Should you write a romance bestseller?

Have you been tempted to write a romance bestseller lately? The other day, I was chatting to an author about how speculative fiction is such a hard-sell in India. (It’s the usual conversation between science fiction writers. There’s a handful of passionate us, and a handful of equally passionate readers. The others, don’t really care if it’s not mythology.) Immediately, I get a WMA (well-meaning advice):

“Write romance. It sells like hot cakes in winters.”

Umm. Frankly, all Indian writers, be it of any genre or creed, have thought about romance once in a while. After all, it’s the most selling genre in our country. I did seriously consider it for a second. I did!

And then I remembered, that the last romance I read and appreciated was between the Oankali, alien genetic engineers who  touches DNA in humans to have sex and a woman named Lilith. Author Octavia Butler‘s Lilith Brood gave me as many goosebumps as decades ago Sharukh Khan’s ‘palat’ in the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge had done. And  I don’t read much romance myself, unless it has alien spit or monster claws involved. So I turned my eyes away from the temptation of writing that romance bestseller we all think we can write and decided to plod along on the current science fiction mess I’m in the middle of.

Should you write a romance bestseller?

Which is why when I came across this witty sketch by author Sarah Maclean over Twitter, I had to share it on my site. Sarah is a period romance writer based in New York. The flowchart tells you how to decide on whether you should write a romance novel or not. As I read it, I was ‘out’ in the first step itself. If you’re considering writing romance like me, due to a WMA given by another or by yourself, do read and go through this flowchart. You’ll figure out the truth, I promise!


Have you ever considered changing your genre and writing something else that is selling well nowadays, like mythology or romance? Do tell me the truth!

How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896

While reading about early examples of Indian science fiction, I came across a wonderful scholarly tale of how Jagadish Chandra Bose, a physicist and science fiction writer in India in late 19th century, wrote a bilingual science-fiction inspired by a hair oil brand. The article, written by scholars Anil Menon and Vandana Singh, who also write speculative fiction (here and here), has names of  various other writers who wrote science fiction in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Using it on my website with due permission from Anil and with a lot of glee.

 


We have chosen two stories—one by Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937), the other by Naiyer Masud (1936—)—not as representatives of Indian speculative fiction but as interesting instances of the genre. Bose’s story is indicative of a special period in the subcontinent’s history and we finally had an excellent translation to work with. We chose Masud’s story because it is a wonderful story.

Of course when the range includes seventeen-odd languages over some hundred and fifty years of scribbling (two thousand plus, if mythic fiction is included), these two choices are more or less equivalent to two hands raised in surrender. We were tempted by the first south-Asian short story in English, Kylas Chunder Dutt’s “A Journal of 48 Hours In The Year 1945” (1835), Shoshee Chunder Dutt’s “Republic of Orissa: Annals From The Pages Of The Twentieth Century” (1845), V. K. Nayanar’s “Dwaraka” (1892), Sarath Kumar Ghosh’s Prince of Destiny (1909), Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s much-reprinted “Sultana’s Dream” (1905), Rajshekar Bose’s Ulat Puran (1925), the satirical Hindi SF of Harishankar Parsai, the Tamil pulp SF of ‘Sujatha’ Rangarajan, Premendra Mitra’s whimsical Bangla tales, and the eerily postmodern folktales recorded in A. K. Ramanujan’s anthologies. We could just as easily have picked Manoj Das’s “Sharma and the Wonderful Lump” (1973), Bibas Sen’s “Zero-Sum Game” (1994), Manek Mistry’s “Stories of the Alien Invasion” (2007), or one of Kuzhali Manickavel’s short stories. We had to sidestep one of the most talked-about works this year, Shovon Chowdhury’s alternate history The Competent Authority (2013). Ultimately, we chose Bose and Masud.

Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose—the “Acharya” means teacher—pioneered research in electromagnetic waves and biophysics, and invented and built instruments of astonishing precision and delicacy to measure plant development. He probably would have been a brilliant polymath in any age, but the colonial time in which he lived and his courageous response to its constraints made him once-in-a-generation scientist. In 1896, Bose wrote a bilingual science-fiction story, “Nirrudeshar Kahini” (The Story of the Missing). The main narrative is in Bangla, but the embedded scientific material is in English. The story is about a man who calms a storm at sea by pouring a bottle of hair oil on the troubled waters.

