Hello wonderful readers! Welcome to this week's Tuesday From The Trenches. I hope you are all enjoying a lovely fall. We don't get much of a fall in Phoenix, so I escaped to the mountains of Flagstaff for the weekend and it was truly good for the soul. I hope your days have been full of apple cider, pumpkin patches, and spooky fun.
I'm so thrilled to be welcoming Natasha Khan to the blog today. I had the wonderful opportunity to read some of her work and zoom with her awhile back and she is truly lovely. Join me in welcoming her today!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Natasha! I’m thrilled to share your story with my readers!
Thanks! I’m really excited to be here!
Can you share your query stats with us?
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: About four months.
Number of Agents Queried: I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I’d say about 12.
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 5
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: One. That was an editor, who asked me to submit something once I had an agent. We have yet to take her up on her offer.
Number of R&Rs: None
Number of Rejections: 9
Number of Offers: 3
Agent and Agency: Kortney Price at Raven Quill Literary
That is so exciting! You really worked your way through the trenches quickly. How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
To be honest, I didn’t really query enough to make any organizational system feel worthwhile. I figured once I started sending out queries in larger numbers, a spreadsheet would make sense — but thankfully, it wasn’t needed.
That really must have been so nice. Congrats again!! Even though you didn't have many, any rejection can sting. So how did you handle those rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I think I’d read so much about the process, I was pretty geared up for a lot of rejections, so the cold querying ones didn’t sting as much. There was one that came after a live pitch and more manuscripts request from a really great agent that was more disappointing than the others. But the agent wrote me a really long, super sweet note that definitely took some of the sting away.
That is so kind of that agent. I love hearing stories like that. And I know that those personalized ones are super kind but somehow can sting more than others as well.
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
My process was still pretty haphazard, but in general: I started doing research on MSWL, and on Twitter. Once I found an agent with a wishlist that seemed like a good match for my work, I’d do tons of research on them. Interviews, webinars, blog posts — anywhere and everywhere I found their name, so I could send them a super personalized query.
That is really great! I think those queries where you know your work is a good fit for an agent's list make a huge difference. So after all of that research, how did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
As damning as it may sound coming from a writer, I sensed I would be better live than on paper. So I pitched to Kortney, live and online, at a Writer’s Conference. It was my very first conference, and my very first pitch. I’d spent the last week researching the three agents I’d booked live pitches with, and most of the actual day in question sending pictures of possible outfits to my friends because I had no idea what to wear. In the end I showed up in a blue hijab and abaya and grey pearls that turned out to be invisible under the scarf. Not to mention a glowing orb behind my head, as it was nearing midnight in Saudi Arabia.
I pitched my story to Kortney, and she teared up. So did I.
I guess it was kismet.
Wow. What a powerful moment! And your outfit sounds lovely, by the way. I love good friends who walk me through those choices. So how much time passed between querying Kortney to getting “the call”?
Kortney requested the manuscript I pitched her at the conference, and I sent it to her the next morning.
About 6 weeks later, there was a (tiny) dinner party at our home. I was being a less than engaging host because I kept checking my email. RevPit had come and gone, leaving me with a bitter sweet ‘runner up’ prize, and I was anxious to hear if I’d done any better with WriteMentor, who were announcing their mentorships that day. Mid Dinner came the news — I didn’t make it.
Dinner was shaping up to be a more silent affair than usual, when Kortney’s email hit my inbox. More manuscripts! I sent them to her the instant my poor guest left our door, and then hunkered down, preparing for another six weeks wait.
Kortney came back to me in about 3 hours. She wanted a call!
Oh that is amazing! After that 6 week wait to have such a fast turn around must have felt fantastic! Can you tell us more about “the call”?
Incredible as it may sound, I wasn’t actually sure what Kortney wanted to talk to me about. Could it really be ‘the call’? How could that be, when she’d asked to speak with me literally only a few hours after I sent her my manuscripts?
