An Interview with Natalie Bahm
(A QueryTracker Success Story)
Natalie Bahm recently signed with agent Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency, LLC. Congratulations Natalie, and good luck with your new agent.
Natalie Bahm: UNDERGROUND is a middle grade novel about kids who dig a tunnel under the field behind their neighborhood to an abandoned steel mill.My dad used to tell stories about digging tunnels in a vacant lot near his house when he was a kid. The basis of the idea came from those stories.
NB: I started creative writing about two years ago.
NB: It was about 9 months from the first word on the page to the offer of representation.
NB: I don't think I'm the type to give up. If this manuscript wouldn't have worked out I would have kept trying until one did.
NB: No. My first book is tucked safely in a desk drawer never to see the light of day again. I sent two queries for it before I realized it was just a practice book. UNDERGROUND is book #2 and it is so much better than my first attempt.
NB: I have an associate's degree in Print Journalism-- so kind of. My bachelor's was in American Studies and it included a lot of English classes, so I wrote a lot of essays and stuff but nothing terribly creative.
NB: I wish I could stick to a schedule. I try to every few weeks, but it never works out. I have three little kids, so I write when they are occupied with other things (school, naps, television)
NB: A lot. I did major rewrites three or four times. I edited constantly for about 6 months.
NB: Yes. I come from a very large family and my parents, three sisters, and two brothers all read several drafts of the manuscript. I also have a FANTASTIC writing group and they each read sections. All of their advice was excellent. The book wouldn't have been half as good without them.
NB: I just write the first draft. On the second draft I work off a kind of outline.
In just a few pages I summarize the events of the book with bullets and then I put scenes that I want to add in yellow and highlight scenes that need to be deleted in red. This is so helpful because once the book is thousands of words long it's hard to decide where to put new things. This way I just have to look through three or four pages instead of two hundred.
NB: I started querying in April. I sent about 20 queries then and had a few requests. Several of the responses from requests had suggestions for revisions, so I stopped querying and I revised for three months. I started querying again in August and got the call in early September. So overall I only queried about 2 months, but there was a three month break in the middle.
NB: I sent 53 queries, 7 agents requested material, and 2 offered representation.
NB: I made sure they were looking for middle grade. I checked P&E and the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Check Forum to see if there were any red flags. And I queried agents who accepted email submissions first. I never sent a snail mail submission (though I would have if I had run out of email options).
NB: Sometimes. I decided that it didn't make a big difference if I personalized or not. More than half of my requests came from agents that I basically sent the form query with their names at the top. I only personalized if the agent specifically requested personalization on their blog or website or I had read and sincerely loved one of the books written by their authors.
NB: Keep querying. Exhaust all of your options before you give up. There are a lot of reputable agents and it only takes one. Also, if it doesn't work out the first time, write another book. First books are rarely the ones we see on bookstore shelves.
NB: Sure. I had two queries (and I got an offer from each) but this was the one I sent to Sara: