5 things that can make your debut book a bestseller!

Welcome, dear first-time authors!

In this post, you’ll find the ingredients that make your soup the most sought after at the annual readers’ dinner party (ARDP); rather than land you in a soup through the dismal sales records.

Photo credits : Teleread.com

What are my credentials, you ask? Well, I am one of your targeted Indian readers, who has been starved for a good Indian soup since some decades.

If you go to any best-selling author (I’ve been to discussion panel sessions featuring the stars of Indian fiction – Amish, Ravi Subramanian), they’ll tell you that the topmost ‘thing’ that can make your book a bestseller is – marketing. Author Ashwin Sanghi swears that he has stormed ahead of many a better writers than him because of his clever marketing tactics.

While I agree with this to a certain extent, I also feel that the soup will not ‘sell’ unless it has some underlying unique OR popular taste that the feasters at the ARDP like. Sooner or later, the readers will discover that the promise of quality is a hoax, and most of them will not finish the soup. If they’ve already finished it, they won’t take the soup offered by you at the next ARDP.

So, hurry up and pick these ingredients off the proverbial book writing shelf:

  1. Story : Make the book about your story, not about your linguistic skills.See, the fact that you have undertaken the herculean task of setting out to write a book screams from the rooftops that you have a flair for expressing yourself through your writing. It also establishes that you are relatively well-versed with the rules of grammar and have a vast vocabulary.

    Because, other people who don’t have these qualities would get cold feet at the prospect of writing down what they envision in a story, biography, or auto-biography. They’d get someone else to do the ‘dirty work’ of putting thoughts on paper.

    So, you don’t have to prove your linguistic proficiency to anyone. It is a given, since you’re writing the book yourself. Desist from dragging the narrative just to show off how well you can play with words.

    The language in your book should be according to :

    1.  The time frame and the location in which it the story is set.
    2. The social status and the educational level of your characters.

      This will help you in establishing authenticity – the second ingredient.

  2. Authenticity : Believe in your story. Only then will your readers buy it.

    Let your story be as outlandish as possible. Do everything in your capacity to narrate it in a matter of fact tone.

    If you have read any of Asimov’s books, you’ll see how unassumingly he goes on setting up the Universe that is statistically heading towards annihilation. The reader has no choice but to accept what the author states to be the ‘norm’ in his world.Even if the story is based in the real world, there can be some character traits, some scenes that won’t be easily digested by the ARDP, unless the author writes them with conviction that stems from – 1) Extensive Research and 2) Huge Self-confidence.

    Picture :

    “Masakali landed swiftly on the porch. His hind legs hit the ground first.

    Mohan retrieved the letter that was carefully wedged between Masakali’s front paws, which were folded in a classic Namaste position all through his arduous flight from Mumbai to Pune.

    Masakali gave a grunt of relief and dutifully licked his Master’s cheek. In return, Mohan affectionately booped his nose, which signalled that he is dismissed.

    He was dying to see his wife, Deena. He sprinted towards the mud pool on the far side of the garden. There she was, lying contentedly in the soft gooey mud. And nuzzling against her, were four pink babies! So they had hatched!

    Masakali was overwhelmed with joy. He lost no time in hurtling his rotund self in the mud pool and embracing his family in a strong pig-hug. This was a moment of celebration. After all, these piglets would grow up into fine flyers and help him realise his dream of keeping the ‘Fastest Messenger’ title in the family.”

    Now tell me, are you in the mood to ‘tell me that pigs don’t fly’ or ‘read more about the Fastest Messenger competition’?

  3. Visualisation : Live in the world in which your story takes place.

    Continuing from above, to create an authentic narrative, you have to be able to see the setting and the characters as if you’re living with them as one of their own or as an observer.What makes Harry Potter a success? Is it only J K Rowling’s lucid writing, or the depth of her characters, or the intriguing plot? It is mainly because in her writing, the reader is shown a world that is replete with details about its physical appearance – be it the sorting hat,the Hogwarts hall, the magic wands, or anything – alive or inanimate.

