Jabeen Akhtar's Words of Wisdom: Publishing

Here’s my advice on publishing, even though no one’s asked for it:

-Be prepared for rejection.

I know you’ve heard this before. But seriously…you will be rejected. Repeatedly. And yes, you will take it personally. How could you not? If everyone said you had an ugly kid, would you take it personally? You’re not the kid. What’s it to you? Well, you would take it personally because you created the thing, just like a novel. You’ll cry. There’s no way around it.

I can’t stand reading authors who say things like, “I finished my manuscript in six months and queried my dream agent who absolutely fell in love with it and a week later we had a contract!”

Ah, piss off. The truth is, I don't know anyone who's had such an easy publishing experience. The process of finding an agent alone takes a long time and a lot of patience and perseverance, neither of which I have. So this was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.

-Once you get the attention of agents, be prepared for more insanity

One thing I learned is that there is a shockingly high turnover rate in publishing. I had agents emailing me every day who would suddenly disappear/spontaneously combust. Don’t count on their assistants to tell you what happened because they usually don’t know themselves. What I'm saying is if an agent is talking to you today, don’t get your hopes up. Tomorrow she may be nothing more than a burnt shoe and some residual methane gases.

Some agents will run hot and cold. One time an agent who is known for discovering a big-time author (as an aside—listen lady, you repped him 20 years ago. Let it go.) told me she fell in love with my manuscript and would sign with me after I completed two months-worth of revisions. The day after I turned in my new manuscript, I got a “Sorry, not right for me” email with no further explanation.

-Hold your ground

You’re going to get bad advice. As a first-time novelist, it’s tricky knowing what advice to heed and what to reject. But sometimes it’ll be obvious. I had an agent tell me my novel should be more like a detective series. I had an agent tell me to include a torture scene for a Muslim suspected of terrorism (um...doesn’t really fit with a comedic novel). I had an agent disagree with the outcome of a scene in which the protagonist is the target of a racist comment, because this whitest white person on the planet knows more about what it’s like to receive a racist comment than I do. The point is, you wrote a book for a reason. You know the material, the audience you’ve written for, and even have some ideas for marketing. Recommending edits to secondary plots, characters or arcs is one thing. Telling you that your vision for the book is wrong is another. You know what you’re trying to do with your novel. Stick to your guns.

On the other hand...

-Don’t be an asshole.

Your work needs critiquing.  It will always need critiquing.  The harder it stings, the more you know the critiquer is right.  You won't be the exception to this rule.

Don't be a bigger asshole. When family and friends ask what your book is about, keep it to a few sentences. Don’t start expounding upon the “textures” in the prose and the “humanity” of your characters. No one knows what any of that means and no one cares.

Try not to corner agents with your printed 1,000 page manuscript and ask them to read it on the spot. I’ve seen this happen one too many times at writing conferences and just witnessing this behavior makes me feel desperate-by-association. Remember, aside from the insanity I described earlier, agents are busy professionals and should be treated with the same respect as any other business contacts. Tell them your name, your two sentence description of your book, and ask if you can email them. They’re nice people. They always say yes. Unless they wish to speak to you further, kindly go back to your seat and that horrible $0.30 styrofoam cup of coffee.

And finally…

-Lose the black turtlenecks, unless you want to be pigeonholed as a serious writer circa 1983.