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

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The zero-baggage webapps

Smartphone users are tired of downloading and updating apps. It’s time for businesses to think about Webapps


Gunjan Jain, a Delhi-based media professional, spends most of her time on her iPhone 5s, which has 16 GB space, with no memory card slot to add more. To save battery, she has switched off the auto update feature for the 20-25 apps she has on her phone. She manually updates apps on her phone every month. “Sometimes I have to delete old apps before I can try new ones as there’s no extra space for them on the phone,” she says, wishing there was a simpler solution.

It was storage space issues that made Bengaluru-based Kiran Jonnalagadda, a technologist and founder of HasGeek, a community of technologists, buy a OnePlus 2, with 64 GB extendable space, six months ago. “I’m a heavy app and data user and have over 100 apps on my phone,” he says.

What are Webapps?

Although mobile applications, as we know them, have proved to be quite useful, they’re also inconvenient. The ones you can download on your Android, iOS or Windows 10 smartphone are called native apps. If your phone doesn’t have enough storage space, these apps can become a massive headache. The solution lies in using apps on Web browsers, such as Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox, on your phone. Continue reading “The zero-baggage webapps”

A million ways to read

Share your book, read an unlimited number of them or just pay for one chapter. E-book publishing is becoming flexible in a bid to suit individual needs

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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”

Talking about Indian comics in London

I’ll be giving a talk on Indian comics at the Cartoon Museum in London later this week. This post is about how it happened. It’s a good story, do read it!

Early in May I attended a workshop on British comics, full of comic scholars in London, led by the marvellous Paul Williams from Exeter University. There I was, in bustling, sunshine-y London, closed off in a small room with twenty scholars, who had brought along old comics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 80s – all decades really. We discussed on visual imagery in war comics, what British identity means, and many other important things. And I didn’t miss the outdoors, which says something about the comics, the activity and knowledge that these fabulous scholars presented there. But I digress. What happened in lunchtime is what led to the talk.

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We munched on fried fish, aalo pakoras (you read it right), spring rolls and quinua salad in the pub while talking comics and then headed back to the Cartoon Museum, which is where this workshop was happening. It was a 10 minute walk. While walking back, I happened to accompany Anita O’Brien, the curator at Cartoon Museum and then of course it being comics, I started yapping about my love of comics and how there are so many talented artists doing fantastic things in India and how she should do something about it here in London. She told me she’d commissioned the World War I graphic novel with Campfire. I told her the artist, Lalit Sharma, was a good friend. We found out we knew more than a couple of other artists from the industry.

‘You should do something more on Indian comics here!’ I cried, my head buzzing with ideas.

‘Why don’t you do it?’ she asked, calmly.

‘Me? Do what?’

‘Talk about Indian comics,’ she said.

‘Oh,’ I said, rather eloquently.

And that’s how it happened. Before I knew it, I’d asked Jason Quinn to ask me the right questions in this talk, who was sweet enough to agree. We will talk about comics coming out from India, some of which we love, some which we don’t, swap tales, talk about my work and his and anything else we feel like really. We have the stage after all.

If you happen to be in London and would like to join in the joy ride, come over. It’s a free event and you’ll get to hear stories about comics. What can go wrong with that? All you need to do is register yourself by sending a tiny email to the Cartoon Museum at shop@cartoonmuseum.org to reserve a seat. It can be a sentence long, really. I don’t think they have a word limit to it.

Finally, the moral of the tale (for there’s always a moral): Always walk back from the pub and always yap about the things you love. 🙂

Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Guest post: Is Vanity Publishing Author Exploitation?

Rasana Atreya is the author of Tell A Thousand Lies (shortlisted for the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia prize), The Temple Is Not My Father and 28 Years a Bachelor.  UK’s Glam magazine calls Tell A Thousand Lies one of their ‘five favourite tales from India.’ Valley Isle Secrets is her first foray into fan fiction set in the USA. Website.


Vanity publishing has arrived at publishing conferences and literary festivals, and this should be of great concern because vanity publishing is less about emulating trade (also called traditional) publishers, and more about convincing gullible authors to pay for services they do not need. Aspiring authors attend these conferences and festivals. The more they hear about these publishers, the more it gets legitimized in their minds.

You, as an author, owe it to yourself to be well informed. There is plenty of good information available on the Internet. Plenty of bad information, too. Learn to tell the difference. If you want to be a published author and have your book available for sale – either submit to trade publishers, or self-publish. If all you want is print copies of your book, go to your local printer. It works out much cheaper, and you also retain rights to your books. Stay away from anyone who wants money to publish you.

