The 3Ps of my Publishing Journey: Partners, Polishing, and Patience

Thanks so much for stopping by the Deb Ball! This time we’re talking about our paths to publication. Join in the conversation by sharing where you’re at on your own path. Do you have dreams of writing but are having trouble putting pen to paper? Do you already have several full novels written but are struggling to find an agent? Are you somewhere in between? We hope you’ll find some cheer and some useful tidbits from our own experiences on the path to publication.

I started writing DOOR as soon as I finished my dissertation in 2013. I’d had the idea for several years but work + grad school + babies slowed my roll. Luckily, PhD in hand, I jumped right into a Silicon Valley job market that had no need for an additional professor of International Relations or Iran expert. Haha…

Suddenly I had time on my hands. As I pivoted professionally, I started working on the story I wanted to tell. A couple years later, I had a first draft on my hands and headed to the 2015 San Francisco Writer’s Conference (SFWC) to pitch editors and agents.

You won’t be surprised to hear that no one signed me on the spot. But I did get some incredible advice from professionals who gave me confidence that my work was worthy and just needed some polishing before I could get serious about querying. 

A year and half later, after working with the wonderful freelance editor, Heather Lazare (who I met at SFWC), I was ready to go. On the advice of a dear friend and fellow writer Jenny Ballif, a.k.a. Science Mom (who I also met at SFWC) I decided to make a list of 20 agents to query. Here’s where I found agents I thought might be a fit:

  • I read every novel about Iran and looked to see who had agented them.
  • I queried several agents I’d met at SFWC that had been kind enough to give advice or indicate an initial interest in the book.
  • I subscribed to Publisher’s Weekly and looked for agents that had sold books in the multicultural category.
  • I randomly added agents to the list if and when I came across someone who seemed interesting.

Danielle Burby fell into the last category. I’ve heard it said that finding the right agent is like falling in love and can attest that in my case at least the aphorism rings true. I was excited to query her from the moment I stumbled across her website and read of her interest in “complicated family dynamics” and “social justice themes” both of which are central elements of my work. When Danielle made an offer of representation, I was absolutely over the moon.

But…it still took another year and a half and several rounds of submissions before we sold to Blackstone. And then another two years to go through the contract negotiations, editing, and publishing process. Conversations with friends who were kind enough to ask about the book would go something like this:

“So what’s new with the book?”

“Nothing really, I’m still waiting to hear from…[potential agents / potential publishers / editors / etc]”

“Yeah? Wait, when is it coming out again?”

“Well, I’m not really sure.”

Dear friends would then search in confusion for something kind and supportive to say like “It’s just amazing that you wrote a book!” before we would pivot to an easier topic.

So…key takeaways from my story:

  1. Go to SFWC or some other conference where you can get advice from professionals, meet new writing partners, and learn about the publishing process.
  2. Polish polish polish. In my case it was helpful to hire a professional editor and I chose to work with someone who had deep knowledge of and experience with the industry. 
  3. Be patient. Every step of the way – writing, editing, querying for an agent, going out on submission, preparing for publication – took far longer than I’d imagined. 

Best of luck with your own unique process!! Do let us know if you have questions or if we can help in any way.

Ehsaneh

 

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Ehsaneh Sadr is an Iranian-American novelist and activist with a PhD in International Relations. She has worked, in various capacities, on campaigns related to Palestinian human rights, Iranian sanctions, access to credit for rural villagers, and safe spaces for children in crisis. She currently works with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to create the cultural and infrastructure changes needed to support a shift away from carbon-based modes of transportation. Ehsaneh currently lives in Northern California with her husband and two children but also considers Washington DC, Salt Lake City, and Tehran to be home.

This article has 6 Comments

  1. Ehsaneh, thank you for your kind words about SFWC. I taught there in 2018 and 2019, and I can tell you that the presenters take great care to make their presentations useful. It’s thrilling to find out it helped you.

  2. Glad to know that the path to publication is tough for anyone. I am in the process of finding a publisher but it is very difficult.
    Thanks to all who share.
    Deborah Parsons

    1. Yes, it’s definitely tough for everyone!! You might check out some of the recent posts by some of my Sister Debs for additional examples of the highs and lows. Good luck with finding a publisher. We’re rooting for you!!

  3. I laughed out loud when I read your family/friends dialogue at the bottom! It’s so true!! 🙂 I was on submission for a long time (I finally got a book deal this spring!) and I experienced the awkward conversation pivot sooo many times! Congratulations on your book!!

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