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How Meena became a writer

Anish Chandy | Updated on December 28, 2018 Published on December 28, 2018

Out of ‘author’ : It’s not easy to break into the tightly guarded worlds of literature and publishing, but some may just have the answer   -  ISTOCK.COM

As 2018 celebrates new voices in literature, we take a fictional look at how writers fake it till they make it

Meena Jolly, 44, gazed out of her ninth-floor balcony in Las Vegas Towers, Gurugram. She drained the remnants of her gur chai as she typed the last of the 175,234 words on her MacBook Air.

Amrit Jolly, her husband, a gazetted officer in the Ministry of Rural Mining and Urban Flyovers, looked bewildered as she fist-pumped and logged onto Facebook. She wrote, “It’s finally complete, after spending one year, three months, 18 days and some hours, I have finally finished writing my novel!! It’s called Journey of a Sad Girl. It’s a rocking, emotional story. Feeling humbled. Now I can’t wait to see it in book stores. Publishers can contact me.”

Amrit hugged her, feigning excitement. He hadn’t ever seen Meena read a book; how had she written one? Her post soon had 112 likes — including one from him — and 18 comments. One person even said he knew her career as junior sub-secretary in the Ministry of Social Handicrafts did not do justice to her talent.

When she did not hear from any publishers for a week, Meena googled publishers in India and made a top-10 list. Their websites had instructions on how they accepted manuscripts. Stumped, Meena checked “manuscript” on dictionary.com. “Aha, so that’s it,” she thought, “I should call it a manuscript.” She emailed her manuscript to the publishers. Silence again.

Meena had begun to palpitate; her friends on the Gurgaon Divas WhatsApp group had started enquiring about the book launch. She called Amrit. “Get me a publisher quickly,” she ordered. Amrit worked the phones and his connections for a few days. He finally found Jamnapaar Books in East Delhi. Jamnapaar’s proprietor cum publisher cum accountant, Mr Garg, called Meena two days later. “Madam, I’ve been publishing for 22 years, no one has written a story like this. Mind blowing,” he said. He hung up, promising a publishing contract would be sent.

The contract arrived; Meena read it breathlessly. “Clause V.II.f: The author will bear expenses amounting to not more than ₹8 lakh towards the printing and marketing of the book.” Meena was shocked; she thought she had to be paid for offering her thoughts to the public, not do the paying. That night, Meena sobbed into her pillow.

Three months later, at a party at the India International Centre, Meena was inseparable from her glass of Laphroaig. She didn’t realise how loud she was when she hissed at her friend, “If that s*itty f*cking romance author can get so popular why am I having trouble getting a publisher? I’m way better than him. All my friends have loved what I’ve written.”

“Excuse me, what did you just say?” It was Anita Chandra, the “famous in South Delhi self-important” publishing consultant/literary agent/editor/gossip factory. Anita was constantly posting pictures of her travels abroad from publishing conferences. Meena had messaged her but given up when she hadn’t responded.

Anita had once read in a book that the best way to make an impression in a crowded party was by uttering a loud contrarian statement. So she fired at Meena: “I can guarantee a publisher for you, if you do exactly what I say.” She pulled Meena into a corner and continued, “Sorry if I’m being blunt. For wannabe famous fiction writers who haven’t spent years reading, introspecting and honing their writing skills, I’ve developed a six-step process called AC’s Magic Quadrilateral, which will crack open the publishing universe.” Meena pulled out her iPad from her bag and looked on expectantly at Anita to take notes. Anita began…

1. You must agree to pay my consulting fee. You will receive an invoice tomorrow.

2. Your manuscript needs to have a trending subject and catchy title. My editor will edit it.

3. I’ll introduce you to a printer everyone works with. He will print your book.

4. You must buy advertising space online and offline.

5. You must buy lots of copies of your own book.

6. You must hire a publicist that I recommend. She will buy social media followers for you.

Meena’s words tumbled out in a hoarse whisper, “But... but isn’t this self-publishing?” Anita smirked, “Picture abhi baaki hai.”

Four months later, life came full circle, Meena launched her novel at the same venue where she met Anita. The book was now called From #MeToo to #YouToo. The book was excerpted by local newspapers in small towns; Meena was interviewed by paid-for book bloggers who posted reviews all over social media; she was invited to panel discussions by new lit fests and was even asked to be the keynote speaker at the Nanded Lit and Handicraft Fest.

The book was burning up the sales charts. Amrit had to reluctantly move all the furniture out of their Greater Noida house because Meena needed space for the books she was buying. Her crowning glory arrived when she received a cash prize for being that year’s highest-selling author in Gurugram.

Exactly one year, four months and 20 days later, Meena received an unsolicited email from a nice, shiny publishing company asking her if she would like to write her next novel for them.

Anish Chandy is the founder of The Labyrinth Literary Agency

Published on December 28, 2018
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