So, you want to be an author? Take expert help!

  • Saudamini Jain, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 19, 2015 15:30 IST

Of course you do! But so does your friend, your boss and your neighbour. A few good writers have a whole lot of advice on how to...

Few things can uphold a presumption of your intelligence better than writing a book. Very few may actually read that book, but if you’ve been published – hell, even self-published – you’ll find yourself being taken more seriously, if only by your friends and family.

Writers are, after all, people with more knowledge or perspective. No wonder everybody wants to become one.

What is a wonder, though, is how many of those people are actually becoming writers today. With the publishing boom in the Noughties, when foreign publishing houses established themselves in India, writing in English burgeoned.

If you had a story to tell, there was someone to convert it into a nice book, put your name on the cover and set it on a bookshelf. "I’m surprised when I meet people who are not writing a book!" laughs journalist Sunil Sethi.

You’ve heard this before. Chetan Bhagat arrived on the publishing scene in 2004, and changed it. He was a banker; his prose wasn’t exactly sparkling. But he had an original story, and it was cooked exactly to the tastes of the new Indian middle class. Bhagat’s five-point hit made him almost an instant success. Publishing houses desperately sought new voices to keep the readers coming in.

This was a decade ago, when new kinds of people: bankers, college graduates, marketing types, were writing new kinds of books: romances, non-literary fiction and campus dramas.

"You didn’t have to be from a background traditionally associated with writing to become one," says Kapish Mehra, managing director of Rupa Publications, who had published Bhagat. And because readers were now interested in a variety of content, "publishers were willing to take more risks," he says. Almost everybody who could write (and we mean literally put one word after another) tried to write about love in college. By 2005, the campus novel had arrived – and in a few years it exploded in its own face.

"You began to see a whole bunch of books doing about 30-40,000 copies [when, a few thousand copies sold can make an author ‘successful’]. But this ‘fad’ petered off," says Thomas Abraham, managing director of Hachette India.

"Of those 100 authors, only four or five have sustained." What did emerge, however was as much a new class of reader, as a new breed of writer. There was, as Abraham puts it, "the desire and empowerment that ‘I can write’."

This is perhaps, like so many other waves of change today, fuelled by the Internet. "Your book is a folder on your desktop," points out Sethi. "And it’s with you all the time. Business executives can write their book, and get back to their Excel sheets almost right after."

In several cases, authors use excel sheets to plot their plots as well. It could be a spawn of social media, too. A few clever tweets and some Facebook rants are all you need these days to presume you’ve got a way with words.

It’s a great time to announce that you’re an aspiring writer. Publishers are always looking for new voices, not just for novels, but for non-fiction too. That was the big genre of 2014. But it really isn’t everyone’s game.

"In terms of knowledge, certain people may be more qualified to write non-fiction," says Somak Ghoshal, managing editor at HarperCollins India. A publisher is more receptive to the idea of a film journalist writing a Bollywood biography, than an average fan. Ghoshal says what ultimately matters is still the "originality of the idea, and the potential to execute the book".

And if nobody wants to publish your book, there’s now the vanity press. It takes only a few minutes (and about a few thousand rupees) to self-publish. You could make it big, like EL James or Amish Tripathi. But, it’s likely that your readers will be "200 of your friends," says Abraham. "People have done this as birthday gifts."

So here’s what we did. We asked those in the world of books and publishing about how to be a writer, how to commit to your dream and how to get your story published. If writing a book is the presumption of intelligence, here are the smarts to get it done.

Be more than just prose:

Neel Mukherjee

A novel is more than pretty sentences. But it's the responsibility of the writer to get the world he's writing about right.

First thing in the day, write a sentence: Damon Galgut

All writers procrastinate. Break the habit by writing as soon as you wake up

How to translate a favourite novel: Poonam Saxena

Because moving from one language to another is challenging, it requires not just translating words but an entire culture.

Use fiction to make history come alive: Sarah Waters

The further you go back in time, the harder it is to find information. But then you can fill the gaps – with imagination

Do not think of making money: Ravi Subramanian

Writing doesn’t make you rich. And debut authors have absolutely no bargaining power

Pitching to a publisher: Diya Kar Hazra

Finding the right home for your manuscript involves homework. Here’s what you need to know

Follow @SaudaminiJain on Twitter

From HT Brunch, April 19

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