Very wise advice today from Julie Dao. I can't really say it better so just read it and keep some Kleenex nearby. Congrats, Julie! The hardest fought victories are the sweetest.
If you’re like most writers seeking publication, you’ve probably read a ton of “how-I-got-my-agent” stories. And when you’re struggling in the Query Trenches, desperate for one – just one! – damn sign from the universe that you’re not trying in vain, most of the stories seem to go like this:
“I sent out ten queries and got The Call!”
“I queried for a month and ended up with fifteen offers!”
“I entered a contest and my agent picked me right away!”
This is not that kind of story.
Like many, I started writing at a young age, and after college, I decided I’d never be truly happy without it. So in the years that followed, I wrote five novels. I got lots of encouragement: a story I posted online won awards; a rough draft I entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards beat out thousands to become a quarterfinalist; and a great agent asked me to query her after she read my blog.
Still, nothing REAL happened. “REAL” meaning that ultimate writer’s fairy tale like the ones I’d read, where I’d casually send out a query or two and immediately have agents rioting in the streets of Manhattan for me.
In 2012, I wrote ELEGY, the book of my heart. I poured everything I had into it. I lived, breathed, and dreamed it. Every second I got, I tinkered with it.
When I took it out into the world, there was a lot of fanfare.
My CPs swore up and down that this would be THE BOOK. I got accepted into every contest I entered: Pitch Wars, Cupid’s Literary Connection, and The Writer’s Voice. Suddenly, agents who were way out of my league sat up and took notice. For every three queries I sent, I would get 1-2 full requests. I had an 80% request rate at one point – crazy odds for a girl who’d queried one other book prior and gotten nothing but crickets.
But that was where the fairy tale began fizzling out. I racked up rejection after rejection. I spent even more time fixing and polishing. I sent new drafts to my CPs, who are all angels, because anyone else would have clawed my eyes out after having to read 1284721 versions of the same book.
FINALLY, something happened. An agent emailed, asking: “Can we talk on the phone?” But all of my happy dancing was for naught, because it was just a revise-and-resubmit (R&R) call. *Sad trombone: waaah, waaah, waaaaaaaaahhhh* Still, I was excited – this was a door open! The agent had very extensive revisions, but I knew I could handle them. And when a second agent called me, asking for similar fixes, I knew I HAD to try.
Six months later (yes, SIX), I finished the revision. I asked everyone who had my full whether they wanted the new draft, and they all said yes. I turned it in to the two R&R agents, and the first one responded within minutes, telling me how excited she was.
A week later, she emailed again. At first my brain couldn’t figure out why she’d included words like “unfortunately,” “a lot to love, but...” and “further revision.” But then I realized that after all that time and effort, I still wasn’t getting an offer from her. And, right after that email came in, I got five rejections from people I’d been crossing my fingers for.
It was a crushing blow. I think the worst part was knowing how close I had come: close enough to expect an offer, close enough for busy agents to call and help me fix my book. Close, but STILL not there.
They say you need a thick skin in this business, but even a thick skin can wear down over time. So in January, after a dozen more rejections (and silence from the second R&R agent, who, as it turns out, had left the business), I threw in the towel, even though I still had fulls out.
I was unhappy and discouraged, and I felt more so every time I heard about someone else getting signed within hours/days/weeks. I had been trying for YEARS. I felt like a fraud, and I felt like I wasn’t talented or deserving enough. At last, everyone who had ever mocked my dream – including my own father – had been proven right.
It was a dark time, but I told myself I wasn’t *really* giving up. I was just taking time off to remember how much I loved this. So I joined Wattpad and happily started writing an awesome new story, hoping to build a readership to encourage myself.
That was when The Call came, on a bleak February afternoon when eight feet of snow coated the sidewalks. I returned from a meeting to find a voicemail from an AWESOME agent, one of those “way-out-of-my-league” agents. I had never even dared to query her, and she only had ELEGY because she’d requested it through #PitMad the year before.
