The Perils of Publishing
Publishing Indian Superfood started out to be a promising journey, but it rapidly evolved into being one of my most wayward experiences.
Once I had conceived the concept of Indian Superfood by combining superfoods and superspices at mealtimes, I pitched a number of literary agents via email, and as I had anticipated I got a great deal of enthusiastic replies. I decided to meet with a young lady who back then worked as an agent for a well-known organisation. We met for dinner in West London. I can still recall how excited I was at this, my first face to face meeting with a representative of the secretive publishing world. I finally felt as if I were a part of London itself.
On meeting, the agent didn’t get as far as dinner. She was far too busy drinking bottles of wine and billowing cigarette smoke into my face for about three hours to be concerned about much else. A few days later the agent wrote back in excitement to confirm that she’d like to represent me. She got me busy with writing the book and insisted that I also produce celebrity quotes as well as somehow magic up a TV deal. Eventually, however, my first agent would run out of steam (or smoke rather)…
It seemed as much as she loved the concept, I was too much of a “rough diamond” for her. Allegedly, I was a gem that needed quite a bit of polishing. That didn’t mean much to me back then. It would have been much more helpful if she’d let me know that I needed an editor to work alongside me. I guess she must have been a bit tongue tied (or hungover?)to advise me professionally. So, off I went along my way with my ego a little bruised and wholly confused at my expectations of what to expect of a literary agent and their role in the publishing process. Nothing is ever clear in the smokescreen that we call the publishing world.
However as universal law comfortingly determines, as one door closes another opens, and right then in what almost seemed to be a miracle, I managed to befriend an editor. He believed in my work and would toil with me on my first book to get it into ship-shape order and do all of the work I had ‘foolishly’ assumed a literary agent or publisher would do for me.
It was about this time when I did another round of pitches to literary agents and this time I got a reply back from Andrew Lownie who asked me to whip up a book proposal for him in a matter of days. Once Andrew had the proposal, he answered back to say that it was “enticing”; however he’d need to wait for his reader’s feedback. The reader responded back to say that I wasn’t famous enough to write a cookery book and that my concept wasn’t revolutionary enough. Thus, Andrew Lownie concluded that Indian Superfood wasn’t right for him, but he encouraged me to pitch it elsewhere. Fair play to Andrew, even though he is one of the UK’s biggest non-fiction agents, he certainly isn’t a cookery book agent but he was at least willing to hear me out. However I wasn’t ready to give up on Andrew and after a new barrage of emails, I managed to win over his support and Andrew Lownie finally became my literary agent. He didn’t billow smoke in my face, he always replied back to my emails within minutes, and he delivered sound advice time after time. Andrew also made a great cup of tea.
Shortly after shoring up things with Andrew, my proposal was sent around to publishers, and I went through many agonising months of rejection. It seemed that as much as publishers liked my intellectual property, they didn’t necessarily like me, the person behind it. They would much prefer a big celebrity name of the time to face the concept and therefore minimise their exposure to a possible financial loss. I can still recall one of the big editors who just couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of Indian Superfood. Pretty remarkable isn’t it, an editor in a publishing house unable to comprehend something as simple as “superfood + superspices = Indian Superfood”?! In due course, I did get a couple of face to face meetings with publishers. The first soirée was with a pair of rather passionate ladies from Simon and Schuster at their colonial HQ in Africa House, Holborn. These two rather lovely editors adored my concept, but they weren’t able to get it passed by their financial department.
I did, however, get a meeting with the wonderfully-eccentric Jon Croft who headed the UK’s largest independent cookery book publishing house, Absolute Press that would later become an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing. Jon would be brazen enough to take a punt on me, and eventually my first title, Indian Superfood was published in 2009, just two years after I conceived the concept and first started out on my writing journey. Looking back now, it is quite an achievement. Indian Superfood is now a bestseller and my recipes are leading the way forward for both Indian and healthy cookery, and inspiring in their wake a legion of wanabee Gurpareet’s.
This particular blog has been my longest to date and also the most difficult to write for me as interaction with the publishing world would ultimately change my life path and put me on what would be a most difficult and at times rewarding journey. If I had any advice for budding writers now, is not to give up on their day job. Writing for the great many should be a leisurely pursuit. If you decide to pursue it professionally, take it at ease and never too seriously. Take your time getting it right. It is an art that unfolds its rewards at its whim. You will never have any control over it. Take literary agents and publishers with a large pinch of salt. The great many of them allege to receive at least 500 submissions per week (this is to let you know how worthless you are to them). They will then ask you to submit a proposal exclusively to them, yet they are unable to guarantee that they will ever take it off their slush pile to read it. I’d recommend pitching a proposal to as many agents as possible (preferably all at the same time, so that you as a writer will get the best possible advice).
The chapter of publishing and its related world that I have struggled most to accept is rejection, and this is something that is available in abundance from the publishing world. Most of the agents that the great deal of us will encounter are lazy and sloppy and expect authors to do all of the work for very little reward if any. If you are of an ethnic background, you will also encounter endemic racism which is tolerated as it is justified due to market demand. I mean, how many brown faces can one literary agent, television agent, publisher or television channel represent? Surely, isn’t one curry enough for the nation?