So. Alhamdulilah, I’m out of my revision cave! I’m so, so grateful for the expert editorial eye of my literary agent, Alli. Under her expert mentorship, my book has gone from good to GRRREAT.
That just means that I’m that much closer to going on submission, which is a whole other level of nerve-wracking anxiety, woo lol. Once I’m on submission, I’ll have loads of time to be anxious – I mean, channel my energy into looking after my health! This pandemic feels endless, but it will end.
If you have a polished novel that fits Alli’s #MSWL, I strongly recommend querying her.
In the meantime, I’m thrilled that my poem, Home, has found a beautiful new home. Enjoy!
So. Malaysia is in a state of emergency. We’re back to a MCO (Movement Control Order). I have a tendency to spiral into anxiety and doom-scrolling, so here’s my antidote to overwhelm – gratitude!
I’m so grateful that my husband, kids, mother-in-law and I are safe, have a comfortable home, a big garden for my kids to run around in, and we have healthy food.
I’m delighted by the daily antics of my children, who are growing into loving, hilarious, incredible people.
I’m sad that I won’t be able to visit my family and friends abroad for the foreseeable future.
I’m angry that systemic racism, white supremacy and unchecked privilege are hurting and killing innocent people.
Multiple realities can exist. I try to make space for all of it, and trust that all feelings pass.
My baby boy is almost 1.5! My youngest daughter turned 3. My eldest daughter is 5.5. They are my life-long passion projects who cannot be quantified or controlled (note: they actively RESIST control! I teach them ‘body boundaries’ and ‘no means no’ so evidently that means I can’t control them either hahaha le sigh). They can only be coached, guided and most of all, unconditionally loved. When I remember to relax and be present with them, I marvel at these three little humans and how much they love me and forgive my many, many shortcomings.
I’ve handed in my manuscript edits to my amazing agent. Now I’m waiting for her feedback, and I’m excited to either do another round of edits, or go on submission. At this moment though, I’m resisting my compulsion to start immediately on my next project. I choose to rest, to recharge, to reconnect with my household. Rest is my act of resistance.
If you’re in need of some compassionate online counselling during these challenging times, I can’t recommend Cara Cara enough.
I’m absolutely devouring and loving Iris Chen’s book. I’ve read countless parenting books over the years and hers is my FAVOURITE. Read it! Tell your friends and family about it!
Iris Chen is an untigering unschooler, and I’m so inspired by her blog post on unschooling:
When the first MCO hit in March last year (wow last year), I was so upset about my daughters’ preschool being shut. I HAD WRITING PLANS! Now, I surrender to this new normal. No more preschool for the foreseeable future. So my kids and I are doing something that looks like unschooling because none of my kids can sit still and do worksheets. They’re spinning dervishes of creativity and spark. If I survive their childhood years, I can count on watching them do incredible things, at their own pace, on their own terms.
When I remember to breathe and count the things I’ve been doing with my kids over the years – baking, trampoline jumping, picking rambutans from our tree, dancing (awkwardly, me, wonderfully, them), singing, telling stories about Allah and His Prophets (peace be upon them all), roughhousing, mental math, phonics, reading, laughing, joking – I can relax. We’re building memories I hope they can look back on with fondness. I hope they’ll remember me as being grumpy 10% of the time lolol
2020 has been quite a year. In happy news, my baby boy turned one!
HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
He’s still my squishy baby though. He has thoroughly discovered walking and reaching up high for all the things. He’s practising how to run, already, and loves doing his dragon roar and walking really fast (his head tilted forward) after his screaming sisters. You know what that means. IMMA EVEN MORE EXHAUSTED THAN EVAAA hahaha.
In book news, wooo alhamdulilah I am so, so excited to share that Allison Hellegers of Stimola Literary is my literary agent! I am so, so grateful to have her as a champion of my YA book, and future books! SO EXCITED. I’m also hard at work with edits for her, so stay tuned for more book news. (Also, this is the same agency that reps Suzanne Collins of the Hunger Games so aaaaahh my agency helped Hunger Games become a MOVIEEEEE mebbe one day mine also can??? hehehe)
To anyone still in the querying trenches in this pandemic, please hang in there. Rejections are so hard, and so normal in publishing. At some point, I’ll share my rejection stats. Surround yourself with a tribe of supporters while you figure out how to improve your manuscript. Trust that the right agent for you will fall in love with your story and your vision for your long-term writing career. Trust your gut! Take mental health breaks from querying when you need to because it’s never easy to receive rejections. Personalised rejections are a nice bonus, but take the advice that resonates with you. Even though the agent who offered me a fantastic R&R didn’t offer me representation, I’m still grateful for her incredible advice.
