elements of magical realism. My completed manuscript is about 50,000 words long.

Twelve-year-old Bess Spelling wants to be in the spotlight for a change—and that’s why she’s dying to be in the spelling bee. Ever since her dad left, she feels invisible. No one even notices that she’s been casting spells from her great-grandmother’s magic cookbook.

Bess takes the spelling bee preliminary exam and gets a perfect score! But then her brother Asher—who’s obsessed with being a spelling champion—demands that she drop out. In a fit of rage, Bess casts a Success spell on the spelling bee to help her win. But she accidentally casts an Honesty spell. The spelling bee is cancelled because the contestants are given words that reveal embarrassing truths about themselves. Then the spell leaks into the school, and chaos ensues when students and teachers can’t stop speaking honestly. Bess needs to find a way to break the spell and save the school—and find her way to the spotlight.

I am the author of three published middle-grade nonfiction books with ReferencePoint Press, including Understanding Consent and Boundaries: Dating and Relationships in the #MeToo Era. I am under contract with ReferencePoint for three more books that will be published in Fall 2024. In addition, I am a former communication professor and an experienced educational freelance writer.

Thank you kindly for your consideration.


Naomi Rockler