THE DREADED REVISION PROCESS

I’ve been meaning to write a series of posts about my publishing journey with the hope that it might help someone who is in the querying trenches. My last post was a while ago after I’d just signed with my agent. Since then I got a book deal (dreams do come true!) and now in less than a year THE LOVE AND LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI will be out in the world. Some days I still have to pinch myself to believe that it’s actually happening.

So I thought it might be helpful if I write about what the process has been like for me so far.

Revising With My Agent

After signing with my agent in November of 2016, we got down to the business of revisions. My agent is highly editorial and very hands-on which is exactly what I wanted and needed. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have clear communication, especially during your initial conversations. It is so important to be on the same page as far as what you both expect from this relationship, because hopefully it will be a long-term one.

Now, obviously your agent offered to represent you because they already loved your writing. But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of room for improvement. One of the things I learned during the revision process is that there is always a way to make your writing even better. Your agent can guide you through this. They are a sounding board, someone who is in your corner and wants the book to be amazing as much as you do. Remember this when you first get your edit letter and take a very deep breath. But then don’t forget to let it out.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind as you go through the edit letter:

-You may not agree with everything your agent says. And this is perfectly okay. It is your book after all and no one knows your story and your characters as well as you do. But an agent offers a different perspective, an experienced set of eyes which is something really invaluable. But again, it’s completely fine to disagree on things. What you don’t want to do is take it personally and react from that mindset. I think many of us wish/think that we’ve written this fabulous novel and an agent will read it and absolutely love it and not want to make any changes because of said fabulousness. I’m sure that happens for some people, but for most of us whipping a book into shape so that it’s ready for submission can be a grueling process during which we convince ourselves many times that what we write is utter garbage. Or maybe that was just me.

-Don’t rush the process. I admit that I’m definitely guilty of this. I am a very impatient person, so it took a lot of discipline for me to hold back and not rush through any revisions. Reminding myself that my agent was devoting her time and energy to give me thorough notes helped. I wanted to improve my manuscript with each revision. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t right away. You just have to keep going, stepping away when you need to, doing something unrelated to writing just so you can approach each revision with a clear mind.

When I look back at those few months I spent on revisions with my agent, I am so grateful that I had her excellent notes and open mind to guide me through it all. My book is so much better because of it.

Next up: Revising With My Editor

Review: WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI

First of all let me say this: I’ve been waiting  with bated breath for WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon to come out ever since I heard about it. I mean, a Bollywood style YA? What’s not to love? So when I recently got my hands on an ARC I was thrilled. Unfortunately it took me a little while to start reading because dear hubs, also an avid Bollywood fan, got his grubby fingers on it before I did and so I had to wait patiently. By the time he was done and I started, we were on our way to Santa Monica to attend YALLWEST. You can read all about that experience here.

I was still reading it on the plane and when we landed at LAX we decided to grab some lunch. Afterwards I got lost on my way back from the restrooms as one tends to do (okay maybe not most people, but I am directionally challenged). Anyway, while I was wandering around the terminal trying to locate dear hubs, who do I spy but Sandhya Menon, the author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI. Of course, since I’d never met her before in my life, I couldn’t be 100% sure. But like Rishi, I believe in kismet and also, I knew she in the lineup for YALLWEST and it wasn’t that far-fetched that she would also fly into LAX. So unlike a normal person I did not quietly continue the search for my husband, who by this time was no doubt panicking about his lost wife. No, I actually walked up to her, confirmed she was indeed Sandhya Menon and not some other unsuspecting passenger and proceeded to give her an exuberant hug. I can’t imagine what she must have thought about being accosted by a complete stranger in the airport (okay, maybe I can. She will probably always travel incognito from now on).

Of course she was perfectly lovely and gracious. She didn’t even run away the next day when we went up  to her after a panel at YALLWEST. My husband was not too impressed with my stalkerish behavior but after he met her and we chatted for a few minutes, he was convinced that things were fine.

The sad thing is, in all the excitement, I forgot to take a picture with her and worst of all, I DID NOT GET AN AUTOGRAPH!! I had the book in my purse the entire time.

