Shweta Taneja is the author of three books, The Skull Rosary, The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, and Krishna. She’s currently hard at work on her second full-length novel, which will be the first book of a series in urban fantasy, a rather unique genre of fiction. (More on that some other time.) Today she describes the steps she has taken in the publishing industry and the advice she receives. Over to her, now.
I started writing without any knowledge on how to write, how to edit, what and where to edit, how to send a proposal, where to send a proposal, who to connect to, who to approach for getting published, or how to market my books. I have learnt everything all thanks to countless blogs of helpful writers, and advice from writers, authors, editors, publishers that I have been lucky to have found. Of the advice I have received, some has been well meaning, some funny to downright hilarious, insightful, offensive or kind. Here is some of it.
Change your surname
Yes. I got that. A publisher over a cup of coffee told me to change my name and surname and make myself sound Bengali or Anglo-Indian if I wanted to get published in India. Fine, it was a joke and I didn’t really take it seriously but jokes always have hidden truths. Right? So how many of you have seen a book, read a book’s back cover, seen the author’s surname and made assumptions about him/her? I bet a lot. No wonder actors change their names in Bollywood. And that astrologers are doing so well.
Write more to make money
When I asked a helpful author over email on how he was making money (yes, I can be quite upfront about these things on emails), he told me he wasn’t till the first five books of his got published. But slowly, as little money trickled from each of the book (and believe me, most of it will be littlebee trickles), he’s started to make some moolah. But not enough for designer clothes or big cars. Just enough for survival, a jhola, a glass of wine and not being dependent on anyone. So there. Accept this fact (no, Bollywood doesn’t enter the picture) and move on.
When I thanked Zac O’Yeah, a well-renowned author for his kind email and advice on writing and publishing which I desperately needed, he gave me another to follow. He told me to continue the circle, to be supportive to authors or writers who approach me, tell them how they can get published, guide people, guide people to fulfill their creative ambitions. And this is one advice I intend to follow. I am not saying that I know a lot about the industry, but whatever I do, I would love to tell you all. I would love to connect you, tell you how to connect with publishers, what to write in proposals (though sorry, I can’t tell you on what to write about). Because we are in the same boat, you and I. Both of us want to bring alive a part of our dreams.
Readers can tell you when something’s wrong, but not what
This came from a blog of one of my ever fave writers, Neil Gaiman. Primary readers (and it’s essential that you get your book read by some) can tell you there’s something wrong in your book, but when you ask them what it is, most probably they will point out to the wrong thing. Don’t ask me why that is, it is. Neil says so. And I know it is so.
You’ve done the writing. Now do the selling.
That was helpful advice from a publisher. The baffling Indian publishing industry is the only one where the publisher can happily shirk off from the majority of work involved in marketing the book. I don’t know why it is as it is, but it doesn’t look like changing. An author friend told me it’s because publishers don’t have much money to market each book. You should be thankful that they are producing and distributing it. Yes, but they also tend to keep 90% from sales, so they should market all the more, right? The books are instead left in the hands of authors to market, who frankly totally suck at it. They have no clue what to do, which is why great titles are often completely missed.
You’re only as good as your last
Neil Gaiman again. (Love that guy!) Even if you dish out the next bestseller, when you go back home horribly drunk and giddy and plan to write your next book, you face the empty whiteness of your word document and the silence of no keys plonking, alone. No amount of success, praise, media coverage, people can help you write a better story next time, or give you a great story idea . So be thankful for all the ideas that are swimming in your head and meanwhile, keep writing.
It’s a shitty line of work. Quit.
This one was from an author who struggled for quite a few years, with great books out, but not enough sales. This was also two years ago. Now he’s become a best seller and made it huge internationally. I don’t know if he remembers this advice, but I do. And I am going to ditch it. Not because I hope I will make it huge someday like him, but because I seriously can’t stand the characters knocking the doors in my head and want to just get rid of them by writing about this. I am helpless really, there’s no choice.
It seems there is hope and despair enough for all of us. Which aspects of the world of books today makes you hopeful? And which give you cause for despair? Let us know!
Image Courtesy: Erika Liodice