Hair oil? Continue reading “How a hair oil brand inspired an Indian science fiction tale in 1896”

Interview: Literary agent Kanishka Gupta on publishing

I’ve always found the job of a literary agent very curious. Since as an author I know that most Indian authors don’t make much money, I do not understand how a literary agent, who charges the author 10-20 percent commission on royalty, makes any money in Indian publishing. This curiousity led me to ask these questions to Kanishka Gupta, a friend and my agent in India for YA/A novels.

Kanishka runs the literary agency Writer’s Side and has represented more than 400 authors in his short six years as an agent. I find him superquick in his responses, honest about his feedback and open to debut authors. In this excerpt he answers all those questions about agenting that had got me curious. I haven’t edited the blog, so it’s rather long. Take your time.


Q) A literary agent is rather an unusual profession. People who come into it, either wanted to be writers or publishers. How did you start as a literary agent?


As an out-of-job, out-of-sorts struggling writer in my early twenties, I was deeply perturbed by the lack of a support mechanism for writers in the country. At that time there was just one literary agency ( yes one!) and publishing editors were like inaccessible government bureaucrats. After freelancing briefly for a literary agency and a well-known novelist, I took the entrepreneurial plunge and founded Writer’s Side. In the beginning WS was more of an editorial consultancy but over time we have shifted our primary focus to author representation.

Continue reading “Interview: Literary agent Kanishka Gupta on publishing”

GuestPost: Five tips to smash that writer’s block

Do you suffer from writer’s block? I’ve been thinking of taking a break because writing is coming tougher to me nowadays for various reasons. A friend mentioned maybe it was a writer’s block. Since I’ve never fallen for the whole idea of a wall blocking your creative side, I thought I will write about it. And just then serendipitously I came across my wonderful author friend Andaleeb Wajid’s rather helpful blog on the same subject. Andaleeb is a superstar author who keeps churning out one fantastic book after another, while taking care of a vast family, doing workshops on creative writing and generally being a fantastic person. So if she’s talking about this block-monster-thingy, believe me she knows her stuff.  And this is what she suggests you do.


What’s this Writer’s Block?

If there’s one thing every other writer will tell you or post/tweet is that they’re facing a writer’s block at some point or the other in their writing career. Of course, if you are a writer, you know for a fact that writer’s block can strike you unawares and the novel that you were working on is no longer flowing from your finger tips on to the keyboard. This feeling of being stuck, of not being able to move forward is typical of writer’s block. But here’s a secret. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. What? Yes. It doesn’t. Writer’s block has more to do with your mental disposition at the point of time when you’re trying to write, rather than actually being the thing it is made out to be.

If Calvin and Hobbes can do it, so can you!

Over the past years as I’ve been writing my books there have been times when the words just didn’t seem right. There have been times when I haven’t felt like writing. A typical question that students I speak to, or interviewers ask is how I deal with writer’s block. This is how.

1. It’s in your mind. It doesn’t exist. Believe it.

By acknowledging that it does not exist. I try not to get discouraged and I certainly don’t label it as a writer’s block. Typically you may get this block either when you’re in the middle of writing something or you might find yourself unable to start something new. Continue reading “GuestPost: Five tips to smash that writer’s block”

What people say when I tell them I’m an author

In workshops at schools, at literary events, festivals, interactions with writers, strangers and friends, I’ve met some really funny responses to the fact that I am a writer. The awkward conversation starts in a party or a hangout, when you chat to a stranger. Or when one is trying to get through immigration or getting a passport renewed. (shudders)

‘What do you do?’ someone asks jovially, a drink down. Heading for another. ‘I write,’ I answer with my winning smile.  Blank stare. ‘Books and articles and stuff,’ I try again. Blank stare. ‘I am an author,’ I venture. ‘An authorpreneur?’ I try again, my tongue doing Patanjali-trademarked yoga on the twisted word, desperate now, mentally kicking myself for paving in to the popular perception and respectability of the word ‘author’ rather than the more humdrum ‘writer’ which is how I see myself.

‘Oh,’ says the stranger.wpid-wp-1432640428580.jpg

What follows can be any of these responses and my response to it.

 

‘You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’

‘Great. Write it.’

‘I have an idea about a book.’

‘Great, write it.’

‘I wish I could write.’

‘Practice makes people perfect.’

‘Will you write a book for me? I have an idea.’

‘No. Ideas are like flies. They’re everywhere. Why don’t you go flush yours down the toilet? See where that leads you?’

 ‘Do you make any money?’