    Ironically, writing fantasy with a believable setting is relatively easier than writing fiction in the real world – where you have to describe the character’s house (say set near The Louvre, Paris). Apart from their abode, the characters have to have physical attributes and dresses that can be visualized by the reader. All this information should be conveyed subtly, rather than pointing it out in an obvious sentence.

    Picture :

    “Rani was a tall girl. All her cousins were shorter than her. So they made her get the cookies, which her mother hid on the top shelf in the kitchen.”

    And…

    “Rani could reach the top shelf of the kitchen cupboards, without as much as standing on her toes. Her cousins had often tried to jump on the kitchen platform to get to them, but they were always discovered and given the scolding of their lifetime as they hit their heads or disturbed the electronic appliances with their feet while trying to stand up from their crouched positions. The decision was unanimous – Rani would get the cookies. After all, her mother had hid them.”

  4. Rendering : Find your own chapter presentation style.Dan Brown alternates between two narratives – one, the protagonist’s and one, the antagonist’s. I have read some authors who make each characters narrate a chapter, to make the readers see their point of view. There are some who prefer the traditional third person narrative.

    Again the flow depends from author to author, book to book – flashbacks, cliffhangers, etc. are the chapter styles that I am accustomed to. Now, what works for a crime thriller won’t necessarily work or not work for a romance. Eh, all I am trying to say is – instead of aping a chapter style that has become popular of recent – here I go back to Dan Brown’s alternating narratives – try picturing a movie that is based on your book.

    How would the screenplay pan out? Try to base the chapters in that sequence, and that style.Is your chapter descriptive? Does it have more dialogues? Does it end abruptly? Do not think about all this. Avoid cliches like – leave a hook and make the reader feel incomplete after one chapter. Do it, but don’t do it consciously. When you’re writing the chapters as if they’re happening on reel, you’ll end up writing the most enticing book ever.

    It’s another matter that very few writers are happy with their book’s movie adaptations. The movie reference here is in context with point 3 where the reader should be able to visualise what’s happening – and that is only possible if the chapter style and flow are complementing the author’s narration.

  5. Revise : Fine tune your work for the finale.

    It is a known fact that most writers are big time procrastinators and don’t like revisions.It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because they lack the motivation of going about a task that is less creatively fulfilling than creating the story and the characters in the first place.

    You can make the revision interesting by reading alternately as a diner of the ARDP and the chef who made the soup. Do you like the primary flavor of the soup? Can you find subtle underlying flavors? Yes, pat yourself on the back, and finish the garnishing. No, do the required changes/additions and then garnish it.

    Even I’ll revise this blog, and then post it. 🙂

 

First Ramble : First book of the year

I had forgotten that today is the 1st of February. I often forget the occasions I look forward to, on the day itself. My ‘engagement anniversary’ is no exception. Recently, I called up my school friend Neha on Republic Day, and talked about everything under the sun (mostly nostalgic school moments) and hung up without wishing her ‘Happy Anniversary’. (Sorry, Neha!) To think, only a week before 26th January, I had called her and mentioned I will call on her wedding anniversary.

I remembered about the Ramblings only at 12 in the noon.

The first book of the year I read is ‘Dreams from my father’ by Barack Obama. It continued from December into January (yes, it is long). Obama is as terrific a writer as he is an orator. What a blessed man!

I had heard about the book since his inauguration in 2008, got my hands on it only now.

Here’s my informal review :

Dreams from my Father has been written way back in 95 (or earlier, since it was published in 95). It gives an insight into what went in Obama’s mind since his childhood, what drove him towards community service/organisation and subsequently politics. He is very honest about his family and his feelings towards the legacy that he comes from. That said, it is a bit lengthy and repetitive – needs a good editor and chapter/mid-chapter leaps (although chronological) leave the reader frustrated as he abruptly breaks his chain of thoughts in an event he is narrating. It may be a logical conclusion for him, but leaves the reader frustrated (doesn’t serve as a good cliffhanger tactic). His language is masterful. Good read altogether.

