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An Interview with Tae Keller upon receiving an offer of representation.

09/26/2015

Tae Keller (75_ballet_shoes on QT) has signed with agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
NATALIE NAPOLI’S SCIENTIFIC OBSERVATIONS is a middle grade contemporary about a girl named Natalie, whose mother is suffering from depression. The story is formatted as her science lab book, and she uses her science experiments to cope and understand the world around her.

I’ve known a lot of people who have suffered from depression, and I wanted to write a story that was real and honest, without being overwhelming in its sadness.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was three and started a mystery series about my favorite stuffed animal--but I started writing seriously in high school.
How long have you been working on this book?
Two years ago, I wrote a scene about a classroom frog dissection (this ended up being the third chapter). I liked it, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, so I set it aside and forgot about it. A few months ago, I found that scene again, and suddenly knew how to use it. From there, the writing and revisions went crazy fast, probably 3 months or so.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
With this story, no. But in my writing life, YES. Writing is hard, and can be really lonely. At times it can feel like you’re writing in a vacuum, and you have no idea if what you’re doing is actually any good or not. Whenever I’ve felt like this, the best possible thing for me is to read a great book. This reminds me that, no, I’m not alone in this—there are great writers out there, and I want to learn from them and be part of the conversation. I love stories and storytelling.
Is this your first book?
This is the first book I’ve queried, but it’s not the first book I’ve attempted to write. In high school, I wrote a dystopian novel that was an unsalvageable disaster. Looking back, I had clearly just read The Hunger Games and had written a terrible knock-off. After that, I wrote three more manuscripts. Each one got steadily better, until I finally felt like I was ready.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I’ve had a few excellent writing teachers in high school and college. My mom has also written a couple books, and is now a high school English teacher, so she’s been enormously helpful. I’m very lucky.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Not so much. I try to write everyday, and I try to write in the mornings, but it’s not so strict that I beat myself up if I miss a day.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
After the first draft, I did two major revisions on my own. Then I showed it to my partner and my mom (I know, I know! Pretty much every writer will tell you NOT to do this, but they’re great readers), and they both gave excellent feedback, which helped me through another revision. I also have a writer friend who is great with the details. She usually helps me with the sentence level stuff, so I showed it to her last, and did one final revision.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I’ve tried it both ways, with various manuscripts. For this one, I outlined the next few chapters in advance. Once I got to the end of my outline, I’d plot out the next three chapters, and so on. This seemed to work for NATALIE, but I’m not sure if it’ll work for the next book. Every story seems to call for something different.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This book went FAST. I got my first offer about two weeks after I started querying, which is pure insanity.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Too many. I didn’t do enough research before I started querying, so I didn’t have any strategy. I sent out 50 queries at once, received 20 requests, and 6 offers. I had a great response rate, but it was so overwhelming. I'd recommend starting out with ten agents or so. It’ll be slower, but also much more manageable.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Not really. If a connection really stood out (I went to the same college as one agent, for example), I added that. But for the most part, no.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
There is some great advice on QueryTracker, as well as on other websites, for how to query, and I HIGHLY suggest reading up before you start. Also, if your budget allows for it, subscriptions to QT and PublishersMarketplace are totally worth it.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure! I took out the author bio paragraph, but here's the rest:

When Natalie Napoli's hashtag-abusing, Einstein-haired teacher insists science is the key to life, she deems him crazy. After all, how much can magnets and pendulums teach her about the world? But when her mother suddenly stops getting out of bed in the morning and not even Natalie's therapist father can help, Natalie finds herself face to face with the most important science experiment of her life. After hearing about a city-wide egg drop competition with a three hundred dollar prize, Natalie, her best friend, and a few unlikely allies embark on a quest to understand the scientific method, create the perfect egg armor, and win the money that might just save her mother.

Complete at 34,000 words, Natalie Napoli's Scientific Observations is a middle grade contemporary novel, formatted as a middle school lab notebook. The narrative combines diary, diagrams, experiments, and footnotes(1)--and as the story progresses, Natalie uses the scientific method not only to prepare for the egg drop, but also to understand her biracial identity, her evolving friendships, and the mother she no longer seems to know.

(1) In the style of E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver series

Thank you for your consideration.