Friday, May 11, 2012

Agent-Author Chat: Ammi-Joan Paquette and Tara Dairman

I’m thrilled to welcome Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency and one of her newer clients, Tara Dairman, for another installment of “Agent-Author Chat.” I’ve had my eye on Ms. Dairman ever since she entered GLADYS GATSBY in a round of “An Agent’s Inbox” last fall, so when she signed with Ms. Paquette earlier this year, I jumped at the chance to interview them.

The timing is perfect, too, because Ms. Dairman just agreed to provide all of “The Writer’s Voice” finalists with additional feedback! And as you're about to find out, Ms. Dairman is something of an expert when it comes to writing queries and first pages.

Ms. Dairman’s query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Paquette’s in blue. So sit back, relax, and get ready to add another book to your Goodreads list:)

Ms. Dairman’s Query Eleven-year-old Gladys Gatsby loves to cook, but no one in fast-food-obsessed East Dumpsford shares her passion--especially not her parents, who ban her from the kitchen after one teeny, tiny crème-brulée-triggered fire. Gladys finds a new creative outlet in an essay contest in which she writes about her dream job: becoming a restaurant critic for The New York Times. But when her essay lands on a Times editor’s desk, Gladys finds herself taking on that job a lot sooner than she expected!

Her first assignment: review Classy Cakes, a fancy new “dessert bistro” in New York City. To sneak into the city and the restaurant, Gladys will need help from every friend she’s got--and possibly from her worst enemy, Charissa Bentley. The most popular mean girl in the sixth grade is having a birthday party in Manhattan, and if Gladys can get herself invited, she just might manage to meet her deadline and hang onto her dream job.

GLADYS GATSBY TAKES THE CAKE is a 47,000-word, humorous middle-grade novel about a girl who can’t wait to be a grown-up, even if that means biting off more (delicious, gourmet food) than she can chew. The novel stands alone but has series potential.

I graduated from Dartmouth College with a B.A. in Creative Writing and have a play published in the anthology FISHAMBLE FIRSTS (New Island, 2008). My plays and screenplays have been shortlisted for several major awards, which are detailed on my website,

I would be happy to send my complete manuscript upon your request and have pasted the first [however many] pages below. Thank you so much for your consideration.

KV: Ms. Dairman, how did you first come up with the idea for THE DELICIOUS DOUBLE LIFE OF GLADYS GATSBY*?

TD: When I worked as a magazine editor in New York, I commissioned a lot of freelancers to write articles for us. I rarely spoke to these writers on the phone and almost never met them in person; everything was communicated by e-mail. So it struck me that a kid--if she had a mature writing style and the right-sounding credentials--could probably hoodwink me into hiring her. And if she could do it to me, why not The New York Times?

That was back in late 2005. A mere six years later, I had a completed manuscript to query! =)

KV: Tell us a little bit about your querying experience. How many queries did you send? Did you send them in batches or all at once? Did you ever pull back and revise your query and/or your manuscript, and if so, why did you decide to do that?

TD: “Send a ‘test batch’ of 5-10 queries” is probably the best querying advice I ever got, because otherwise I’m sure I would have been falsely confident and blasted a huge list at once. I sent an initial round of seven queries, all of which got rejected, and that led me to pull back and take a hard look at my query and opening pages.

I studied the winning first pages in a lot of contests--like An Agent’s Inbox here at Mother. Write. Repeat. and the Secret Agent contests at Miss Snark’s First Victim--to see what snagged an agent’s attention. I realized that I’d made a classic first-time novelist mistake by loading the opening chapters with backstory that needed to be woven in later in the book, so I stopped querying and did a big revision. I also streamlined my query from 400-something words to under 250 words, and jumped back into the game a couple of months later with much better results.

In the end, I sent about 35 queries in small batches, and also had some requests for material from contests.

KV: How did Ms. Paquette come to request your manuscript?

TD: When I was done with my revision, I entered my new first page into a Secret Agent contest at Miss Snark’s First Victim. Joan wasn’t the judge that month, but she saw my entry and was intrigued, so she invited me to send her my query letter and first five pages.

