The Writerpreneur Series. On the Indie author’s journey

Sharing knowledge is something that motivates me. I think highly of those who do it religiously. After publishing three novels on the Indie publishing mode, bagging a traditional publishing contract (which may be on its way to span multiple books) and gaining attention from the right corners, I really want to grab this opportunity to play the role of an enabler too.

Over the next few months, I shall post an article every week sharing my experience about various milestones of Indie publishing. The topics span writing, editing, publishing, marketing and book reviews relevant to the area. While I shall try my best to order the posts, many of them would be spontaneously written, often inspired by my conversations with aspiring writers.  Hope to make ad offer a booklet of all the posts once they reach a logical completion.

Those who are interested in my past posts, please click here to access them. 

You could also suggest me topics to dwell on or feel free to ask questions that nag you in the comment section. I welcome interacting with you all.

Keep watching the space.

Complete the draft – Silencing the inner critic (for now) #Writerslife #Productivity

Whenever anyone tells me that s/he is an aspiring writer, the first thing I tell them is to get rid of the word ‘aspiring’. I tell them to sprint through the first draft of whatever has sprouted from the creative depths of their minds. Often, they tell me that they aren’t able to complete the first draft and a sizeable proportion of these aspiring writers are victims of their own inner critic.

Now, this inner critic is a result of two contradicting drivers. Fear and Aspiration.

Fear

“My writing is not good enough.”

“People would laugh at me!”

“I myself would not read what I write!”

“I hate my own writing.”

Aspiration

“I can do better than this. I must do better than this.”

“I shall settle with nothing less than perfect.”

“I shall not stop till I make this the best written piece.”

You would have realised by now, that these two contradicting forces drag your creative self in two opposing directions and as a result, you stay where you are. And you risk staying there forever! If you don’t tell your inner critic to go an a vacation. I say vacation because we would need him back in the editing phases of the draft. But as far as writing the first draft is concerned, he has to observe silence.

Completing the first draft is largely about Momentum. The Creative self hates inertia. She hates stagnation. She is this dynamic being which needs to be on the move. She survives on that. Measure it in terms of word count or chapter count or just the progress of the story, but you can’t stop. You just can’t stop if the reason is this nagging need to perfect the draft till date. The creative self is all about progress, not perfection. As Susan Kaye Quinn candidly puts in, there is nothing called perfect. There is only finished. You can hone your imperfect first draft. But there is little you can do about an unwritten draft.

If you end today at the same point where you ended yesterday, you might or might not satisfy the inner critic, but you shall definitely fail the inner muse. As an aspiring writer who genuinely wants to get rid of that annoying prefix, you cannot afford to fail your muse.

The muse and the critic are like those members of the same family who can’t stand each other. As someone who needs them both, you need to take control and delegate their tasks. Importantly, you need to stop them from interfering with each other.

Let me give an example. I am a new mother and my baby is a perfect example. She is trying to stand with support right now and it is a matter of weeks before she would start walking. When she puts her first steps, all I want from her is to take her next step without losing her balance. What would you call me if I cribbed to you about her wobbly posture, unsteady gait and body language on the day she puts her first steps?

While writing Abhaya’s final draft, I was bitten this perfection bug which made me hover around the beginning chapters for no less than a year and a half! Progress happened when i did these things:

  1. Convinced myself that I would self edit the whole thing only after a whole draft is done.
  2. Plotted the story roughly and pursued the smoothest thread that kept my momentum up
  3. Set a hard deadline for the draft, and for the publishing date.

The rest as they say, is history. But I am glad that I could delegate it between my inner creative self and inner critic well enough to travel through three published novels and a whole draft submitted to the publisher.

What was your story behind sprinting through your first draft? Share in the comments.

 

Networking for writers. The company to keep. #Writerslife

Any writer would emphatically agree that writing is a solitary journey. But socialising with those on the same path is always a pleasure. Or is it? Well, at the risk of sounding super clicked, the answer is “It depends.”

But it does pay to be a part of a network that adds value to it’s members. That happens only if a considerable no of writer members believe in symbiotic connections over parasitical ones. From my experience of three years of author life, here are the networks that worked for me. When I say worked for me, I mean the ones which pulled me out of the snags I faced.