‘Nope.’

Oh, you mean like Chetan Bhagat?’

‘Yes. We both write fiction.’

‘Give me your book, I want to read it.’

‘I don’t carry my book, the same way you don’t carry a factory or the excel sheets you make at office all day long.’

‘Will I get a free copy?’

‘Sure. Can I drill your empty head and stuff it with empathy. Please?’

‘Oh. I need a signed copy.’

‘Great. Order a book, call me. I am always up for signing copies.’

‘Acha hai. You have to do something for time pass.’

‘I am rather fascinated to find the overflowing vat of idiocy behind that bushel of hair that grows so proudly on your head.’

‘Isn’t writing a hobby?’

‘It can be. I just do it all day long.’

‘Wow! So you will become famous like Chetan Bhagat and earn lots of money?’

‘Not really. Most of us don’t earn. It’s a silly profession. Work hard, get nothing. We have no idea why we do it. But we do. Kind of like being addicted to alcohol. Or cigarettes. Or coffee.’

‘Why don’t you make a movie out of it and earn lots of money?’

‘Did I say I was a director?’

‘I have this fascinating idea, which I think will make a really good movie.’ (From a hair stylist, cutting my hair)

‘Ok-ay. (politely, since I did want a nice haircut) Did I say I was a producer?’

‘You don’t look like one.’ (From a rather judgmental 11-year-old)

‘Oh. See my name on the tag of this literary festival? See the name on the book I’m holding? Can you even read?’

‘Oh, I am so jealous. You have an easy life. Sitting at home, making stories.’

‘Try it, will you? Please do. Practice by staring at a screen all day long, waiting to see if your brain will work and produce a publishable phrase.’

‘So how do you earn?’

‘I don’t earn from books. Period. I get my income, depending on mood, from selling peanuts on the road or stealing from overpaid MBAs, by hitting them with a running shoe.’

‘So you will get famous soon?’

‘One hopes, but no. Most authors don’t.’

‘Where can I buy it?’

‘Everywhere. Do you go to bookstores?’

‘Sorry, I don’t read.’

‘What a loss of a perfectly sound brain. Oh, wait…’

‘How was the response to your latest book?’ 

‘Umm. How many times have you had sex this week? This month? …year?’

‘Really? What’s the name of your book?’

‘Cult of Chaos.’

‘Chhaas…what?’

‘Let’s go get drunk. Please.’

(Hurries away to get a drink.)


Cross published in DailyO and YouthKiAwaaz.

5 life hacks for aspiring writers

Want to start on that first book? Aspire to get published? Here are a few tips for aspiring writers that I shared with Writersmelon.

Why do you want to write?

If you want to be a writer, the first thing that you need, which is I think a very individualistic thing, is the desire to write, the passion to create something new, to express a story, a character in a new way. I write because  characters crop up in my head and bang inside, demanding to be let out. I write because it’s addictive and I have no other choice. It’s the highest I’ve ever felt, and also the lowest. It’s hard, but I’m not going to leave it anytime soon.

Once you’ve keyed on this desire, it will drive you through the long, long process of gathering the skills and actually writing the whole thing. Ideas are easy to come by, getting the skill of writing is also not too difficult, but it’s this desire that makes all the difference. This motivation that comes from inside you, will discipline you, make sure you don’t give up halfway and will not let you rest till you complete the creative work. In that sense, it’s an intrinsic value.

A stranger browsing the book. Isn't that nice!
A stranger browsing the book. Isn’t that nice!

Finish that first draft

Don’t let your rational mind take over till you complete the first draft. Write with your instinct, write whatever you see the characters doing, just write without thinking too much. Continue reading “5 life hacks for aspiring writers”

How much should I ask for a freelance assignment?

Writing is a tough profession and a lot of authors get by with getting freelance gigs on the side to pay for their writing time. I’ve freelanced almost all my life, negotiating with corporations, adjusting to different work ethics, chasing payments, waiting for payments and getting them.

Freelancing is a tough, competitive, variable market where you can get paid as little as Rs 500 for content for a website to as much as Rs 10,000 for a magazine article. Writers often approach me with a question on how much they should ask for an assignment they’ve been offered. Which is why this post.  Here are five ways to determine what you should ask for. Best of luck!

STEP 1: What’s the monthly salary you want?