She’s usually closed to unsolicited submissions, so getting the chance to query her at all was really exciting. I sent the query off around midnight, and it must have really clicked with her, because I had a full request in my inbox when I woke up the next morning!

KV: Ms. Paquette, when you read Ms. Dairman’s entry on the Miss Snark’s First Victim blog, what caught your attention?

AP: I first came across Tara’s pages while browsing the entries on one of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent contests. If I may, I’d like to quote her first paragraph:

“Gladys Gatsby stood at the counter, the spout of her father’s heavy blowtorch poised over the top of the first ceramic cup. Her finger hovered over the trigger button that was supposed to turn her plain little custards into crunchy, tasty treats. That's when she heard a car door slam outside.”

This paragraph pretty much has it all: a headstrong, spunky heroine; food; and, right at the end of the paragraph, a hint of something about to go terribly wrong. Tara’s first page showed: voice, character, tension, and action. All in one fell swoop! I was hooked.

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about GLADYS GATSBY?

AP: I started reading GLADYS GATSBY during a time when my list felt very full of middle grade. I started reading knowing I’d loved the beginning but thinking I probably wouldn’t take this further.

And then I got my socks knocked off. Really! Tara fulfilled every promise she began with that first paragraph: Heroine = lively and full of personality and absolutely iconic. Food = more delicious than your wildest dreams. (I’m getting a little hungry just remembering some of those descriptions.) Tension = from start to finish. I finished reading and knew this was a project I had to have on my list. Thankfully, Tara agreed!

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Dairman’s manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

AP: After Tara queried me, I requested the full manuscript the next day. This is NOT typical of me at all. I almost always read and respond to queries in order, and that can take me 3-4 weeks, depending on the flow. From the time I received the manuscript until I was able to read and offer representation was about 2 months. This much more typical of my return time, though I am always trying to catch up and get faster with my responses!

KV: Ms. Dairman, now that you’ve reached the querying finish line, what do you wish you had known when you were back at the start gate?

TD: I wish I’d gotten it through my head sooner that there are no shortcuts. That may sound funny coming from someone who worked on her book on and off for six years (definitely no rush there!), but once I had a completed draft, I was so eager to get it out there in front of agents and editors that I didn’t take the time I really needed to revise thoroughly. I think I hoped that, even if the book wasn’t quite perfect, an agent would see enough potential in my writing that she’d want to snap me up anyway. But that’s definitely not how it works.

So my advice, especially for first-time novelists/queryers, is to TAKE YOUR TIME polishing the manuscript before you send that first query. Get it read by multiple beta readers, and take their opinions seriously. Also take the time to research agents before you query them, so you know you’re targeting the best fit for your work.

KV: Ms. Paquette, what querying tips do you have?

AP: I think the best way you can help your query is to write a terrific manuscript. I do read queries, but what is really going to hook me in, what really makes the difference, are the words on the page. Unless the query is definitely out of my area of representation, I always read the first page, and that’s what most determines my response. It’s all about the book!

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

TD: Finding an agent (and then, a publisher) can be a long, stressful process, and it’s easy to get downhearted--especially when you see other people succeeding quickly or wildly while you only seem to be getting rejected. If, like me, you’ve dreamed of being a writer ever since you were a kid, then try to see things through kid-you’s perspective. I still feel like the proudest day of this entire process for me was the day that I wrote “The End” on the last page of my first draft. I had actually written an entire novel--if kid-Tara was able to look into her future and see that that was going to happen, she would be SO thrilled! Also, kid-Tara would have no idea what an agent was. Checking in with kid-Tara usually helped put things in perspective for me.

AP: I firmly believe that there is a path for everyone; some roads wind long and others wind short. But passion and perseverance will take you far, and by doing all you can from the get-go, then when it comes time for that sprinkling of luck, you’ll be in the right place to receive it. Write passionately!