I tried to protect myself and temper my expectations by saying, “It’s gonna be another R&R,” but that stupid, stubborn heart of mine insisted on hoping. This time, it didn’t hope in vain, because that awesome agent asked me to be one of her clients.
I spent a week and a half nudging everyone else, and within days I got a second offer of representation from Writers House.
There was a lot of crying during this time – a lot of joy and heartache and relief. I was at my lowest point in January, convinced that I’d never even get close to seeing my book on a shelf. And in a few weeks’ time, I had somehow bagged two unbelievable offers.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t give up even if it seems hopeless right now. If things get to be too much, take a step back. Stop reading other people’s agent fairy tales, because we all have different timelines and there’s simply no rhyme or reason to it. You’ll go nuts trying to figure that stuff out. Breathe. Write something for YOU. Remember how much you love this, and always, always keep your chin up and keep going.
Oh, and I ended up signing with the awesome agent who offered first, Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency!
Julie C. Dao is a native New Englander who once studied to become a doctor – until she realized the only surgery she should be doing is revising her manuscripts. Though she is anything but a musical prodigy, she likes to write about them and relive her days as an orchestra geek. When she’s not working on her books, she enjoys reading, going for long runs, and beating everyone at Pictionary. She is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. Visit her blog at juliedao.com.
What a great, inspiring story, Julie. Congrats!ReplyDelete
Thank you so much! So glad I'm able to share my story with other writers who also didn't have dreams come true in a snap!Delete
Julie, many congratulations! I'm thrilled for you. Your story was as grueling as the Hunger Games! I've heard of the R&R but no one ever mentions what the revisions consist of. I'm curious as to what type of revisions these agents asked for, if you wouldn't mind sharing. Changes in plot? In voice? In characterizations? And did you really think making these changes significantly improved your story?ReplyDelete
Ha! Thanks, Leslie! I'm going to be honest, at times it DID feel like a bloody Cornucopia battle.Delete
Yeah, of course. I can't speak for others who have received R&Rs, but mine was especially extensive. In the original draft of ELEGY, a lot of agents had trouble connecting with my main character, Stella. She's a teen virtuoso violinist and a bit of a diva. That accounted for the majority of my rejections. I'd say about 20% of my R&R honed in on maintaining Stella's confidence, but making her a bit more likable. I did this by showing slight cracks in her veneer, and I also made her love and loyalty to her best friend more apparent. She became much easier to root for.
About 70% of the R&R had to do with plot. Half of the storyline takes place in the present day, while the other half takes place in the past. I rewrote all of the scenes in the past to become diary entries written in the first person (whereas before, they were third person narrative). This helped propel a few important plot elements forward, in addition to distinguishing the modern from the historical storylines. I also made it clearer that the two stories paralleled each other. AND, I changed the culprit of the whole mystery and thus had to add in his motivations.
The remaining 10% of the R&R was voice --- tightening the writing, making it more lyrical, strengthening the dialogue. Everyone liked the other characters, so I simply polished them up a bit more and made sure they stood out from each other.
All of that, on top of my full-time job and my being a perfectionist, resulted in the revision taking six months! I will tell you honestly that I'm thankful that first agent didn't offer, because her kindness and generosity in helping me with my book improved the story 1,000,000% and got me an even better, more experienced agent.
I hope that helps you!
