Welcome to my new FAQ page!
Over the years, I’ve gotten lots of questions from new writers who want to learn more about the writing and publishing process. I figured it might be handy to have my answers all in one place.
This is that place!
Please note: my responses come from my own personal experience. Publishing is not one-size-fits-all, so take this as only one angle of insight. That’s all I intend it to be!
Also, a quick disclaimer: Everything on this website is my own opinion and does not reflect the opinions of my agency, publisher, or anyone else connected to my work.
♥ How do you pronounce your last name?
Dao is one syllable. It rhymes with wow!
I’ve heard it pronounced to rhyme with “mayo” which, although fun, is not quite correct.
♥ How old are you?
I was born in 1985. Contrary to appearances, I am no longer a teenager (except maybe on the inside)!
♥ Are you published?
My YA epic fantasy duology FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS sold in a three-book deal this summer to Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House! Book 1 will be released on October 10, 2017!
♥ Can I have a free copy of your book?
I would appreciate it if you supported me by buying my book! I am totally happy to sign your purchased copy, doodle on it, put stickers on it… but please don’t ask me to give you something free of charge that I have worked so hard on.
My publisher will give me a few copies to keep, but if I want more than that, I’ll have to pay for them, too.
If you want to see more books from me, buying my work will show my publisher there’s interest and help keep me in business. Thank you for understanding!
♥ Can you share your successful query letter with us?
At this time, I prefer not to share my query letter for ELEGY. I will definitely post it on my blog if/when the manuscript becomes a real book one day! In the meantime, you can check out successful query letters on QueryTracker’s Success Stories or on agent Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog.
♥ How did you get your agent? Did you get multiple offers?
Check out this blog post I wrote in February 2015. I discuss the writing/revising/querying process for ELEGY, and talk about getting the offers of representation that led me to signing with Tamar.
♥ How did you know which agents to query?
When I first started out, I researched and read everything I could get my hands on. I did extensive research on each and every agent. I looked for people who represented the category I write (YA, MG, adult, etc) and the genre (paranormal, contemporary, etc.). I bookmarked the ones who asked for exactly the kind of story I wrote via Manuscript Wish List. That was step #1.
Then I looked up their interviews, Googled them, checked out their blogs, Facebook, whatever, to get a sense of what kind of a person they are. What is their style? Could I see myself working with them? Are they nice? Are they communicative?
There is a certain sense of not knowing exactly what a person is like until you sign the contract. Kind of like not knowing what a person is really like until you date them/live with them — you can kind of have to jump in headfirst. But by researching them, you can get a good sense of who they are.
If you’re serious about writing, and if you want this to be your career more than anything, you just have to put in the time and grunt work. But I promise it’s rewarding!
Here is a blog post I wrote in July 2015 about the resources I used while researching agents.
♥ What made you try for years and not consider self-publishing?
I’ll be honest: I did consider self-publishing. More than once. But I continued pursuing the traditional path because… I want to write. I want my job to be all about the writing. And when you self-publish, you’ll need to put on many other different hats and market for yourself, find an editor to clean up your manuscript, find a cover designer, etc.
In the end, I decided that I wanted to stick to writing and let professionals take care of the rest.
♥ How quickly did you get responses while querying?
Replies always vary from agent to agent. The fastest full request I got happened under five minutes, while the slowest rejection took about five months. Check out QueryTracker (I recommend making a free account) and Absolute Write, as people often post how long it took for specific agents to respond.
♥ What was the hardest part of the querying process for you?
The hardest part of the querying process for me was definitely the waiting. The waiting and waiting and waiting. And it doesn’t end after you get an agent, because then you wait and wait and wait for editors. But that’s why they always say to write the next book. Focusing on a new project helps you forget you’re waiting!
♥ You had an agent for a whole year before you got your book deal. Why did it take you so long to sell something?
Signing with an agent is a BIG step, since only a small percentage of writers ever get one. But it is still not a guarantee you’ll get published. You can be the most talented writer ever, you can have the most amazing agent in the business, you can have a solid, well-written manuscript, and STILL not get a book deal. The thing about traditional publishing is it doesn’t just take one “yes,” like with your agent. It takes a whole lot of “yeses” to get that elusive deal. Even if an editor falls in love with your book, he or she will have to convince an entire team of people to buy it. And they will decide based on your book’s marketability, what readers may want in the future, whether it will compete with other titles at their house or others… basically everything is out of your control at this point.
I know people who have been agented for years and have gone on submission with several manuscripts (as high as 7-8!) and never sold a single one.
Let’s be clear, right now, that it says NOTHING of the writer’s talent or agent’s ability. Because really it’s all about luck and timing and whether you have those or not. I really, truly believe that hard work pays off eventually. It may not pay off right away, but if you keep at it, things will happen. That’s why I’ve been so persistent with no reward in sight!
