As I tapped away on my laptop, writing and editing my manuscript, I dreamed of two things:
Finding an agent
Being published by one of the Big 4 or any of the well-established publishing houses
However, my publishing journey had other plans. As an aspiring author, I was told everyone’s road to publishing is unique. That couldn’t be truer in my case. My journey was long, convoluted, and unique.
My debut novel, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, is a middle grade fantasy about a twelve-year-old girl from Darjeeling, India, who portals into a magical realm (an East meets West utopia) and embarks on a secret quest to find her missing twin brother. It is a book I would have loved to read as a kid and one in which I would’ve seen myself. I was nervous and excited to say the least!
By November 2017, I had polished the manuscript and was ready to enter the query trenches. I had made a list of agents using websites like www.QueryTracker.net and www.ManuscriptWishList.com and from leafing through the Acknowledgements pages of books in the same genre as mine. My strategy was to send 3-5 queries a week. Wait until I heard back. And then repeat the process.
At first, the response was great. Most of my queries turned into full manuscript requests. But by mid-December, the rejections started to come in. One of the criticisms I kept hearing was that my book was too long for middle grade. Typically, the word count for middle grade novels is between 50,000-70,000 words while mine was 91,000. By February 2018, I had received seven Revise and Resubmit requests (R&Rs) with about forty-two full manuscript rejections.
My dream of finding an agent was faltering and I had a choice to make: continue querying or pull my manuscript out, edit it down by 20,000 words, and then give it another shot. Since, I had considerable interest from the R&Rs, I decided to take my manuscript out of the querying trenches and revise it.
To add to this daunting revision, I was pregnant! But as hard as it seemed, it was the right thing to do. During the last two months of my pregnancy, I cut down 23,000 words and rewrote large sections of the book. Once my baby arrived, I sent the manuscript back to my beta readers to see if the new revisions maintained plot, pace, and character growth. After I emerged from that newborn haze of hormones, sleepless nights, and baby cuddles, I dove back into my beta readers’ feedback and by February 2019, I was ready to query again.
I sent the manuscript to the seven agents who had requested the R&Rs and waited. This time around, I was prepared it would take time before I heard back but what I was not prepared for was that they would all end in… you guessed right, rejections. I was determined not to give up. So, I entered Twitter contests like #DVPit and #PitMad, received good interest, and queried a whole new set of agents. By May 2019, those had ended in rejections as well.
As a BIPOC author writing a novel with South Asian characters, I heard everything from “I really liked the book, but . . .,” “Unfortunately we’ve just signed another author with an Indian inspired middle-grade fantasy book,” “Can the characters spend more time in India?”, “Can the fantasy realm be more Indian?” to “Since the characters spend only a part of the book in India, it’ll be too difficult to market the book as an Indian inspired fantasy.”
They say rejections are a rite of passage for writers but receiving rejection after rejection can really take a toll on your confidence. It made me question the worthiness of my book and my skill as a writer. The agents were right, of course, I thought. My manuscript simply wasn’t good enough to be published. Needless to say, I spent the next few days sobbing.
But in the days after, I found the courage to come up with a new story idea and write an outline. With REA shelved for good in a metaphorical ‘drawer’ and with the promise of hope that comes with a new plot idea, I needed some self-care. So, off I went to get my nails done. As the nail technician was working on my hand, my phone buzzed. Having left my husband alone with my daughter, I imagined (insert mom-guilt here!) a catastrophe had taken place. I awkwardly reached over, apologized for hitting my manicure-in-process hand, and clumsily unlocked my phone. Sitting in my inbox in bold letters was an email from a publisher called Mango and Marigold Press.
During the slew of rejections, I had forgotten that I had submitted my manuscript to Mango and Marigold Press, an award-winning independent publishing house that specialized in publishing stories from the South Asian diaspora. I had come across their name in the Publishers Weekly newsletter that dropped in my inbox every week alerting me of the most noteworthy deals in publishing.
The email said that they loved my book and wanted to set up a call. My heart began to beat so fast. After speaking with the publisher and editor, I was thrilled to see that our vision for the book aligned editorially and that they were incredibly excited to bring my book into the world—a book they believed kids needed to read. We discussed marketing plans, collaborating on the cover, and working together as a team. On January 2nd, 2020, I signed with them!
The lesson I learnt through my publishing journey was that I was so focused on getting an agent that it embodied whether I considered myself a success or a failure as a writer.
And in the glaring light of failure, I realized my passion was writing books. If one didn’t work out, I would try with another and keep going. Success stories don’t follow a single path and all paths come with their own set of roadblocks.
The best you can do is write your book the best way you can. Then research your genre, industry and target audience, understand the obstacles you might face, and don’t be afraid to look outside the box. If you work hard, work smart, and network with peers in your industry, with creativity, diligence and a dollop of good luck, results will come your way.
Roads to publishing a book are countless. What I’ll leave you with is a few things to consider when thinking of signing with any size of publisher (especially an indie publisher); things that I learnt through my journey:
Talk to the editor and publisher to make sure your vision for the book aligns.
Discuss the potential challenges the book can face and what the publisher intends to do about it.
Ask the publisher what role you are expected to play as the author. For example, if they suggest that you are responsible for ALL the promotion and publicity, that is a red flag.
Inquire about their lines of communication and how they operate. Communication is key.
Look for that positive vibe and genuine feeling of excitement for your book.
Ask what their plans are for the book—production (no. of copies, hardcover or paperback, etc.) and publicity-wise.
Ask about marketing strategies rolled out on previous books published.
Research the books they’ve published and check their availability on popular websites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Do your due diligence.
Believe in yourself.
Remember, you’ve come this far, and you’ve got what it takes to chart your own path to success. If there is anything my publishing journey taught me is that if you love to write and believe in the stories you want to tell, don’t give up, no matter how hard it gets.
Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing from The New School, New York. Having lived in India, the UK, and US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her debut middle grade novel. Raised in Mumbai, India, she currently lives in Minneapolis, MN with her husband and three-year-old daughter. When she isn’t writing, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. Learn more at www.payaldoshiauthor.com, @payaldoshiauthor on Instagram and @payaldwrites on Twitter. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, book one in The Chronicles of Astranthia series releases June 15, 2021 from Mango and Marigold Press. ORDER NOW!