Namrata shares insights about the publishing options available for a writer today in India and why the story still remains the heart of any book.
I began blogging sometime in 2011 when the literary industry in India was at its peak. The blogging which began more as a love for the written word soon gave birth to my second blog which was a pure reviewing blog. Having been a voracious reader since the age of four, reviewing came naturally to me as I was able to see through the plots of the books I read.
In 2013, I began working as an editor and that is when I finally witnessed the before and after of a book. Till then holding a book in my hands had a very different meaning while now I could see the hard work that went behind each book and that too from different people – beginning with the author and ending up with the publisher’s marketing department.
I will take you through the journey of getting published as a writer sharing the rights and the wrongs that are commonly (mis)understood by many. Beginning with querying till the book is published and it’s time to market the book, the five steps in this journey are what we will decipher at length.
- The Journey of Querying
- Traditional Publishing V/s Self-Publishing
- Make some noise
- The Better Option
- M for Marketing. M for Money
- In short
The Journey of Querying
The process of sending your manuscripts to publishing houses in a bid to be accepted for traditional publishing is known as querying.
As an aspiring author, it feels good when you have a contract from a big publishing house waiting for you in your inbox. Well, let’s accept it. We all feel we have the next best seller in our hands and that it is purely un-put-downable. We cannot seem to find out one reason why someone will reject such an amazing read. It is when the rejection slips begin to pile up that we realize how grossly we had miscalculated it all. And now we cannot decipher what’s happening and that is what bogs us down.
There is nothing wrong in aspiring big, what is wrong is leaping high without seeing where you will land. Before approaching any major book publisher, one needs to ensure a few things:
- Ask yourself do you have something different to tell the world.
- If yes, what is so different in it that should make one choose it over the others?
- Why should one buy it?
When you have answers to these questions is what will determine your further course of action i.e. writing your book. With that taken care of, now you spend days and nights on your computer typing away to glory and finally have your masterpiece ready.
I always ask writers to imagine they are in Shark Tank, their manuscript is their business idea and the publishers are the Sharks. You need to convince them to invest money in your idea (book). Sounds easy, right? Well, technically it is. It is only when you put pen to paper is when you realise the difficulty level of this whole thing.
Indian literary industry is yet to warm to literary agents and hence most of the publishing houses are open to direct submissions and their requirements are very simple. Three sample chapters, the author’s bio, and a synopsis of the story that you want to narrate. This brings forth many questions.
- What chapters should they be? First three, last three, or random chapters?
- Should the climax be disclosed in the synopsis?
- How impactful should the author’s bio be?
Begin with your sample chapters – pick any three with a diverse range of writing skills showcased. This highlights you as an author. Add an equally intriguing synopsis, one that discloses the climax because that is when a publisher would know how exciting or not-so-exciting is your book going to be, which in turn becomes the bait that makes them seek the whole manuscript from you. Keep the author’s bio as brief as possible unless you are asked for a detailed one that runs into pages.
Begin with your sample chapters – pick any three with a diverse range of writing skills showcased. This highlights you as an author.
Traditional Publishing V/s Self-Publishing
Fortunately for an author in today’s times, there are a lot of options available for consideration starting from sites like Amazon, Pothi, Smashwords, Wattpad, etc there are a lot of books getting released without the need for a proper publisher in between. Some of these sites also have a print-on-demand option available making it easier for a reader to choose either between an e-book and a physical one. In short, becoming an author is now available at the click of a button.
For a first-time author such options are great in terms of setting up a reader base. There have been writers who have put up their work at Wattpad for free reading to end up writing some of the bestselling novels. What they needed was to know that someone believed in their writing and what made it happen was Wattpad. The same is the case with blogging; blogger-turned-authors are creating waves in today’s literary world. Apart from this, it also helps you learn as every feedback that you get helps you shape your work accordingly.
Make some noise
The question is, how to get the book to readers? Simple. Make some noise. How– is another question altogether. (And we will answer that in another blog post!) Let’s look at some popular authors on how they grabbed traditional publishing deals to understand how publishing works better.
