Global publishing statistics say that approximately 95 percent to 98 percent manuscripts go to the stash pile. A rejection rate of 90 percent plus is a norm and there is absolutely no formula for success. Yet, a brave few do not give up. They pursue their dreams, get published and become authors. They write, write and keep writing until they are able to publish their first, second and so on…When I started this series around the ‘Future of Work’, I wanted to profile the path less taken. I wanted to profile real people in unique roles. That is still the objective of this series.
It is only recently that I heard of Andaleeb Wajid, a Bangalore-based writer who published around 19 books in the last 10 years. Some of the stories focus on Muslims in India, but there are others which don't – her titles include House of Screams, The Crunch Factor, Twenty-Nine going on Thirty, More Than Just Biryani, My Brother’s Wedding and others. Penguin India has beautifully summed up six things you didn’t know about Andaleeb Wajid.
Coming back to my story, initially, I thought writing had to be covered as the most glamourous profession in India, as I always thought writers create dreams and therefore live the dream. My meeting with Andaleeb, shook me up. It was then I got to know that writing in India (probably the world over), is far from glamorous and hardly pays. Reports say new authors earn Rs 20-000 to Rs 40,000 upon publishing. That number only increases marginally even as you publish your tenth. Andaleeb, in her conversation with me, tells me the same. The statement which stuck me most was this, “What people don’t realise is that writing is a lot of hard work…”
Read on to know more about our conversation and the state of authors and publishing in India.
What got you into writing and what is your perspective about the Future of Work?
I have always wanted to be a writer. For me, work is something that is elusive. I got married while in college and many of my friends got jobs after graduating. In due course, I had my son and I felt like I was on the outside. Writing, then, was an outlet for me. I was trying to live vicariously through writing, without realising it. I hardly knew much about plotting, characterisation, and whenever people asked me what my book was about, I used to tell them that it's about a girl because I didn't know how to talk about my work. But the moment my first book got published (and it took really long to publish), I knew I only wanted to do this. But, unfortunately, you know, writing does not pay. I did have short stints with corporates in technical writing and as the head of marketing, but I knew that writing (books) was what I always wanted to do. For me, future of work is when my writing can sustain me and pay me enough. Initially, I was a fan of the movie 3 Idiots, but in retrospect, I always tell youngsters, it is great to follow your dream, but it is equally important to think of who is financing your dream? So, people have to remember that following your dream is fine, but you also have to have skills to finance it.
What is it like to be an author in India?
Most people here in India want to know how to get published, but they are not very keen readers themselves. They want to get published because they have bought into this idea of writers living very glamorous lives – like attending literature fests or meeting celebrities, which you don’t really get to do in the initial years.
Some of the questions I personally get are about me being a Muslim woman. People ask me questions like, ‘Is your family OK with you writing?’, ‘Do you write in English?’, ‘Why don’t you write in your own language?’ I also have people asking for writing advice. Being a writer in India is definitely not very glamorous. It is a lonely sort of existence (which I love).
Is publishing difficult in India?
Sales figures matter to publishers. Publishers are doing their job. Where we lack is that we are unable to get the word out about our books, which could be a discrepancy in marketing. Many people also have a disdain for Indian authors, but we cannot really generalise. What matters the most is that we authors have to invest in ourselves to get our books out to the audience. This, unfortunately, is something that not many of us can afford to do. If an author can spend money on marketing himself/herself, resulting in something more than the publisher does, he/she can make a difference in some cases.
Can writing be a career in India?
If you take writing as a mainstream career, you have to take into consideration, who are the consumers and are people willing to pay. Reading is still a leisure activity. I would say people should also do other jobs and develop skillsets. After I wrote my first book, I was petrified, wondering if I could write another. Having an alternate career opens up the world to your mind. Everything is a story idea when you are a writer. Nine years ago, I was in a horrible accident with my family on a highway. Thankfully, nothing happened to us, but I put that in a book. You need to have experiences. People should look at writing as one aspect of their career and for beginners, they should look at something that can sustain their dream. For me now, writing is mainstream.
Is it tough to be an author?
Today, it is definitely easier than it was 10 years ago, when I started out. I would have to courier written manuscripts and several publishing houses did not have websites. Now, everything happens on email. Because the internet has opened up the world, it is easier to be an author now. Many people are turning to writing as they have stories to tell. It is a rich and diverse situation with authors in India, even though, it does not pay much.
What are the skillsets writers should have?
You need to be a passionate reader. If you don’t read, that is one crucial skillset you are leaving out. If you are a reader first, you will understand how every genre works – reading cannot be just homework, it has to be done for pleasure. The other skill is persistence in writing. When I am writing a book, I write a chapter every day. You have to be in the zone. These are only two things – reading and writing. Another could be developing observation skills.
What are the alternate career opportunities for authors?
Paying it forward – leveraging what they have learned as part of workshops and teaching. Some authors also have their own small publishing houses.
I hope in the future writers can pursue their dreams full time. I hope that authors can start supplementing their income with other writing opportunities – like for the screen, for web shows and make money for their writing. I write full time and I find it unfair that it is not treated mainstream and it does not pay me my worth, either. If you have writing skills, then you should not give up or get disheartened. I get this feeling where people expect me not to talk about money – as though writing is like a higher art and not associated with money. That is the general idea. What people don’t realise is that writing is a lot of hard work.
Nisha Ramchandani is the principal author of 'The Future of Work' series.
Published Date: May 16, 2019 01:05 PM | Updated Date: May 16, 2019 04:05 PM IST