Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jennifer Zobair's Most Embarrassing Moment in Publishing


This is a guest post by Jennifer Zobair, author of Painted Hands. Leave a comment (bonus points if you include your most embarrassing moment!) for a chance to win a signed copy of her book, a $25 Amazon gift card and, if you're a writer, the option of having a query letter critiqued by Jennifer.




Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have one?

The most embarrassing moment in my publication process came while I was querying. There was an agent I really thought I wanted to work with, mostly because of her prominent online profile. I sort of built her up in my mind, and when she asked to read my full manuscript, I was ecstatic. About a month later, I got an email from her saying incredible, detailed things about my novel, but then she said she was afraid she might not be able to sell it “in this market.” After considering it, she said she was afraid she’d have to pass.

I was devastated. It was one of those “maybe I should give up” moments: If someone who loved my work this much wouldn’t represent me, who would?  I said as much to my aunt when I forwarded the rejection to her. Except? Instead of hitting “forward,” I hit “reply.”

I’d sent my despairing, feeling-sorry-for-myself email right back to the rejecting agent.

Fortunately, I hadn’t said anything bad about her in the email. I apologized immediately, and she was truly lovely in her response. But still.

It took some time for me to get over the rejection (and the mortification). But here’s the making lemons into lemonade part: I chose to believe the good things she’d said about my manuscript. I decided to query agents who were actively seeking and selling multicultural fiction, stories like the one I’d written. A couple of months later, I signed with Kent Wolf, who sold my novel to St. Martin’s Press.

So this is what I would say to writers: First, don’t give up. If you believe in your work, do not give up in the face of rejection, even when it feels crushing. Second, if you’re querying, it’s really important to find the right agent, the one who both loves your work and has a kick-ass attitude about selling it. That’s the agent you want. And finally, a little attention to detail when forwarding an email can be a very good thing.

------

Sarah here. 

What Jennifer didn't say--and what I know firsthand--is that all her embarrassing moments put together would be dwarfed by the quiet constancy of her kindness and good faith, not only as an author, but as a mother, wife and friend. 

When Jennifer started visiting this blog 5 years ago, all I knew was that she routinely left the most perceptive comments I'd ever received. It was worth posting a piece just to learn what Jennifer would say. When I visited her blog in turn, and read her writings on feminism, especially in relation to Muslim women, I was deeply impressed by her passion, fight and obvious intelligence. 

Then I read her first piece of fiction. Which rocked me with its exquisite imagery and emotional swell. I told Jennifer she reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri. 

Jhumpa Lahiri, people.   

I was fortunate enough to be an early reader of Jennifer's manuscript, Painted Hands, before she started querying agents. Jennifer was kind enough to mention me in the "Acknowledgments" section of that novel, where she thanks me for being "thoughtful and sure."     

And I was sure. Miraculously sure, for someone so otherwise adrift in uncertainty. 

Sure that this brilliant book would one day sit on my shelf, where it will soon be placed, if I can just stop picking it up to grin at its gorgeous cover with my gorgeous friend's name on it. 

Sure of how proud I am to call Jennifer a friend. 

Sure that the moment we stumbled across one another was one of the luckiest I've known, and that the quality of that good fortune has very little to do with publishing or writing at all.  

Remember: leave a comment to win the items mentioned above! I'll draw a name at the end of a week. 

Visit Jennifer Zobair and be sure to read her wonderful essay in The Rumpus
Read my review of Painted Hands 
Buy Painted Hands: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound

12 comments:

strugglingwriter said...

"I’d sent my despairing, feeling-sorry-for-myself email right back to the rejecting agent."

EEK! We've all done something similar to this. At least I have and I'm getting that feeling in my stomach just reading/thinking about it!

And what lovely words by Sarah, as always.

Paul

Phaedra Culley said...

One of my most embarrassing moments: I was pregnant with my first daughter, and attended a friend's party...when she was smoking inside, I asked her to smoke outside - I thought it was another friend's house, and it was hers. I felt so rude and embarrassed!!

Benjamin Vogt said...

I'm so afraid of doing that I edit my emails and the addresses a billion times!

Aniket Thakkar said...

Aniket here.