I had all these scenarios in my head about what I’d do to prepare when I had ‘the call’. I’d read blog posts, do more research, watch BookEnds videos on YouTube — what to ask an agent on ‘the call’? I’d discuss it with my critique partners. What should I say? What do you think they’ll say?
In the end, I didn’t do any of that because I was still not convinced this was actually ‘the call’. Instead, I spent hours wondering what Kortney could possibly want to talk to me about.
So I got onto Zoom at our slated time (sans pearls) and we talked about books, and our childhoods, and my writing — and the usual ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings stuff you do when you’ve found a friend. About an hour into the conversation, Kortney started saying something to the effect of: ‘and if you pick me to be your agent —’
And I said: “Wait!”
To which she said: ‘What?’
To which I said, again: “Wait! Is this… the call?”
Kortney laughed her head off, and told me roundly that she’d never had this reaction before.
It’s a running joke between us now. Every time an Editor asks us for a call in the future, I can see this coming right back up:
Is this the call?
Haha! What a fun story! I love that you were an hour in before you realized. It sounds like you and Kortney have a wonderful connection though. How did you know she was the right choice?
I was fortunate enough to get two more offers of representation. I met the other two agents (suitably prepared this time around) and had a great time speaking with both. They were both editorial, which is important to me. Both had a definite vision for my manuscripts, and ultimately, my career. Both had clients who were very, very happy with them. Just like Kortney.
From everything I’ve read and heard, this is bound to be a pretty long and sometimes rocky road. So, in the end, I went with the agent I felt I’d have the most fun with on this journey.
So far, it’s lived up to its promise.
I love that. So important to have fun in the process. It can be so hard to choose between offers, and I love that you took this approach. Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
The book that I first pitched to Kortney — the one that left us both in tears, the first time we met — is a grandparent story. It’s short and it’s lyrical, and it has my heart. The grandparent relationship is an important one to me, and it shows up in various forms in many of my manuscripts. Turns out, Kortney’s the same way.
After she read the story, Kortney told her Grandfather: “I found you in a book today.”
When I heard that, I knew I’d found my agent.
That is beautiful. Sounds like such a special book and an amazing connection with Kortney.
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Ultimately, it’s a totally unpredictable journey. You might find your agent — your agent, the person who is your person — today, tomorrow, next week, next month, in a few years. No one knows. But trust you’re where you need to be, and keep learning. Read books in your genre, read books on craft, read blog posts and interviews, get critiques, give critiques, take classes, attend webinars and conferences. Whatever learning looks like for you. Always, always keep learning. It’s the only way forward.
That is truly fantastic advice! Where can we connect with you online?
A website is still in the works, but you can find me on Twitter: @NatashaMKhan
Thanks so much for joining us today, Natasha! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. I wish you all the luck and truly can’t wait to see your books in the world.
It was so great to be here, Kailei. I dreamed about doing an interview like this some day. So glad my first one is with you!
Natasha is offering one lucky reader a Picture Book critique, either Fiction or Narrative Non Fiction. Follow Natasha on Twitter and retweet this post for you chance to win. Winner will be announced on Twitter.
About Natasha Khan
Natasha is a Pakistani expat mom raising two boys with her husband in Saudi Arabia. She spends an inexcusable amount of time window shopping for books on the internet and playing the New York Times Spelling Bee.
Natasha has a degree in Political Science from the University of Southern California, which she brandishes in heated discussions over Pakistani politics. She is passionate about her country, her people, and her food. Ramadan and the two Eids are her favorite times of the year.
Pre-COVID, she spent most of her vacations traveling the world with her family. But her favorite place to be is in the kitchen, cooking while she listens to a sizzling audiobook. Her other favorite place is at her desk, writing away.
About Kailei Pew
Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and children's book author represented by the amazing Emily Forney of Bookends Literary. Kailei's debut Middle Grade Book, KID MADE will be coming to you from Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Summer 2023