Good morning, folks!
Today, I have an interview with the lovely Rachel Greenlaw. We met when I put out a call asking to start a query support group — you may know us as the Llamasquad!
I get so excited when I get to share a Llama success story. Rachel signed with Ann Leslie Tuttle of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret a few months back for her YA and MG fantasy stories. Now let’s dive in and learn a bit more about Rachel!
Hi, Rachel! Can you tell me about the book that got you your agent?
RG: Sure, it was a middle grade fantasy about a girl who journeys to a magical string of islands, each one more dangerous than the one before and her quest to free her best friend and the islands as a whole from a curse of fractured magic! It was heavily inspired by my island home.
Can you tell me a bit about your querying journey?
RG: I queried three projects over eighteen months with varying success. The first was terrible and we shall never speak its name. The second was a YA fantasy, and I got a bunch of R&Rs which I hadn’t the slightest idea how to tackle, but no offers. The third I originally wrote as YA, then revised to MG. That revision landed me an agent.
Was there a time in your querying journey when you felt like giving up?
RG: Funnily enough, about five hours before I got the first email for a call! I was getting ready to send out the last few queries for the manuscript before moving on. After so many full requests and R&Rs that never seemed to come to anything, I needed a break from the trenches to regroup.
How did you get the strength to keep trying?
RG: It honestly felt like a game for a really long time! It didn’t feel real. I thought there was more likelihood of traveling into space than landing an agent. So I didn’t really ever feel the need to throw in the towel, not until those few hours before I got the email that changed everything.
Do you have any advice for querying authors?
RG: Keep a spreadsheet to track your queries and don’t fret if you notice a spelling mistake in your query or opening pages. Always be polite and courteous. Don’t dwell on an empty inbox, fill it with author newsletters instead. That’ll be you one day!
What’s something you know now as an agented author that you wish you knew before?
RG: That it’s really ok to take your time. Really. In fact, the more time you take, the better the outcome is likely to be. I rushed revisions so much before I was agented, when really I should have taken a breath and stepped away for a few days.
Also, when you’re seeking representation, be picky. Really hone in on what you’re looking for; is it great sales? Someone who comes across well on twitter? The agent who represents your favourite author? It’s ok to make a list of the agents you would want to represent you the most- in fact, I would encourage it. Don’t query just anyone, pick people who you believe would make an excellent business partner. Because eventually, you will be trusting them with your precious work. I queried in a really slap dash way up until the last project, when I was a lot more focused. I researched, I listened to podcast interviews, searched for blog posts, looked up recent sales and tried to work out who I would want to represent me and my work.
When and why did you start writing?
RG: When I was very tiny I used to make books with my dad, I would tell him the story and he would write it down on all my carefully stuck together pages. I wrote because there was so much going on in my head, my imagination was constantly full of stories! And honestly, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t write. It’s the best thing in the world. And now, I get fidgety if I haven’t had some writing time in a day. The notes section of my phone is full to bursting with the scribbles from squeezed in writing sessions!
What inspires you?
RG: Everything. Everyone. Weird phrases, scents, new places. I recently went on a writing retreat with some friends in the snowy mountains and came back with a head full of new ideas. Ideas for me are never ending, it’s the execution I struggle with- I’m constantly learning.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
RG: A….plantser I guess?! I make a few notes before writing a first chapter, then plot it out in more detail as I go. Once I’ve got past the midpoint, I usually have a fully sketched out plot (on a spreadsheet, I do love a good spreadsheet) and have to double back after the first draft to fix the opening scenes.
If you read writing craft books, do you have any to recommend?
RG: Save the Cat writes a novel – I cannot recommend this book enough. It teaches the basic three act structure with examples for each story type and without it, my manuscripts would still be messy, tangent filled drivel.
Who would your dream co-author be?
RG: Gosh, so many people. But if we’re really stretching the realms of possibility, I’d like to sit down with Jane Austen and chat about new book ideas. Her mind was so ahead of her time. Or Diane Wynne Jones – I’m in awe of her magic systems and plot twists.
