Success Story Interview - Emily Rae

An Interview with Emily Rae (Jettie on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Maria Whelan of InkWell Management.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Emily Rae:
I found representation with my adult sci-fi thriller, TTYL. As a ‘90s kid, nerdy gamer girl at heart, my inspiration started with wanting to see more female main characters in that realm. But I also wanted to explore the concept of nostalgia and why it’s sweeping the world by storm right now (everything is a reboot or a remake nowadays!). So, I asked, “Why?”. Why are so many adults (specifically Millennials) so obsessed with their brightly colored childhood of the ‘90s? I think, as kids, we had an idea of what we wanted our adulthood to be. But then reality hit us all and it’s not what we expected (thanks, tech-boom), so we yearn to go back to the days when we were hopeful—while grieving the life we wished we were living.
TTYL explores that question through my retro-game-loving MC who is ‘stuck in her past’ due to the death of her sister at a young age, and her adult life isn’t what she planned. She has to navigate finding a life worth living—in the present.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Emily Rae:
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I have binders of terribly drawn people going on adventures, and I’d narrate it for my mom. When I moved on from drawing and started using words, I carried composition notebooks around with me everywhere I went, filling them with stories.
But I took my first writing classes and started my first serious novel in December 2016. So, I’ve been writing with the intent to get published for seven years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Emily Rae:
I started TTYL in November 2020. So, three years (but with lots of breaks in-between as I worked on other stuff).
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Emily Rae:
I’ve definitely asked myself, “What’s all this for?”. I got my fair share of rejections, and after spending HOURS writing something, it’s easy to feel like you’re wasting your time. But the story and writing itself kept me going. My characters don’t care if I don’t get a book deal, they’ll keep hounding me until I bring them to life (and they get their way, of course).
QT: Is this your first book?
Emily Rae:
No. I wrote three novels before even attempting to write something for public consumption, and they will forever be at the bottom of my trash can. The first serious book I wrote was AN IMMORTAL’S GUIDE TO BEING CURSED: AND OTHER LIFE LESSONS, and adult contemporary fantasy. I queried it too soon, but we all need a book we learn the whole process with! However, it’s complete and in my backlist, and my agent is willing to sell whatever I write. So hopefully it sees the light of day!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Emily Rae:
I don’t have an MFA, but I took college level courses taught by an instructor with an MFA in Creative Writing. I also took countless online courses by established authors and editors. In January 2022, I was accepted into the Author Mentor Match program, where a published author mentored me directly, helping me shape TTYL. So, while I don’t have a degree in creative writing, there are SO many ways to educate yourself with the craft.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Emily Rae:
Not really, haha! But when I get into a writing groove, I stay in that groove for weeks until the project is done. So, I write whenever I have any little gaps in my day. I prefer to write in the mornings though, my brain seems to turn off after 8pm.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Emily Rae:
SO MANY. I actually started a version of it in April 2020 (Camp NaNoWriMo). I scrapped that, then started from scratch in November 2020 (NaNoWriMo). I edited my first draft by September 2021 (in time for Pitch Wars). Through Pitch Wars, I got a great edit letter from a mentor. I implemented those edits and submitted it to Author Mentor Match in January 2022. I got into AMM, and Paris Wynters was my mentor. I essentially rewrote the book with her feedback, then we did ANOTHER round of edits after that. After that, I sent it out to beta readers and implemented any feedback they had.
Long story short, I re-wrote/edited TTYL seven times (send wine, please).
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Emily Rae:
Yes! I waited until the very last version to send it out to anyone. I learned from my previous book that sending it out to too many betas at different stages of the book got messy really fast. So, I chose three people I trusted, which is IMPORTANT. A bad beta reader can throw everything off the rails and make you question your entire existence. I sent everyone the same, polished manuscript, then collected all their feedback and implemented it.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Emily Rae:
I had a very vague outline when I originally went in. Once that draft was done, I wrote a new outline from scratch, filling in gaps that were missing from the original draft. Then I edited from the new outline. I repeated that process… Well, seven times!
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Emily Rae:
I sent my very first query for my first book in September 2019, and officially shelved it in September 2021.
I started lightly querying TTYL in September 2022 (wow, there’s a Sept. theme here) to test the waters, but really hit the ground running in January 2023, sending out most of my queries.
Long story short: I’ve been seriously querying this book for eight months.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Emily Rae:
*mumbles* 126. And it got a total of 24 requests.
But with how the industry is right now, the days of small batch querying are over. I was so confident in my query package that I sent out queries in bulk. I was getting positive feedback on TTYL, but no offers, so I knew something was working. When I got a rejection, I sent out three more. It only takes one yes!
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Emily Rae:
I only queried agents I’d be happy to sign with. I researched their agency, their track record, and MSWLs to make sure my genre fit.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Emily Rae:
No. If I did that, I wouldn’t have been able to send out 126 queries! If they mentioned something specific in a MSWL that fit my MS I would throw it in my query, but for the most part, I had a standard query I sent to everyone.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Emily Rae:
Make sure your manuscript and query package is as polished as it can be before sending it out. Be confident that everything is as good as you can make it by having quality eyes on your work. Once you send out a sub-par manuscript, you can’t take it back.
When it comes to the query letter, do whatever you can to stand out. As soon as I put that TTYL was in Author Mentor Match, I had editor interest (from a pitch contest, so stay engaged!), two other books that had been shortlisted for RevPit and Pitch Wars, and that TTYL had X number of requests (I started putting this once I got up to ten full requests), my request rate shot up fast. Do what you can to stand out in the slush pile, don’t be scared to show yourself off!
Also, make sure you’re submitting your MS in the right genre. I thought TTYL was sci-fi, then a beta said it was more like a thriller. This made me put my MS in front of the right agent’s eyes. Because it’s not just about finding an agent, but it’s about finding the right agent. You want one who loves your book, gets the heart of the story, and knows how to sell it.