Anyhow, I finished the book and let me tell you it was glorious!

I cannot say this enough: it was beyond amazing to read about a character who could have been one of my daughters. They are South Asian, children of immigrants, a leg in each world and they hardly ever get to see themselves reflected in YA. My older daughter, now 22, was an avid reader all through elementary and high school. There were no books with characters who looked like her or came from a similar background. So as I was reading, there were many moments of feeling connected and rejoicing.

What I loved most about this book was that it showcased two very different kinds of South Asian teens. Dimple is fiercely independent, has her own idea of what she wants her life to be and fights her parents, while Rishi is more traditional and feels responsible for his parents’ happiness. With so few books out there featuring POC it becomes more important to convey to readers that no culture is a monolith. South Asians are not all alike, any more than people of any other ethnicity.

And then there were the scenes with her parents and other relatives. Sandhya’s sense of humor is delightful. I could hear the voices in my head as clearly as if I were watching a Bollywood movie or drama. It was fun and light, while at the same time tackling the deeper issue of two very smart and driven young people finding their place in the world.

I can’t wait for this book to come out soon and watch people rave about it.

YALLWEST 2017

On April 29 I attended my first ever YALLWEST Book Festival and the experience was so much more than I had expected. Before going, I’d read about it and how there were around 20000 people in attendance last year. I expected it to be crazy, but surprisingly it wasn’t. So here are some of my highlights of the event:

It was in sunny Santa Monica.

After leaving Raincouver, the sunny but breezy Santa Monica weather was an absolute delight. My hubs and I decided to make a weekend of it, so it was all the more special to have him by my side as we walked along Third Street Promenade enjoying the Salsa dancers and musicians.

A whole day with writerly people.

I spent an entire day surrounded by fabulously talented bookish people. I mean, what’s not to love about that? My fave authors were there, plus I met four of the amazing Pitch Wars peeps whom I’ve come to know on Twitter but not in person. It was definitely extra special to meet them in real life.

The panels were amazing.

One of the things that got me all emotional was sitting in the audience and realizing that many of the panels were composed of very diverse authors, but the topic was not Diversity. This might not sound like a big deal to some, but sadly, the only time I have attended a panel with diverse authors has been when the topic was actually Diversity and the discussion centered around how important it was to read and write diversely. So it was a refreshing surprise for me to listen to a discussion of Love and the Modern Millennial by such inspiring authors as Nicola Yoon, Lilliam Rivera, Sandhya Menon, Adi Alsaid and Kami Garcia.

Long Line-Ups

I know, this doesn’t sound like it should be a highlight. But while I stood baking in the sun for over an hour to get my hands on an ARC of Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (so totally worth it btw) I looked around. The line extended far behind me, people of all ages and backgrounds, waiting for a book about a hijabi girl. It made my heart sing, because there was a time not long ago when people told me no one would want to read about an Indian or a Pakistani MC and that I should try to get published ‘back home’. So it brought on all the feels when I stood there and listened to the chatter around me about this book and the anticipation was infectious.

The Perfect Ending

The last panel attended that day was Writing the Resistance. The panelists were Sona Charaipotra, Victoria Aveyard, Marie Marquardt and Benjamin Alire Saenz, moderated by Daniel Jose Older. They were all inspirational, but when Benjamin Alire Saenz began to speak I had tears in my eyes. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. He spoke about love and hurt and how we are all connected. I cannot adequately convey the emotion in that gym, but I can definitely say it was the perfect ending to an amazing day.

So for those of you who’ve been thinking about going next year, check it out. It’s a great event, full of avid readers and great authors, networking opportunities, giveaways and lots of fun events. A perfect weekend for writerly people.

How I Got My Agent & Why You Should Never Give Up The Dream

It’s been over a year since I last posted and what a year it’s been. There have been moments of despair, but more importantly there have been triumphs and those have made all the other stuff seem insignificant.

So, I want to share the journey that brought me here, mainly because I found some much-needed encouragement in reading about the journeys of others and I hope that someone might find that same kind of hope from reading about mine.

