Tuesday Debut – Presenting Marzieh Abbas!

Welcome to Tuesday Debut, everyone!

We have a special treat today – both the debut author and the illustrator are joining us to talk about the creation of their book!

But first, I’d like to announce the winner of the picture book manuscript critique so generously offered by last week’s Tuesday debut-ess, Natasha Khan Kazi!

The winner was randomly selected from all the commenters on last week’s Tuesday Debut, and the lucky recipient of a PB MS Critique from Natasha is Joyce Uglow!!! Joyce, please email me (handy Contact button in menu bar above) so I can set you up with Natasha! What a great way to start the day and the week!

Now, let’s have a look at this lovely book, brought to you by Marzieh Abbas, Anu Chouhan, and Feiwel&Friends! 😊

Author: Marzieh Abbas (me)
Illustrator: Anu Chouhan
Publishing House: Feiwel&Friends/Macmillan
Date of pub: 11th April, 2023
Fiction, for ages K-G3

A dupatta is so much more than a beautiful piece of fabric. A dupatta is sound—swooshing and swashing like a superhero cape. A dupatta is scent—cinnamon and cardamom, crushed coriander and peppermint oil. A dupatta is fun—playing peekaboo and building cushion forts with dupatta canopies.

Dupattas—shawls traditionally worn by women in various cultures of South Asia—are beautiful and colorful of course, but they’re also fun, functional, and carry the sounds and smells of family and identity.

SUSANNA: Welcome Marzieh and Anu! We are so delighted to have you both here today to share the journey to publication with your beautiful book! Marzieh, where did the idea for this book come from?

MARZIEH: I keep new ideas in a notebook and keep adding to them, especially during Storystorm (hosted by Tara Lazar every January). Sometimes an idea has been in my head and I just haven’t found the right structure for it. This idea was triggered when I read FRY BREAD to my daughter. I loved the structure and had been toying with the idea of speaking about something from my Pakistani culture which literally screamed identity!

SUSANNA: Anu, what about Marzieh’s manuscript made you want to illustrate the book?

ANU: I was really drawn to the idea of illustrating a picture book full of South Asian fabrics and patterns, it felt like a dream project. Cultural fashion is one of my favourite things to draw, so I had a lot of fun with all the spreads in this book. 

SUSANNA: Marzieh, how long did it take you to write this book?

MARZIEH: The entire manuscript literally poured out as I made a puzzle with my daughter right after reading the book, Fry Bread! It had been a month and a half since I signed with my agent. I will this the first two manuscripts I sent to editors after twitter pitch likes (before I had signed with my agent) fell through at acquisitions (after several rounds and months and months of R&Rs). So every manuscript differs. With some it take ages to find the right focus. With others, it almost feels like dishing out a well-marinated, perfectly cooked meal.

SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions, Marzieh?

MARZIEH: I revised this a few times – first with my core critique group- they’re always my first pass. We were all SCBWI members who found each other through the Blue Boards on the SCBWI forum. Once I was satisfied with the revisions I had made, based on their suggestions, I reached out to one-off critique partners. I put out a call for a swap of manuscripts on the KIDLIT411-MANUSCRIPT SWAP FB group. These days, sometimes I do that on my 12x12PB forum. I like having fresh eyes from people who write in a similar lyrical style. I’m always careful to share the newest version of the manuscript with a handful of people, before I make changes and then move on to others. Getting too much feedback at once can feel overwhelming. In total I’d say this went through 15 revisions, including the incorporation of editorial notes from my agent.

Marzieh’s work space

SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?

MARZIEH: It’s always just a feeling. When nothing is nagging at me and when I feel an urge to share it with my agent, I can tell it’s time to send it to her!

SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?

MARZIEH: This was the first manuscript I wrote after signing with my lovely agent– Lynette Novak of the Seymour Agency. She submitted to roughly 10 editors at small and big houses.

SUSANNA: How long after you found out about your book going to acquisitions (if you did) or after you submitted were you told it was a “yes”?

MARZIEH: We received an offer from my lovely editor, Emily Settle, at Feiwel & Friends exactly one month from the time the manuscript first landed in my editor’s inbox 😊

SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”?  (Best moment ever! 😊)

MARZIEH: I think my manuscript moved super-fast, from submission to getting the call!

Sent to Emily: 29th September, 2020

She replied that she loved it: 16th October, 2020

She replied that her team loved it and would later be taking it to acquisitions: 19th October, 2020

Got on a zoom call to discuss some revision suggestions and learn the pronunciation of my name before the acquisitions meeting: 21st October, 2020

SOLD: 29th October, 2020

SUSANNA: Wow! That’s amazing! How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?

MARZIEH: The holiday season fell during contract negotiations, so there were slight delays. I signed my contract on 21st February, 2021!

SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?

MARZIEH: I told everyone in my family! I bought writerly things for myself—a typewriter enamel pin that read: “writer”, now that I was going to be a published author in the traditional market! I live in Pakistan and no one got why I was so excited! My family felt happy for me, but that was about it! I did take a selfie as soon as I got off the zoom call with my agent and edtor, though! And it was all fuzzy—it perfectly captured my ‘giddy with glee’ state of mind

SUSANNA: That “giddy with glee” feeling is the best, isn’t it? Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?