Fascinating! Thanks for sharing...Delete
I remember this story from Pitchwars. My journey reads like yours except for the agent part. I've been in the query trenches for years too and have learned so much but at the same time, felt like giving up because all of my writing buds were getting agents and at the speed of light, or so it seemed. I always start writing again and swear this is the last book EVER. Ha. Then I get an idea for a new story and I'm off and running again (or in my case, writing). I've gotten R&R's that went nowhere and "you're so close and send me your next book" emails. I don't know if I'll ever get an agent but even if I don't, I'm going to keep doing what I love, writing stories. Thank you for this inspiring post.ReplyDelete
I totally understand, Kathleen! When you want something more than anything in the world, it suddenly seems like everyone else is getting it and you're not! I think that your dedication and passion are exactly what it takes to make it. There's that saying that a writer will always keep writing, no matter how hopeless. I strongly believe that if you are getting R&Rs, you are THISCLOSE. If there's anything I've learned, it's that agents are extremely busy folks and don't have time to give specific feedback unless they truly see something in you and your book. You are knocking on the door right now. Sooner or later, it will open! Six months ago, I thought I would never get an agent and self-publishing was looking pretty sexy. So hang in there, my friend!Delete
I so needed to read something like this after the flattering rejection I received yesterday evening. Close but not there yet... Thanks for giving me hope.ReplyDelete
Hi, Patchi! I'm sorry about your rejection, but I think the fact that it was flattering is a GREAT sign! Keep querying and keep entering contests. If you're that close, it's all about waiting and working now.Delete
Thank you so much for telling us your story. I was in the process of querying my novel in the last few months, after two full came back rejected, I felt it necessary to revise and edit. Friends keep asking me, "Are you getting published yet?" Argh! If they only knew!
Thanks for reading, J.R.! Oh yes, the dreaded "Are you published yet?" I had to start answering friends and family who kept pestering me with that question with: "No. Are YOU?" I hope your revisions and edits are going well, and that you have some trusted buddies to read through the new draft for you!Delete
Thanks again for having me, Michelle!!!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Julie and Michelle, from the bottom of my heart. I found my way to this today via Twitter and the timing could not be more perfect. So many ups and downs in this writing world. So often it feels like one step forward, two steps back, and I was feeling über discouraged this morning. I so appreciate your honesty about your process and your wise words of encouragement. Congratulations, Julie and wishing you both the very, very best.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for your kind words, Mary! It is a rough, rough business --- and the heartbreak really doesn't end, even after you do get an agent. But we barrel on and hope for the best. I think I understand now why so few people even finish a book, let alone publish one. I hope you'll be kind to yourself, and I hope you keep holding on!Delete
I loved hearing your story again, Julie! It's such an encouragement. Can't wait to read the book!!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Connie! <3 I told myself that if I ever got an agent, I would do my best to pay it forward. So that's what I'm hoping to do by sharing my LONG journey. It'll be longer still, but I tell myself it's good fodder for a future blog post to encourage others!Delete
I love hearing this story, Julie. I wrote a book and queried in 2011-2012 and got an R&R. I worked on the R&R for close to 1 1/2 years only for the agent to never read the book. That slayed me. Other agents were close but no cigar and I eventually had to shelve the book. I wrote and edited my next book and refused to query it. I was so worried that the last querying experience would happen again. My CPs convinced me to send out 30 queries and to my shock, 2 months later I got 4 offers of rep. There is no easy way to be in this industry - there is no magic trick. I can't wait to read ELEGY hopefully on my Kindle one day (I remember it fondly from Pitch Wars) and best of luck to you and Tamar on your career!ReplyDelete
Oh, Rachel *hugs* I'm so sorry about what happened with that R&R. Shelving a book is never an easy decision, I know, but I like to think that they are there to pull off the shelf again someday, if the timing is right. Congrats on those four offers of rep! You're so lucky to have such wonderful CPs who believed in you and pushed you to query again! I agree that there seems to be no easy path in this industry, and the waters just get more turbulent the farther on you go. But we've made it this far! Thanks for sharing your experience and for your kind words! <3Delete
You had an amazing request ratio. I never even tried querying agents, just went straight for publishers, and I was lucky to get a couple requests for anything.ReplyDelete
But it all doesn't matter now does it? What matters is the reality of the book, whenever it finally happens.
There are different paths for everybody! And clearly the path you chose is working beautifully for you! :)Delete
That was really nice of you. Thank you for all the materials you've shared here. It was truly inspiring!ReplyDelete