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.