What’s a book you’ve read lately that you’re OBSESSED with?
RG: THE GRACE YEAR – it blew my mind. Seriously. Everyone needs to read this book. I read it three months ago and I’m still furious. The author, Kim Leggit is incredible.
What’s your author dream? Fanart? Movie adaptation? Fanfic?
RG: Fan art would be really fun! But honestly, if just one person fell in love with reading because of a book I had written, my career would be made.
You live on the charming Isles of Scilly!! How has island life influenced your stories?
RG: The islands are very unique and I love featuring the everyday world around me in my stories. It’s a very unhurried sort of place which teaches you to appreciate the small moments. There are real extremes; palm trees lining white sand beaches with the sun beating down, then winters full of harsh, unforgiving storms. It’s a place of contrasts and it’s so full of interesting names and places, i feel like it’s my own personal dragon’s hoard of ideas! It’s also really lacking in commercialisation, so whenever I travel, it’s always so fun and novel to go shopping, go to the cinema and have a takeaway!
Are there any difficulties that have come with working with an agent based in the US? Do you have any advice for trans-continental writers?
RG: So far, touch wood, there have been no difficulties thanks to email and Skype. My agent takes the time to have phone calls with me every few months, because although emails have a purpose, I don’t believe they’re the best tool to form an entire professional relationship. A lot can be lost in translation. So my main advice would be, if you’re at all unsure of something, or just need reassurance about a project or strategy, ask for a call. Communication is absolutely key and if you want it to work, you have to schedule to fit around both timezones.
What does your writing process look like?
RG: I begin with an idea. Maybe an image or a character I can picture really vividly. I have to be able to picture a scene before I can write it – like playing a film. If it’s a bit fuzzy, if the details aren’t quite there, I know it needs more time to simmer. I usually fast draft a slim first draft – it’ll be well under the word count I’m aiming for but it’ll have some key plot points. With each revision, the word count goes up and my characters get louder, they show me what they would do in each situation. And that’s really the knack of it, finding and listening to my characters to shape then reshape the plot until it clicks.
Do you have any go-to revision advice?
RG: Always ask someone to read it through for you – someone you trust. Take their opinion and if their ideas resonate, incorporate them into your revision plan. If you don’t have someone you know to read it through for you, check out the blog posts on byomentor.com. They’ll walk you through step by step on how to revise your manuscript.
You write MG as well as YA. What are the common elements between the two, and do you have any advice for writers hopping from age categories?
RG: Characters. People are interested in people, whether 8 or 18, a reader will want to read a book with a character that resonates. If you write a character convincingly enough, your readers will want to follow them anywhere. That said, MG tends to lean towards the more fantastical (in fantasy) right now, and YA to the grittier side of life. If I want to learn how to write for a different age category, or even in a different genre, I read widely. I pick up as many books as I can and work out what I like, and what doesn’t click for me. None of us exist in a vacuum, and writing is just the same.
What’s the hardest part about being a writer?
RG: Sitting down and putting in the work, day after day. That first flash of inspiration is so exciting, then comes the honeymoon period as you skip merrily into the opening pages. Then it gets tougher – you actually have to stick with it. Even when your inner editor is telling you to close the word doc, put down the pen, step away! And with each round of revisions, you have to gracefully make a new tick list of things to fix. It’s a grind – sticking it out to complete and polish an entire manuscript.
What’s the best part?
RG: Those small, breakthrough moments when a plot point clicks into place, or a character reveals what makes them tick. Those days when your fingers can’t keep up with the scene rushing through your head, when what you see and hear and feel falls out on the page exactly as you imagined it. Those moments make it very, very worth it.
Rachel, thank you so much for your time!
Rachel Greenlaw lives on a tiny cluster of islands, nestled deep in the Atlantic Ocean. When she’s not writing and day dreaming, she can be found pottering across the beaches looking for sea washed treasure, sirens and shipwrecks with her two wildlings. She studied creative writing at Falmouth University and is represented by Ann Leslie Tuttle of Dystel, Goderich and Bourret.