Success Story: Dahlia Adler, author of ‘Behind the Scenes’ and ‘Just Visiting’

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I was terrified. I’d just split with my first agent, and all my knowledge about how to query had flown right out of my head.

For a lot of YA writers, attaining an agent is the ultimate coupe – a talisman of good luck, a “Get Out of Jail Free” card that makes up for any previous bruises in the form of carefully worded and impersonal form rejections or near-misses. Once a writer signs with an agent, they are set for life.

But there are many authors who have seen the reality behind this sweet fantasy. On occasion, the agent that they signed with is not right for them. Or perhaps, they are not right for that agent. In either way, there are situations when an author and an agent will have to part ways, and it is never pleasant.

Just months ago, Dahlia Adler found herself in this same situation.

However, in the publishing world, one hard knock doesn’t put a writer out of the game. Adler picked herself up, gathered her ammunition, and plunged right back into the fray.

“I hoped that my experience, and what I felt like was a really good query, would mean I wouldn’t be querying long – but honestly, I could have seen it going either way.”

And Adler really did start from the beginning. Her previous agent was still kept on the publishing contract for her first novel, Behind the Scenes, but for this round of querying, she had a new story up her sleeve.

Just Visiting is contemporary YA. It is, by far, the most challenging book I’ve ever written – largely because it’s first person dual POV, in which both characters are the same gender. Keeping their voices unique felt like a Herculean task at times!”

Adler polished her work in preparation for the long road ahead, but she did have apprehensions about how things would progress this time.

“[Just Visiting] isn’t nearly as commercial as my first book,” said Adler, “and I knew it would definitely be too quiet for some.”

However, fate seemed to fall into place with Adler. Her friend Rachel Russell happened to post an interview with an up-and-coming young agent, Lana Popovic – and Adler was hooked.

“I just fell in love with her when I read the interview, especially since she named realistic YA, ‘saucy’ NA, and smart chick lit as being things she  – which pretty much describes literally every single manuscript in my arsenal! So I checked her out on Twitter.”

Lana Popovic happened to be participating in the PitchMAS Twitter Pitch party. PitchMAS is a bi-annual three-day pitch-fest and workshop that falls in July and December. Like most other contest twitter parties, a favorite from an agent meant a request to send in a query and material. Adler pitched and hoped Popvic would favorite it.

And she did.

“[I felt] hopeful, but I also had a lot of fulls out at the time, so I just hoped one of them would work out! I hadn’t spoken to anyone on the phone yet, or gotten any detailed thoughts on my manuscript or anything, so I was attached to the ideas of certain agents, but that was about it at the time.”

However, once the manuscript was in Popovic’s hands, time moved quickly. Adler queried on a Monday. By Friday, Lana sent along a request for the full. It was more than Adler had hoped – but it wasn’t over yet.

“She e-mailed me later that night with a magical e-mail that basically could have been written in my own brain, told me all the reasons she loved Just Visiting and thought it was wonderful, and asked if we could talk that week. So from query to e-mail was only three days, with everything post-query happening in the span of maybe eight hours.”

When asked about “The Call” – the phone call in which an agent will offer representation – Adler gushed, “It was fantastic. I felt bad for long I kept her on, but it was like hanging out with a friend who loves your book, wants to talk about why she loves your book, and lets you talk to her without ever calling you on the fact that you’re being massively inarticulate.

“I actually had to have the call at work, and all the internal walls in my office are glass. People kept coming by to check and make sure I was okay because I was locked away in this room on the phone, so they were looking for tears, and I was standing there all goofy-smiling.”

With this fresh triumph, Adler is once again looking toward the future. “I’m more of the ‘I’ll celebrate when I’ve got a book deal’ type. Probably the number one thing I’m looking forward to…is having a really like-minded partner help make manuscripts I love into the best they can be. There was one thing in particular about Just Visiting that had bothered me a ton, but didn’t bother any of my readers. I was so excited when Lana picked it out and said she had an idea to fix it. Her revision ideas for my manuscript really mesh well with things that were bugging me about it.”

When it came to advice for people still in the querying trenches, Adler encouraged research. “A lot of people convince themselves they have no shot in the slush pile because they need connections, or referrals, or whatever. That’s entirely false. Target your agent search using not only submission guidelines but interviews and information gleaned from following them on Twitter or their blogs.”

Dahlia Adler.

Being too overconfident is a bad idea, too. “If you think your work is already perfect, why are you even trying to get an agent and ultimately an editor? Be open to revision when what you’ve got obviously isn’t working.”

Summing up her own journey and personal motto, Adler added, “Don’t give up. If a rejection is going to make you quit, you might not be ready just yet.”

For more information on Dahlia Adler, be sure to check out her blog, The Daily Dahlia, where she shares advice on querying, research and other tips from working in publishing. You can find more about her agent, Lana Popovic, on Twitter and the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth agency website.

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About Author

Hebah Uddin

Hebah is a 21-year-old Muslim girl who reads a lot of books, writes a lot more, and wears a lot of (figurative) hats. As a result of being raised on a steady diet of foreign films and BBC period dramas, she now likes to think of herself as Charlotte Bronte + one of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai women. She’ll rap your fingers with her katana if you don’t mind your manners – or your grammar.

2 Comments

  1. While it must have been terrifying to break with her original agent, I’m so glad everything worked out for Dahlia! (And it’s always cool to hear about success stories from those Twitter pitch competitions.)

    I can’t wait for BEHIND THE SCENES to hit shelves and I hope that JUST VISITING will someday, too! 🙂