Go to a bookstore and you are bound to find some interesting fiction titles from Indian authors. You pick up a book and are carried away with their real-like characters, people you can associate yourself with and you feel happy to read something rather than the usual foreign titles. This new breed of writers has not stemmed all of a sudden – they were always there but the publishers and the readers are now more open to accept and experiment the new authors. Who knows which one becomes a bestseller tomorrow! The industry is always on the lookout for fresh writings and new authors are now encouraged to write. There has been an increasing trend of signing new authors for the segment which was once flooded only with foreign authors – fiction. Today, Indian authors are weaving interesting stories and novels for the readers while interestingly, foreign authors are delving in the Indian mythology and history. It’s a win-win situation for the readers, while they can connect more with the Indian characters in the fiction, they get a wider perspective about the characters they have known since ages (the mythological characters or historical personalities).
But, is it easy for these authors to write and most importantly, get their works published? There would still be so many authors around us, who are just waiting for their first break – while a few of them resort to self-publishing, others simply disappear in oblivion.
We spoke to five first-time authors on their experience of writing and getting their first book published and here’s what they shared. Sarah Vetteth is the author of Art for Kids; Dharini Bhaskar, author of The Earth’s Been Well Thumbed; Dirk Collier, author of The Emperor’s Writings; Chandrima Pal, author of The Song for I and Jvalant Nalin Sampat is the author of the Tenth Unknown.
The authors are real people like you and me. They have followed their desire to write and have really worked towards getting their work published. All those who have the urge to write something, need to really look deep inside – is there a writer budding inside them to open his/her wings of imagination.
It happened the same with Dharini who had been writing for over six years – unpublished pieces, prose-poems and short fiction, until she discovered her potential to write and was lucky enough to get a break of three months between university and her job to let her concentrate on her work. “I spent all day, often all night, writing; spoke to nobody, heard from not a soul, and had only a thesaurus, books of poetry, and a rat that had made itself a home in my shoe cupboard for company. Sometimes, you need that kind of alone-ness. Above all else, I believe, solitude inspires,” she adds.
Being a full-time writer is not easy, so most of the first-time authors we spoke to, have a full-time job and they write in their leisure time. “Well, I work 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. So three hours at night is all I could get for my writing. Thankfully I wrote my first draft during a sabbatical,” tells Chandrima.
For Dharini and Jvalant, it is night-writing all the way. “There’s something about the still black sky, the hush of the world without, dream-talk, that grants one clarity. Sunlight makes life much too obvious, too transparent; one needs the night to know of secrets,” tells Dharini smiling.
While Jvalant says, “I need pin-drop silence when I am writing. In Mumbai, this is only possible during the night. So I used to write into the wee hours of the morning. Between 1.00 am to 4.00 am were probably my most productive writing hours.”
But, all writers are not night-writers, there are some morning writers too…like Dirk. “I usually spend my evenings doing research and reading. But when it comes to creativity, I’m a morning person, so that’s when I do my writing. In my case, the practical consequence of my decision to write about Akbar has been: getting up an hour early, every single day, for seven years in a row…” he adds.
“Time,” came the quick reply from Dharini, “As with all those in an intimate relationship with words, the hardest part is finding the time and space to create. Writing does not pay to begin with (and often, does not pay at all), and you find yourself struggling to locate a few moments after a demanding job that pays the rent. With some effort, you learn to lead a schizoid existence – devote eight hours of yourself to the day-job, disconnect, write. But it’s not easy.”
While, for Chandrima, it is the later stage, when you are cleaning, fixing, structuring and polishing the manuscript. “After you have said your story, you try to tell it better and better with successive drafts. And keeping your interest and energy up is a challenge during this phase,” she adds. And Sarah seconds it, “The hardest part is being patient while it goes from final draft to getting on shelves in stores!”
But, Dirk and Jvalant find research the hardest part. “As my ambition was to write an authentic historical novel, I absolutely wanted to get everything right: the protagonists, the political, religious and cultural context, etc. So, I had to research a lot,” Dirk adds.
His views are echoed by Jvalant, who feels the hardest part of writing the book is to get the research right. “Considering mine as a WW-2 book, I wanted to get every historical incident right as well as every artefact. The guns used then, the cigars Churchill smoked, the chronology of events, the posters of the hotels, the cars used, etc. I was quite fanatical about getting the minutest of details right and this process was more time consuming than the actual writing,” he adds.
But how do these first-time authors find the right publishers? Is it by sheer luck or a reference? Does it takes on months, and sometimes years to find the right one? What about numerous rejections and dejections?
“The road to publication is narrow, steep, tortuous and thorny… People outside the publishing business hardly realize how difficult it is to get published. For every manuscript that gets published, there are dozens of others that never see the light of day. It’s very much a buyer’s market: publishers and agents find themselves literally inundated with manuscripts! So, unless you’re a celebrity, getting your book project noticed in the first place is quite difficult and usually terribly frustrating,” says Dirk.
But, for Dharini, it was luck by chance– miracles began in the streets of Delhi, in rickety autos. “I had completed my manuscript; I needed to find a publisher but I did not know how to begin the process or where to look. The few people I approached – all distant acquaintances – had turned silent, and my inhibitions and fears further crippled me. That’s when I happened to share an auto-rickshaw with Mridula Koshy, another upcoming author. It was a cold Delhi night, and Mridula looked at me and asked, ‘Have you approached Amaryllis?’ The moment the name was enunciated, something in me, dormant so far, stirred. I got home, typed out a hurried letter, found Amaryllis’ e-mail address through a perfunctory google-search, and sent my manuscript over. Within a day, I had a response conveying curiosity and interest. Within a fortnight, I had a publisher. We signed the contract at the Jaipur literature festival, and have been on a voyage of discovery since. I couldn't have asked for a warmer, more nurturing publishing group.”
Sarah also found her publisher through a recommendation. “I began writing the books with no concept about how to get them published or distributed. As luck would have it, a common friend mentioned my project to someone at the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA). I showed them my book draft and we began working together on editing and designing the books. It took a couple of years between when we began out discussion and when the books were finally printed - but FICA did a fantastic job of editing, designing and printing the books which turned out better than I imagined!” she adds.
If you think being published/broadcast/printed makes it easier for you to find a publisher, think again! Chandrima, who is a journalist by profession thought her background would make things easier but she was wrong. “When I started writing and approaching publishers, I realised, I had to start from scratch. It was a humbling experience. Thankfully my agent stepped in at the right time and got me a deal,” she adds.
Dirk, too, found his publisher (Amaryllis) through Siyahi, one of India’s leading literary agents, via a common friend of his. Another author to take the literary agent route was Jvalant. “Agents in India are a relatively newer concept but having lived abroad for an extended period of time, I thought of approaching an agent as the best bet. Accordingly, when I approached 2-3 recognized agencies in India and when Mita Kapur of Siyahi offered me a deal to represent me, I snapped it up,” he said. His book has been published by Niyogi Books.
There are many more publishers and literary agents who are willing to contemplate new authors. Dedication, a good script and the die-hard attitude is all that is required to get published!
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