Writer Interview: Tara Dairman

Writer friends, please read this interview with the amazing Tara Dairman.  The advice she gives is absolutely invaluable!  She is a wealth of information and tells us a fantastic story of how she went through her journey of writing all the way through getting her book deal.

 AG:  Tell us about your current project.

TD: I recently sold my debut middle-grade novel, The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby, to Putnam/Penguin (hooray!) for publication in 2014. Gladys is an 11-year-old foodie who dreams of writing restaurant reviews for The New York Times (rather than just scathing journal entries about whatever awfulness her parents have microwaved up for dinner). When her entry into an essay contest goes awry, she suddenly finds herself with a freelance assignment for the paper’s Dining Editor…who, of course, thinks that Gladys is a real, adult writer. Determined to meet her deadline—without letting her parents know what she’s up to or letting her editor find out she’s only in sixth grade—Gladys embarks on a series of adventures that take her all over New York City.
AG:  Is it your first book?

TD: It is! I attempted to write a novel in college, but only got a couple of chapters in, so I don’t think that one counts. =) I’ve been working on Gladys on and off since 2005, so I’m hoping that I can significantly speed up the process for novel #2.

AG: How did you tackle the revision process before you queried? Did you use CP’s?

TD: I’ve belonged to a New York-based writers’ group for the last 10 years, and they saw pages from the book just about every month as I worked on it. When the first draft was finally done, they were first to read the whole thing and give me feedback. But I also found it really important to get feedback from a few readers who had never seen the book before—who weren’t tied to certain elements just because they’d been there from the beginning.

So, I did a light revision based on CP feedback before querying, but getting rejected across the board in my first round of queries is what really forced me to take a hard look at the manuscript (especially the opening pages) and realize that certain elements just weren’t working. That happened last August. I did a major revision, ran the new version by several betas, and started querying again in October, with much better results.

AG:  What was the querying process like for you? Any tips?

TD: I have to say, getting that first round of rejection after rejection was pretty demoralizing at the time. Looking back now, I can see SO many things I did wrong—my query was too long, my first pages were slow and loaded with backstory, and I had only targeted superstar agents who (I would later find out) had really low request rates. I thought that a superficial revision of my first draft and a couple of days of research about how to write a query letter was all I needed to snag an agent’s attention. Um, wrong!

Thankfully, I had only queried seven agents, so there were plenty more out there to target once I had an actually revised manuscript and a tighter query. During the time I was revising, I got to know all the great sites for researching agents (like Literary Rambles and QueryTracker); I read tons of interviews, made A, B, and C lists of agents to query, and noted which blogs had contests I might like to enter.

AG:  Tell us how you endedup with your agent.
TD: In October, I entered the first page of my manuscript into the Secret Agent contest at Miss Snark’s First Victim. After the contest closed, I got an e-mail from Authoress saying that Ammi-Joan Paquette (who is usually closed to submissions, but “lurks” at MSFV) had noticed my entry and invited me to query her with five pages. I sent it off around midnight, and the next morning woke up to my first full request!

I continued querying and got a few more requests; then in December, my first page was back up on MSFV in the Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction. I ended up with multiple requests and, ultimately, multiple offers of representation from agents who participated in that auction. I notified Joan as soon as I got my first offer, and when she offered as well about a week later, I realized in short order that she was the perfect agent for me.

AG:  What is that relationship like? What is doing agent revisions like?

 TD: I didn’t do a whole lot of revision before we went on submission, but when an editor (the one who ended up buying the book) asked for revisions during the process and I wrote a bunch of new material, Joan was an awesome extra set of eyes. I’m so glad she was there to give me feedback (and suggest some strategic cuts) on the new stuff before we sent it back in to the editor. It probably doesn’t hurt that Joan is an author herself (her own middle-grade debut, Nowhere Girl, is spectacular), so she really understands the process.

One of the nicest things about having an agent is feeling like there’s someone in my corner who really believes that my writing is worthy of being published. It certainly helps soften the blow when rejections come in from editors!