♥ Is it better to write a series than a single novel?
I think you should write whatever you want to write! Some stories are better standing alone, while others can be expanded. If you’re looking to get published, and you have a series in mind, I’d probably just write Book 1. You don’t want to spend all your time writing Books 2 and 3 if the first book doesn’t get an agent/publisher. You could spend that time writing Book 1 of a different series, or a different standalone.
♥ What is the difference between a CP and a beta reader?
A CP, or critique partner, is someone with whom you exchange manuscripts. You often become close and get used to each other’s unique style of writing and of critiquing. It’s an equal partnership and frequently begins in the earlier drafts of writing your book. (Here’s my blog post from April 2015 about being and finding a good CP!)
A beta reader is someone who reads your book for you and gives you an opinion. Typically, you ask for a beta when your manuscript is close to being done with revisions.
♥ Can you read my manuscript and/or be my CP/beta reader?
I’m sorry, but I don’t have time and my current CPs must come first. I met my CPs through my blog, Twitter, and online contests, so definitely take a look around those places. You may also want to check out CP Seek, the Twitter hashtag #CpMatch, or Maggie Stiefvater’s CP Love Connection.
♥ Can I email you for one-on-one writing advice?
Since announcing my book deal, my email and private messages have exploded with pleas for assistance and questions about how to write a query, what literary agents do, or how to get a book deal.
I love to help other writers whenever I can, but I just don’t have the time to personally coach everyone along. I’ve signed a contract and book-writing is now my second full-time job, so I have to cut back on things like social media and emails (*sniffle*) to accommodate that.
Nobody gave me shortcuts or held my hand when I was first starting out. I Googled and researched and did the grunt work all by myself. That’s how I learned what I know, and I’m still learning stuff that way. There are excellent resources available, a few of which I’ve mentioned on my FAQ page, so give it a whirl and see how many of your own questions you can answer! You might be surprised!
♥ Can you share my manuscript with your agent or editor?
I can’t – I’m sorry! I lack the expertise and familiarity with the market that a publishing professional has, so I don’t feel comfortable recommending someone’s manuscript in that capacity. Also, to the best of my knowledge, my editor only reads agented submissions.
I recommend researching the agents and editors you’re interested in. I get questions about what Tamar is looking for right now in MG and YA, and whether she’d like someone’s specific manuscript. Honestly, I’m not sure because I haven’t had to research her in a couple of years. Wish lists can change a lot, so you will need to keep tabs on the people you are considering to get the most current info. Check out MSWL if you haven’t already!
♥ How do you write a good query?
Writing a query is all about making the agent want to read your book. Give enough information about your story to describe how it stands out and why someone who gets thousands of queries a day should request your manuscript. Look for examples of successful queries on Google and blogs like Query Shark, which is run by agent Janet Reid.
Here’s an idea (and it’s kind of fun, too!). If you have a free afternoon, go to your favorite bookstore and walk around the section you could see your book in. Pick up as many covers as possible and read the jacket copy. Which books do you want to read? Which books are you “meh, I don’t need it” about? Find out what about the jacket copy turned you off or intrigued you.
THAT’S what you need to do with your query.
Obviously it’s very subjective because what you liked about one book, someone else could hate. But it’s a good way to train yourself to hooks — how a book jacket makes you want to read the book, and why. Is it an intriguing premise? Is it a complex character you wanna know more about?
It also helps you learn rhythm and cadence. Figure out turns of phrase that are interesting, language choices that give you a feel for the book itself: creepy words for a horror novel, beautiful ones for a literary. You have only so much space on a book jacket to hook someone and make them buy/read; likewise, you have only so much space in a query to hook an agent.
♥ How do I write a bestseller? How do I know what trends to jump on?
If you find out, let me know 😉
Just write the book you want to write. Write your book, and then worry about publishing. I think it can be easy to focus on business stuff when our #1 priority as writers, first and foremost, is to write a good book. Don’t think about agents, don’t think about book contracts.
Write something, get a lot of CPs and beta readers to hack it apart, and then worry about the next steps. I really do believe that the less you think about it, the more focused you’ll be on good quality writing and a good story, and the more likely you’ll make it. Kind of a catch-22. That’s what I hope, anyway!
♥ How can a young writer really be sure about writing? At least enough to want to put his/her everything into just writing?
As a young writer, it’s hard to be sure about writing. I studied medicine in college, and didn’t write for years. One day, it just hit me. I think I’d known it subconsciously all along, but it just hit me that I would be never ever be happy if I didn’t write. I was 22 when I started writing seriously again (first started at age 8). I am glad I tried something else, though, and made sure it wasn’t for me. That’s how I found out.
But for some, it takes much longer — I have writer friends who started families and had jobs and are only now starting to get serious about it, in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. I know a lady in her 60s who’s just starting.
