Client Spotlight is a feature on the blog to highlight the incredibly talented writers I work with. I ask them a few questions about their writing and querying process and then they get to turn the tables and pose a few questions to me. Today I'm talking with Qurratulayn Muhammad, who writes under the pen name Kayti Nika Raet.
Agent Asks Author
Can you tell us a little bit about your book?
BLOOD AND BREATH is a young adult historical fantasy set in a 1920's style magical world about a girl who hires a devil to get revenge on the people who tried to kill her.
Plus some other stuff. And some romance ^_^
What's your writing process like?
I try to write a thousand words a day and have a first draft completed in 3 months, with a nice clean version finished by 6 months.
BLOOD AND BREATH turned out a little differently. I started it during National Novel Writing Month back in 2015. I didn't win, but I did end up with 23,000 words, which stayed on the back burner until I finished my dystopian series. I was worried I would have trouble getting back into the world but that was do NOT the case! Jack and Evan were super talkative, and I love them for it.
A thousand words a day is incredible! And I can definitely testify to the truth of that; you turned in your first round of revisions in two weeks! Why did you decide to pursue traditional publishing after self-publishing your first series?
I wanted to try things differently. With self publishing, it's very hands on, and you wear many hats. As someone who likes to learn as much as possible I enjoy that aspect, but that also means I want to try new things and with BLOOD AND BREATH I get a chance to find out how things work in a more traditional route.
What made you decide to query me?
As soon as I started the query process I gave myself a limit of 50 agents to query. You were the 52nd (good thing I didn't listen to myself!) A friend of mine Madhuri Pavamani (her book DUTCH, which is seriously amazing, comes out April 4th and I make a brief cameo!) tagged me in your tweet where you announced that you were now open to submissions.
I swear, you were the fastest person to ever ask for a full (TWENTY MINUTES!) and I spent the weekend going KYAAAAAA! and also cautioning myself to calm down.
You queried me the first day I announced that I'd opened to queries! I knew immediately that I wanted to request the full manuscript. Your opening chapter had me desperate to read on and find out what happened next. I'm surprised it took 20 minutes; felt like 20 seconds! It actually felt like my world was collapsing in on itself as everything clicked into place for me. Not only did I know I was going to request the full manuscript right away and probably extend an offer of representation, I also knew with certainty that making this career switch was the right choice. Needless to say, I'M SO GLAD that you didn't stick to your 50 agents cap. Proud number 52 forever!
Obviously, I devoured your manuscript and loved it. So tell us about The Call!
My thought process was "be calm, be professional, stop sweating... ASDFGHJKL!"
So I'm sure I came off just the tiniest bit stiff, but I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. Also the fact that you got my name on the first try earned you instant bonus points.
I was 95% sure I wanted to sign with you by the end of the call but I still had some fulls out and was referred to an agent so I wanted to let them know.
Cue longest week ever! But it was one filled with random happy dances. I still break out into them on occasion. I can't wait to see where things lead.
Author Asks Agent
What were your favorite books to read growing up and does that influence what you look for?
Oh, good question! I was a voracious reader as a kid, and read everything from Baby Sitters Club to Jane Eyre (which I read when I was 12 and it kinda messed me up for a bit!). We had a family tradition of reading aloud which carried on until I was a freshman in high school. The book I remember most, that had the largest impact on me, was THE SECRET GARDEN because we read it when I was around 7 years old and I remember that it was the first time I was allowed to take a turn reading. It felt like a huge rite of passage to me.
I don't think the books I read in my childhood really influence what I'm seeking because, honestly, the publishing landscape for children's fiction has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years! There's such a depth and richness to children's fiction now. And YA didn't even really exist when I was growing up. There was Judy Blume and then a vast expanse of nothing. Which is why I read a lot of adult books at a young age. So instead I seek books that tell the stories I wish I'd had as a kid, or stories that I want my daughter to have as she grows up, or stories that touch me now, right where I am in my life. Books for me are about connection and identity; I read to feel something, and to better understand people and the world and my own self.