Query Letter:

TTYL is a 90,000-word adult thriller with light speculative elements in the vein of Black Mirror. It features the virtual reality technology of Deep Dive by Ron Walters and themes of grief similar to Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It has received interest from Leah Mol, an editor from MIRA Books, who stated she would love to see TTYL once I have an agent.
Ashley and her sister, Brianna, were an inseparable gaming duo: always player one and player two. As kids, they had grand plans to create video games together, but it all crashed down when Brianna died. Now, twenty years later, Ashley’s life is stuck on a loading screen.
The closest Ashley gets to her dreams is fixing retro video game systems. That is, until she finds an old virtual reality console coded by her tech-genius sister. But it’s not a typical system, it houses a lifelike, fully immersive world—a ‘90s wonderland where her sister’s avatar resides with her real-life memories and personality intact. In this artificial paradise, Ashley can rebuild the life she always imagined, pixel by pixel.
But it’s game over when a hacker threatens Ashley for the advanced tech. Her nostalgic utopia becomes her personal hell as he infiltrates the system, altering Ashley’s mind, stealing personal information, and blurring the lines between reality and the virtual world. When Ashley finds that he’ll do the same to others when he mass produces the tech, she realizes the only way to stop him is to delete the code. In other words, destroy her dreams and lose her sister—again.
TTYL was chosen for mentorship in the Author-Mentor Match program and has been revised under the guidance of a published author. It was also shortlisted in the Pitch Wars mentorship contest in 2021 and has been requested by fourteen agents. Another one of my manuscripts is shortlisted for publication by Gollancz. As a 1990s gamer girl at heart and someone who codes professionally, I’ve pulled inspiration from my own life to write this manuscript. My professional writing experience includes journalism, scriptwriting, and copywriting for over one-hundred websites and a variety of marketing materials. I am currently the proprietor of a marketing firm which produces brand strategies, websites, print materials, and videos.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Emily Rae