My path to becoming a published author was probably paved the day my grandfather taught me my first alphabet. Like a benevolent sorcerer, he cast the spell of the written word and I knew I was bewitched for life. Then my mother flung the doors of literature wide open and I made friends with Dickens and Twain and Wilde and Tagore. From the rugged folk tales of Ukraine to the lush tea-party in Carrol’s wonderland, the stories asked me a gentle question -‘Can you carve a universe out of words?’ And a macabre universe at that, for the genre whose siren calls were quietly seducing me was the MYSTERY THRILLER!!!
Throughout literature classes in Venky and Stephen’s, one was enthralled with the wit of Chaucer and the metaphysics of Donne. The agony of Lawrence and the nostalgia of Wordsworth. The bravado of Eliot and the absurdity of Beckett. And yet on dark nights, the infernal howling of the hound of Baskerville would fill me with awe. The climactic revelations of Hercule Poirot would leave me kicking my grey cells for not spotting the obvious. Poe’s pit of morbid terror would slice me like that murderous pendulum. And then came Dan Brown with his damned codes and ciphers and I had found another messiah. Thrillers by Irving Wallace, Suzanne Collins, Lee Child and Ashok Banker have all been text books I have craved to emulate.
Then one random day during one random hour, I stumbled upon this historical legend that absolutely bamboozled me. So staggering and so prolific were the details, that my instinctive reaction was ‘There’s enough matter here for a book!!!’ And before I knew it, I was writing that book. The legend had somehow lured me into giving it a virtual shape and form on my laptop. It was whispering plot points, characters and intrigue and I was merely recording it for posterity. Was that how Lord Ganesha had felt while Vyasa dictated him the Mahabharata? Draft #1 was ready in six months and I had actually carved a cosmos out of words. A cosmos of murder, history, sci-fi, mythology and riddles. Cryptic riddles. The conceit every writer suffers from is the cocky self-assurance that his masterpiece is worthy enough to be shared with others. So my magnum opus was clamouring for an audience now.
The merciful thing about publishing in India is that most publishers are open to unsolicited submissions. In the West where publishing houses will not touch your manuscript unless you have a literary agent representing you, the situation here is friendlier with the agent culture still in its infancy. So all it took was logging on to publishing websites and mailing my mystery thriller. Some asked for an initial synopsis & sample chapters. While sending your work is relatively simple, most unsolicited matter goes to the slush pile where scores of manuscripts lie waiting to be picked and read. Unless you can network around, there’s precious little to do but wait. Soon feedback started knocking on my laptop. Some declined while some asked for changes. FYI no publishing house will ever give an elaborate analysis but only a few pointers to rework. Some of this early feedback made a lot of sense and shaped much of the present structure of my book. The tide turned when two publishing houses wrote saying they love my thriller. It turned again when Red Ink became my literary agency.
From then on it was a process of negotiations, discussions, consultations and submissions until we finally zeroed in on Amaryllis. Though contracts drafted by publishing houses are pretty straightforward, it helped me to have an agent who made sure I got the best possible deal. One also needs to be prepared to see one’s manuscript go through various rounds of edits to make it even better. Red Ink’s brilliant editorial team further sharpened my thriller following which Amaryllis editors did their round of editing and impeccable proof-reading. Finalising the cover took longer than I had imagined but then it was all perfectly destined to hit the stands at the Delhi World Book Fair 2014 this February.
As I mentioned, the agent culture is still in its fledgling stage in India. There are only a handful of genuine literary agencies in India like Red Ink, Writer's Side, Jacaranda etc. The international norm for agents is that they make money only when your book makes money. Genuine agencies generally don't charge for their services like pitching your book to publishers, editing your manuscript etc. Ideally they demand their commission only after you sign a book deal with a publishing house. In case you don't land up with a literary agent to represent you, don't lose heart. Be relentless and keep pitching your book to as many publishing houses as possible. Don't make the common error of going only after the big ones. Smaller publishing houses often are a better bet, especially for debut writers and can end up giving you greater attention and exposure. Finally if nothing works out, there's always Self-Publishing. This phenomenon has become really big in India in recent times and you will find a zillion sites ready to help you out. Even Amazon's legendary Createspace is now available in India now, albeit be informed that this route is all about financial investment and promotion effort from your side.
Your first book is always precious. My thriller’s out now and there’s lots to be thankful for. It has made it to several Bestseller charts...rave reviews in the media...praise from authors like Amish Tripathi & Ashwin Sanghi...tweets from Gauri Shinde.....Reprint within three months,,,,,Bollywood interest in converting it into a film....But perhaps the greatest joy is that, my gentle answer to that gentle question is ‘I can. And so can anyone who loves to write.’
Satyarth Nayak is author of the new national bestseller 'The Emperor's Riddles'. A History meets Mystery novel, the book has been acclaimed by Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi and has entered several Bestseller lists like Asian Age, Amazon, Crossword & DC Books etc. The novel has outrun its first print run within two months of release and has now gone into Reprint.