I cringe when vanity publishers call themselves ‘self-publishing’ companies. When you take the ‘self’ out of self-publishing, i.e. you – the author – do not upload the book yourself, it is no longer self-publishing. All that remains is vanity publishing.
I was a panelist on the nuts and bolts of self-publishing on Sept 12, 2015 in PublishingNext, Goa. This post is a combination of my take-away from there (a fabulous conference, btw), my comments as a panelist, and also my own impressions.

It getting harder for UK- and US-based vanity publishers to get naïve authors to fall for their ‘publishing packages’ – which can run into tens of thousands of dollars. This is thanks to activism on behalf of authors by platforms like Writers Beware and Preditors & Editors. As a result, vanity publishers have moved operations to Asia and Africa. That includes India, of course.

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Why speculative fiction may be the best way to depict reality

In 2001, while receiving the Carnegie Medal for his children’s bookThe Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, author Terry Pratchett said, ‘We categorize too much on the basis of unreliable assumption. A literary novel written by Brian Aldiss must be science fiction, because he is a known science fiction writer; a science fiction novel by Margaret Attwood is literature because she is a literary novelist. Recent Discworld books have spun on such concerns as the nature of belief, politics and even of journalistic freedom, but put in one lousy dragon and they call you a fantasy writer.’ Pratchett was England’s most popular author in the 1990s (before yet another fantasy author, JK Rowling took over), having sold over 85 million books worldwide in 37 languages. The Amazing Maurice is a tale of a cat and a group of rats fighting monsters and two-legged humans in a quest for their survival and deifes any categories really, be it a metaphor, a children’s book or even a fantasy fiction.

For most of us, it’s the dragons who breathe fire, immortal vampires with icy smooches and marble-skin and werewolves and robots and faeries and artificial intelligence who want to take over the world—these are the things that take us back again and again to the speculative genre. We live in these make-believe worlds, we see them through the dragon’s eyes, through the wizard’s adventure, through the superhero’s flight in the sky. For those few hours a day, swashbucklers we, slay with our Valyrian swords, dashing away from the Nazgul, and facing worst dementors by becoming Jedi masters. For fantasy, be it in gaming or books or movies, is perceived by the majority as escapism and a desire to live in alternate realities.

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Five myths about an author

I’ve been writing books for six years now. When I began my journalist career more than a decade ago, I was sure I couldn’t write an article. It took me five years of wanting to write fiction, a Master’s degree, one failed novel and millions of procrastinating moments to finally do something that all blogs, all writers keep suggesting: write. After a year of stalling, I started to write fiction and once I did, I couldn’t stop. In the last five years, I’ve written six books, four of which are published and two lie at various edit levels. The longest of this, my first of Anantya’s series, Cult of Chaos, touched 1,20,000 words at manuscript stage. I became an author when I started to write (and not when I was published). Here are a few myths I’ve come across in my life as an author.

Myth 1: Writing is a hobby for them

If you want to get published, writing fiction is a creative business. Like any other commercial designer, you’re selling your ware in the market. If you look at writing as a hobby, there will be no sales involved, you will write whatever you feel like writing, chuck the rather painful process of editing. It will be pure art, and you won’t care two-hoots if it’s appreciated or understood by anyone else. For those who want to write this way, I suggest heading to a vanity publisher so they can distribute their books to friends and family. For the looners who want to publish a book with a commercial publisher, wake up to the fact that you’re starting a business. It would have all the pains of a new business. You have to present a spectacular product, polish it till it becomes commercially viable and acceptable, take the pains of editing it again and again and yet again at various levels,

Myth 2: Authors earn a lot

While interacting with students at IIT-Kanpur, one of them asked me, how much do I earn from writing book. I gave him a few figures, pittances mostly. He counter question was: ‘Then why do you write?’ I looked at him point blank and said that if he wanted to get into writing for the money of it (in spite of the fact that I think of it as a business), he was choosing wrong. Better to do a start-up and sell it for a few lakhs or millions. For majority of the authors don’t earn anything in comparison to the effort put into the making of the book. In India most publishers give you an advance on the book that’s calculated on how much the publisher thinks it’s going to sell. In hard figures, if you’re not a celebrity author and most are not, the advance is anywhere between Rs 2,000 for a children’s book to Rs 1,00,000 for what they call ‘genre fiction’. Many books never earn beyond the advance, so authors get no royalty beyond it. Each of these labours of love take around one year to write, edit, finish and market. And I am estimating a fast turn around. If you put the same year into a job, any job, even at a call center (which begins at Rs 25,000/month), you will earn much more than this book is going to give you. Keep this in your head so you’re not disappointed later on. If earning royalty is your motivation, most likely you’re headed for the depression pit.