AG:  Tell us about the editor submission process from your experience.
TD: You know, some people find submission really hellish, and some think it’s not nearly as bad as querying. I actually surveyed a bunch of writers about this before I went on sub and did a blog post featuring their experiences called “What’s so bad about going on submission?” ( For me, the process wasn’t too traumatizing, since we knew within a couple of days that the editor at Putnam was really interested in the book. (This is very fast—it’s usually a few weeks before you start to hear back from editors.) However, the editorial team decided to ask for a few revisions before they decided whether or not to make an offer; I guess that they gave me an R&R, which I didn’t even know was a possible submission outcome! I had a phone call and traded e-mails with the editor and I really connected with her ideas, so I decided to give the revision a shot, even though the book was still out with other editors. Doing those revisions was the only truly nerve-wracking part of the process, since I felt like so much was riding on them. Well, OK, waiting to hear back from Putnam after I had turned in the revision was pretty nerve-wracking, too! This time I had to wait a few weeks for news (the Bologna book fair and the release of The Hunger Games movie probably had something to do with that).

Meanwhile, rejections came in from other editors, but the nice thing was that they always gave a reason (and usually said something nice about the book, too). So, at least I wasn’t left wondering what hadn’t worked for them like you do when you get a form R on a full when you’re querying. Or maybe I didn’t mind the rejections so much because I knew that there was potential with Putnam.

AG:  Do you blog? Where can we find you on Twitter and the internet?

TD: I do blog about writing at, and I’ve got some giveaways and interviews planned for the near future. Also, from 2009 to 2011, my husband and I blogged about our round-the-world trip at, which is probably much more compelling reading!

You can find me on Twitter at @TaraDairman, and at GoodReads at If you’d like to plan ahead for 2014, you can even add Gladys to your to-read list!

AG:  What online resources have you used to help your writing and querying and revision process?

TD: Oh, tons. There are so many great writing blogs out there, and I have trouble keeping up—my Google Reader’s constantly in triple digits for unread posts!

For writing and revising: Agent Mary Kole’s blog at is full of great advice and exercises to improve your writing, and Elana Johnson’s blog post “Editing Your MS in 30 Days or Less” ( is fantastic.

For querying: Using QueryTracker is a must, both for researching agents and keeping track of your own queries. is handy, too, and Literary Rambles is an amazing trove of information on individual kidlit agents.

And as Leigh Ann mentioned in her interview, contests at blogs like Miss Snark’s First Victim and Mother.Write.Repeat. are invaluable—not only as a way to get your own work out there, but to research what kinds of queries and first pages caught agents’ eyes in past contests. Operation Awesome has monthly pitch contests, and Falling Leaflets ( often has the dirt on upcoming contests as well as roundups of agents’ Tweets (excellent if you’re not on Twitter). It’s been on hiatus for a bit, but will be back in May.

AG: Thanks again, Tara, for this FANTASTIC look into your journey.  I am looking forward to checking out all the great resources you talked about!


  1. Oh wow! This interview is loaded with rich information and links. Tara, I'd love to hear more about how you revised your beginning. Beginnings can be difficult and mysterious little buggers. Thanks AG and Tara.

  2. Thanks, Jean! Yeah, beginnings are kind of the devil. I've read in a few places that, if your beginning is slow, you can probably cut your first three chapters and that'll help you jump to where the action/story really starts. It worked for me, and a scene about halfway through the original Chapter 3 became my new opening scene. I then wrote a whole new second chapter that better conveyed some of the info from the parts I'd cut. There was one piece of backstory from the original first chapter that I thought needed to stay in, but with every revision I ended up pushing it deeper into the book. Finally, when I did my revision based on editorial feedback from Putnam, I replaced that scene with a different backstoryline (is that a word?) that I think is working much better.

    It's a process!

  3. I can't wait to read GLADYS. It sounds delicious! Congrats Tara!

  4. Congratulations! I can't wait to read this novel!

  5. Great question, Jean, and great answer, Tara. Congrats again!