How I got a literary agent - An interview with author Rae Phillips
firstwriter.com – Saturday September 24, 2005
Rae Phillips recently acquired an agent using firstwriter.com's database of literary agencies. We asked her about her writing, and how she found success.
fw: Congratulations on securing an agent, Rae. What was the book you managed to place?
RP: My book is called The Lady and Pierre. Maggie in her middle years, for the first time in her life, faces two life crises. First an illness and then the death of a beloved husband. The story begins with Maggie planning her suicide and ends with the magnificent accomplishment of a two thousand mile hike and climb to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. She is accompanied by Pierre, her standard black poodle. The story is positive and has a whimsical slant and reveals courage, humour, and the strength of the human spirit.
fw: Where did you get your inspiration from?
RP: I worked in the medical field for many years as the Chemistry Supervisor in a hospital laboratory. Through those years, even though I know the importance of established medical knowledge and procedures, I felt there was so much to be learned from alternative means and ways to wellness. I wanted to write a positive book dealing with these issues. I also hiked parts of the beautiful Appalachian Trail, the 2000 mile foot trail from Georgia to Maine with my husband and daughter and wanted to relate some of the wonderful experiences of that time.
fw: Once you'd had the inspiration, how did you get down to the nitty-gritty of getting it down on paper?
RP: When I retired, my daughter sent me a computer, a copy of 2003 Writer's Market, a subscription to Writer's Digest, and made a pact for me to send pages to her every Sunday morning of the work I had done that week. It took almost a year to write. I had such wonderful encouragement, but for new writers, if you have a story to tell, put these reminders over your desk or your computer:
"GRIM DETERMINATION –I WILL NOT FALTER"; and
"WRITERS WHO PERSIST GET PUBLISHED"
fw: Have you always written, or is it something you've only started recently?
RP: I wrote stories and poems for my children while they were growing up with no thought of being published. However, when I was in high school, I had this vision of myself, sitting beside a small brook and writing stories. And I have always loved any story or movies about writers and have always wanted to be one of them.
fw: Do you think the fact that you hadn't previously been published made it harder to get a literary agent?
RP: I really believe if you have the story they have been waiting for, it won't matter. When they read your query, something inside of them has to click. Therefore it is so important to send queries to agents that are looking for your type of work. And so important to get feeling into your query.
fw: Absolutely – being selective about agents is an important point all too often ignored by writers, who often make the mistake of blanket submissions. How selective were you, and what were the results?
RP: In 2004, when I completed my manuscript, I sent about 11 queries to agents and two to publishing houses and got back rejections on form letters or postcards with "NOT FOR US" scribbled across the top. Only one agency asked for my manuscript and read it. They said they seriously considered it but were going to pass at that time. I really got discouraged and put the book aside until 2005.
fw: What made you try again in 2005?
RP: In 2004, I used the usual method of trying to find an agent, Writer's Market. But in the summer of 2005, my daughter sent me an email about firstwriter.com and as they say: the rest is history.
fw: What was it about firstwriter.com that you found particularly helpful in getting an agent?
RP: Everything! Best of all was finding agencies that accept email queries. What a way to go! Finally, I feel we are in the 21st Century. Before it was weeks and weeks of waiting for replies. This time I received replies the same or next day. And although they were rejections they were so kind. They all started with "Dear Rae" and almost all of them offered advice or help or encouragement. I received one reply 5 minutes after I had sent it. It was a rejection but I was so excited, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Instead of these far away places that were so awesome and formal, here came emails from people that could have been friends writing to you. That is the beauty of emails. It lets real people come through.
fw: Did you personalise your approaches, or use a standard one?
RP: I basically sent the same query in the beginning. I hated writing them. How was I going to tell the story it took 300 pages to write on one page? But then came email queries, and I decided to just write what I would write if I were telling my sister about my book. I followed all the rules for queries, telling the genre of the book, who it would appeal to, etc, but I managed to get in all the excitement and wonder of how I felt about the book. All on one page because no one likes long emails. Then, of course, I needed to find the person that was looking for that type of book.
fw: And how many approaches did you make this time?
RP: After finding firstwriter.com I sent out 5 queries to publishers and 5 queries to agencies, before Catt LeBaigue with the Heacock Literary Agency accepted me.
fw: That's really quick. How do you think you managed to grab their attention?
RP: I think my query struck a cord with Catt and she could feel what I was trying to get across. I think she knew I was sincere in my wanting to write a book that could actually be a fun read, and at the same time give hope to women (and men) in common life crises.
fw: And how have things changed now you have an agent?
RP: Having Catt for an agent is like having a new friend, one that shares the same vision that I have. She recently sent me this line: "We will work together for many years and much good will come of our efforts, good that will benefit people all over the world". Truthfully, it can't be any better than that. Catt has edited my manuscript with excellent professional advice and continues to offer encouragement on my writing.
fw: Do you have any more books in the pipeline?
RP: I have started a new book, I have about 15 written pages, and tons of notes. But I will need to do a lot of research.
fw: What would you say to other writers still trying to get accepted?
RP: Keep in mind that it is the story that counts. Make it the best story ever told. A lot of writers say that help comes to them from above while they are writing. If you don't believe in higher beings helping you, then ask for help anyway, it may come from higher beings or your own higher consciousness. It helps you to get in that zone where all creative efforts arise.
New writers: remember quitters never win, and winners never quit.
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