Ah, I love kid-Tara! She reminds me of kid-Krista:)

Now, to share Ms. Dairman’s last bit of good news, I went back and found her entry from that round of “An Agent’s Inbox” I mentioned. I remembered that I left a comment, and this was the last thing I said:

“Good luck with this! I don't buy many books (I'm more of a library kind of girl), but I'd buy this one in a heartbeat. It sounds adorable!”

I’m happy to report that I will now be able to make good on that promise, as GLADYS GATSBY sold last month to Putnam/Penguin! Can’t wait for spring 2014!

*Ms. Dairman queried GLADYS GATSBY with one title, Ms. Paquette submitted it with another, and the title will probably change again sometime between now and its release date. Moral of the story: If you think your title’s set, it’s not, so don’t print invitations and get married to it.


Melissa Sarno said...

This is a fantastic interview. I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of Kid-Tara. I'm going to think more about Kid-Melissa. This book is definitely going on my list.

Julie DeGuia said...

Great interview! It is fun to see the different ways a contest can work its magic (especially with agents who are not accepting submissions.) This book sounds like a lot of fun and I will definitely be looking for it in the future.

Ann Bedichek said...

I love this interview. Fabulous insight from two wise women.

And I'm basically counting down the days until I can buy myself a copy of Gladys (with whatever title it ends up with!)

Jess said...

Wonderful interview! I can't wait to read Tara's book! Congrats to Ammi-Joan and Tara on the sale :)

Michelle Mason said...

I remember seeing GLADYS GATSBY on a couple of contests and thinking I'd love to read it. So glad I'll get the chance! Congrats to Tara and thanks in advance for contributing to The Writers Voice!

Erin Edwards said...

Sounds like an adorably fun book! Sounds like it would be perfect for my 12 year-old. I only wish it wasn't two years away. Congratulations to Tara!

Darci Cole said...

Thank you to all three ladies for your words and advice. It seems like I hear these kinds of things all the time, "no shortcuts," "polish," etc. But it always helps to hear it from one who's recently gone through the finding process.

Congrats to Tara and Ammi-Joan on the sell! GLADYS sounds awesome! Can't wait to read it!

Rena said...

Great interview, and I'm so glad this one's getting published. I remembered reading it at MSFV and loving it

Matthew MacNish said...

These features are probably the best thing on the internet.

Luke Reynolds said...

What a lovely interview! Thanks for sharing the wonderful voices of Tara and Joan here--very inspiring and informative!

Ninja Girl said...

Great interview! And I love both titles ;)
Ninja Girl

Michael G-G said...

I'm a huge Tara and Gladys fan. I first saw Gladys at MSFV's Baker's Dozen auction (Tara and I were both selected entries) and I remember she knocked my socks off--as well as setting fire to the curtains with her father's blowtorch. I knew immediately that agents would be fighting over this one!

The best part of this interview is when Tara tells us to take our time. Writers are an impatient bunch, and sometimes we jump the gun thinking work is ready when it really isn't.

Anyway, big congrats to Tara--and I can't wait to make a big fuss of Gladys when she hits the shelves!

Dana said...

Great interview, Krista! And great advice, Tara!

I also remember reading Gladys on MSFV and thinking this was such an adorable story.

All the best to you and Gladys!

Traci Kenworth said...

Nice to hear the story behind the story.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks for all your kind words, both for me and Ms. Dairman! I've fallen a bit behind, since I've been working through Team Krista's entries, so I won't be able to comment on everyone's thoughts individually. But I just wanted to let you know that I have read all these comments and really appreciate them.

Leslie Rose said...

I'm hungry and inspired. Love hearing road to success stories and this one was delicious.

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks for sharing this inspiring success story!

Tara Dairman said...

Thank you, Krista, for having us and to everyone for their kind comments! Clearly, I'm a big fan of online contests, and I'm looking forward to jumping into the Writers' Voice entries later this week. =)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Tara! And we're happy to have you for "The Writer's Voice"!

I'm sorry I haven't had time to respond to each of these comments individually (I've been using pretty much all my spare time to coach my team members), but I have read every one and appreciate your well wishes for me, Ms. Dairman, and Ms. Paquette!