I am now reading ‘The Best of R.K.Narayanan’.

Which is the first book you have read this year? 

IWSG : January Question

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. My awesome co-hosts today are Eva @ Lillicasplace, Crystal Collier, Sheena-kay Graham, Chemist Ken, LG Keltner, and Heather Gardner!

IWSG

January Question : What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I have grown up reading old classics by Jule Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, R.L.Stevenson, Charles Dickens – to name a few. It tried my patience to get ‘well into’ the book as the descriptions of the surroundings went on and on in the first few pages. If it was not about the type of scenery or the grandeur of the mansion that the characters lived in, it was about the typical habits of the character in question. It was as if there was nothing happening in the book except when you were into the 2nd or the 3rd chapter. If you were real unlucky, the book would pick up pace well after the first half.

This was my feeling when I was a teen. As I got accustomed to this style of writing and grew in years, I began to appreciate knowing where my characters are. The descriptive surroundings lent credence to the traits that the character got as a result of inhabiting them at that point of time/in the past.

Recently I finished reading Jane Austen and loved her descriptions of the manors and houses that her characters lived in, and the ball rooms they visited.

I have attended several writing workshops, and read several ‘How to write a successful novel’ articles which say that the ‘First sentence matters’. It should never be about the time of the day or about the surroundings. I interpret that as : The first sentence should not be something that a regular someone would say while narrating a story (like, ‘Once upon a time…). It should be striking; something that a reporter would say to catch your attention in a fraction of a second, and stop you in your tracks when you are surfing channels on the TV.

Mumbo-jumbo, I say. I call the bluff! How many first sentences (of the books you have read) do you remember? I just remember the last sentence of Gone with the Wind – ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!’

And that exactly sums up my feeling about this writing rule. Never start your novel with a sentence describing the time of the day or the surroundings. If your writing is honest, your reader will have patience to turn the next 2-3 pages and see if your story entices him further. If not, well, too bad! I am not writing a novel to please my readers, I am writing to tell a story I want to tell. I won’t tell it by adhering to some imaginary writing rules which claim to make your book an overnight bestseller.

Other than grammar rules and maintaining a decent sense of chronology, I don’t have much respect for writing rules at all. Writing is an art, you can establish vague pointers, but you cannot have people writing out of a rule book. Tch!

I wish I had never heard the never begin your story with description rule.

Fifteenth ramble

I am behind schedule for the ramblings. I missed the deadline for writing about a book that influenced me in 2015 too. But I shall write about it.

The Fountainhead.

In 2004, I had seen one of my classmates reading Altas Shrugged. I hadn’t read the blurb and the cover made it look like a mythological tale. I got to know that it was cult material, but till then I had veered to the Harry Potter series.

Last year I saw a copy of the Fountainhead on the younger sibling’s book rack and picked it up with a casual interest. That book changed my life. I know I sound clichéd.

The book was like no other. It was so sure of itself, so full of itself that I began to give in to its arguments for Objectivism.

Like I thought Sidney Sheldon was a woman, I had always thought Ayn Rand to be a man. She does write like a man. (Please spare me any feminist comments here for the sake of her. Ms Rand was very openly anti-feminist.)

The Fountainhead was my first introduction to the author. I wasn’t expecting much, because most of the famous books don’t live up to their reputation, for me. The novel starts with a defiant stand, and ends with another. This is one book whose end did not disappoint me.

She says she writes keeping in view the ideal within man and woman. More precisely man, because there aren’t many who’d stand up for themselves. Howard Roark would come across as an impudent arrogant eccentric genius (though the last adjective would be bestowed grudgingly) to the outsider. But to the reader, more precisely the believing reader, all his thoughts are bared and hence, he emerges as the perfect man – who’d prefer crumbling rather than giving in to the mundane demands of the society.

