Journalist. Media development professional

The trials and tribulations of publishing fiction in the US

One of the biggest challenges that I faced during the span of my thirties was getting my fiction work published. My journey into the world of fiction publishing was tiresome, and frustrating most of the time. Getting published in the US proved to be harder than what I had naively imagined. What first prompted me to write fiction when I moved to the US was a profile of Yiyun Li in the Washington Post. I was so impressed by the fact that when Li moved to the US she hardly spoke any English, but just a few years later she became an award-winning author, and a bestseller.

I wanted to be her. She wrote about the Chinese-American experience, and I wanted to write about the Jordanian-American experience, the only world I knew. I started by taking fictionwriting classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. I wrote short stories about Jordanians in the US, and Jordanians in Amman. I wrote about women stuck in traditional marriages, and men who wanted to escape their realties. I wrote about family feuds, and life after divorce. I shared my stories with friends and fellow writers. I revised, and rewrote until I was ready to submit to literary publications.

I submitted, received rejections, then revised and resubmitted. I must have sent around 200 submissions. Through the years, I saw how the submission process changed from using snail mail with self- addressed envelope to mostly online submissions that made the process much faster and less intimidating. The rejections kept piling up. Most were standard rejection letters or Emails, but on one occasion I got a signed letter from an editor of a literary journal in Louisville, which gave me some hope.

fjords-womens-edition2While the rejections kept coming, I was being published elsewhere, in the non-fiction world. My byline appeared in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Esquire magazine, Aljazeera, and others. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it was so easy to get recognition in the non-fiction world but not in the imaginary world. I naively thought that telling the truth like it is the case in writing non-fiction was harder than making up stories and telling lies.

No one accepted my stories until October of this year, nine years after I started my fiction journey. The journal which sent me an acceptance letter was the Richmond- based publication Fjords Review which included my story Under Contract in their special women’s edition. You can read my story here (Page 53).

Seeing my fiction work in print gave me an immense amount of encouragement that I dug up my unfinished novels and started the resuscitation process. Currently, I’m almost done with the first draft of my debut novel They Called Me Wyatt, which is an Arab-American murder mystery set in a world of magical realism.

theycalledmewyattI know that if I want to bring this it to fruition, I have to commit, I have to keep writing, and stop winning. It’s work and hard work. I don’t know what the future of this novel will be, but I know for sure that I have to see it to the end. Cheryl Strayed eloquently described my current determination to finish the book in her essay “Write like a motherfucker” that was published in her book Tiny Beautiful Things. “I had finally reached a point when the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than writing a book that sucked,” she wrote. I would hope that my book wouldn’t suck, but if it did that would not be as bad as living a life unfulfilled. It won’t be as bad as knowing that I had this vision once, but I never worked hard to make it happen. That would definitely suck! Here’s hoping.

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