I love your blog and how you give us a peek at things from the agent perspective (So. Many. Emails.) What made you decide to become an agent?
I actually started my career at a literary agency way back in 2007 when I still lived in New York, and I knew right away that it's what I wanted to do. Up until I got my first internship I'd never really considered publishing as real jobs that people do. Despite intellectually knowing better, it always sort of seemed to me as those books sprung onto bookshelves fully-formed, a la Athena from the head of Zeus. I never thought too much about the massive teams of people responsible for putting books out into the world.
I was a Writing major and an English minor, which meant I was either going to become a teacher or a novelist. Turns out I really like starting drafts and don't so much like finishing them. And while I have the utmost respect for teachers, I wasn't equal to the bureaucratic hurdles that come with working in education. So when I discovered literary agencies, it was a perfect fit. Creative, critical work that has the power to make a difference in people's lives.
Unfortunately I moved to Minnesota in 2009 and I sort of set my dream of agenting aside to work in publishing houses instead. I learned so much, and I'm so grateful for the experience I gained on the publishing side of the fence. I really missed working more intimately with authors, though, so I started teaching some publishing-related courses on the side. But rather than satisfy me, teaching just made me realize that advocating for authors was the only thing I wanted to do for my career. Luckily, the landscape of publishing has changed so much in the last ten years; working remotely as an agent is viable now in a way it wasn't back when I left NYC. And because I'd continued to work in the publishing industry gaining new skills and areas of expertise, like contract negotiation and management, I knew I'd be an attractive candidate for a literary agency. Then it was just the matter of finding the right place! I'm so thrilled to have connected with Bob and come on board D4EO.
How was your first day as an agent like? Did it go how you expected? Any surprises?
To be honest, it was surreal. I work out of my home, and on my first day I didn't even have a desk set up. I worked on my bed. I was terrified. I remember opening up my laptop and thinking: what if no one queries me? What am I going to do all day? What if I've made a terrible mistake?
Because the other part of this is that agenting is a lot of work upfront for no pay. Agents don't get paid a dime until their clients get paid (and if any agent tries to tell you differently, RUN). I resigned from a well-paying publishing job to become an agent, and it was frightening to walk away from a steady salary. I'm really fortunate that my family is financially stable, and my husband is incredibly supportive of my career ambitions. But we have a small daughter, and I have to tell you, there was a few moments on that first day when I was sure I had just totally ruined my entire life.
But then queries started coming in and all my fears faded. There was of course, one other annoying voice. A voice that told me I couldn't possibly request a manuscript on the first day. That was preposterous. Well, shut up, voice, I do what I want! And since that manuscript was BLOOD AND BREATH I'm so glad I did!
What was The Call like on your end?
I. was. terrified. I spent the entire morning taking notes. I have about four pages of hand-written notes, front and back, about your book and why I loved it, and about my experience, and my skill set, and my vision for your career. As a brand new agent with no sales record I knew it would take a big leap of faith for an author to sign with me over a more established agent. But I knew I had a decade of career experience in my favor, and I thought if I could just convince you how desperately I loved your book I'd have a chance...
I still didn't have a desk at the time, so I pulled a little folding table into my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed and made the call from there! I have never felt imposter syndrome like I did for that hour on the phone! But fortunately I made the right impression. When you emailed me a week later to accept I literally jumped up out of my seat and started screaming!
Thanks so much for talking with me, Kayti! I can't wait for everything the future holds for you and for BLOOD AND BREATH! (PS. I have a desk now).
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Kayti Nika Raet moved down South when she was 11, where she was bitten by the writing bug, as well as other, less friendly insects. She is the author of the Outsider Chronicles, a five book series starting with NIKO and set in a world where the rain burns like acid and flesh eating monsters roam. She's also a reviewer for Readers' Favorite and has her own Youtube Channel: Kayti Edition. When she is not hard at work on her next book she has fun reading, listening to K-pop, and photography. Kayti lives in Milledgeville, Georgia. You can find her on twitter @KNRwrites.