o matter which road you choose to make your publishing dream come true, one things for certain: You're going to find bumps, potholes and maybe even a detour or two to make things interesting.
WOW! had the chance to share a bit of the journey with author Marie Lamba. Settle in, fasten your seatbelts and come along for the ride.
WOW: Welcome to WOW! Marie. How about telling us a little about What I Meant… and what sets it apart from other Young Adult books on the market today.
Marie: First of all, I'd like to thank you so much for featuring me here. I'm delighted you've given me the opportunity to speak with you and share my experiences with my fellow writers.
Okay, onto the book. My young adult novel What I Meant… is the story of 15-year-old Sang Jumnal, who is crazy about a guy, but her Indian dad won't let her date until she is 16, maybe. And her American mom, who usually sticks up for Sang, suddenly thinks she's a liar, a thief and a bulimic. Sang knows why. Her aunt, who has been living with them for the past few months, has been stealing food and money and setting up Sang to take the blame. But who will believe a 15 year old over an adult?
One huge thing that sets the book apart from others is that Sang is a biracial hero. We don't see too many of these, and when we do, the story often centers around, “Gee, I'm biracial, it's such a problem.” Sang is a typical teen whose life is flavored by her dad's Indian traditions, yet her problems are understandable to anyone: friends, boyfriends, family, fighting injustice, and the constant struggle of enduring hilarious and embarrassing situations.
“This book celebrates this truth.
Here a girl must fight to be believed...”
WOW: Kids these days have so many things vying for their attention, from game consoles to sports. It's really hard to get them to read, especially teens. What makes your book so appealing to the young adult audience?
Marie: Teens have long been clued into the fact that we adults are not perfect. This book celebrates this truth. Here a girl must fight to be believed, even when an adult is lying about her to everyone. And Sang's own mother admits to some flaws of her own. When all the truth finally comes out, it's a humbling moment for her parents, and a touching moment for Sang. I think this appeals to any teen who has told the truth, but for some reason wasn't trusted or believed.
In addition to this serious theme, the book has lots of wacky humor, so it's a fun read.
“I couldn't help thinking, what about this book?
I can't let it just die.”
WOW: What I Meant… is being published by Random House, a major New York publisher. Can you tell us how you felt when you got the call letting you know you had sold your book and then share your thoughts when things took an unexpected turn?
Marie: I remember when Random House first told me the book was accepted for publication, and for a two-book deal no less! I felt like I was in this perfect dream-like bubble. Everything in that bubble was sunshine and smiles. I walked around the streets of Doylestown, Pennsylvania smiling like an idiot, thinking I would wake up at any moment and it would all be over.
Then, a few days ago, I got a wake up call. The book's sequel was cancelled (even though it was completed). The paperback was cancelled. And the hardcover printing of What I Meant… was small. This news was received less than a month prior to publication (which is July 24th).
My wonderful agent Jennifer DeChiara was the one who called me. She kept reassuring me that I would be fine. That I would write other books. She was wonderful.
But I couldn't help thinking, what about this book? I can't let it just die. My agent loved it. My editor loved it. Readers will love it, and it will touch others. What about my character Sang's first kiss with Jason? What about her disaster friend Megan Chung, who practically chokes around guys, yet ends up with a boyfriend? What about the evil aunt getting what comes to her? And that lovely Indian Diwali scene when all the family finally comes together amid a hush of candles and hugs? If only I can get it into readers' hands…
WOW: We can only imagine your feeling of loss. When did you find out things weren't going as planned? And were you given any explanation why Random House changed their original plan?
Marie: Here's the spooky thing: I had no clue there was any trouble until Jennifer called me. It totally broadsided me.
From what I gather, the problem is that major bookstore chains did not order much of it, or passed on it entirely. I don't really know why. Perhaps it is because it is a clean YA, suitable for younger readers as well? I don't really know.
All the decisions to change the publication plan were based on pre-publication sales.
I'm hearing people in the field say,
“this never happens.”
WOW: Unfortunately many decisions are "financially" based when you are with a major publisher. Have you heard of this happening often?
Marie: I'm hearing people in the field say, “this never happens.” And “I've never heard of this.” But I'm no expert. This is my first novel, after all.
WOW: Do you have a new plan of action for What I Meant…?