Don’t rush it, you know? If it’s meant to be, you’ll run into it at one point during your life. The sweet thing about writing is you can always come back to it. So if you have another dream that you wanna pursue, you can do that. And you can always write on the side, too. Hope that helps!
♥ How do you know you’re ready to query?
Your manuscript should be as close to perfect as you can get it before you even think about agents and publishing. Just having a completed book is not enough — you need to go through multiple rounds of revision and have other writers critique your work. Send the manuscript out to CPs in waves and gauge responses. (It took me almost two years to revise the book I landed my agent with!)
Here is a blog post I wrote in December 2014 (shortly before signing with Tamar!) on doing extensive revisions.
♥ What is a royalty payment and how does it work?
And Writer’s Digest also provides great information on royalties and advances here.
♥ A couple of agents requested my full manuscript and I sent it. In the time they’ve had it, I’ve revised heavily and think the book has improved. Should I let them know I have a new draft?
This is what happened with me.
I had materials out with about 15 people when I got a revise-and-resubmit (R&R), in which an agent who is serious about your work calls/emails with revision suggestions. I emailed everyone with my full or partial and said something like: “Dear Agent, I have just received a major R&R from another interested agent. The manuscript will change significantly. Would you like me to send you the new version to read when it is finished?”
They appreciate this because then they won’t spend time reading an old draft.
You could do a variation of that: “Dear Agent, I submitted my full/partial to you on such-and-such-a-date. Since then, I have made significant changes to the story. I’d be happy to send you the new version if you are interested.”
Also, always hit “Reply” to the email thread in which you first queried the agent. This way, they’ll be able to look back and see what book was yours and all prior communication with you.
♥ Let’s say you get an offer of representation, but you still want to hear from other agents before accepting. Can you ask the offering agent to wait for you to decide? Would that turn him/her off?
Should you ask the offering agent to wait? 100,000% YES.
It is a courtesy to everyone still reading to give them time to decide. Sometimes people get to stuff later than they’d like, and just haven’t had a chance yet.
Put yourself in an agent’s shoes. Imagine that a writer submitted a great manuscript to you, and you have just gotten around to reading the entire thing. You email the writer telling them how much you LOVE it… and then they break the news that they’ve already signed with someone else. You are a busy agent and you just wasted all that time on a manuscript that will never be yours.
So yes, yes, yes. A legit agent who offers to you will EXPECT you to check with everyone else; they will not be turned off by it.
♥ How much does an agent cost to have? Is it necessary to have an agent to publish?
You do not pay an agent anything before you get your book deal. Don’t go for anyone who charges you a reading fee up front. Your agent does not make money until you do.
It is not necessary to have an agent to publish, as a lot of reputable presses that are small or midsize often take both agented and unagented submissions. However, you DO need an agent if you want a deal with one of the Big Five houses (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster.)
♥ What is the difference between form rejections and personalized rejections? Do they mean anything? What kind did you get when you were querying?
A form rejection is a standard, pre-written rejection that the agent sends to everyone he/she rejects. It usually starts with “Dear Author,” although some will put your name. You can tell it’s a form when it’s generic and does not refer to your specific query or book.
Personalized rejections (rejections in which the agent writes feedback directly specific to you and your book) are a very good sign. Agents are extremely busy people and it’s much easier for them to send a form rejection. That doesn’t mean you should get complacent, BUT, you should know that personalized rejections are pretty rare and you should take it as encouragement that this busy agent saw something in you/your writing. If you’re getting those, your writing is on its way. It just might not be there completely, or might not be the right project for them, etc.
To sum up, don’t put too much weight on personalized rejections (for queries or for requests), but DO let them push and encourage you. Not everyone gets them.
Pay attention to what people are saying in their personalizations. When I was querying and collecting rejections, I had a spreadsheet where I copied all of their comments. I bet you’ll start to see a pattern sooner than later and that could be a clue as to what to fix/what step to take next. Good luck!
Here is a blog post I wrote in April 2014 about the spreadsheet I kept while querying.
♥ When you send out multiple queries do you have to disclose that in the initial communication?
I’ve looked at a lot of queries lately (from mentoring in the Pitch Wars contest!) and I often see at the end: “This is a multiple submission.” I always tell folks to remove this. It won’t hurt you, but it’s redundant because agents expect that you’re submitting to others at the same time.
♥ When should I create a website or join social networks for support and fans?
You should create a website and join social media whenever you want! Just make sure you pick something you enjoy and will keep up with. And also don’t think about gaining fans; think instead about making friends. You will find more genuine connections that way and it’ll be more fulfilling for you, too.
I did a blog post in June 2015 about the websites I’ve used and what I liked/don’t like about each.
I also did a blog post in August 2014 about the top ten things I’ve learned about maintaining a writing blog.