  1. Local meetups where there are at least 30% of writers who are published.
  2. Closely knit peer support groups who almost unconditionally support each other (The kind where you can ask any question and not feel stupid, celebrate each other’s progress, cheer each other, most importantly, give each other a push on the social media and other platforms). I am a part of one such a group called MyNoWriMo and we are practically ‘brothers at arms’, oops, ‘sisters in pens’. The key to successful groups like these is the mutual reciprocity.
  3. Facebook groups with a specific aim or positioning run by dedicated moderators. (“Writer mom’s” “5AMWriterclub”, FWBA etc). One such group, “Writer Mom Life” had a “Write every day” challenge running and it helped me sprint through the crucial part of my first draft. Often, these groups help members overcome specific challenges.
  4. Local charters of professional global networks. – Usually global networks have certain goals and the local charters have passionate leaders who want to make their charter shine through. ( I found the London charter of ALLi quite focussed. We would meet each month and share what we did each month, our discoveries, brainwaves, blocks and snags included).
  5. Culture/Ideology focused groups – I belong to this network called Indic Author network where most of us write stuff echoing the pathos and ethos of Indic civilisation. We have had invaluable sessions, socialised over various courses, have been gifted master courses and what not! The wavelength match too helps. And I got lucky with a celebrity endorsement too!
Now for the networks to avoid (On second thoughts, you may linger for entertainment and have some break time laughs)
  1. Rant groups – Sorry I could not find a better word here. But I refer to the umpteen number of these groups claiming to represent the underrepresented writers. I made the huge mistake of attending one gathering of a network supposedly supporting writers of color. For all the tall claims of inclusiveness, only one community was dominating. Adding to that, the programmes were full of ranting and had nothing of craft or business. Waste of a day.
  2. Large online writers groups with no specific aim. I am a part of one such group where every other day, there is a rant against Indie authors and best selling authors by literary snobs who have a lot of time to post rants but little or no time to share a good piece of advice. If you have a thick skin, these groups have some good entertainment value.
  3. Vanity groups – They charge you money just to let you in. And it is no mean amount. Lots of unrealistic promises are made and you end up losing money, time and motivation. While the above two have some value, this one is to be avoided at ALL costs.

What kind of networks have helped you, motivated you and keep you company in this solitary pilgrimage? Share in the comments

How I wrote 100,000 words within seven months of delivering my first born #Productivity #Writerslife

I still remember that numb mixture of joy and uncertainty that enveloped me as I stared at the life changing double line on the pregnancy test kit.

I was going to become a mother!

The long wait for this to happen and the celebration of the news is for another blog post. Along with the exhilaration that followed, there was a voice with in which said I just had 9 months to get as much writing done as I could. Come motherhood, the early phases demand that everything else be kept on back burners (rather pushed off the stove for a while!). Not writing makes me miserable. But I could also not bear the thought of being that selfish mother who neglects her infant for her ‘passion’. At the same time, I was not sure how much justice I could do to this bundle of joy, when the thought of being unable to write gnawed at me from within.

Come the big day and the months that followed, I surprised myself.

  • I edited and published Mauri, a manuscript I had worked upon during my pregnancy. Effectively added more than 15,000 words in the process. (Editor, Vrinda deserves a shout out for the quick turn around)

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  • I wrote the first draft of Draupadi and submitted it to the publisher. A 79,000 word long output after a quick round of self editing
  • I edited and published another manuscript under a pen name, effectively launching the pen name too. Had worked on this last year. Editing phase added another 4000 words.
  • I started upon a new project, implementing an alternate history idea on Ramayana. The manuscript is young and has crossed 2,500 words last Thursday.

Without counting the couple of blog posts, That puts my output past 100,000 words after the big day! In less than seven months. Now that I have gloated enough, let me come to the how part of it.

How did I do it?

