Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stay on Target and Get Published

By Guest Blogger Oksana Marafioti

I’m a curious person. A ‘what if?’ kind of a person. Writers tend to be. Otherwise we’d be doing something less interesting and more predictable. Curiosity got me into this memoir-writing business in the first place.
I once met an agent at a conference, who believed that my family history was something someone out there, in the vast ocean that is the publishing industry, might like to buy. At this point book deals were a myth to me. I only went to the conference out of curiosity. But I gave it a try, and after a few sample chapters of American Gypsy, the agent signed me.
Writing about your life is tough, because you relive it in the process, and who’s ever prepared for that? But curiosity kept me going. Could I really sell a book? Within a couple of months I had an outline and about fifty pages of material. That’s when I received an odd email from my agent, in which she told me that she was going out with what we had. From what I’d read in numerous blogs and books, memoirs were treated like fiction and had to be complete before the submission process. I reminded her of this several times, but she ignored me and did it anyway.
The first wave of rejections was a tsunami. Most editors liked the writing but claimed the memoir market was difficult. Others said the immigrant stories had saturated the industry. I moped, then pinned the rejections to the wall above my computer and continued writing. All the while voices of doubt circled above my head. Who was I kidding? Editors accepted stuff only from people they already knew. Another wave. Breathe. And then a call.
We had an offer from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, one of the most prestigious publishers out there.
FSG took me on before I finished the manuscript. I didn’t think this was possible, not until my new editor and I talked on the phone. I was so shocked that I remember asking her what made her decide to buy my book. As inexperienced as I was, I still recognized the risk she was taking with a new writer and an unfinished product. You have potential, she said, and I think I danced in the clouds for a few days after.
It took three years and nine drafts to finish American Gypsy, as well as courage, heartache, openness to advise and a good dose of curiosity to stop myself from quitting whenever the writing became too difficult, too personal.
Some people ask if there’s a secret to getting published. I don’t have the answer to that. But curiosity, I think, as insignificant a quality as it may seem at first, is vital. It’s the ‘what if?’ that makes every writer’s heart skip a beat at the birth of a great story. Without it we don’t sit down to write that first word. We don’t come back to finish the first novel. We don’t continue after our first rejections. We stop after that first publication. We forget our potential.
Curiosity is what makes a writer write.

Oksana Marafioti moved from the Soviet Union when she was fifteen years old. Trained as a classical pianist, she has also worked as a cinematographer. She is the author of AMERICAN GYPSY, a memoir of a Romani (Gypsy) childhood, due out July 3, 2012.

Follow Oksana on Twitter @oksanamarafioti


  1. I'm right there with you. It took me a year to find a publisher for my first book and another year to get it published. A year after that I'm still trying to get my second book published. But it still beats coal mining.

  2. Pursue the "what if". Wise words. Nobody who ever achieved anything did so by stopping.

  3. I have a massive "waves of rejections" come to my memoir up to the point that I thought that agents who read my work like Cuban President "Castro" since I wrote about my life in Cuba and the risk that I took in order to reach United States.Well that would be interesting if some one agree with me. Thank you

  4. I can't even imagine what is going on here with me.I woke this morning more shut down than at any other time in my life. Surfing got me to this massive encouragement. I, too, write a memoir and know beyond doubting that I can tell this story though I am so new to this work. I, too, was advised to do exactly what was suggested to Oksana: just send it out. Stop being the perpetual student and decide (DECIDE)to be the writer. Uh huh, okay. I'm ready. But where's the door, please? And off I go, to buy American Gypsy. Somewhere in time, it will sit next to Mama Was a Boom Boom Girl, on my shelf. And "duh" will be eliminated from my vocabulary.

  5. And thank you, Dave Clark. You just pushed my "go" button, which I nearly had set on "stop". It is important to never give the naysayers so much, or any, power.