Dear(est) Sarah,

"all I knew was that she routinely left the most perceptive comments I'd ever received"

Aherm. Aherm. She's just the first one to jump on your posts and say something like -

"Oh Sarah, your words flow like the river that carries waves upon waves strong enough to break stones, yet provide true peace and calmness to anyone who happen to dip their feet in it".

I think she already has a list of these comments that she just copies and pastes. With you being you, who likes to break her own records of excellence, her comments give false appearances of intelligence.

Speaking of Intelligence.

"I was deeply impressed by her passion, fight and obvious intelligence." <- There should be an "absent" in there somewhere.

---

Fine! FINE! I admit she has something in her.

I admit I get a little jealous each time a person who visits my house spots her book and says, "Ooh! That's a lovely cover. What book is that?"

I admit with all the public display of affection in the acknowledgement section, she's gained higher influence over you. Now, I'll have to gather some evidence of my own to make it a fair battle when the inevitable showdown happens.

We're going to be like the X-Men. She'll be the bald Professor Xavier and I'm gonna be the badass Magneto. All the other mutants (writers) will eventually have to pick sides. Which side will Heena pick? That is the real question here.

Anyway, what were we talking about?

the walking man said...

OK that was a pretty embarrassing moment on the trail to publication. Grace and equanimity seems to have abounded in the situation though.

Mine wasn't embarrassing as much as curious. I had sent out a package of Poetry and one short to a fairly popular literary journal that has since gone defunct. I sent the cover letter written in my own style and in return got the first of a few rejections that were personally written by the editor.

He said "Loved your cover letter the entire office was laughing hard over it but really we don't think your submissions will work for us at this time."

It was an out of the box cover letter that used the word shit a lot; as in I threw this shit against the wall and it stuck, when
I walked up to it it didn't smell like some of the other shit I have written.."

I did not know it at the time but it turned out that the editor was a friend of a friend so it got back to me that they really did like the cover letter...so I queried them why the hell didn't they just print that shit I wrote in my cover letter? They sent me a form rejection to my query. Ah yes the journey...

Nothing personal Sarah & Jennifer but no need to put my name in the hat. I have been trying to find time to finish reading Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe for over a year now, I don't submit shit to anyone anymore so no query letters to write and well, $25 buck on a gift card would be cool but school is almost done and I'd spend it on the little shits I tutor in English every week.

Sarah Hina said...

Thanks to everyone who's stopped by so far! I appreciate it.


Aniket: your complete and utter capitulation. THAT's what we were talking about. To wit:

Fine! FINE! I admit she has something in her.

I'm having that printed on a T-shirt and sent to you, Magneto.

(Jennifer's comments are always awesome. Your comments are always awesome. I am a stone on the wave of your shared awesomeness. Plus? You make me laugh.)


Mark: darn. Now I totally want you to win the gift card.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yeah, maybe they need a "are you sure" button for replies. Wow. Glad it didn't go south from there.

Travis Erwin said...

I can't wait until i get finished with a few things and start Painted Hands. I've heard so much praise from so many of my respected writing friends.

I am in the midst o f My most embarrassing writing moment The print version of my second book, first novel has been in limbo for over a month now. The original date of May 15th was pushed back by my publisher to June 1 but sadly the book is stuck in some kind of Publisher printer distributor Bermuda Triangle now and I find it embarrassing I can;t tell anyone when for certain it will be available.

J Falkner said...

My embarrassing moment: sending short story B to a lit journal when my cover letter introduced short story B. The editor was very understanding, but I still cringe when I think back on it.

Deb said...

I just read the reviews and can't wait to read Painted Hands.

My most embarrassing moment happened years ago and still makes me cringe. I worked up the nerve to submit my first piece for publication, to a newspaper. It was a humor column about dating (and not a very good one). They published it as a letter to the editor.

Thanks for doing the great giveaway!

Deb

Sarah Hina said...

Thanks to everyone who came by and commented!

My son did the honors, and the lucky winner was Travis.

Congrats! I hope you enjoy the prizes, Travis. And I hope everyone here has a chance to read PAINTED HANDS soon.

jennifer zobair said...

Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and especially those who shared an embarrassing moment. I feel a little better!

And thanks to you, Sarah, for hosting and for writing something so beautiful about me that I teared up. Everything you said is quite mutual, in spades.

Congrats to Travis! Hope you enjoy the book!

Aniket, we will deal with you separately!!