100,000 words in 180 days (Removing a month considering the neonatal fortnight and the big move from London to India), the average daily output is about 555 words. Suddenly it does not look like an impossible thing. Of course, creativity muse is not always subservient to a daily routine. Realistically, there were many zero output days and some high spike days, the highest daily output being about 4500 words. That said, a daily writing routine is the biggest factor that keeps you on track, though you don’t need to beat yourself up for some missed days. Other crucial factors were

  • A supportive family – My mother who is even more passionate to see me write my way to success was the crucial pillar of support. The growing baby posed no mean challenge, but with her multi tasking skills assuming their best form, she gave me the much needed breaks to write and also participated in the critiquing process for most of the drafts. My father’s support was no less. I could not have done it without them.
  • Following an outlining process – Plotting and outlining gives me a level of confidence. A feeling that the battle is half won. I spend a good couple of days thinking about the whole plot. It also helps me pin point the blind spots and invest more of story-dreaming time on those areas. Plotting also helps in setting the agenda for each writing session. You can read more about my outlining process here
  • Understanding that momentum is everything – Given that the large chunk of my writing was about the first draft, it was important to take advantage of the momentum and get the draft done ASAP than about honing each scene or chapter. The self critic within me needed to be sent for a long vacation. I could not work with her if I had to complete the draft within the submission date. The last 25-30K words of the draft were done in a span of ten days and momentum was everything before I could afford the luxury of listening to the critic within me. Save the inner critic for the self edit phases.
  • Pomodoro Sessions – For the uninitiated, this is a productivity session where a professional engages in a single task without breaks or task switches for 25 minutes followed by a mandatory break of 5 minutes. Two Pomodoro sessions a day worked a great deal in keeping the momentum.
  • Support groups – I am a part of two groups, one a closed Whatsapp group of ten women writers. We would share our daily word count, cheer each other, share any writing related problems, back each other up with any quick fixes and much more. We had grouped together around last year and have travelled through many manuscripts together cumulatively. Pomodoro idea was suggested to me by Preethi Venugopala from this group.  The second group is a Facebook group called Writer Mom life. The members are all mothers who are writers. I met many who were facing more challenging phases of their lives and my own challenge seemed negligible. Emotional support groups go a long way in keeping you on track. They consist of members who exactly know what each other passes through and offer empathy. Something that a friend or a family member cannot provide even if they wanted to.
  • Reading relevant books – I utilised my feeding time in reading books on Focus, productivity, business and craft of writing. It is easy to dismiss these as old wine in new bottles. But while chasing deadlines and goals, packaging the known ‘wine’ comes in handy, be it in retaining motivation or in putting things in perspective.

That sums it up, my journey in writing through this exciting phase. How do you manage to keep up your productivity through tough phases? Would be delighted to read your stories in comments.

 

 

 

2 years as an Indie Author – 8 lessons I learnt. A #PoweredbyIndie post

November of 2017 will mark the second anniversary of me pushing the very exciting ‘Publish’ button on this wonderful Amazon KDP portal and introducing my first baby Abhaya to this world! Exciting would be an understatement to describe the journey that followed! Here are the 8 things I learnt since then.

  1. One book seldom gets you anywhere – The first book gets us, aspiring authors rid of that annoyingly lingering ‘aspiring’ word from our bios. But persisting through multiple books is when we really prove our resilience and love for words! This was not an empty lesson I learnt. Avishi, my second novel, in its launch month, garnered readership that Abhaya garnered in more than 6 months! Now that was some learning!
  2. Being an author, especially Indie author is a lot more than just writing. We would all love to zealously guard our writing time. But being my own publisher taught me what else goes into producing a book (Editing, Cover design, Synopsis, pricing, promotion and what not!). I learnt to outsource some activities and before that, identifying reliable providers who would do a good job.
  3. Thy name is Multi-tasking – 23 months down the line, I don’t have the luxury of just focusing my energies on my first book. I am marketing my first and second books, editing the third, writing the fourth and even plotting the fifth! Of course, there is this matter of focus. But juggling the products in progress in each stage of production is something we need to be prepared for.
  4. Social media is NOT a distraction. If only we had a control on when to use it and when to resist it. Social Media and Ecommerce is the one channel that supports your against the lack of conventional supply chain support that the traditional publishing industry enjoys. But learning how much time to spend on which platform was an exciting journey by itself! I learnt that building readership online happens long before our books come out.
  5. I am my own Publicity manager – At least until I earn enough to hire one! And that is some time away. Being shy of self promotion earned me nothing but frustration and a loss of crucial mileage in the initial months of launching Abhaya. We all know books spread by word of mouth. But our own mouths are the very first source of the word!
  6. I can’t afford to be that reclusive introvert – Gone are the days when being a writer meant to shut out yourself from the world and write. (I doubt such a period even existed except in imagination in the first place!). Networking means everything. I learnt to remain grounded while aiming high from other authors. I am learning what worked for who and why. All because I go out and talk!
  7. Love words? Love numbers too! – I am lucky to have been an analyst before my writer’s avatar. The love for numbers stayed with me and now it helps me measure the effectiveness of each activity. What is the word count I could manage per day over the last six months? What is the ROI on the time and money I spent on Social media? When to expect tangible and when to be content with intangible results? What caused the spurt in sales and what caused the slowdown? Loving words helps you be a writers. Loving numbers helps you be your own boss. 
  8. Growing is sharing – I learnt to scoff at a myth that perpetuates from the mediocre segments, “Don’t share your secrets!” Because, genius, there are no secrets and no short cuts! There is only learning and powering on! Learning happens only when you share your inferences with another and test your conclusions. Learning happens when you try to help those behind you to catch up with the distance. As Joanna Penn says, there is no competition, only co-opetition. Karma is real. Open up that mind and share your wisdom! 

