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Success Story Interview - Soraya Lakhani

An Interview with Soraya Lakhani (sorayaraya97 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Brent Taylor of Triada US Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Soraya Lakhani:
Sure! It's a dual POV YA contemporary story about friendship and family. It also has a love triangle at its core, between three teens who care for each other desperately and hurt each other significantly, despite their very best intentions.

This is my second book and I wrote it while querying my first manuscript. I really wanted to prove to myself that I have multiple stories to tell. It was important to me to keep writing and to feel a sense of positive momentum and hope while in the trenches.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Soraya Lakhani:
When I was super little, my dad and I would go for walks and he would give me three words and ask me to tell him a story using those words. Maybe that's where it all started haha, but I've always enjoyed writing stories and I wrote on and off growing up.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Soraya Lakhani:
I wrote this book in about three months, almost immediately after I finished editing my first manuscript. I basically wrote it between May and July of 2020. While my first manuscript had a few starts and stops and took about a year or so of writing, writing my second story was a really fast and intense experience. Whenever I sat down to write, there were words waiting!
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Soraya Lakhani:
Not with this book, but with writing in general? Absolutely. When I got to college, I was thrilled to discover that there was a creative writing magazine and I submitted a bunch of stuff...and it all got rejected. My response at that time was to just...stop writing. For quite a few years I had a pretty strained relationship with writing. I knew I loved it, but I was terrified that I was actually really awful at it and I was going to lose a piece of my identity that I'd already claimed. So I just didn't write. I read voraciously and dreamed up lots of stories and still I did nothing, and I felt very frustrated with myself at how much time was passing. In 2018, I started writing my first manuscript, and then I stopped halfway through the year. In January 2019, I had dinner with friends and I basically said: "I am not going to be sitting here in a year, feeling like I've wasted another 12 months." So I started writing again in earnest and I haven't stopped since.
QT: Is this your first book?
Soraya Lakhani:
Nope, second!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Soraya Lakhani:
I don't. I took one poetry writing seminar in college and that was about it! I think my very best training has come from reading a ton. I've always read quite actively, but in 2018/2019 I made a conscious effort to read more intentionally and I learned so much about writing- how stories are made and what works and resonates with me, and what doesn't, and why.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Soraya Lakhani:
I'm a pretty habit/routine-oriented person; that's a big part of maintaining space for writing in my life. I try to write most evenings. I'm a psychologist and I work standard business hours, and so my evenings and weekends are quite free. I find that if I'm working on a particular project and I'm able to write for a few hours multiple days in a row, it helps me stay connected to the characters and it's easier for me to fall back into the story every time I come back to writing.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Soraya Lakhani:
Before querying, it was really a singular draft. I went through some light edits based on beta feedback, but I didn't reshape the bigger architecture of the story. I've just finished a pretty big round of revisions, though, based on my agent's feedback- there was a fair amount of rewriting involved. So I would say, at this point, that I've done one heavy rewrite/edit.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Soraya Lakhani:
Totally! Beta readers are the best. I have one go-to beta who is always my first reader, and I had about 6 other people read it as well.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Soraya Lakhani:
I didn't outline at all! I had a sense of the big arc and a handful of key beats, but that's about it. My characters are always my point of entry into anything I write, so I kind of feel like I need to spend time inside their heads to really understand how they move through their worlds, their choices and their reactions. I love being surprised by where stories go, and all the threads that unfurl in the moment. That said (!!!), I don't know if my pantsing approach is the best; a lot of my big revisions this time around had to do with plotting and pacing, hitting more traditional story beats, and taking my characters and giving them clearer stakes and motivations. For future stories, I might rethink my strategy (or lack thereof)!
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Soraya Lakhani:
I finished my first manuscript in the spring and sent out my first query (to Brent, actually!) at the very end of May 2020. I had a super polite rejection in my inbox the next morning, and it was a fast way to rip off the bandaid. I continued to query through the summer, and I still had two fulls out when I decided to query Brent again with my second manuscript in late October. He requested the full the next day and offered rep about a month later.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Soraya Lakhani:
I sent out 2; I queried Brent, and a couple of weeks later I queried one other agent who had requested the full for my first manuscript and had encouraging feedback, but she passed on this book. At that point, Brent was still reading and I was happy to wait to hear back from him before continuing to query. I was still winding down the process of querying my first book, and I honestly wasn't expecting things to work out the way they did, and as fast as they did. I just got extremely lucky with a lot of factors aligning early on in my querying journey.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Soraya Lakhani:
I worked off the list I had made for my first manuscript. In addition to agents who repped YA contemporary, I looked at agents who were at established agencies with solid sales records. I used Twitter a lot- #MSWL was super helpful in getting a moment-to-moment sense of what agents were looking for. And I read a ton of interviews with various agents, to get a sense of their working style and their approach to agenting.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Soraya Lakhani:
For the 2 queries I sent out for this book, I did personalize slightly. I made reference to Brent's MSWL and I mentioned to the other agent that she had read my first book and invited me to submit future work. When querying my first manuscript, I personalized if I could find something warranting personalization! If not, then I didn' space for unnecessary words in a query!
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Soraya Lakhani:
I would say that while the stats can be discouraging - I spent a long, long time looking at stats!- every single querying journey will unfold differently. And in addition to doing everything you can to ensure your work is the best it can be, my biggest piece of advice would be to continue writing (but of course, if you need to take a break, then take a break!). Writing my second story really saved me a ton of heartache while querying my first book, and it gave me tremendous hope that, even if it didn't happen with my first manuscript, it would happen with my second, or the following one, or the next one after that. It brought me a lot of joy and helped me feel a sense of agency and optimism, even in the midst of a very unpredictable process.