Welcome to today’s episode of Tuesday Debut, brought to you by the 8th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest where with any luck you’ll be able to vote for finalists sometime in the next couple days! I have the post nearly ready to go, but didn’t want it to interfere with Tuesday Debut, plus we’re still making some last minute decisions!
But now, it is my pleasure to introduce you to today’s Tuesday Debut, the lovely and talented author/illustrator Natasha Khan Kazi, and give you a glimpse of her gorgeous debut picture book, MOON’S RAMADAN.
Not only is Natasha going to share the knowledge and expertise she gained on her journey to publication with us today, she is also offering a Picture Book Manuscript Critique (nonrhyming) to one lucky writer! Just leave a comment on today’s post between now and Monday March 6 at 3 PM Eastern and you may be randomly selected to win!
So let’s get right to it!
By Natasha Khan Kazi
Versify, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
Released on February 28, 2023
Fiction, 4-8 years old
It’s Ramadan, the month of peace, and Moon loves traveling around the world to watch people helping people. Children and their families make gift baskets, bake sweets, and hang lanterns. They do good deeds in honor of those who have less. Guided by Moon’s changing light, they come together to honor Ramadan and build a world of love and kindness.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Natasha! Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. Where did the idea for this book come from?
NATASHA: When my children entered preschool, I asked their teachers if we could share Ramadan in the classroom. My then four-year-old wanted to share old and new traditions, but I couldn’t find a book that encompassed everything we were looking for. A year later, when I started seriously pursuing picture book writing, I began brainstorming story ideas. A Ramadan story was at the top of the list. I sat on the idea for weeks, contemplating how this story would be unique. The answer was holiday magic, what I needed as a Muslim child and what my kids need now. Ramadan doesn’t have the imaginative characters of Christmas or Easter. My Ramadan story needed to be told from the POV of Moon, the magical main character, as she visited diverse families all over the world.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
NATASHA: I started the first version of Moon’s Ramadan in 2020 while I was taking a rhyming picture books class. As much as I loved the creativity and fun of rhyming stories, I couldn’t rhyme, incorporate Ramadan and Moon phase vocabulary, and express the emotions of the Moon at the same time! So I rewrote my draft to be a lyrical picture book with internal rhyme. I then dedicated the next several months to getting feedback. In total, I spent ten months working on this manuscript before querying it.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
NATASHA: The draft of Moon’s Ramadan went through many revisions, in fact, ten peer critiques and two professional critiques. The peer critiques were done through my critique group formed on Storyteller Academy and by posting to the forums on 12×12. I also had a great experience participating in Marcie Colleen’s Study Hall, a paid critique group where peers and Marcie critique a new story every week. In addition, I hired author Kate Allen Fox to professionally critique my manuscript. She is such a poetic, lyrical writer and really helped me push the lyricism in my text.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
NATASHA: I remember the moment I knew my manuscript was ready for submission. I shared it the last week of Marcie Colleen’s Study Hall with the five other writers (published and unpublished) participating. My peers all mentioned in their critiques that I should query this manuscript. At that point, I wondered if religious holiday story was too niche and wasn’t planning on querying with it. So to hear a resounding “query this story” from a group of writers I respected was serious motivation!
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
NATASHA: Coming from a business marketing background, I appreciate warm contacts (people who are aware of you) vs. cold contacts (people who are unaware of you). The equivalent of warm contacts in the agent querying world, for me, was conferences, workshops, and pitch events.
I queried through DVPit, PBPitch, and SCBWI Workshops. And I’ll be honest. I queried too early. My stories were not strong, and my writing was not ready. I didn’t include my illustrations because I hadn’t found my creative voice yet. But the silence was a good reality check that I needed to work smarter and focus on my craft.
A year later, in early 2021, I was finally ready. I had three polished stories and a portfolio of my illustrations. I participated in PBPitch, and when I shared Moon’s Ramadan I received hearts, which then turned into offers. When you receive an offer from an agent, it is a courtesy to let any agents you queried in the past know. So I sent out the “offer of representation” email with no expectations. To my surprise, an agent I queried in 2020 called me and said she didn’t represent picture books anymore, but she had the perfect agent for me. She was right. I met Tanusri Prassana, an agent with DeFiore & Company, and I immediately knew she was the one.