Marie: I think the only course to take is to not give up. We as writers all know this path. We push ahead. We don't accept rejection letters as the end of a manuscript. Or criticism as failure. Sure it's all crushing, but we each must have a deep belief in ourselves and our visions.
“My hope is to get this book out into
the world, no matter what.”
My hope is to get this book out into the world, no matter what. I'm asking everyone to contact booksellers and ask about the book. I'm putting out pleas for people to preorder through independent bookstores, chains, and through amazon and barnesandnoble.com. The goal is to raise recognition and let the readers decide the fate of this book.
WOW: You've completed What I Said…, the sequel to What I Meant… haven't you? What's going to happen to it?
Marie: That's a good question. Right now it seems to be dead. That's so hard to wrap my mind around. I spent about six months writing it, working back and forth with my wonderful editor. It was just sent off for final copyediting and the cover design was just completed. Truthfully, the thought of it never appearing is heartbreaking.
But the world is fickle. If What I Meant… manages to succeed, it could only help the chances of What I Said… I guess the only way to keep sane is to focus on that.
WOW: As you said, the publishing world is fickle, you never can tell what might happen. I know it's hard to focus on the good things at a time like this but have you learned anything that you can share with our readers?
Marie: I have learned that when you need help in this world, you should definitely ask for it. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming and touching. People are pre-ordering copies all over the place. Forwarding the news to everyone they know, and asking them to forward it. They are sending uplifting emails. I can't even begin to express how much this has touched my heart. Truly, I feel like George Bailey in the last scene of It's a Wonderful Life.
No matter what happens, I'll always know so many people care. That is like a cushion against all bad things.
WOW: One of the things I've been amazed at is how willing other writers are to give, share, teach and encourage other writers. It's like a worldwide family connected by our writing. How can our readers help get the word out about What I Meant…?
Marie: If everyone who sees this talks about What I Meant… to local booksellers and libraries and teens, and explains that this book is in trouble only because of the low presales, it will truly help. And the most important thing anyone can do is to order the book through their local bookstore, barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com. When the book comes out July 24th, post reviews for it on Amazon, and share your thoughts about it with others.
WOW: As we come to the close of our "ride along", do you have any advice you'd like to share with WOW! readers and other writers?
Marie: The writing life feels a bit like a game of Candyland. You may think you are about to win, but you never know when you'll pull that dreaded Plumpy card and get sent back to the beginning. But if you stick with it, if you don't throw a fit and toss the game out the window, eventually you'll get through it, and perhaps even win.
My agent Jennifer DeChiara always talks about dreams coming true. I still believe dreams can come true, they just might not do it in a way that you had planned. I guess if I could whisper in the ear of every writer who is now staring at a rejection letter or filled with doubts about their abilities, this is what I'd say: “Never give up. Because if you do, then you know for sure success will never happen.”
I wish everyone joy and success with all their writing. We are all one huge community, so make sure you support each other.
WOW: Thanks Marie for sharing a bit of the bumps and potholes on the publishing path with our readers. We wish you the best of luck with What I Meant… Now, I'm off to the bookstore to place an order!
About the Author:
Doylestown Borough resident Marie Lamba's first YA novel, What I Meant…, will be published in July 2007 by Random House Children's Books. She recently finished writing the sequel, What I Said…
In What I Meant…, 15-year-old Sangeet Jumnal is crazy about a guy, but her dad is from India and won't let her date until she's 16, maybe. Her American mom, who usually sticks up for Sang, suddenly thinks her daughter is a liar, a thief and a bulimic. Why? An aunt who has been living with them for the past three months, has been stealing money and food, and setting up Sang to take the blame. The novel is set in Doylestown, highlighting many local sites such as CB West High School, Planet Smoothie, the County Theater, and Coffee & Cream.
Lamba, a freelance writer and editor for 16 years, has more than 100 published articles. Her national magazine credits include Writer's Digest, Your Home and Sports International. She is married to Baldev Lamba, a native of India who is a designer of the First Ladies Water Garden on the Mall in Washington, DC. They have two children. With her husband, the author has traveled all over India, and written about her experiences for numerous publications such as Garden Design and Bridal Trends.
She holds a BA in English and in Literary Art (an individualized major combining writing and fine art) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Visit Marie's website: https://www.marielamba.com