I started blogging in 2011 and eventually got published in 2013. It was a short story that had been chosen for an anthology by a reputed publishing house. It kind of felt surreal in many ways as till then I was writing only for myself. This published story gave me a sneak peek of the audiences that were out there, who would love to read what I wrote. It was thrilling, scary, and at the same time exciting.
In a brief span of a year, I got published in 11 anthologies and the high it gave me was unbelievable. What it also gave me, was the dream of writing my book. By early 2015 I was neck deep into my preps for working on a book.
And that is when the reality stuck hard! Writing a book is not as easy as it seems. I suddenly found myself struggling on many fronts. I did next what I felt was the right step- I started attending a lot of writing workshops and courses, read about writing, and tried to hone my skills.
The lessons I learnt were important ones that we often tend to overlook. They have helped me improve as a writer and continue to do so. Sharing some of them with you:
- Writing a full-length novel is no mean feat – Having been a blogger for 10 years where I used to write fiction I was used to trying my hand at different styles like micro fiction, flash fiction, 55 fiction, and short stories. Somewhere in those attempts I started enjoying writing fiction and concluded it would be easy to write a book as well. To be honest how much could you tell in those few words hence a lot was left to the imagination/ understanding of the reader. While for a novel you need to write at least 50000 words and ensure a reader’s attention is held till the last word is no mean feat!
- Flawless language is imperative– When you write a blog post rarely you have anyone come up with comments that highlight the flaws in terms of grammar, spelling, tenses, or maybe glaring mistakes in the plot but in the book the feedback does have such features. It could be maybe because they pay for your book and hence expect value for money while a blog is free to read. It isn’t that while writing blogs I was never cautious about such mistakes but whenever they happened inadvertently they were easily overlooked. While in a book a simple typo by a publisher in the name of the chapter leads to a detailed discussion.
- The importance of the ‘published’ tag – Being a famous blogger might not make heads turn but being a published author surely does. The tag of “published” comes at a price where now even strangers want to become friends and strangely sometimes friends turn foes. I have experienced that very closely. The blogger fraternity doesn’t feel threatened by another blogger’s success as they all believe they have their own niches. But the moment you become an author who has published the algorithm changes with people feeling skeptical about your skills and if you really deserve all that you are getting. The published tag does make a lot of difference as the overall perception of people around you changes drastically.
- Reviews and their role– As a reviewer/ blogger I love reading books and writing very honest reviews. I never took the liberty of bashing authors even before I become one because I believed there is nothing called a bad book. But after becoming an author I have realized how one single review can make or mar a book. Perhaps as a reviewer, we don’t realize the impact our words can create. Every time you hold a book in your hand you are holding months or maybe years of hard work, sleepless nights, and aspirations of someone. Whether it is good or bad is completely a different argument altogether. The very fact that it is someone’s blood and sweat (in some cases tears too!) needs to be respected. Having said that I am not averse to criticism. We all need some, but a constructive one that helps an author grow.
- Dealing with Marketing / Promotions – As a blogger, it is very easy to promote blogs. But as an author promoting a book needs real hard work. Moreso, blogs are free to read while one needs to pay to read a book. I never knew the importance of marketing till I became an author because blogging taught me that good writing is always talked about even if you don’t talk about it. While this also works for a book but because the stakes involved are high there is a greater amount of planning that is needed behind promoting a book.
- Carve an Identity – I started blogging with a pen name – Privy Trifles. No one cared who was Privy Trifles or from which country. I still remember having an argument with my first publisher to keep my name as Privy Trifles on the book as people knew me more by that name rather than my real name. My social media accounts were also in that name. He flatly refused to say it doesn’t work in India. I cited the example of Desperate in Dubai a best-selling novel by an anonymous blogger from Dubai which he pushed aside calling it a rare phenomenon. The moment you become an author people want to know the real you, the person behind the book. They need a connection with you in terms of your pictures and also glimpses of your personal life which may or may not be limited to things ranging from likes and dislikes in food to views on movies and social issues. After becoming an author I learnt I could no longer hide behind pen names!
