I began my first novel just before the war in Iraq began, the war that Americans are still fighting, the war in which Saddam Hussein was deposed and no weapons of mass destruction were found. I was horrified by the acts of hate toward Muslims living in the U.S. and I wrote a novel about an innocent man being victimized simply because he is a Muslim.
A strange thing or two happened on the way to publication.
The first strange thing was that an agent called me before I even tried to find an agent, to ask if I had a novel-in-progress he could read.
The second strange thing was that this agent sold my finished story to FSG in four days. What a dream. I got a novel published without a single experience of being rejected by anyone at all.
Of course there is a pivot in this story. Here it comes.
Somewhere along the way, the story I meant to write got lost. My agent and my editor thought I was writing a dark erotic tale. I let their vision be the story I wrote. Every new draft they asked for became darker than the one before — until my story of Muslim alienation in America ended up with a naked woman on the cover.
The publicity sheets sent out to reviewers called my book a “dark erotic tale.” Foreign publishers followed the naked-woman theme on their book jackets. The Japanese publisher added a naked man.
I knew I had totally lost control of my story when one publisher decided to put the naked woman on a prayer mat, a total subversion of the story I had meant to write. I was powerless to stop it. I tried. Most of the time publishers don’t give authors contractual control of their cover art and I was no exception.
It’s important to say here I don’t blame my agent. I don’t blame my editor at FSG. I’m eternally grateful to them both. I followed every bit of their editorial direction, to the letter. I did that. Whenever I objected to a change and they pushed back, I let it drop. I didn’t walk away. And my novel was published. I got a great advance and my family took a year off when my kids were young and we traveled the world together. I learned that publishing a novel with a publisher is a team sport.
And I’m grateful to those readers who still connected somehow with the book I meant to write, however veiled the story was by the time it was in print. After an author’s advance is spent, and the book is remaindered, and then forgotten, the one thing that remains — the thing that is simply glorious about having published a novel at all — is that someone read it, and understood. Maybe just one someone.
So about a dozen years went by and one night Trump was elected president. On election night 2016 I began to write my second novel. I sent an early draft to a few agents and they said to me, to paraphrase, “We like it, but we want it to be more the way we want it to be.”
It didn’t feel right.
I stopped looking for an agent. I never mailed the final manuscript out. I decided to self-publish instead.
And now The Book of Dog by Lark Benobi is coming out September 6. 2018. It will be published by my very own micro-press, Vegetablian Books of Santa Cruz California. Let’s see how it goes. I’m probably shooting myself in the foot. But I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed designing my own cover this time.