MARZIEH: The advance was way more than what I expected for my debut picture book. It was in excess of 5K.

SUSANNA: Nicely done! 😊 Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?

MARZIEH: I loved the changes my editor, Emily Settle, suggested. They helped me tighten up the structure further. We went through three quick rounds of revision.

SUSANNA: Anu, how did you go about creating characters and scenes, and turning Marzieh’s words into a visual treat for young readers?

ANU: I really liked that the publishing team gave me a lot of creative freedom with this book. There weren’t many notes regarding what exactly I should draw (some spreads had a few notes regarding specific references to Pakistani culture or religious aspects for context). As such, I took my time to explore ways that I could visually interpret Marzieh’s words. When it came to the character design, I feel like we landed on that design pretty quickly. I sketched a little lineup of character ideas for the team to review, and the one they chose in the end was very close to what the final design ended up being! 

SUSANNA: Did you and Marzieh have any contact during the illustration process? (i.e. did you receive input from her about the illustrations as they were progressing?)

ANU: When it came to submitting thumbnails, sketches, and final art, that was mainly done with the Art Director and Editor. However, while I was in the middle of working on it, Marzieh was very helpful when I had questions about certain embroidery styles that were mentioned in the book. Mariam, the Art Director, was also incredibly helpful when I needed clarity on certain cultural things, too. I am Indian-Punjabi, and my family is from an area very close to the Pakistan border (when the Parition happened, Punjabi was split between Pakistan and India). Because the two countries were once one, there is a ton of cultural overlap. However, since I am not Muslim, I would reach out to Mariam and Marzieh to ensure I was depicting religious aspects accurately. 

SUSANNA: Marzieh, what was your experience of the illustration process like?

MARZIEH: I got to see art at every stage, from character design, to intermediary sketches, from colored in spreads to comments on final tweaks and touches. The Art Director, being a Pakistani, had a wonderful vision and Anu is so talented. Some of the spreads transport me right back to my grandma’s house, right from the wooden bangle stand to the mirrors from yester year! I’m so blessed to have worked with the best!

I included very few art notes. One spread was very text-sparse—and I wanted to make sure my editor, art director, and Anu got the vision I had.

Below is an excerpt from the final manuscript that went forth, along with the brief art notes in parenthesis:

A dupatta is useful function

Shielding [eyes from the midday sun]

Protecting [mouth and nose from dust-laden winds]

Sheltering [from rain]

Veiling [pretty faces from strangers]

Rocking [babies to sleep]

 [Illustrator note: In the rural areas, babies are made to sleep in hammock-like dupattas strung between two poles]

Here is the final illustration of that page:

text copyright Marzieh Abbas 2023, illustration copyright Anu Chouhan 2023, Feiwel&Friends

There was only one other spread I included art notes for:

A dupatta is legacy

Handed down generations

Tucked away for a special occasion

Creases smoothened out

Draped around for an iconic speech 

[Illustration note: Malala sporting Benazir Bhuttos famous white dupatta at her Nobel Prize acceptance speech]

text copyright Marzieh Abbas 2023, illustration copyright Anu Chouhan 2023, Feiwel&Friends

SUSANNA: Anu, what is your favorite thing about the art you created for this book (or which is your favorite spread)?

My personal favourite spread is the one that features regional dupattas from all around Pakistan (A Dupatta is Place). I loved learning about each style and had a lot of fun illustrating the details for each one, and designing characters to showcase them!

SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?

MARZIEH: I saw reviews from Kirkus and SLJ before the book was released. My editor termed them glowing reviews and we all agreed! I’ll quote an excerpt from each of their reviews below!

SLJ: This book is so much more than a definition; like Ruth Krauss’s A Hole Is to Dig, it was never really about a hole, now, was it? ­Abbas offers not just a story, but a poetic explanation of a traditional scarf worn by the people of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. A dupatta—a rectangular fabric “plucked and spun into thread”—is “so much more” than it appears. From color to function, beauty to identity, the dupatta’s significance is shown through vivid illustrations from ­Chouhan. Burnt orange, purple, and turquoise are among the vibrant colors that flow from page to page…. VERDICT This book exquisitely represents the legacy that is the dupatta through imagery and descriptive text for a beautiful lesson in culture.

Kirkus: similar in form to Kevin Noble Maillard’s Fry Bread (2019), illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, this rhythmic description of a dupatta’s importance in a South Asian Muslim family is an affectionate homage… the book’s warm, well-chosen language depicts a joyful, accurate representation of a dupatta’s multigenerational importance in family life. A lyrical, multisensory celebration of a South Asian garment.

SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?

MARZIEH: I got my first copy in hand in November, 2022. So almost one year and seven months from signing my contract.

First print run is 35k copies

SUSANNA: That’s a solid print run! What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?

MARZIEH: My publisher assigned our book a very helpful publicist. Sarah is looking into setting up a virtual book launch party, since I live in Pakistan and Anu, the wonderfully talented illustrator for DUPATTA, lives in Canada.