My best tip for querying: Take. Your. Time. I know the rush that comes with finishing a novel and wanting agents to read it already!!! But. Take deep breaths. Have beta readers and CPs (especially CPs! Sending hugs to you, Sarah!) read your manuscript so you can make it even better. Right after I finished my novel (literally before I gave birth to Suhail!), Michele Sagan professionally edited it, which helped so, so much. Meredith Ireland, my incredible #DVPIT mentor, helped me revise my manuscript to an even stronger version during the 3 month MCO (movement control order) in Malaysia. That’s the version Allison fell in love with, and the one we’re working on to make even stronger before it goes on submission to editors. It takes. time.
Okay one last thing about querying, I promise. Landing the best agent for you is like…tea. Some agents LOVE Earl Grey. I love Lady Grey. But some agents already have cupboards full of Earl Grey, so even if yours is the best Earl Grey everrr – it won’t suit their list. Other agents love Jasmine tea. And that’s cool too. Some agents love Rooibos tea. Personally, I don’t, and that’s okay! It’s so, so subjective. The right agent for you has that gap in their cupboard with your perfect tea blend of a book, and it’s only a matter of time before you meet your perfect-for-you agent match ❤
Some courses I did and loved throughout my 10 month querying journey:
Two week’s to your best children’s book – I did course when I felt my brain go to mush when I thought about writing another YA novel….and then I realised that um wow picture books are complex too for entirely different reasons.
Ramadan greetings to one and all! Selamat Berpuasa 🙂
It is a very different Ramadan…but alhamdulilah for all the blessings we do have, big and small. Many things are different, but many things are also still the same. Namely: me finding creative ways to lie down while my kids play around me. Hahaha. My youngest is already 7 months and turbo crawling.
I have three small kids under the age of 5, so Ramadan has been indoors for me for a few years now. One thing is for sure…I WILL MISS THE RAMADAN BAZAARS!! There are online bazaars now, apparently? GetMakan looks amazing, but based in Johor. Let me know if you figure out how to order them tasties in Petaling Jaya :p
Also, if you’re looking for a grassroots way to help Malaysians in need, #Kitajagakita is a wonderful platform.
In writing news….stay tuned! I participated in the #DVPIT twitter competition and garnened a lot of agent interest. I’m so grateful for the support of Meredith Ireland, my #DVPIT mentor who gave me EPIC REVISION tips. Lockdown with kids took on a whole new meaning while I was frantically adding 10,000 words of world-building and plot tweaks, and I am SO happy I had Meredith only a Whatsapp message away. THANK YOU MEREDITH! So much of writing is solitary, so it really helps to have an experienced author believe in your book, and help you make it even better.
So it’s Feb 2nd 2020. My newborn is almost 5 months. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
Alhamdulilah, the blessings of being busy with little ones – time passes, and hey look, there’s another email from a literary agent in my inbox!
I’m thrilled to report that I’m no longer dying from waiting stress. I’m still getting email/form rejections, and I’m also getting really helpful personalised rejection emails from the agents who’ve read my full manuscript.
I even got one super rare and uber helpful revise and resubmit (R&R) request!!! Okay, so it’s not an offer of representation….but now I know that there is ONE agent in the Vast and Unknowable Sea of Agents who loved my book enough to take the time to write me very detailed email on how to make it better, and to please resubmit if I do take on the suggestions. UM YES PLZ THANK YOU!
Based on the R&R and similar feedback from other literary agents, I’ve decided to 1) stop querying 2) start revising my manuscript to make it even stronger 3) hold off on sending out my full manuscript to interested agents until it’s fully revised. My deadline is 2-6 months from December 2019. Wish me luck! I can’t and I won’t give up now!!
Am I still drowning in self-doubt and imposter syndrome? Yup. I make space for those feelings, take a deep breath, exhale, and remind myself that:
1) I wrote a whole book, got it beta read and professionally edited while pregnant with my third baby.
