I am a New York-based South Asian writer, and I was already published in India—my debut romance sans agent representation, but its follow-up with representation—when I began seriously querying literary agents in the United States. I was two books old, a little more confident about my craft and my stand as an author, and a little more knowledgeable about the publishing industry. By then, I’d become an active and participating member of the Romance Writers of America and its affiliate, the RWA-NYC chapter.
When I began writing what I call “NRI romance” or “Non-Resident Indian romance” in 2010, there weren’t many U.S-based South Asian authors who wrote the kind of books I did. In fact, there was only one—Sobhan Bantwal—whose work was comparable to mine. I soon realized that most South Asian-Americans wrote about the immigrant experience while I did not—or at least not in any angst-filled way. I began to worry that my stories were too “Indian” for U.S. publishing, and I was somewhat right—then. Query after query was politely rejected. Since I write in multiple genres, from romance to fantasy to women’s fiction, I was told my books didn’t fit into any slot and would be a marketing nightmare. Maybe that was true—is true—but that is how I write. That is how my stories come to me. So, at the start of 2015, I began querying agents who represent multiple genres and authors who write in multiple genres, and there I found that my queries were being noticed, and my pages and manuscripts started getting requests.
One agent liked my work enough to set up a phone meeting. We were forthright in the discussion about my work, my hopes, my vision and my writing. We also talked about the state of the U.S. publishing industry, its limitations and its vision. Though I still did not get offered representation after that phone call, I did come away with knowledge about the industry and I began to understand it like I never had before.
I could have been upset that in the end it had been a fruitless phone call in terms of getting an agent, but I wasn’t. I knew now that my work was good, but it would be difficult to sell it in the U.S. because not only did I write multicultural or diverse fiction in my own voice, but each of my books also straddled multiple genres. “Do you know how impossible that combination is to sell?” the agent asked. By then, I did know. I also knew that the fault wasn’t in my stories but in the way the industry operated. By then, the diverse fiction and Own Voices movements were also picking up. More and more writers were speaking up about their experiences, their rejections and their stories.
Armed with this new knowledge and my conviction, I decided I didn’t want to wait for the Own Voices movement to gather momentum and make impact. Surely, it would take years, and I was losing patience. So, I decided to publish the first book in my fantasy series independently. I did it with a small measure of success in 2015 with Soul Warrior: The Age of Kali. To my delight, soon after its release, my agent in India (Kanishka Gupta from Writer’s Side) sold the South Asian rights to OM Books for a trilogy. Again, I was convinced that India was where my work would be best suited and best appreciated.
Meanwhile, however, I hadn’t totally written off traditional publishing in the U.S. and was querying both editors and agents for my debut women’s fiction novel, My Last Love Story. The novel garnered a lot of interest and requests, but again, no concrete offers as everyone was stumped as to how to market it with its unconventional storyline that straddled two genres (women’s fiction and romance), and its multicultural theme. I gave myself a deadline for an offer and when it came and went without success, I decided to self-publish again. I was confident about indie publishing by then and more than happy to be the captain of my publishing ship. And so, in May of 2016, I launched My Last Love Story into the world.
And then things got super interesting.
About a month after I released My Last Love Story, an editor I’d pitched to the previous year emailed me to apprise me about the new women’s fiction imprints her “romance-only” publisher was launching. She and I had been in touch even though she hadn’t offered for My Last Love Story, and we would often talk about the book at conferences and industry events. She’d loved the book, but it hadn’t fit any of Harlequin’s imprints before. But now, it seemed it would, and perfectly. She said that if I was so inclined I should get an agent ASAP and submit the manuscript to her, and even though it was self-published already, she would go to bat for it.
I was shocked and amazed and ecstatic. Things like this did not happen, I’d been told. Of course, I wanted to give it a shot, I replied promptly. I quickly emailed all the agents who had shown more than a tepid amount of interest in My Last Love Story previously, and I got three offers immediately.
I chose to sign with Andrea Somberg of the Harvey Klinger Agency for several reasons. One, she was the agent who had spoken so candidly with me over the phone, taking the time to explain the US publishing industry and my work’s place in it; two, she was in New York too, and in my mind, tangibly reachable; three, she knew my editor well; and four, she represented all the genres that I write in or ever imagine writing in. It’s been a year and a half since we began collaborating, and I continue to be amazed by her knowledge and her support.
So, that’s my “How I got my Agent” story. It is a bit topsy-turvy, but it got the job done. My take away from it is this: The publishing world is a crazy one and there is no one way or right path to publication. Believe in yourself, believe in your work, and things will happen to you and for you. It pays to never give up.
FALGUNI KOTHARI is the author of MY LAST LOVE STORY (January 23, 2018; Harlequin/Graydon House), as well as SOUL WARRIOR (2015); BOOTIE AND THE BEAST (2014); and IT’S YOUR MOVE, WORDFREAK (2012). Her unconventional love stories and kick-ass fantasy tales are all flavored by her South Asian heritage and expat experiences. An award-winning Indian Classical, Latin and Ballroom dancer, she now lives in New York with her family. You can visit her at falgunikothari.com