What has been your takeaway from writing and getting In the Company of Strangers published?

A lot of aspiring writers ask me how hard is it to get published — not just locally or regionally, but internationally. The answer is that it is very, very hard. I don’t want to discourage anyone, but it is very important to have an honest idea of what it means to be a writer. Pakistan has very few publishing houses and consequently no literary agents.

Authors are expected to turn to agents in India, the United Kingdom or the United States and, while Pakistani authors have found a great degree of success in India, the recent trade ban means that it has once again become exceptionally difficult to get published in India. Getting representation from a UK or US agent is even harder. It is not because Pakistani authors are not talented, but because the competition is very intense. Literary agents in the UK and US can get up to 100 submissions a week, 400 submissions a month. Given that agents rarely take on more than a handful of new clients every year, it is obvious just how intense and gruelling the competition is. 

It took me over six years to get my novel published. I started by taking the brilliant Faber Academy Novel Writing course in 2013 after which I was in a position to submit my work to literary agents. After tons of rejections, I finally found representation in the UK in early 2017 from Annette Crossland. Despite that, it took nearly two years for us to get a good UK publishing deal, which was followed by a deal in South Asia. Getting published is hard, but if you‘re very driven and dedicated, it does happen. My final bit of advice is that never give up!

What are your future books about?

My second novel is on the concept of honour killing in Pakistan; writing it has been an entirely different ballgame altogether. I am also writing a dystopian Young Adult trilogy which is taking me out of my comfort zone.

I’m immensely proud of In the Company of Strangers, but a debut novel ought not to be evidence of an author’s finest work. Experience in writing counts for a lot. You consistently hone your craft and avoid previous mistakes. I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself an acclaimed author, but part of being an author is to keep on learning. I get both good and bad reviews and I learn from them. Writing isn’t an exact art. It’s a constant work in progress.— MSK

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 23rd, 2020