2) Nobody else can tell the story I’m telling.
3) It’s better for me to take my time with my revisions, so that the best version of my book will get read.
4) Even if nobody ends up representing my first book…I can always write another. And another. And another. Rinse, repeat!
5) I have the rest of my life to write, and this intense time of mothering little ones will end. I’m enjoying the cuddles and milky snuggles while I can!
So if you’re also in the querying trenches…hang in there! Keep at it, one day at a time. Keep writing and keep living well until the day the right agent snaps up your book and loves it as much as you do, if not even more ❤
My newborn is 3 months! Alhamdulilah. We survived! In January, my toddler turns 2, and in June inshaAllah, my preschooler will turn 5. One day, I will get more sleep, and more time to write. In the meantime, I am sustained by newborn snuggles/head-sniffing, toddler cuddles and preschooler giggles.
Querying update: I wish I could say something amazing like “AAHHH I GOT AN OFFER OF REPRESENTATION FROM MY DREAM AGENT AND IT ONLY TOOK ONE DAY/WEEK/MONTH!”
Alas, that is not the case for me. I started sending off query letters to literary agents on 11/11/2017 and I’m still waiting for most of them to reply. ‘Tis the season of nerve-wracking waiting…..
…..and more waiting.
As of today, here are my querying stats:
Agents queried: 51
Partial manuscript requests: 1
Full manuscript requests: 2
Full manuscript rejections: 1
Rejections based on query letter and sample pages: 4
Based on that, it looks like my query letter is working, but my first few chapters could do some work. I’ve tightened them up and am ready to send them out into the Vast Unknowable Sea of Agents. As I get more feedback, especially those bittersweet personalised rejection emails, I’ll tweak them some more.
Let it be said: QUERYING IS HARD. It’s hard, opening up my book to rejection. It’s hard, dealing with the self-doubt with every rejection letter. It’s hard, wondering if I should just scrap my whole novel and do a huge edit. And yet, getting multiple rejections is such a normal part of landing a literary agent.
I started writing my book in November 2018 and finished it, tweaked it based on feedback from by beta readers, had it professional edited by @michelesagan, and revised it at least 2-3 times. And I also gave birth in September 2019. I literally gave birth to a my baby boy and a book baby, while caring for two other little humans.
When my inbox checking and fretting gets too much, I tell myself – time to work on my second novel. And then one of my kids wake up/starts fighting with the other one/needs a diaper change etc. lol.
Where are you in your writing and querying journey? What keeps you going?
I type this while my 2 month old son lies fast asleep next to me. I really ought to sleep too. Eh, I will, after this. Blissful solitude is something I don’t get much of in the daytime!
So, what’s it like having a 2 month old, almost 2 year old and 4.5 year old?
That, my friend, is a summary of my day.
Alhamdulilah for my three healthy, vibrant and strong little ones ❤
Novel update: I got my query letter, synopsis and manuscript in shape in time for Pitch Wars, but didn’t win a menteeship. Still, it was a great experience. Lotsa supportive writer folk on the Twitter #writingcommunity
Good news: I scored some wonderful literary agent interest through the #DVpit Twitter contest on October 28th! One of my winning tweets:
MEAN GIRLS x GILMORE GIRLS x CHARMED
16F Insyirah moves to Malaysia and inherits her grandmother’s handsome and loyal Star Trek-loving jinn. Take that, school bully. Keeping him means risking harm from evil jinn. Exorcising him could kill them both. #DVPIT #OWN #F #IMM #CON
I’ve submitted (query letter and partial manuscript) to four agents so far and oh, the waiting game, the waiting game. It’ll take weeks, if not months, for the agent(s) to get back to me requesting my full manuscript, and then it’ll be even more waiting to see if I get an offer of representation (or not). Egads. Traditional publishing is not for the impatient. Luckily, I have small children, so I am literally not going anywhere. They are the Jedi Masters of teaching me patience.
#PitMad, another Twitter pitching contest, is running on Dec 5th. I’ll aim to pitch my manuscript then too.
So how do I write with a newborn, toddler and preschool? In very small bites. lol. Literally. It all adds up! Writing is also how I decompress and make sense of my world ❤ But it’s either write or sleep so eh, one day I’ll feel more rested.
