Success Story Interview - Natalie Bahm

An Interview with Natalie Bahm (lilnatty on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Sara Megibow of KT Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
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.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Natalie Bahm:
I started creative writing about two years ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Natalie Bahm:
It was about 9 months from the first word on the page to the offer of representation.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: Is this your first book?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Natalie Bahm:
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)
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Natalie Bahm:
A lot. I did major rewrites three or four times. I edited constantly for about 6 months.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Natalie Bahm:
I sent 53 queries, 7 agents requested material, and 2 offered representation.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Natalie Bahm:
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).
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Natalie Bahm:
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.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Natalie Bahm:
Sure. I had two queries (and I got an offer from each) but this was the one I sent to Sara:

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Megibow:

When eleven-year-old Ally discovers the neighborhood boys are digging a tunnel to an abandoned steel mill she is faced with a dilemma. Should she join them and help dig to the mysterious and seriously off-limits steel mill while spending time with the sixth grade heartthrob Paul, or should she tell her parents, end the boys’ fun, but save them from the accident that’s bound to happen?

Ally decides to join the boys in hopes her involvement can push them to make the tunnel safer. She initiates the building of supports and then helps dig for months (with many adventures on the way) before she and the boys finally break through to the steel mill.

But when two notorious bank robbers known as the Gauze Men find the tunnel and discover where it leads, they decide to use it to get to the perfect hideout- miles of industrial buildings surrounded by a fifteen foot fence, that no one has been inside for twenty years… no one but all the neighborhood boys and Ally. When Ally and Paul get trapped inside the mill with the Gauze Men, Ally must escape and get help.

UNDERGROUND is my first novel. It is written for a middle grade audience and is complete at about 33,000 words.

I’d be happy to send you sample pages or the complete manuscript if you are interested. Thank you for your time.


Natalie Bahm