Desperate in Dubai, an international bestseller started as a blog which was, later on, turned into a book. It had become so popular that publishers approached the blogger themselves and the rest as they say is history. As long as your work has quality everything else just falls into place.
Closer home, in recent releases, The Haunting of Delhi City: Tales of the Supernatural (HarperCollins, 2022) is written by Jatin Bhasin and Suparna Chawla Bhasin who have a popular Twitter handle called @TheDilliMirror where they share threads featuring micro-fiction in the supernatural genre. They created an audience on Twitter before reaching out to publishers for their book.
Chadrima Das is a popular author and podcaster. She writes frequent threads about her stories and also covers a lot of them in detail on her podcast Rumours: Dark Lore from India. Her quality of writing was noticed by a commissioning editor who then commissioned her debut short story collection called, The Young Blood: Ten terrifying College tales (Harper Collins)
Jubanashwa Mishra, author of 28 Jobs, 28 Weeks, 28 States had self-published the book after getting a series of rejections. However, on seeing the popularity of the book, Speaking Tiger released the book in paperback last year.
There has been an eternal battle between a reputed traditional publisher, a self-publishing option, or small-time publishing. I have always told all my clients it is not a crime to admit you are self-published. It just means you choose to believe in your work when someone else did not. What else would you call the optimism with which Amish Tripathi, a best-selling author today self-published his first book of the Shiva trilogy?
Mythology as a genre at that time was unheard of, owing to which publishers did not want to take chances with it. But he believed in his story and today he has not only sold millions of copies of that book but has also started a new series for which he has paid a whooping advance amount too. Not to forget a movie on the book in the pipeline too.
And there are too many to be added to this list including the recent Booker Prize winner Snehan Karunatilaka’s debut novel Chinaman was self-published before he went on to win some big awards for writing and eventually, traditional publishing offers followed.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shehan_Karunatilaka
The Better Option
There is no better option for a writer. Both self-publishing and traditional publishing have their own pros and cons.
Choose what you feel suits you the best. Just because you are represented by a reputed traditional publisher doesn’t mean you are a best seller and in the same way, a small publisher bringing out your book doesn’t mean the end of your dream career.
What matters is good quality content and of course, very strong marketing to back it up. Taking once again the example of Amish Tripathi he admits that it was sheer marketing that ensured his first book was noticed by so many making him an instant best-selling author.
M for Marketing. M for Money
The next question will be how much is enough and the answer to it is, “No one knows!” No author or publisher can tell you in this world how much money is enough for a marketing budget. Some have struck gold in thousands while some are still biting the dust in lakhs!
Amidst the pressure to bring out a successful book one key factor which most authors overlook is the need to constantly keep writing new books. Just to state the statistics, J K Rowling’s first book of the Potter series didn’t garner as many sales on its release as much as the third one or maybe the final one. So you see it takes time for an author to strike a note with the readers.
Ashwin Sanghi’s Krishna Key was a superbly written edge-of-the-seat thriller; making readers go back to his first 2-3 books only to realize they were fabulous as well. You never know when a story clicks with a reader for a particular reason making them fall in love with your writing.
Given these scenarios, one is bound to wonder if changing markets impact a book. Well, the answer is a yes and a no too.
- No, because Agatha Christie was magic then and is magic now. Even decades later her level of suspense and mystery is something we all still love, it never seems outdated.
- Yes, because we are tired of the same first love-heartbreak-campus love stories floating in the market and now badly need a change because the average Indian reader is experimenting, expanding his horizons by trying different authors and it won’t be long before they realize what they have missed.
An author has to constantly keep evolving with the market trends as today’s average readers’ attention span is very and hence it is of utmost importance to be able to hold onto their attention for a long while.
Regardless of what type of publishing you opt for what is important is that you write great content and manage to retain it throughout all your works. Nicholas Sparks has positioned himself as a romance author for so many years and when he writes romance every love story looks so refreshingly different. While on the other hand, we have authors who are unable to produce variety in the same genre and end up being repetitive. That is when they should try their hands at different genres.
After all the complications, let’s simplify it for you.