Alhamdulilah, I gave birth to my baby boy, Mohamed Suhail, on Sunday, the 8th of September 🙂 Please make dua for my little boy and his two excited big sisters. I didn’t think I’d be that mother with three kids under 4.5….but there you have it. Motherhood has taught me to never say never! Back to the newborn haze, with waking up every two hours to breastfeed ❤ And the delicious newborn snuggles. And watching my little girls adoring their baby brother. And then fighting with each other, and then being friends again. Never a dull moment.
Writing-wise, I’m giving my manuscript a break while I rest and recover. This is my third newborn rodeo, and I’ve surrendered to the reality that it’ll be a pretty exhausting few weeks and months. I’d like to work on revising my manuscript and getting it agent-ready, but, honestly, imma too tired. And that’s okay. I look at all the writing mamas out there who juggle so much, get books published through the chaos, and I hope that one day, my turn will come too ❤
Wooooo alhamdulilah, I’ve more or less finished my first draft! Truly, it goes to show that consistency does pay off. Sikit sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit! If I can write 60,000 words with while pregnant, with a 4 year old, 1.5 year old – YOU CAN TOO! I couldn’t have gotten this far without the hands-on support from my husband and mother-in-law – thank you for all the help!
My first draft is with my trusty beta readers now, and I hope to get some super helpful feedback within the next few weeks.
I’ve also sent my manuscript to be edited by Michele Sagan, who has been nothing but incredibly supportive from the get-go. Thank you, Michele! The fact that she is an editor, an agented and published author, and a mother of FOUR CHILDREN gives me so many warm, fuzzy feelings. My manuscript is in good hands ❤
So what’s next for me, writerly-wise? Some ideas:
Not to look at my manuscript because I’m at the stage where I’m like…WHO’LL EVEN READ THIS?!!!
Start writing my second novel! Or at least, start outlining it.
Research agents for my first book.
Start drafting query letters to agents.
Keep lurking on @pitchwars and prepping for the December #pitmad.
In other news, I am 37 weeks pregnant. I AM LITERALLY GOING TO GIVE BIRTH SOON. To an actual baby. Not a book baby! A baby baby! This is both exciting and terrifying. Please pray for me and baby. My 4 year old and 1.5 year old can sense a big change is coming, and are clinging to me for dear life…..so let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m no longer worried about hitting my word count :p Now I can just (try to) rest, listen to birth affirmations, and enjoy the last few weeks of being a mama of two ❤
Belated Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir dan batin, and Eid Mubarak ❤ I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Ramadan and Eid, and open housing the Malaysian way. Because here, Raya is for a MONTH lol.
Life with small children often feels like I’m lurching from one sick kid to the next, before Irfan and I inevitably get sick too. Rinse, repeat. Friends with older children reassure me that it won’t always be this hard. One day, one beautiful, beautiful day, I will sleep better. I will not be slathered in essential oils to help me breathe. I will sleep for longer stretches. I will also miss the cuddles, the kisses, the looks of adoration. I will also sleep better. Have I mentioned sleep about 10 times yet? HA! I USED TO SLEEP IN!
Manuscript update: I’ve hit 50,030/60,000 words! ALHAMDULILAH!
I have less than 10,000 words to go before finally hitting my final word count. Then it’s time to let my manuscript rest, get it beta’d and line edited, write up my long and short synopsis, and then I can start working on my query letter for my agent!!!! AAAAHHH! What has writing a first draft been like for you? How was your revision stage? How did you decide on your agent? Give me all the deets. It’s been pretty solitary, writing my first draft, so I love hearing about the journeys of other writers. It’s encouraging!
I’m also 27 weeks pregnant, and it’s getting more and more uncomfortable to sit for long periods on a regular chair, like a regular person, because there’s nothing regular about being pregnant!!!
Sit on an exercise ball and type at my desk – this is still working pretty well.
Sit on the floor cross legged, cushion supporting my back, and type with my MacBook on a yoga block.
Stretch some more.
Drink lots of water and herbal tea.
What’s been super helpful for me is reading Save The Cat! Writes A Novel. I cannot stress this enough. Thank you for telling me about it, Danica! Jessica Brody has done an INCREDIBLE job breaking down the structure in a best-selling novel. I’m also doing her online writing and publishing courses on Udemy. There’s so much to learn, while I write, and I love how much I’m learning!! Okay. Back to finishing my first draft!