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

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.

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.

 

My Stories… Not My People

The other day I was thinking back to the stories I wrote as a child. I was about 7 years old and had moved from Germany to Bangladesh around that time. I had switched from reading my favorite Enid Blyton books in German to reading them in English. Although learning to speak and read in English changed many things for me, what didn’t change were the characters in those books. They were all still white. Every single one of them. I remember being fascinated with everything they did, the interesting food they ate, their traditions and lifestyles. I loved reading about their (mis)adventures and the trouble they got into. As a voracious reader I always enjoyed a wide variety of books, but still…all the characters were white. So it was not surprising that when I wrote my first stories the characters in all of them were also white. They all had names like Nancy or Tom, even though in real life I was surrounded by people with names like Hassan or Seema. It never occurred to me that my characters could be something other than white. They didn’t eat sumptuous Bengali sweets or biryani. They ate fine chocolates and fish and chips. They didn’t wear kurtas or shalwar-kameez. They wore jeans and t-shirts. None of these things by themselves constitute anything untoward at all, but when I look at children’s fiction today and what is available in terms of diverse characters, it saddens me to think that there are still thousands of children around the world who may never see themselves reflected in the stories they love to read. Or even worse, they may never think it possible that they could be super heroes who fight evil. Or that they may be the ones to save the world. It’s depressing. And it’s time for change.

On School Visits, Diversity and YA Books

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited by  Walnut Road, a local elementary school here in Surrey, BC to talk to students in Grades 6 and 7 about my book and the writing process. Since this was my first visit to a school I wasn’t quite sure what to expect so I thought I’d share my experience and how I prepared for it.

First of all let me say what an amazing experience it was. The staff and students were extremely welcoming and I couldn’t have asked for a better audience. The students were polite and attentive but best of all they were very interested in reading and writing which made all the difference in the world. They had a lot of pertinent and thought-provoking questions and most of them liked the YA Paranormal genre. Many of them pulled out books they were reading and it was great to see that they carried these books around with them. Since they had recently finished their creative writing unit they also had a lot of questions about the writing process including editing and publishing.

Afterwards I mulled over why I had enjoyed my visit and what had made it successful. Here’s what I came up with.

Engage the students

If they get bored, then you’re pretty much just talking to an empty room. I started by asking them what kind of books they liked and by mentioning some book series similar to mine. They immediately perked up and began to call out books they loved. I knew a lot of them and so I asked them about specific characters and shared what I liked about them. There is nothing better than watching a roomful of 12-13 year olds with eyes sparkling as they talk about books. Really…it’s priceless.

Tell them your story

I gave them a brief idea of what my book was about and that got the conversation flowing. They wanted to know how I came up with the idea, how long it took to write the book and if there were going to be more. I also loved that they talked so enthusiastically about their own writing projects.

Ask them what kind of books they wish they could read

They were thrilled to read a story with diverse characters and we discussed the importance of reading diversely and exactly what that meant. I was blown away by their insightful comments on why we need to broaden our selection of books.

Tell them about writing programs and festivals that are available to them

The students were surprised to hear about the many opportunities there were to learn the craft and how many fun events were taking place close to home.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to talk to such a diverse and talented group of students. They showed me their creative writing projects and I was very impressed by the talent. It was gratifying to see that many of them pursue this in their spare time and are excited to learn more.

Best part of the visit? A week later I was asked to pick up something  from the school office. When I brought it home I was completely choked up. The student had hand written individual letters telling me what they thought about the visit. I couldn’t even get through half of it without getting all teary eyed.

So, if any of you are thinking about visiting a local school and talking to the students about writing and about your book, don’t hesitate. Make that call, set up an date and I am positive it will be one of the best experiences in your life as a writer.

Ways to Improve Creativity

I was thinking about ways to improve creativity, so I did some research and here’s what I’ve come up with:

-Keep an open mind about…well pretty much anything…what you read, who you talk to, what you watch. You never know what will inspire you and help you create the next great piece of art or literature.

-Use all your senses when you go about your daily activities. Observe the people on the bus, in line at the coffee shop and grocery store. Listen to how they talk to one another and what kind of hand gestures they use. The next time you go to a restaurant, an art gallery or a  farmer’s market, take in all the colours, flavours and scents that surround you. You never know where inspiration might strike.

-Put judgment aside for some time. When we look at something in our usual way it may colour our perception.

-Determine when and where you are at your creative best. It could be quiet mornings at your regular coffee shop or your local library. Or it could be in your favourite chair at home with soft music in the background.

-Add creative and inspiring people into your social circle. It rubs off.

Don’t let a slight lag in creativity let you give up on your dreams. Find what works for you and let the creative juices flow.

What to do if you hate the novel you wrote

What do you do when you’ve finally finished your novel, but you look back at it and hate most of what you wrote?

I’m sure most writers have at some point in their careers looked at their completed work and decided that it would never see the light of day. A few months ago I just stopped writing. I didn’t write any posts, I didn’t want to look at my chapters and I didn’t want to read other people’s writing. In fact, even in the grocery store I avoided the book aisle like the plague. It was as if I was angry with writing in general and wanted to have nothing to do with it. Then a few weeks ago I decided to take a peek at the opening chapter of my novel. I read it as if it had been written by someone else. And I really liked it. So I read a little more. Then I read the comments from the editor I had sent my novel to . He had a lot to say, some good, some not so good, but all very helpful and encouraging. Then I remembered something I read somewhere and I realized that instead of just dropping this project which I had worked quite hard on, I could work at it some more and make it really good. I was already on the right track and all I needed was to stick with it. But that was the hardest part for me. I have a history of not sticking with things, not because I can’t do them, but because when something doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time I tend to give up.  It turns out that I’ve been standing in my own way. So my new goal is to fix what I can fix and then send it out into the world and hope that people like it.

Here is what I have learned from the last few months of wallowing in self-doubt:

I may truly just be a bad writer.

My internal editor may be taking control of my creative side.

I may be a perfectionist, which is pretty much a death sentence for a writer, because who can produce a perfect first draft?

I might be afraid of failure and it’s easier to just give up.

Lastly, I might just be a whiny pants who needs a swift, hard kick in the butt to pick up my novel where I left off and work at it until it’s the best that it can be.

So, today I’m deciding to do that last one. Hope to hear from you about your moments of doubt.