Myth 3: They have it easy

‘Oh you work from home? That’s so nice. I wish I could do that.’: You will get it again and again and yet again. Writing was the hardest thing I took on myself and as you can see from the first sentence, this line of thought gets me burned up. Because I know that being an author is the most difficult person I will be. For one, there’s no security in this work. I can cease to be an author the minute I’m not writing or don’t have another book in my mind. It’s not easy, this constant insecurity I’ve to deal with.

Myth 4: Authors are naturally creative

As a lot of people who write will disagree to this. Creativity is like a friend who makes plans on Whatsapp and never really comes to meet up. It’s unreliable. What makes an author is not creativity, which all of us have to some extent, but hardwork, perseverance and determination to write, to pen down or to draw that spark that the creative soul’s left in us. To scratch that itch. Write everyday, even if you’re sick, busy, have a lot on your mind, stressed, feeling in dumps. Write even if no words come. Being at it constantly, chipping away the stone is what makes an author.

Myth 5: Authors are chaotic

Most of the ones I know are meticulously planned when it comes to the book they’re writing. They might have strewn a few books around, I know I do—papers and books and whatnots, but I know exactly what is there. There’s a method to that madness. Just that you might not see it.

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For more tips on writing, head to this section. Know of any other myths you’ve heard? Please put them in the comment section below.

 

Four reasons your book got rejected

Early morning, you open your email box and out pops yet another rejection from a publisher you had your heart on. You fume, you wither, you get depressed and angry and want to hit someone. Everyone is against your voice. And you feel one of these things:

–       Your writing isn’t good enough.
–       You are not good enough.
–       You have no influence with the editor/publisher.
–       Nothing in India happens without money involved.
–       You should’ve gone to a literary festival and made ‘friends’ and maybe that would’ve helped.
–       No one understands your book. They are all idiots over at the publisher’s.
Sorry, none of the above reasons might be the ones that made your book get a no from the publisher. If they’ve sent you a rejection it means that your pitch actually made it to some editor’s table, got consideration and a refusal. It means it was given a fair chance. I have spoken to a lot of editors and publishers in the last five years and these are the most common reasons I found publishers rejected my work. None of it had to do with me or the book I had written.

1 It didn’t match the publisher’s list

A publisher is a commercial business. Every year, they have a boardroom meeting where they try and figure the trends worldwide, genres and book kinds they think will do well in the market. So each editor already has a list of sorts beginning of their commercial year: Tags in mind like #MetroRead #HighFantasy, #ParanormalRomance, #WarStories, #CelebrityExpose. In comes your book. It doesn’t fit into the boxes they’ve figured. The list they’ve prepared. Only if the editor really, really likes the pitch and then the manuscript will they veer from the list. So if you happen to write the ‘fashionable’ genre of the moment, you’re more likely to be noticed. For example, when Twilight series did well, suddenly all publishers started to take in more fantasy romances. It didn’t mean there weren’t romances being written before, it just meant they started to get a yes from the listmakers.

2 You sent it to the wrong editor

Finding the right editor to pitch your work to is essential in getting it published. There are two things to look out for. First of all, what section is the editor handling? Big publishing houses in India have segregated editors in their editorial team. There’s a Young Adult editor, a Children’s editor, an Adult Fiction editor and a non-Fiction one. So your first step is to find the right genre editor within each publishing house you are targeting. Secondly, editors are hardworking people who are deeply passionate about the books they pick up for their list. Each editor across the industry, loves a particular genre. Do your research for each publishing house, find the right editor and try and connect with them and pitch to them directly. Some of them are open to it. I’ve done is successfully two times in the past.

3 The sales team thought it wasn’t sellable

The decision to publish a book is not of an editor’s alone or even of the editorial team overall. They do sort of a round table conference with their sales and marketing team. The book rights are bought only if the sales team feels confident that it can sell it in the market. Yes, if you’ve got the right editor to vouch for your book and he/she is willing to fight it out in that discussion, your book has a better chance. Which is why the point above is so important. Getting a voice in the publishing house which vouches for you. It helped me get my Anantya Tantrist three-book deal.