Working with Tanusri, I made a few edits to the text and added more final art to my submission package. Since I was a new illustrator, she wanted editors to see what I could do. We went on submission at the beginning of Ramadan 2021, which was great timing, as editors probably had Ramadan top of mind.
SUSANNA: How long after you found out about your book going to acquisitions (if you did) or after you submitted were you told it was a “yes”?
NATASHA: I humbly share that I received an offer the first day I was on submission, and additional offers followed that week. It seemed many publishers were looking for Ramadan stories.
SUSANNA: That is amazing! What a clear demonstration of how wonderful your manuscript was! When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
NATASHA: My agent called me after the first offer came in and after each offer. Receiving offers is a humbling experience because editors you admire and respect are speaking so kindly about your writing and art. After so much uncertainty, I was over the moon to hear positive feedback from editors.
I know I will write stories of my heart, which are important and needed but hard to sell. So I deeply appreciate how quickly this book sold.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
NATASHA: I signed the contract a few months after accepting the offer. There was a slight delay due to the HMH and HarperCollins merger.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
NATASHA: After signing my contract, I had a moment of prayer. I believe creativity is a gift from the universe. So at that moment, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.
And that night, I went to dinner with my partner and two boys. Restaurants had just reopened after the lockdown in Southern California, so it was a treat to eat outside.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
NATASHA: Author-Illustrators typically garner a higher advance, as they are providing the story, words, art, and a cover. I believe the average illustrator makes anywhere between $500-$1000+ per spread, depending on experience and the publisher. Add the author’s compensation to that total, and that is roughly what an author-illustrator earns.
As far as royalty percentages, publication timeline, and author copies, I believe everything was pretty standard. However, my timelines did change a bit because after I signed, HMH was acquired by HarperCollins.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
NATASHA: I worked with two different editors during my editorial process. My acquiring editor moved to a different publishing house. It was my first lesson in how unpredictable publishing can be. Still, I am thankful for my experience. I worked with two incredibly accomplished and seasoned editors, and having their eyes on my manuscript was a gift. My second editor retired after the book was complete, and now I am with my third editor, who is also wonderful. As I mentioned, publishing is unpredictable!
Natasha at her desk
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
NATASHA: I always say writing is my therapy, and art is my meditation. I love every part of the illustration process, especially the research. In another life, I would be an anthropologist. Being able to study the places I was illustrating was incredibly fun. Since I hadn’t been to most of the places, I reached out to Etsy sellers located in United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, New Zealand, to ask questions about customs. For example, in Indonesia, they traditionally sat on the floor, but now most city dwellers sit at the table.
The first decision my art director and I made was where I wanted to spend the most time, sketching vs. final art. I love the details, so I spent 60% of my time in the research and sketching stage, and 40% of my time in the final art stage. The sketching stage is where the illustrator figures out the composition, flow, pacing, and really most of the storytelling. Deciding values also adds to the storytelling. The colors and textures of the final art bring the story to life.
text and illustration copyright Natasha Khan Kazi 2023, Versify
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
NATASHA: With reviews, it depends so much on the person reviewing. I tried not to have expectations. So when I received a starred review from SLJ, I couldn’t believe it! I put every part of me into this book: the story, the words, the art. It felt pretty great to have SLJ believe every child should read it.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
NATASHA: It took approximately two years to go from offer to having the first copy in hand. I received my offer in April 2021 and held my book for the first time in January 2023.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
NATASHA: The HarperCollins marketing plan covers all areas of marketing, including publicity, influencer marketing, online marketing, advertising, trade reviews, conferences, and outreach to the school and library markets.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
NATASHA: I have a 15+ year career in social media marketing, with a focus on content creation. So I really enjoyed the opportunity to make digital content around Moon’s Ramadan, which included educational resources and book marketing (reveals and other milestones). As an illustrator, I also loved creating book swag, I made bookmarks, bookplates, postcards, and stickers. I found GotPrint.com to have great pricing and quality. Fiverr is a cost effective resource for making word searches, crossword puzzles, and activity sheets. Things that don’t come as naturally to me include email marketing and publicity. But I am trying to flex into it. For example, I was so nervous to reach out to you, Susanna. But was so thrilled when you responded.
