Meghna Pant is a multiple award-winning author, journalist and speaker. Her previous works One & A Half Wife, Happy Birthday, Feminist Rani and The Trouble With Women have been published to commercial and critical acclaim. Her upcoming book How to Get Published in India, by Bloomsbury, will be launched during Jaipur Literature Festival. Here’s more from the author on writing and getting your work published...
- In two different articles, you were quoted as saying that you loved to express, but you were also encouraged to acquire collective degrees and hone mathematical skills. How and when did you start writing?
I was 19 when my first short story, Aberration, was published online. The plot and characters stayed with me for months before I gathered the wherewithal to finish the story. But the discipline of writing, its stark loneliness, does not usually appeal to the young and skittish. So I did what all Indian children are taught to do: I acquired degrees — an undergraduate degree in Economics and a double Master’s degree, including an MBA.
Post my studies, I worked in corporate finance and then switched to business journalism. I started writing seriously 10 years ago, though at that time it was only short stories. To improve my art, I took several writing courses in New York, and after a fair share of rejections, my short stories began to be published in reputed US literary magazines. The idea for a full-length novel, One & A Half Wife, came only in 2010, and that’s around the time I also started putting together short stories that would come together in the collection Happy Birthday!
Fiction is a subjective field, all about emotions and experiences; while finance and journalism are objective fields, based on data and facts. Yet, journalism techniques have come in handy for me while creating stories. It has taught me to write economically, within the bounds of reason, while keeping in mind what is interesting to a reader, and to pay careful attention to what’s going on in the world around me. It’s easy as a writer to shut myself from the world, so being a journalist forces me to keep seeing what’s out there.
- It has often been said at various literary conferences that there are too many writers, but not enough readers. Your comment?
No way! Today we have three generations of English-speaking Indians who are particularly hungry to read in English. Ours is the only country with a growing rather than declining English language readership and we are also the third largest readers for English books in the world.
Contrary to popular perception, on average, Indians spend more time reading than any of their counterparts around the world, according to the World Culture Score Index. This is about 10.5 hours every week, as compared to say the Americans who spend 5.5 hours per week reading. The issue is that while there are enough good readers, there are few good writers.
The problem is that with the advent of self-publishing and digital publishing, any random person calls themselves an author, which is like every bathroom singer calling themselves Lata Mangeshkar. Due to this, inferior books that have no business in literature are being published. On top of that, thanks to the marketing wizardry or deep pockets of some authors, readers are reading the bestselling books and not the best books. This has put many readers off Indian writers. This is what needs to change. Indian readers deserve better than a lot of the trash that is being printed nowadays.
- How did you go about working on this book?
How to Get Published in India is India’s first and only comprehensive book on writing, publishing and selling a book. I wrote this book to help thousands of aspiring writers who are struggling to get their manuscripts published and achieve their dream of becoming a published author.
When I started out, I didn’t have a degree in literature or mentors or connections, and I spent years learning how to get published and sell my books. The entire process was intimidating, frustrating and confusing. I kept hoping that someone would write a book like this! It would have saved me a lot of time, effort and money!
The book features essays by top international and national authors, publishers and agents, like Jeffrey Archer, Twinkle Khanna, Shobhaa De, Durjoy Datta, Ashwin Sanghi, Ravi Subramanian, Rashmi Bansal, Namita Gokhale, Vikas Swarup, Meena Kandasamy and Preeti Shenoy, among others, who share their secrets, tips and insights for the first-time ever! If you follow their advice, it will change the fate of your book.
It’s being launched at the world’s biggest literary festival, the Jaipur Literary Festival, this month, and has received praise by India’s top authors like Amish Tripathi.
- Would you recommend first time authors to have an agent? Does it work in India?
Unlike the US and other markets, 60-70 per cent of books in India are picked up without agents, since the majority of publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. This does not take away from the agent’s significance, of course. An agent is ideal for someone who has never been published before, and for those authors who would rather focus on their writing than get caught up with the rigmarole and paperwork of getting published.
An agent will guide you and fight for you, when you most need someone by your side. Agents are also abreast of the goings-on in the publishing world, unlike us isolated writers, so there’s that. You will not be worse off without an agent, but you will be better off with one.
- Is Indian publishing world different from the West or European model?
Indian publishing is different from any other model, whether in terms of accessibility, advances, contracts, logistics, distribution, marketing, the role of editors, and any other aspect you can think of. The problem is that no one has ever written about this world before. With my book, I wish to break this opaqueness and allow people a glimpse into the inside world of publishing.