Forget the thought of what companies are paying or what other freelancers are getting. Have some faith in yourself and find a sweet spot you want to reach per month. Believe me, all the rest usually falls into place. What would you like to earn? Think up of a monthly amount. This amount could be either what you want to lead a good life or what you’d get if this was a full-time position. But this amount will make you satisfied and happy. Generally, my suggestion would be to keep it a littler higher than what you’ll fetch in a full-time position since freelancers don’t make a regular income and you won’t get paid leaves or medical insurance. But don’t make it double either. That’s just getting greedy. For example, say you think that your monthly salary should be Rs 1,00,000. That’s 1,00,000 for 20 working days if this was a fulltime gig. Which shortens to Rs 5,000 a day.

writeSTEP 2: How much time will I take?

To know how much to ask for, you need to know how many hours and how many days the assignment is going to take you. Continue reading “How much should I ask for a freelance assignment?”

Award-winning author Jim Crace on how to win a literary award

I had a chance to attend a talk of the award-winning English writer Jim Crace in Chichester University when I was there for a writing fellowship. He was marvellously witty, charming and brutally honest about the publishing industry and how to keep an eye out for things that destroy writing. His latest novel Harvest,  won the 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the 2013 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. That’s a lot of awards for someone who’d famously announced his retirement and then backtracked when a new idea took over his mind.

Post the talk, in true Brit tradition, as we headed to a pub for beer, I had a chance of interacting with Jim one on one and frankly, was charmed away. He was a great listener and genuinely interested in my experiences as a “genre author” from India. The journalist in me insisted that I record a few sayings of his for myself, as inspiration. And so I wrote to him post our conversation and got him to answer a few cheeky and not-so-cheeky questions. Here are the excerpts from an interview. When in doubt, follow his advice, I say.

Q) If someone wants to win a literary award, like you have, how should they go about it? 

Don’t even think about it. That way, madness. Winning prizes is just a matter of luck and it is entirely beyond your control. There’s no accounting for taste; there’s no controlling the judges; and even if you were able to pack the selection committee with all your cousins, there is no guarantee that any of them would vote for your book.

Q) Any suggestions for writers who’re stuck in a vast desert called the middle of a novel?

There are a thousand answers to this. But there are no golden rules except that -as with all great deserts- it’s useful to have a camel and some water. What has worked for me is to stop at the end of each day, knowing exactly what I have to pick up on the following morning. I also commit the first line of, say, Chapter 20 to the screen or page, just as I am starting on Chapter 19. It gives Chapter 19 a sense of destination.

Continue reading “Award-winning author Jim Crace on how to win a literary award”

Neil Gaiman’s handwritten notes

Call me old fashioned, but there’s something in notes that are handwritten. So I salivate after notes of my favourite authors, trying to find bits and pieces of handwritten marvels from them, when they were constructing my favourite books. So imagine my sheer bliss at having discovered Neil Gaiman’s notes on his book American Gods. of that’s been handwritten. Glee.

Initial thoughts about the book

Continue reading “Neil Gaiman’s handwritten notes”

Author Ursula Le Guin on how to start a story

There’s a germ of an idea in your head which craves to be built up into a novel. It urges you to fill copious amounts of empty pages with plot lines, character sketches, scenes and more. All this while, you’ve not written even a single piece of your book. Where do you start? How do you start writing, just like that, start it and continue page after page after page for atleast 150 odd pages? How does the idea, the plot line, the character, the scene come together? I’ve always wondered and pondered and thought about it. It’s a question that doesn’t end even though I’ve started and finished a few novels now. Finally I came across author Ursula K Le Guin’s brilliant advice on how to start a story and had to include it in  Witchery of Writing series.


My own experience of starting is different for every story and every book. In my teens and twenties, I made endless enthusiastic starts to dead ends. Gradually I learned that if I got thinking about a place or a situation that felt like there was a story in it, and if I hung on to that place and that situation, put my mind on it, then people and what they’d do (their behavior, the events, the plot) might begin growing out of it. Sometimes quite rapidly, as if the story was actually all there already and just needed to be written. Sometimes only with a long time of pondering, brooding, working it out, making notes, rethinking. Occasionally, as I got more experience, my first glimpse of a story was like seeing a trailhead. What I had to do was start following that trail (in the person of a character) and discover as we went where we were going. (“I learn by going where I have to go.”—Roethke.) I call this “writing the way through the forest,” the same metaphor Karla uses — and I honestly do not recommend it to an inexperienced writer. Continue reading “Author Ursula Le Guin on how to start a story”