I also belong to two wonderful book marketing groups, PBSpree and Kid Lit in Color. The members of PBSpree are authors and illustrators releasing books in 2023. KidLit In Color is a group of BIPOC authors and illustrators uplifting BIPOC stories. I’ve found both to be invaluable sources of support, and highly recommend joining marketing groups.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
NATASHA: My first response is I have been writing seriously my whole life. Writing is how I process the world. And even when I stop selling books, I’ll still be a writer. But I started to seriously consider the work of being a picture book author and illustrator in 2019. When I have a goal, I make it my singular focus. So after family and work, I spent hours every day on my craft. When the rest of my family was watching TV in the evening, I was at my desk revising a manuscript. And every night after putting my 4 year old and 5 year old to bed, I would work on my illustration portfolio. I sold my first picture book in April 2021.
SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication? (Or what is your most helpful piece of advice for up and coming writers?)
NATASHA: There is no secret formula to becoming a published author. But there are a few behaviors I find consistent with the published authors and illustrators I meet. They read a lot of current picture books. Not just read; they do master studies. I probably read 100 picture books published in the last three years before I started to truly understand them. They also work at their craft every single day. Progress does not happen in waves. It is more like drops of water that pools over time. Lastly, most published picture book authors take critique well, and they love the process of revision. Take these three behaviors and mix in some grit, and you are on your way.
Author/Illustrator Nastasha Khan Kazi
SUSANNA: Natasha, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us today. Such a great learning opportunity for all of us. I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the best of luck with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Natasha, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond! And don’t forget, your comment will enter you for a chance to be randomly selected to win a picture book manuscript critique (nonrhyming) from Natasha!
You may purchase Natasha’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:
– purchasing their books
– recommending their books to friends and family
– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians
– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores
– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries
– sharing their books on social media
– reviewing their books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other sites where people go to learn about books.
Thank you all for stopping by to read today! Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday! Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 😊
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out HERE!
19 thoughts on “Tuesday Debut – Presenting Natasha Khan Kazi! PLUS A Giveaway”
I love hearing authors’ success stories. Thank you for sharing yours Natasha! I can’t wait to read your book!
Oh Natasha, this is such a wonderful story behind the story. Thank you for sharing. Your book is beautiful and I look forward to holding and sharing Moon’s Ramadan.
What a lovely journey! I second Marcie Colleen’s study hall- it was a productive month of growth for me.
The way your beautiful story found a home is heartwarming. It sounds like you found a perfect match with your agent, too! Congratulations!
Natasha, your heart shines through on the cover. I can’t wait to read this marvelous book.
Absolutely beautiful! ❤️🌕 Can’t wait to get a copy!
Absolutely gorgeous Natasha! Wonderful description of your journey – you will inspire many!
I can’t wait to read this book and learn more! I’m still reading mentor texts and trying to figure out how to leave room for the illustrator to show and add to the depth of my story. Thank you for sharing!
What a wonderful story-behind-the-story. Thanks for sharing it, and congratulations on this beautiful book!
Thank you for sharing your process and the nudge you needed from others. The art looks stunning and I look forward to reading this with my children with Ramadan fast approaching
Lovely illustrations! Thanks for sharing your journey!
Congrats, Natascha, on your gorgeous book! I can’t wait to read it 🙂 love that it’s from the moon’s POV!
Your journey to publication is amazing and inspiring. Thank you and congratulations.
Natasha, .Congratulations! Both your story and illustrations look amazing.
Thank you for sharing your journey! 🙂
Congrats!! Thanks for sharing your story. I loved hearing part of your book on Tuesday too at the Storyteller Academy zoom event. 🙂
Congratulations! Can’t wait to read your wonderful book!
This is such a beautiful book, Natasha! I love how you say writing is your therapy and art is your meditation. I’m thinking that writing is my therapy and gardening is my meditation….or as a former engineer, colorful spreadsheets are my meditation, LOL. Congrats on your new book baby!
What a fantastic interview. I love your illustration style and the idea of writing your story from the moon’s POV. Congrats on its publication. And wishing you continued success in all your future endeavors.
What a wonderful interview! I loved reading about your creative process. I look forward to reading your lovely book!