- Social Media Presence – As a blogger, I managed to stay away from Facebook and Twitter till 2015-16. Yes! I did and it made no difference to my blog statistics in terms of readers. Rather if I were to say honestly that was one of the most productive phases as my only concentration was on writing during that time and I lay blissfully unaware of anything that needed my attention. But as an author, the first few things that are told to you are “social media presence”. Be omnipresent- be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr, have a Facebook page, and stay active. Though I could never understand how one can write while doing all this but yes it did work well for a book. I didn’t know the magic wand called social media till then. I have even seen authors promoting their books one year in advance starting it when it was just a plot and sharing regular updates about how and what has been added or removed from the story. Becoming an author introduced me to the role of social media in our lives, so to speak.
- Silence is not golden – Bloggers are often used to silent readers of blogs where they mostly refrain from commenting or letting the blogger know about them in any manner. And up to some extent, it is perfectly okay. I remember receiving emails from complete strangers talking about some post that had made them think and then we would go on to discuss it bit by bit. I really enjoyed that. Sometimes those silent readers would send me requests to write posts on and it was fun trying to think what answers they wanted through that post.
As an author, it is imperative that anyone who reads your work voices it out for you. Good, bad, or ugly… bouquets or brickbats you want them all because that is how you can increase the sales of your book. If someone even sends you a personal email or message on WA or FB messenger you take screenshots and share them on social media as a promotion for your book. Silence in this case is no longer golden; it is the voice that becomes platinum.
- Research is important – Like I said in point no.1 there is not much that you can write about in 800-1000 words. According to popular research, any online reader’s attention span is not more than that and hence anyone writing articles online is always asked to limit it to those word limits. So there are times when even the lead characters go without names. They are merely a he and a she. Not much research is needed as there is no detailing in fictional scenes, the play is around words as you try to capture a moment and present it in those few words.
While in a novel as you have a good number of words to play with you cannot leave a lot to a reader’s imagination. A proper background is important, charactersketch is equally needed and so is research about that particular era, clothes, language, mannerisms, political situations, or social etiquette depending upon the setting. Becoming an author taught me the importance of research in writing. I witnessed how criminal it could be to have a female character wearing the latest clothes of the 21st century in a story set in the 17th century and how out of place would a particular word sound in period drama for it was a slang coined recently.
- Full-time writer and its perks – One of my relatives recently invited me on a holiday. I politely refused to say I couldn’t afford that trip right now both financially and personally. She laughed and stated, “Stop kidding me! Let’s be honest you don’t want to come. I know authors earn lakhs!” Some benevolent cousin had apparently briefed in detail to anyone who wanted to know about my earnings. As a blogger, nobody assumed that writing was a full-time opportunity that could be paying me well. But as a writer, it is assumed that writing is my full-time career with amazing perks apart from name and fame. In blogging the investment is very but the returns are too high while as an author the investment is huge and the returns minimal, spread across years. (P.S.: Apologies but couldn’t help the investment banker in me coming out to express how I really feel about this point!)
These days becoming an author is not only about writing a book. You need to know how to sell it too apart from various other skills like social media and offline promotions. Earlier writers had only one job- Write. Rest everything was taken care of. And due to the absence of proper channels more often than not they were completely unaware about the direct feedback on their books. But today’s writers have a plethora of options to get feedback from ranging from alpha readers, beta readers, editors, and of course the reviewers apart from the readers.
Does this complicate things? Maybe yes, maybe no! But it surely extends the list of things on the to-do list for an author. Now it is no longer just plot-research-write it is much more than that.
Since my first short-story collection in 2015 I have written 2 more short-story collections and one travelogue. The lessons from writing and publishing still continue as I learn something new every day. I now work with publishing houses and authors on various aspects of a book. Yet I feel there is so much more for me to learn, explore and experiment!
What has your biggest learning as a writer?
About the Author
Namrata is a published author who enjoys writing stories and think pieces on travel, relationships, and gender. She is a UEA alumnus and has studied travel writing at the University of Sydney.
She is also an independent editor and a book reviewer. Her writings can be found on various sites and magazines like the Kitaab, Asian Review of Books, Contemporary South Asia Journal of King’s College-London, Mad in Asia, The Friday Times, The Scroll, Feminism in India, The Brown Orient Journal, Inkspire Journal, Moonlight Journal, The Same, Chronic Pain India and Cafe Dissensus.
Her short stories have been a part of various anthologies and have also published two short story collections of her own. She is currently working on her debut novel. She loves traveling the length and breadth of the world and enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words. She is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story.
Her latest book The Lost Wanderer has been garnering rave reviews. You can grab your copy from Amazon