 

 

6 books you must read if you are an Indie author (or if you want to become one)

The journey of an independent author is unique. Exhilarating as well as terrifying. The solitary phase of writing, the agonising rounds of editing, the pounding in your chest as you hit the ‘Publish’ button, the daze of initial launch time, the nostalgia, the celebration of crossing a milestone and the despair of not going anywhere, Indies can connect with it all. The greatest help that one can get in these phases is the assurance that they aren’t alone, that the problems they face have already been faced (and solved!) by those who are eager to share their success stories.

Here, I suggest 6 books by 3 authors that could act as a compass while you traverse through this exciting maze. Some of those are such books which I wished I had known about earlier. These aren’t those dreaded self help books filled with superfluous sermons. But they are true accounts of what worked and what did not and why. Scroll down to find out more:

10 Step Self-Publishing BOOT CAMP: The Survival Guide For Launching Your First Novel by S. K. Quinn

Susan Kaye Quinn, an author of 40+ novels suggests a step by step method of launching not only your first novel, but your career as a writer. Going through the book, I could feel the author’s resilience build up as she launched a novel after a novel. Her observations about the industry and insights of book buyers are an added advantage to those who are new to the publishing world. I personally disagreed with some of her views on editing those on Social media. But this book brilliantly summarises her learning through out the last five years highlighting the relentless hard work and perseverance she has wielded. One can’t help feeling her pride as an author mother who not only earned enough income to put her three kids through college, but also inspired her sons to take up a writing career, early in life!

I loved the idea of having a five year mission statement as a writer. Also the quote that I would treasure for a long time, “There is no perfect. There is only finished.” Intrigued? Check out the book, clicking on the image below:

5 Steps to Self-Publishing FOR LOVE OR MONEY: Build a Career as a Self-Published Author

Written by the same author, the compendium dispassionately focuses on balancing the passion and career aspects of writing. In Susan, we see a passionate author who seeks to disrupt stereotypes that have built up in the publishing world. But she also sheds light on the brutal truths that many idealists among us would dread to accept. Reading for love or money, helps us reconcile the passionate author in us with the commercial success seeker and mould ourselves into pragmatic career writers. If you are someone who has already launched a book or two and are aware of the basics of the Self Publishing journey, I recommend this a notch more than the book above. Click on the image below:

Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print (Books for Writers 1) by Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn does not need an introduction. If Self Publishing were a religion, I am sure she’d be the all powerful Zeus! 😀  If you know the word Indie author, it is almost impossible that you have not heard about Joanna or have seen her in one of the literary meets, bubbling with enthusiasm to share her journey. Her positivism, I admit, is infectious. I could keep pessimism and despair zealously at bay, whenever I read her blog or listen to her podcasts. The book below is something which I wish I had read before I launched my debut novel Abhaya. Nevertheless my learning was acquired ‘hands on’ and I strongly suggest you need not face the hard stops I did. What more? The book below is free!

How To Market A Book: Third Edition (Books for Writers Book 2)

We are all aware about the famous quote that 50% of marketing works. We don’t know which 50%!  In this book, Joanna comes up with another great compendium of all the marketing techniques that an indie author can deploy. It is not just the author’s experience (which is no mean achievement!), but also summarises the best of what one could learn from the galaxy of successful Indie authors. The insights drawn, might be a bit skewed towards the Western markets and Indian Indie authors are advised to make their own conclusions with the local knowledge. But nevertheless a must read, not once but every time you have a book to launch!

Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should: Updated Second Edition (Let’s Get Publishing Book 1) by David Gaughran

Another hard hitting account of the world of publishing by this very successful author of 11 books. This book is more a pitch to Indie authors to digitally publish. While most of us go for a ‘digital first – print next’ model in a bid to test waters, given our budgetary constraints, Let’s get digital  increases an indie author’s confidence about digital publishing. Again, the readers might want to be wary that the information and data shared are largely US-centric.

Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books

This is one of the 6 books, I would again recommend in a stronger tone. While the first book details about the industry dynamics which is crucial, Let’s get Digital details out the way Amazon works, its algorithms, the mistakes that many authors commit and the pitfalls to be wary of. Those wanting to go wide might find the book very Amazon centric though there is a dedicated section about going wide. But I found the book very relevant to Indian Indie authors to who, Amazon is still the most preferred platform. The numbers and data cited to inch into the best seller lists is only relevant to the US store. But the good news is that Indian authors have far lesser numbers to achieve to get into similar top positions in the best seller and popularity lists. Don’t miss this book.

That’s all for now! Have you read a book that could help an Indie author’s career? Do let me know in the comments. 

Plotting your novel, a two phase method to face your demons

Hello all,

This was a post I had promised myself to upload after the release of my second novel, Avishi.  If you are an aspiring novelist, I am sure plotting would have been a topic you pondered on quite a bit. It is daunting to envisage that 80,000+ word novel without a guide map and it is all the more torturing to have it haunting you while it remains unwritten.

Back in 2016, I was going through a usual journey of uncertainty, marketing (or rather wondering about marketing) my debut novel Abhaya and getting stuck at multiple places while writing Avishi. It was in March 2016 that I put what I thought as the first chapter together and all the way through March-July 2016, I had only written different versions of the beginning without making any progress. The method of plotting helped me progress (It is also helping me as I write my second instalment of the Abhaya series!). I think it is worthwhile sharing with you. Hope it helps you in your writing too!

Plot at two levels

You heard me right. The first level, (hoping that a little bit of jargon does not bother you) or L1 Plotting requires the writer to jot down the events of the plot in order. For simplicity sake, assume that each event makes up for a chapter. (Splitting and merging can and will happen later). For Eg, This is how I wrote down the events of Avishi’s plot :

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While at it, 

  1. Try not to spend more than 5 minutes on what each event. (Write the first thing that comes to your mind in the sequence)
  2. Feel free to write down the points where you don’t know and mark them (This helps you improvise your precious day dreaming about the story!)
  3. Keep in mind that changes will occur at each stage. The plot you write now is NOT sacrosanct. 

During my plotting, I managed to jot down 35 events which I thought would define the crux of each chapter. The process took me about less than two hours and left quite some questions unanswered. But at least I knew what I did not know.

Second level

Take a break for a day or two before doing this. The L2 plotting requires you to zoom into each event/chapter and detail out how the events pans out, which character is introduced, what would he or she aim for and how it connects to the next event.

The L2 of my first chapter looked like this :

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Again while at it,

  1. Devote not more than 10-12 mins for each event
  2. Note down and highlight the unanswered parts
  3. Liberally change the L1 Plot as your mind unravels the story

It took me a couple of days to complete L2 Plotting for Avishi. I noticed that new events (and characters) which I had not imagined in L1 phase came up and some old events had to be deleted. Some questions could be answered and new questions sprung up, demanding answers. All in all, the story was assuming a life of its own!

Take a break of another couple of days to dwell on these unanswered questions or even try keeping your mind off the novel for a while.

In the third phase, type the L2 on to a document on your laptop. Yes, I strongly advocate that you plot the first two stages in a journal. It has its benefits. When you type out the detailed plot on your laptop, you will again find some inevitable changes happening in the course of the story. The blind spots are narrowed down enough to not bother you when you are working on the other parts of the novel.

Now is when you actually start writing. The biggest advantage of this process is that you can write your draft in a non linear fashion, pick up the incomplete parts later and make changes as required. I have to reiterate that changes happen at every stage. (An event or two you see in the first image did not even appear in the draft in my case!). Changes and question marks are a sign that your characters are asserting themselves and it is good!  Needless to say, your confidence would have grown multi fold. You are now ready to begin the writing journey.

Happy Writing!

Do you have a plotting related experience that you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below.