I’ve been at this writing thing for a few years now and started out by self-publishing a YA Fantasy novel in 2014. It was a great learning experience, but I quickly realized that the time and resources required to have significant sales were outside my scope. I tried to continue with Book 2 of the series, but the fire had gone out and eventually I decided that I would shelve that project.

The seed of an idea for a new novel had begun to grow at around the same time and I began to play with it, but the more I read about traditional publishing, the more I convinced myself that it would never happen for me.

But then one fine day in April I saw a tweet about DVpit, a great Twitter pitching event created for marginalized authors by the amazing  Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency . It was a week away and it lit a fire under me. I came up with several pitches for the event and began to write furiously.

DVpit came and went and it was the most thrilling and reaffirming experience I ever had. I got 30 agent requests and I was over the moon with joy. Finally I was going to find a agent and then I would get published and everything would be perfect from there on out.

I rode on this high for quite a few weeks, even after the first few rejections came rolling in. By June the rest of the rejections had come in and I ended up with 2 R&R’s, which I guess was better than none. But there was just one problem: I had no idea how to revise the manuscript. I read dozens of articles on revising, anything I could get hold of, but ultimately I was stuck. I entered another couple of Twitter pitch contests, eternal optimist that I am, but none of those panned out either. I was in the worst kind of slump. I had a manuscript which had the potential of getting me an agent, but it wasn’t the best version of itself yet and I was at a loss about how to get it there.

I’d been tinkering around with it for about a month or so, with not much sense of direction, when I found out about Pitch Wars. Read about this fantastic, potentially life-changing event, created by the wonderful Brenda Drake here. My first reaction was to ignore it, not get my hopes high, because by this point I didn’t think I could handle any more rejection. I decided to take a short social media hiatus, just to try and get myself back to a place where I wouldn’t feel bitter and dejected every time I saw book related news. It got so bad that I even avoided the book aisle in my local grocery store. Things were bleak, but there was still a part of me that wasn’t ready to give up.

About a week before the Pitch Wars deadline, I cautiously decided to venture onto Twitter again. I was scrolling through the feed when I saw a tweet by Pitch Wars mentor Natasha Neagle offering a query critique to one lucky follower. On an impulse I followed her and a few minutes later she tweeted that I had won the query critique. That was the moment when I first felt a spark of hope, that maybe there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I sent my query to her and then I waited. I was sure she would say that it was a good start, but there were too many things wrong with it. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long and when I heard back, I was overjoyed to hear that she loved my query and was excited to read more.

But the demons of self-doubt had grown strong over the last few months and until the very last day, I was still not completely sure that I wanted to put myself out there again. But I did. And it was the best decision of my writing career so far. I waited an agonizing couple of weeks to find out whether or not I’d made it. But then I did. And Natasha was going to be my mentor. At last I could stop holding my breath and relax. At least until all the hard work began. But I was more than ready for it. I was prepared to give this manuscript all I had and with the help of my amazing mentor, we had it polished just in time for the agent round.

The agent round was so much more than I’d expected. I had several offers and in the end I chose to go with Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners, a decision I am so thankful for every day.

The reason for my rambling post is not to whine about how difficult my journey so far has been, because let’s face it, there are people who have faced far more obstacles than I have. It’s so easy to despair and get caught up in everyone else’s success and even be a little envious and wonder when it will happen for us. And it’s perfectly okay to allow ourselves a small pity party, because we’ve worked hard at this and it’s not fair that it’s taking so long. But then we have to shake it off and get back on it. And doing that can be really hard. Because as much as anyone will tell you that rejections aren’t meant to be personal, they really are. And they hurt. A lot. But if we can turn that hurt into drive then we haven’t lost.

So to anyone who is in that place where I was just a few months ago, I urge you: please don’t give up. Because if you do the world may miss out on something truly wonderful. And that would be the real loss.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Little Things

The last few months have been trying ones for me and the amazing women who are my closest friends. We always try to tighten the circle when one of us needs the extra support. Recently we have been there for each other as we lost parents, worried about our aging ones and stressed about our teen and young adult children. It’s easy to forget about the many little things that bring us joy when we feel so overwhelmed by the big things that seem to come at us with a vengeance.

