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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How I Got My Agent: Julie C. Dao

As writers, we may feel discouraged at times, especially if we are trying to get an agent and are stuck in the query trenches. But the key is to never give up! Today, we have another awesome "How I Got My Agent" story from the wonderful Julie Dao. Take it away, Julie!
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There are lots of different paths to getting an agent.
Some are straight and narrow. Perfectly paved, maybe even made of yellow brick. There might be singing and dancing and lollipops right up to the main gates.
Other paths have bumps. Potholes. R.O.U.S.’s. Roundabouts and rotaries (whichever word you prefer) that only take you right back to where you started.
My path was definitely of the pothole/R.O.U.S./roundabout variety.
But you know what? I got there eventually. That’s the key word. Whether your fate is on Easy Street or in the Fire Swamp, the destination is the same and you will get there. It just might take a little bit longer.
The book I finally signed with in February of this year was my fifth one written, second one queried. It’s called ELEGY, and it’s a young adult Gothic suspense flavored with ghosts, music, and French chateaus. It was – and is – the book of my heart.
When I took it out into the world in 2013, 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 then I started racking up the rejections. I spent another year fixing and polishing and querying every so often. I asked my CPs to read a zillion versions of the story, and I fixed and polished it some more.
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. Still, this was a door open! And when I got a call from a second agent, 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. But a week later, she emailed again to say she wanted more extensive revisions before she could even consider offering representation. Right after that email came in, I got five rejections from other 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.

The agent put me at ease right away. We laughed and joked and it felt more like a conversation, not a Phone Call. She talked about her vision for the book and made excellent suggestions on what she thought could change. And then she asked me how I felt about her ideas. When I told her they lined up well with my own, she said the magic words.

"Sooooo... am I taking you on as a client?"

I screamed. (Inside. I didn't want to scare her!)

She suggested I take time to think. So 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.

Just because it takes longer for us for some strange, cosmic reason, does NOT mean we are any less talented or deserving. It just means that when things DO happen for us, victory will taste all the sweeter for how hard we worked and how long we waited. Remember you are doing this for love – love for the words you put on the page, love for the worlds inside your head and the people you create whose hearts beat in pen-and-ink. Keep going and don’t stop. If I can do it, you can do it.

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.

3 comments:

Crystal Collier said...

Yay for Julie! I've always love the concept of ELEGY, and I'm looking forward to celebrating (with cheese confetti) when it sells to a publishing house.

Liz A. said...

I like this story. I get tired of all the easy stories. After a while, those of us who aren't getting the easy story think maybe it's time to give it all up.

dolorah said...

Awesome journey Julie. I'm glad it all finally worked for you. Both PPP and Elegy were such unique concepts, I knew they had to see publication. I've loved all your writings that I have seen.