Authors

Lessons from a decade in publishing

 

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26th June 2017, as my latest thriller novel, In The Name Of God eased into the bookstores and even as the online preorder deliveries began, the significance of the occasion was not lost on me. It was on the same day, 10 years back that I stood on the small dais at Crossword Book Store, Kemps Corner, Mumbai, launching my first book. I stood there like a hero. A proud author flaunting his achievement. His first book. Little did I know that life for me would change that very instant. Readers, books, publishers – new friends from a world completely alien to me – would take over my life and turn it around by a complete 180 degrees.

Writing has been great fun. Yes it has taken its toll. I have had to give up a lot of things in life – family time, social life, weekends, sleep etc etc. Yet, I always come to the conclusion that everything that I gave up to write these books has been worth its weight in gold. Therefore it is quite fitting that my ninth book (12th including translations) which released on the day I completed ten years in this industry, is called IN THE NAME OF GOD.

God has been kind. He better be – I featured him in the titles of three of my books: If God was a Banker, God is a Gamer and now In the Name of God.

My writing career has taught me a lot. To write better is just one of them. Writing has taught me things which I would never have learnt in the course of my normal life and career – yes I am one of those who juggles a corporate life with his writing career.

  1. Humility always pays: The problem with most senior management in corporates – I was one of them – is that they neither tolerate nor encourage dissent and debates. In fact they desist it. Without realizing that the aura surrounding you has more to do with the chair you occupy, you feel invincible. On the other hand, when you write, you are pretty much naked out there. Vulnerable. People don’t care about who you are, what you do, your level in an organization, etc etc. If they don’t like what you have written, they’ll tear it apart. And often criticism can be very disturbing. You need to be prepared for that. Your Vice President, or CEO tag will not work in the world of writing. I learnt it quickly. My first few reviews were terrible. I, arrogantly and with the swag of a MNC honcho countered the feedback. Fell flat on my face. That’s when I learnt that writing is a great leveler. It needs you to be humble. Accept the good with the bad. It has taught me not to fly too high when people praise your work and not slump into a corner when people criticize your work. You take it on your chin, improve and move on. Isn’t that what humility is all about?
  2. You don’t compete with other authors, you compete with yourself: In my initial days I would compare my sales figures with other authors, and I guess many did with mine. It didn’t take time to realise it is pointless. Writing, contrary to popular belief, is not a very competitive field. In the corporate world pyramidal structures demanded that you go up at the expense of someone else. Jobs are fewer higher up and you need to be seen as better than your peers. In the world of writing, an Amish’s success or failure is not dependent on a Chetan’s success or lack of it. They chart their own course. So do I. A reader who reads my work is not going to drop me to read any of the other authors, as long as I make sure that my stories keep him excited and enthused. I do compete – but only with myself. And whats even better, I have made more real friends here than in the corporate world.
  3. Don’t fake it : Don’t try to be who you aren’t. Just because a particular genre sells well, or just because the media loves a certain type of author, don’t try to ape. Don’t try to be what you are not. The reason I say this is because, you cannot fake it for long. The problem with lying is that the ability to connect all the lies in a cohesive story diminishes with every subsequent lie. The best way to deal with it is just be what you are. Don’t pretend. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take risks. By all means, please do. But there isn’t any point in churning out a potential bestseller if it doesn’t contain a piece of the author himself.
  4. Good buzz can sell a product once: Just once though. These days, a lot of authors focus on a fab marketing campaign. Yours truly is guilty as well. Trailers, glitzy launches, contests, FB live, film stars and what not. Nothing wrong with that. But when you do that, remember that readers are buying into the campaign, trusting you and picking up your book. However, if they feel that the product is inferior and not up to the mark, they will lose faith in you. A great marketing campaign will definitely make readers pick up the book, but it may not make them fall in love with it.
  5. Spend your time writing a good book: At the end of the day, you’re an author and an author’s job is to write good books. Live, breath and consume the book you write until you’re satisfied with it because if you aren’t, no amount of marketing and glamour is going to help you uplift it. And like they say, love your own book before you expect others to do the same.
  6. Don’t try to change the world: It is not a prerequisite for an author. Most authors try to change the world. They believe that they can do so. Yes, writing does influence thoughts, create public perceptions and ultimately bring about change. But going in hypothesis cannot be that of changing the world. Writers write about what they believe in and people get influenced and pick up the strings. For most writers who changed the world, writing was one of the tools they used – but it wasn’t the only one. Remember most popular fiction writers of today didn’t start off with a message in their writing.
  7. Know your limitations : You can’t be everything to everyone. Know your limitations. Not for a moment am I saying that you need to be defensive about your skills. If we box ourselves, we will never improve. At the very least, it is important to know what you can do or what you can’t. In a conversation with a good friend and another thriller writer, while discussing two popular romance writers in the country, I said, “we can never write like them.” And this friend replied, “But you know Ravi, they also can never write like you.” Fair point. Again, know your skills. Hone them. But always be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. This takes me back to an earlier point- don’t be what you are not. Writing is all about honesty.
  8. Help mentor new writers: When I published my first book in 2007, I had no clue how to go about it. Honestly, not much has changed. How to get a book published remains the biggest concern of most aspiring authors. If you are a published author, you are in a position where you can help new authors reach out their manuscripts to the publishers. You can atleast mentor them on the do’s and don’t’s of the industry. You can help connect them with the right people. Don’t shy away from that. We owe it to the trade. To the new authors. I have realized that a lot of people have played a role in helping me get to this stage in my writing career. It is time to give back to the industry that has given me so much. It is time to help others get on to the bus. The more the merrier.
  9. Never give up your day job to take up writing : I will NEVER give up my day job to take up writing. Yes I make enough money as a writer to take care of my needs. But the day I give up my day job, writing will lose the element of fun and spontaneity and become a job for me. Something from which I HAVE to earn money. And the moment the commercial pressures set in – fun goes out of the window. And I am in it for the fun. It is better that way.
  10. Write for the right reasons : Never write for money. Rather, never write with the intention of making your millions here, especially when you are a new writer. Write because you want to. Write because you like writing and are passionate about it. Write because you have a story to tell. If you succeed, money will come. In the entire world, only a small percentage of writers make a living from writing. If you get into that list, wonderful. If you don’t, at least you can enjoy the experience of being a writer. And trust me, it’s a very addictive life.

Ten Years, nine books, millions of readers, countless friends and an identity which I cherish, is what writing has given me. And this is so close to my heart that I will never trade this off for anything else in this world.

 

I wrote this article for Telegraph and this came out in print on 24th July 2017

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3 replies »

  1. Very nice articulation. I loved your thought process… Your books have always been top of my to do list. I had once thought writing was easy business before I came across people like You, Ashwin, Amish, Subrato Bagchi, RV Raman etc. Your hyperlink plotting is what I like the most… Please keep up your work.. I have atleast made 10-15 more people in my professional circle to read your books… The too have become your fans.. I too have an ambition to become an author myself.. now that I understood that it’s not easy job, I hope I don’t give up my dream.. hope to write one day and hope to quite your name as one of inspiration…

    Like

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