I don’t want us to lose sight of the little things as everything else engulfs us. I look at my friends and I am in awe of them. For taking back control of their lives, for not letting anyone diminish their accomplishments, for knowing when to be there for their families and when to stand up for themselves. I draw strength from them, knowing that they will remind me to pay attention to the little things too.

A few days ago I got an email saying that my book Realm of the Goddess  was selected as a First Place Category Award Winner in the 2015 Paranormal Awards for Supernatural Powers and Paranormal Fiction. I allowed myself a moment of feeling thrilled but then was immediately distracted by other big things going on in my day.

It wasn’t until later on in the middle of the night when I was staring at the ceiling that it hit me. My little self-published book had won something. And that reminded me that we need to acknowledge the small victories because they will give us the courage to go for the big ones.

 

Italicized Non-English Words In Fiction: Why I hate Them

I hate reading books where every word that isn’t English is italicized. I feel as if the author is assuming that I am not intelligent enough to look up an unfamiliar word or that I am so content (read arrogant) in my knowledge that I cannot be bothered to learn something new. Learning words in another language to me is akin to opening the door to a whole other world. A world with different nuances and meanings than the one I am accustomed to. Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want to learn more about another cultures and other traditions? It enriches my world and gives new meaning to my life when I have access to other lives, other experiences. It makes me feel connected to people in a way that is hard to describe. It’s about delving into something basic, so fundamental that it transcends words and language. But most of all it’s just so wonderful to realize that despite all the outward differences, the sounds and accents and appearances we are all ultimately connected to each other by love and joy and pain and suffering. So when I see a word italicized only because of its otherness, I feel as though a door is closing in my face. I feel as if I cannot truly connect. And that makes me sad.

My Life As A Hyphenated Person

I’ve spent my entire life with a hyphenated identity. I was born in Germany to a Pakistani mother and a Bangladeshi father. Technically Bangladesh didn’t exist when I was born. But Bengali nationalism in what was then East Pakistan was alive and kicking, strong enough to demand a country of its own until in 1971 it gained independence. And I gained a hyphenated identity. In Germany I was the “Indian”- German, then later in Bangladesh, the half-Pakistani and as an adult I am Indo-Canadian. It’s an interesting experience going through life with labels that others put on you, especially when they mean next to nothing to you. As a child growing up in Germany, I was very much aware that I was the other, simply because in small town Germany back then, ours was the only brown-skinned family. Later we moved to Bangladesh where I lived for the next seventeen years. In all that time I only knew a couple of other children whose parents were like mine, but it was not something that we talked about to each other. And although in Bangladesh my skin color was like everyone else’s, there was something intangible that separated me from them. My mother warned me not to speak Urdu in public, because Bangladesh was still nursing wounds fresh from a horrific war for independence from Pakistan. But as a child, this hatred for Pakistanis that simmered just below the surface was not within my grasp. I heard the taunts and jabs that were made at our expense, but I couldn’t understand the reasons behind them. But the feelings were the same. In Germany I was made to feel dirty because of my brown skin and in Bangladesh it was because of where my mother happened to be from. Either way it determined the way I saw myself. It took years for me to accept that none of this had anything to do with who I was. It had everything to do with the assumptions that people made about me based on my last name, my skin color, my religion. When I did realize it, I felt free. Finally, after years of carrying a burden that wasn’t mine, I was able to shed the responsibility of being acceptable. With this freedom came a brand new perspective. I realized that I didn’t necessarily embody the qualities that are automatically attributed to me.

My experiences in straddling cultures doesn’t end with me. I met and married a Hindu man from South India and as a result my children will forever be hyphenated. They will always be seen by some as half-Hindu and half-Muslim, by others as half-Bengali and half Indian, although the fact that they were born in Texas and I am not a full Bengali messes with the mathematics of their heritage. But the way I see it, the fractions add up to a whole and as long as they feel whole with themselves that’s all that matters. The rest is just semantics.