4 Your pitch wasn’t focused

We might be great at long form but when it comes to creating the right pitch, many of us fail miserably. In this scenario, the concept of an elevator pitch is quite helpful. If you meet a stranger in an elevator (the speedy ones), what will you say your book is about? You have five seconds. Do this exercise again and again till you cut all the vague meat off your book and know EXACTLY what to say about your book. Then write the email you’re going to send to a publisher. Any good publishing house gets a whopping number of book pitches a day. They call it the slush pile, because a lot of them are badly written emails, unclear and confused. Editors don’t have time to wade through each of them. They go by instinct and a well-written, focused email will always turn them on. It helps to know what each editor is looking for. So instead of a generic email to all, try and send a personalized one to up your chances.

There’s a lot of luck involved in the process and I wish you all the best. If you know of any other reasons of rejections, put them down in the comment box below.

(Also posted over at storywala.blogspot.in as a guest post)

Continue reading “Four reasons your book got rejected”

Cult of Chaos launched in Atta Galatta with an occult quiz

Never knew that a standalone event, where people are coming just to meet you, to celebrate your book, can give one such jitters. So it was that I had had a sort of a stomach churning, a week before my first ever book launch was about to happen. I adore Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective of Cult of Chaos. Absolutely love the book, but how was I going to convince 50-odd people to turn up at the event and buy the book at that?

And why should they come? I’m not a known author or anything. I’m just someone. But somewhere I so wanted to somehow celebrate the book and writing and completing and getting it published. I’ve always been the curious sorts, asking questions to everyone. So I wondered, why not a quiz? The idea stuck and we decided to do not just any quiz but a special one, on Occult Detectives to entertain the crowd.  I knew Anantya would like that and that way, I wouldn’t have to ramble on about the book for half an hour, or do a discussion, which can be so boring for the audience! That decided, we hired  QuizCraft Global to conduct this quiz.

To start the quiz, I had asked a friend Kanishka who had read the book at its manuscript level, to say a little about it. He started from The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, which he’d read and how he was so pleasantly surprised at Cult of Chaos, which is extensively different from my first book. (And definitely not meant for kids) I blushed and got muddled in my head, while he said really, really nice things.

Sathvik Ashok, the quiz master from QuizCraft Global took over from there and kept people entertained for almost 45 minutes, scribbling and chewing pens, hitting themselves on the head or clapping at the chap who got the answer. The quiz had five rounds ranging from supernatural questions, urban legends, to Indian ones. My favourite one was:

ONE OF MY FAVE QUESTIONS:

“A female ghost with messy hair and tattered clothing is said to knock on people’s front doors asking for alms. Opening the door to this ghost is said to invite bad luck. Sometimes, she’s even recognized as an omen for death in the house. If you open the door, she hangs around your house and becomes a nuisance. What idea did people come up with to combat this ?”

Can you guess the answer? I will put it in the end of this post.

Post that,  author Sharath Komarraju, was asked to come on stage to take off the shiny wrapping off Cult of Chaos to formally launch the book. He also won one of the rounds of the quiz. He said, ‘I will keep it very short as I’ve been told to say exactly two words. I’ve read this book at the manuscript level and found it fascinating. So my two words are: Buy it.’ With this, he gave the mike to me.

I mumbled emotional stuff about how the book combines the two genres I love the most: fantasy and detective fiction. Of course with blood and violence thrown in. I’ve rambled on the same stuff in other interviews, which you can read here, here and even here.

Finally, it was Ajitha, the senior editor, who has been with Anantya and me throughout, who came on stage. She retold the story of when Shweta had met her first, a few years ago at Bangalore Literature Festival. ‘Shweta came up to me, introduced herself and said, I think Anantya wants you to be the editor of her book. At that time, I was stumped and didn’t know what to say, but it got my attention and I got back home and started to read Cult of Chaos. And I was hooked.’ On the part she loved about the book, Ajitha said. ‘The world is so fleshed out and real. And Anantya is just so like you and me, a woman who has grown up in India, is trying to live an independent life, and even though most of her gaalis are written in English, they are perfectly Indian. I think the time was right for a book like this, an occult detective fiction, to come out in the market.’ Am so happy she agreed to become the editor of the book!

The event closed with a few signings and a couple of photographs with friends. Signing off with the best comment overheard: “The age of the audience increased by 20 years for the next event, a poetry reading session.’

Answer to the above question: Naale Baa (Come tomorrow). The two words were written on every second door in the city to avoid a mysterious woman from knocking at the door at midnight.

A special mention to Ashu, who was there as always and to all of my friends for coming by and making it so much fun (And Kanchen for the owls)! Here are a few photos taken by pal Prasad N and the media coverage so far.

See? You should’ve come. It was super fun.