We Do What We Can We Give What We Have

“We work in the dark- we do what we can- we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” Henry James

Whenever I face a challenge I try to deal with it the only way I know how without getting depressed. That is, I just try to ignore it for a while, or rather, for as long as I can afford to do so. I try to direct my thoughts away from the issue. I do so by reading and writing. Although I must say writing doesn’t come easy during these times, mainly because I get too many ideas at the same time. 

My mind gets crowded and it becomes difficult to focus on one thing. And right now I am at a stage where I wish I had superpowers to put all those ideas on paper. When I reach this phase of having too much on my mind, I become creatively blocked. I try to do all, everything at once, and only succeed in doing nothing. Which shouldn’t be much of a problem, right? 

Until I log on to Facebook and I am bombarded with all these ads about being a published author, or becoming a successful writer. Then I get upset. Part of me, the idealist in me, wants to be all that and more. But on the other hand, realistically speaking I know that that is not possible. Because if you are a writer and get to write about what interests you or what’s closest to your heart, chances are nobody, no agent or publisher would want to publish your book.

Rejection is something I think I can handle. Indifference is much worse. The fact that your emails and messages don’t get answered, the silent treatment that you receive from the publishing world, is more heartbreaking. Because you keep hoping against hope that one day someone might say yes to your story. 

I took a leap of faith when I started on my journey to write. I was fascinated by the creative process and I was more than willing to sit in a chair for hours and try to create to the best of my ability, to give it all I had. Was it hard? Yes. But at the same time I believed that something good was happening to me as a person. Despite all the hurdles and hard work I felt elated somehow.

“The reward of art is not fame or success but intoxication.” Cyril Connolly

I was ignorant of the publishing trade. I thought all I had to do was write a good book and the rest would follow. I was ignorant to say the least. I still am despite the many books and articles I read about the subject matter. Marketing is a skill that I think I cannot master because I must admit I don’t have it in me.

My first book “The Lost I”” was first published in Dubai in 2004. Publishing rules are different in Dubai. First of all, all manuscripts have to be approved by the Ministry of Information and Culture prior to printing. 

After my manuscript was accepted and upon my publisher’s request my late husband had to write a letter to the Ministry saying that he had no objection for his wife to write a book. Only after that letter was sent did the publisher forward my manuscript to them for approval (and censorship if need be) before printing.

2000 copies of the book were printed and placed in bookstores in Dubai. The ISBN, also provided by the Ministry, was valid only for the United Arab Emirates market. In 2006, when we left Dubai for good and immigrated to Canada, I bought the remaining copies of my book (in a few boxes) and my rights from the publisher and shipped them with me.

Since by law I couldn’t sell those books I started giving them out to friends and acquaintances here and there, all the while looking for an agent or publisher with the prospect of having it published in this part of the world. Upon approaching one agent this is the answer I got:

“Thank you very much for sending your query and for offering me the chance to review your material. I’m sorry to state that I will not be asking to represent your manuscript.
Please understand that this is a subjective industry. Although I cannot recommend someone specific, I encourage you to continue seeking out representation elsewhere. Should the occasion arise to submit a new exciting project for consideration, please feel free to contact me again. Thank you, once again, for the opportunity to take this on. 
Kind Regards.”

I have received nothing but positive comments from my readers for The Lost I, young adults included. I am often asked when I will publish the sequel! I don’t know if there will be a second or third part. Not only am I not able to sell the first book, but I cannot even promote it on social media like other writers do. 😥

There is a refugee crisis right now in different parts of the world and especially the Middle East. The entire world is interested in their stories of displacement, destruction, and terror. 

And if according to the agent my story is not “exciting” and she cannot recommend anyone, chances are I will never get published. Unless I write about sex maybe? Because sex sells.

E.L. James earned 50 million dollars for her erotic trilogy, in addition to which she received another 5 million dollars for the movie rights. As for her book Fifty Shades of Grey, here’s an article written on March 2016:

“An Oxfam charity bookshop in Swansea, Wales would like to request that people stop donating used copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, please.
The shop has received “literally hundreds” of copies of the literary masterpiece- so many, in fact, that shop employees went ahead and built a fort out of them.” 

Literary masterpiece indeed as the article’s author ironically calls the book!

John Grisham’s publisher only produced 5000 copies of his first book A Time To Kill, of which Grisham sold 1000 copies from the trunk of his car.

J.K. Rowling says she received “loads” of rejections before Harry Potter finally got published.

It’s a sad reality to see such a decline in the quality of books published lately. Sadder still the fact that there are so many unrecognized novels out there that deserve our attention. Of all the books I have read lately it is the ones that I haven’t heard of that have made a great impression on me both as a reader and a writer. 

Viet Thanh Nguyen recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer. In his article in the LA Times, titled In Praise of Doubt and Uselessness, he wrote: 

“Of course, my novel “The Sympathizer” is not obscure at the moment because of the Pulitzer Prize. But the novel might just as well not have gotten it, might as well have sunken into obscurity because it lacked a prize, even if nothing in the novel was any different for having gotten a prize. The novel’s good fortune only changes how people look at the novel, not the novel itself.
I think of all the other novels that might have […] or should have won prizes. Some of those unrecognized novels, as time will show, will be triumphant in literary history. The point is that prizes and all that they symbolize in terms of our taste, our judgment, our vanity and our prejudices are ephemeral. What we are ignorant of in the present may be what the future will value.” 

Happy reading and writing everyone! Hope you get lucky publishing your work.


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