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If you like Khaled Hosseini's story, you might also like:
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Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini Interview (page: 4 / 9)

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

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  Khaled Hosseini

It must have taken a lot of support from your wife to work at a very demanding full-time job and give three or four hours to writing every day.

Khaled Hosseini Interview Photo
Khaled Hosseini: Well, but she was snoring away while I was writing. I was getting up at 5:00. You know, she was -- she indulged me with it. I mean, at that point, she knew very little that I really loved to write. She saw it as something that I'm doing on the side, and it really wasn't until I gave her a draft of it that she was -- she looked at me in a different way. She looked at me like, "Oh, so there is this other person that I've been living with for years. I didn't know this side of you. I didn't know this dimension of you." And then simultaneously, I found another dimension in her in that I discovered that she's the greatest editor I've ever met. And she started editing my manuscript, and she's one of these incredibly gifted readers. She's not a writer herself, but she's a very astute, smart reader. And she now edits everything I write, and she's my first editor at home. I don't send anything out until she reads it.

What does she do for a living?

Khaled Hosseini: Well, at the time she was an attorney. When we married, she started law school and she was an attorney. And really, I have to credit her for getting The Kite Runner published, because when I was writing The Kite Runner, I was about two-thirds of the way through, September 11th happened. And at that point, I stopped writing the book, and especially when politically it became obvious that there was going to be a war in Afghanistan and that -- not the Afghans, but certainly the regime of Afghanistan, the Taliban had hosted the people who perpetrated the attacks. I said to Roya, I said, "Nobody is going to want to hear from me now, nobody wants to read this book." And you know, it also felt like I was, to submit the book at that point, it felt like the timing was too good. It felt opportunistic.

It was some sort of defense of your people or something like that?

Khaled Hosseini: It felt more like I was capitalizing on something that was suddenly of intense interest, and just because it was in the news and everybody was talking about it, and then here comes a guy with a book -- you know. I said to Roya, I said that, "Good timing is a good thing, but this feels like I'm capitalizing on this." And besides, quite misguidedly, I thought, "We're the pariah now and nobody wants to benefit me by reading my book. I'm from the country that..." But it was really kind of naive and really short-changing people and not giving them enough credit. People were, as I said, people have been incredibly kind and gracious. So Roya said, "No, you're being really silly. You have to finish this book. A: You have to go back to writing it, and B: you have to submit it, because it will help readers appreciate a different side of Afghanistan that they are not getting, especially now. All that we are hearing is Taliban, Bin Laden, war, Taliban, Bin Laden, war, Taliban, Bin Laden, war. And your story is about family. It's about friendship. It's about love and forgiveness and very, very human, simple human things. And your book can at least give people a glimpse of something other than the usual things that we hear about Afghanistan." And so, as I said, she was an attorney, and she made her case, and I listened to her, and I eventually submitted the novel in June of 2002.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

And who did you submit it to?

Khaled Hosseini: Well, as I said,

I didn't know anything about what it takes to publish a novel. And so as I wrote the novel, and increasingly it looked like I was going to submit it, as unlikely as that seemed initially, I had to learn how books are published. So I went and bought a book called How to Publish Your First Novel, and I learned through that book that you have to find an agent. So then I went and got a book that is called How to Find an Agent. And then I eventually just sent submissions to agents in New York and got connected with a woman named Elaine Koster in New York, who called me, and I had one of the most amazing, surreal phone conversations of my life with her. She called me at my home -- I had absolutely no expectation that anybody would look at this thing, read it, talk to me about it. I fully expected the thing to end up with a slush pile, in a trash bin. She called me and she said, "You're going to publish your first novel. There is no question in my mind about that. The question is: where?" And I was like completely stunned.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So she had read the manuscript.

Khaled Hosseini: Yeah. She loved it, and she called me, and she said, "If you let me, I will find you a publisher in a matter of days or weeks, and this will get published. And I think it will be a very big success."

Did you have an introduction to your agent, or did you find her by cold-calling?

Khaled Hosseini: I cold-called a bunch of agents through mail. I just sent them three or four chapters with a query letter and a synopsis, and I said, "Look, I'm a doctor working at Kaiser, but I've written this novel. I'm from Afghanistan. Here's a novel, here's a story. Call me if you like it." That was basically the way it worked out. And as I said, I didn't expect anybody to -- in fact, I got rejected more than 30 times before Elaine called me. I still have the manila folders of all of the rejections that I received from agencies. I didn't take it personally, I knew that you have to have a thick skin, that rejection is part of the game. If I'm going to submit, I have to expect that I'm going to get rejected a whole bunch of times, and hopefully somebody will respond, and that is what happened.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Did you actually get the 30 rejections before she contacted you?

Khaled Hosseini: I had waves of submission, and I started getting lots of rejections, and I would just kind of stubbornly keep submitting to six, seven agents at a time. And I had a nice little collection of rejections by the time she called me. Most of the rejections were very impersonal: "Your book is not right for us. Thank you." -- which led me to believe that they hadn't read it. Some of them had actually read it, and I remember one rejection was, you know, "We like your book, but we think Afghanistan is passé. We think people don't want to really hear about Afghanistan, they are sick of it, maybe in a few years if you submit it again." And it was at that point that I realized what a subjective industry publishing is, and you can't give up, you can't just let that get you down and you just have to accept that and move on and keep pushing, so I did and found Elaine. She said that, "Your book is going to be a very, very big success, and the publisher said that." So I was all geared up for the book the day it comes out, and then the reality, of course, is that when the book is published, it's just a book in a sea, in an ocean of books. And the odds against it becoming a success are astronomically high. So I feel like for me to be here today speaking to you, and everything that has happened, it's just been a series of really kind of very, very unlikely miracles.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

The short story writer Ann Beattie says she had 22 stories rejected by The New Yorker before they finally accepted one.

Khaled Hosseini Interview Photo
Khaled Hosseini: The New Yorker, Esquire and Atlantic Monthly, and I have those three rejections as well. Esquire had actually read it, and I got a nice handwritten -- an actual nice handwritten response that they had actually read it. But, you know, you can't take it personally.

Can you imagine how chagrined all of those publishers are now? When did you and Elaine realize that you had a hit on your hands with The Kite Runner?

Khaled Hosseini: Not for a long time. You know, the novel was published in June of '03, and I couldn't pay people to read it. I mean, it didn't come with a big marketing campaign. It was fairly modest, went to a handful of cities.

Who published it?

Khaled Hosseini: River Head, over at Penguin. They did some muscle behind it, but we didn't have the benefit of an Oprah or The Today Show or a TV appearance, anything of that magnitude. It was mainly doing local radio and a couple of NPR appearances.

It was very kind of sobering to walk into a bookstore at a book reading and see three people or two people, especially when you are in your mind, you think, "Oh, it's going to be successful," and it really wasn't. It took it about 15 months before it finally took off. In fact, it never took off in hard cover. And it really wasn't until about two or three months into its paperback publication that suddenly -- but all, the whole time that I was under the impression that nobody was reading it, people were reading it, but they were reading it in small numbers and telling their friends to read it. So the word of mouth was building throughout that whole year so that you reached that tipping point about a year later, and when it came out in paperback, suddenly it kind of became this phenomenon. And then the next thing I knew, I was going to convention centers, and there was like a thousand people. Or going to the TV, and I was seeing people at the airport reading it.

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