We have several, lovely trade reviews in already and the eARC has been uploaded on Edelweiss—this has helped to gather more reviews from librarians, fellow authors, and teachers!

SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.

MARZIEH: I have been promoting my book online, through my social media and in private writer’s support groups and communities. I have three street teams: PBSpree, 2021-derfuls (I was graciously invited to join a previously formed group of very successful authors and illustrators that was launched in 2021), Kidlit Works (for my 2024 picture book releases), each with 15 to 20 members. We review books for each other and help spread the word by retweeting etc. I’m also part of 12x12PB, a wonderfully supportive kidlit community dedicated to help picture book writers write more and get the word about their books out to more readers and reviewers.

SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?

MARZIEH: I began writing in May 2019. I sold two books to Islamic publishers and a local Pakistani publisher in the same year, but that process is so different than the traditional trade market for kidlit. I began seriously querying in 2020. I signed with my agent in August 2020. And I sold my first book, A DUPATTA IS… at the end of October, 2020.

SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication? (Or what is your most helpful piece of advice for up and coming writers?)

MARZIEH: Just keep going! The ones who get published are the ones who persevere! You need to keep putting yourself out there. Everyone faces rejections and they get better with time. DO NOT QUIT! And once you sell a book- make sure you understand the option clauses and everything else in the contract before you sign, or accept any offer. Be frank with your agent and do your own research!

SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?

MARZIEH: Write what you know, and flesh out as many ideas as you can. No writing ever goes to waste—it may just be the springboard you need to kick start a different project, but you’ll never know until much later.

Author Marzieh Abbas

Raised between the bustling cities of Dubai, U.A.E and Karachi, Pakistan, Marzieh loves traveling, reading and samosas. She is a member of SCBWI, 12×12, and a graduate of the Lyrical Language Lab, Children’s Book Academy, and Storyteller Academy. She is active on Twitter where she continues to form connections with the Writing Community, runs a kidlit review group on Facebook and blogs about her author journey and life in Pakistan on Instagram.

Social Media Handles

Website: www.marziehabbas.com
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/marziehabbas_author
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarziehAbbas
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/marziehabbas/

Picture books under contract:

A DUPATTA IS… (Feiwel and Friends, 2023)

HENNA IS…(Feiwel and Friends, 2024)
AWE-SAMOSAS (Clarion, 2024)

One more unannounced PB (2024)

Chapter book series under contract:
NADIA AND NADIR, Series 2 (ABDO Books, fall 2023)

Illustrator Anu Chouhan

Anu Chouhan is a Canadian illustrator and art director. A trained animator with a background in game development, Anu often combines her love of her Punjabi cultural heritage into her art, as well as drawing inspiration from anime, nature, and fashion. She is also the illustrator for graphic novel adaptation of the New York Times bestselling book Aru Shah and the End of Time


SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers and illustrators, Marzieh and Anu! We so appreciate this opportunity to learn! And we wish you both all the best with this and future titles!

Readers, if you have questions for Marzieh or Anu, please post them in the comments below and if they have time I’m sure they’ll respond!

You may purchase Marzieh and Anu’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)


We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:

– purchasing their books

– recommending their books to friends and family

– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians

– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores

– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries

– sharing their books on social media

– reviewing their books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other sites where people go to learn about books.

Thank you all for stopping by to read today!  Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday!  Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 😊

Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts?  Check them out HERE!

24 thoughts on “Tuesday Debut – Presenting Marzieh Abbas!

  1. Author Anna Maledon says:

    What a lovely post and a beautiful book and that photo of you, Marzieh, at the bottom is so pretty. You have achieved a lot in a very short time. Congrats!

    Fellow graduate from Children’s Book Academy.

    • brilawyer says:

      “The ones who get published are the ones who persevere.” Thanks for sharing this quote. I saw it for the first time about a year ago, and it’s really resonated with me since then. Thanks for sharing your journey with the world!

  2. palpbkids says:

    This is such a brilliant concept book!
    You have invited your reader in to learn about a culture’s identity and tradition while adding the meaning behind things that are held so dear and important.
    The artwork is stunning!

  3. marshaelyn says:

    MARZIEH, Your writing journey for this beautiful book is inspiring for me–a pre-published author-in-waiting. LOL I learned so much about a dupatta through your lyrical style, especially the “feeling” it gives the wearer. It’s a book I look forward to owning! Sending you inspiration for your continued success…

  4. Sue Heavenrich says:

    great interview! Thank you for sharing your process, Marzieh, and for sharing your love of textiles, Anu. I agree this is a lovely book (but then, I love textiles, too!)

  5. chardixon47 says:

    Congratulations Marzieh and Anu! Love reading the processes behind your story. I’m so fortunate to have handmade treasures made by my grandmothers and my Mom. You brought back so many beautiful memories.

    • Marzieh Abbas says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview and found it useful! Thank you for reading and good luck with your publishing journey

  6. marty bellis says:

    Congrats, Marzieh and Anu. It’s fascinating to learn about the details of how this book came into being. Love the lyrical language and colorful illustrations. Looking forward to reading it and to seeing your future books as well!

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