Having read two books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, I don’t quite like Ms Rand’s women protagonists. In fact both the men and women seem masochists, who revel in suffering in matters of the heart and deliberately choose different paths when they could very easily be together without compromising their virtues, as she calls their individualistic bent. She likes to put her readers through their pain. 

How the Fountainhead influenced my life?

Well, I was torn between putting myself first and caring about my family selflessly. This book made it very clear to me that I prefer the first option. I am not selfless and I am proud of it now.

As concerns the bigger picture, I understood that all capitalism is not evil as all socialism is not beneficial. I am happy India had a mixed economy.

In conclusion, the euphoria over The Fountainhead lasted till I read Atlas Shrugged and watched Ms Rand’s interviews with Phil Donahue and learned about the movie/book The Passion of Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged made me cringe even though I offered it every poetic liberty. I now think that complete Objectivism is ideal. And it is equally true that the ideal does not exist. Nonetheless, most of my life decisions will be governed by her theory – keeping in mind never to become as dogmatic as she had become.

Author Interview : J K Sachin of The PM’s Wishlist

16th May, a day when the destiny of the largest democracy will be sealed for the next 5 years. A major change in power is expected. What better a time to post the author interview of Mr J K Sachin! The man who dreamed of writing a political story of a dynamic PM and his wishlist and wrote it so wonderfully.

His latest offering, the PM’s wishlist is available on Kindle at Amazon.
I was interested in the book for 2 reasons :

1) I heard about it from Anita Menon, who I know has a penchant for dishing out (literally) and fishing out the most peculiar of stories.

2) I have a political plot of mine 😉 and I envy, admire and research all political fiction books I can find.

The book was a great read, albeit lengthy – but then it does get lengthy when one is trying to fit 5 years of a drastic image shift of a nation the size and stature of India.

Without much ado, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Mr J K Sachin.

You have desisted from describing the Prime Minister’s appearance, background (religious/educational/financial) and rise from the grassroot level. How did you picture him while writing? Did you see yourself in him?

I was sensitive to the fact that people had very fixed perceptions about who they would like to see as their PM. I did not want to take the uphill route of trying to replace the persona in people’s mind with a character from my imagination. I deliberately chose to avoid describing the PM. Fans of Mr. Modi, Mr Gandhi and Mr. Kejriwal or other leaders are free to imagine their leader as the PM in the book. Besides improving acceptability of the character, it makes people’s perceptions stronger. However I did not imagine myself at all. It would be too preposterous though I did have a fancy of becoming a PM in my schooling days.

Was the novel strategically released during the election frenzy? What was the total time you worked on the draft? How important is it to promote the book, after its release, according to you?

I had been working over weekends for almost two years but decided to pack the research into a book to coincide with elections. Promotion is important. A book is a product and like any product has to be marketed and promoted.

What is your take on the current Indian fiction scenario? Do you admire any of the current Indian authors? Can you please share their names and the reason for which you admire them?

I find the scene too fractured and no specific authors have the kind of brand recall in my mind unfortunately. I did like Ravi Subramaniam’s The Incredible Banker though.

Can you please give us a sneak-peek into the books that are in queue from your pen?

I am working on a book on Start-ups in India and on the Customer experience scene in India. I am not sure of the completion date since a lot of research is being compiled currently.

For whom should an author write – audience or himself? Today, everyone wants to be an author. I am not being judgmental, however one spots a truck-load of mushy campus stories and books that surround a one-line story when browsing book stores. What would you advise a first time author such that he is encouraged to write and still does not churn out a similar run-of-the-mill work?

An author should write a book if he sincerely and passionately believes that the book will inform, entertain or educate the reader and add value. It’s a responsibility when a reader picks your book because he or she expects you to make it worthwhile. If the book does not contribute to the thoughts, inform, make people pause and think or provoke an argument the author should not waste his or her time and that of his readers. I am not suggesting that every book needs to start a movement but if the author is not passionate about the need to share his or her thoughts with the audience for their benefit, not his, a book should not be attempted.

Thank you Mr Sachin for your valuable time, we are pleased to host you at Wordcoiner!