Today’s guest post is by Mayur Didolkar, author of two novels and a number of short stories. His recent anthology Nagin has won accolades from book lovers all over the country.
Ernest Hemingway supposed to have said once “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”, and while there is no point in lesser (much lesser) authors like us talking about the truism of the statement by the great man, I think most of 21st century writer will agree that while there might be nothing to writing more than bleeding, career in fiction writing today takes more than just writing. In my case, selling my novel The Dark Road to Juggernaut publishing and then going through the paces of pre-production with their ace editing and marketing team has been a big learning curve. This experience was further fine-tuned when I published my second novel Tears for Strangers and my first paperback short story collection Nagin through them this year and here are some things these 2 years taught me.
- Keep your day job- The simple truth is publishing (whether self-published or trad) is a tough industry to make a living out of, especially if you are the primary (or only) income earner of the family. As William Darlymple recently noted the advances paid to authors are going down (but speaking fees are increasing!), so this career has a longer gestation period. The good news is it is possible to write while you keep a day job. I run an investment consulting business in Pune since June 2015, and in the last 3 years I have written first drafts of 3 novels, 14 short stories and over 100 articles as well as the re-write/editing work on all of the above. You need to be smart about your time management, have a positive attitude to the work in general and understand and appreciate how delayed gratification works. Having your livelihood independent of your writing takes a lot of pressure off the entire creative process. It also means you can afford to take smart decisions for long term rather than saying yes to the first available offer. In my case, as my day job involves interacting with people from diverse walks of life, it also gives me great opportunity to observe various types of people in different everyday situations, which is a great learning in itself.
- Editors look for professionalism over flash of genius- Unless you are a John Grisham or a Stephen King debuting at the top of the bestseller lists, your first work is a statement of possibilities for the editor at a publishing house. He/she is trying to judge if you are someone who shows promise for future along with the appeal of the current submission. Try and submit as finished a product as possible (I had hired an editor to work on The Dark Road before submitting the full MS and I consider that among the best investments I made so far), stick to your deadlines as closely as possible and remember Woody Allen when he says “ 80% of the success is showing up”.
- Once your MS is accepted and you start working on the edits, be open-minded about the changes recommended by the editor/s. In some writing forums, writers write about their battles with editors with a pride in their own stubbornness that completely baffles me. Understanding that as a writer you are too close to be your own editor is the first key to becoming a professional writer. I feel self-published writers need to be even more open minded as in their case they are also the client of the editor who is telling them what doesn’t work. Remember the old adage about a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client is equally true about editing.
- A professional writer will always have projects going on in different stages of production. While we were editing The Dark Road, I had already written five short stories and pitched them to Juggernaut. Once The Dark Road got ready for release, we were working on the editing of these stories while I had started writing the first draft of Tears for Strangers and while that was going through its paces post first draft, I had started writing the short stories that became part of Nagin. After the advent of digital publishing and explosion in the self-publishing market, the bandwidth on offer to each new writer is getting squeezed. If you want to hold onto that bandwidth, you need to have projects ready for publishing with a fair bit of continuity. Adam Croft, a successful self-published writer from England says the best thing he did after he finished writing his first book, is he wrote another. I endorse this whole-heartedly.
- Whether self-published or trad, do it for the right reasons. If you want to self-publish because you don’t have the patience for the process or the stomach to reject large swathes of rejections or criticisms, you are doing it wrong. If you want to go trad because you think self-publishing is somehow demeaning or if you think traditionally published authors don’t have to sell their own books, then you are doing it wrong. Both options come with their own pros and cons and it is very important to first understand both and then decide which one plays best to your strengths.
Stephen King has described writing as a form of telepathy, extending the same analogy, I would say published writing is a form of a magic show that you as a magician produce with the help of many professionals. A wise magician knows his strengths and surrounds himself with teams that compliments his strengths.
Be that wise magician.
Mayur Didolkar is an entrepreneur cum author with an undying passion for literature, politics and marathons. Check out his whole published collection here.