Friday, July 1, 2011

How to get published (about fiction)

Over the last couple of years, the culture of publishing in India, especially reading and writing in English, has seen some sweeping changes. Once upon a time, perhaps the only familiar publisher names for a lay reader in India used to be Penguin and Oxford University Press, and leisure reading was synonymous with Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Wilbur Smith, Agatha Christie and battalion. Parents encouraged their offspring to read, but most frowned if they saw a Mills & Boon or a Barbara Cartland in their hands. Indian writing was serious business and an area where most non-literary angels feared to tread.
Post the Chetan Bhagat phenomenon, the scenario has changed completely. Pulp fiction seems to be redefining trade publishing, and popular fiction for the Indian palate is now in great demand. With more and more multinationals setting up Indian offices, and independents mushrooming all over the country, not to forget self-publishing avenues – both online and in print – getting published has become much easier, especially for young writers.
Unfortunately, every published book does not qualify as a good book. There are people who publish bad scripts, and publish quickly – without making an effort to give you any editorial input; and there are people who publish good scripts, with everything in place – even if it takes more time. Make sure you make the correct choices. Once your book is out there in the public domain, your name will be associated with it forever. So consider whether you simply want superficial ‘stardom’ that might last a few weeks, or whether you want to become a genuinely good writer. Never mind if you wish to write pulp. Some years from now, your reader should remember your novel and remember it with pleasure.
Now – on the road to getting published!
You must have a strong story. Don’t write something that has been done to death already. Remember ‘formula movies’? They lose their charm after a while.
Organise your material well. It should be crisp and clearly written. Usually, an average novel is between 40,000 words and 65,000 words, though there are no hard and fast rules.
Join writer groups, online and otherwise, for group discussions and helpful feed back on your script. You may need to edit/rewrite/revise a hundred times. Do it.
First impressions are important. Publishers are more receptive to scripts that are well written and well presented. These days you can get professional help even before you approach a publisher. You can search for such avenues on the Internet.
Correct language and grammar also make the editors more inclined towards reading your script. Get professional help, or ask someone with strong language skills – maybe a friend/teacher/professor to help you with your own editing.
There are two ways of submitting: direct (unsolicited), or through a literary agent. Before sending out your script to a publisher, make sure they publish the genre. Check their website for submission guidelines and other details. All you need to do is follow them step-by-step. Most publishers ask for a synopsis of the book, a brief bio, and two or three sample chapters.
You could approach literary agents (India has some now), to negotiate with publishers on your behalf. Literary agents have their charges (which usually vary from one to the other), but your script has better chances of being accepted and usually moves faster.
If you wish to do it yourself, choose a good publisher and follow their guidelines. It helps to have some knowledge of the Indian publishers. Trust your own judgement. Browse their websites, read some of their books, attend their events; you’ll find the answers to most of your questions. If you have a good script, most mainstream publishers would be willing to consider it.
Write a short, clear synopsis (about a page at the most) giving an outline of your story. Mention what is special about your script. Remember: your summary shouldn’t be longer than the script!
Write a letter accompanying the book proposal. Mention your contact details – email ID, postal address, phone no. clearly on it. You can also insert the contact details as headers on your script. Check the submission guidelines regarding how you need to submit it – soft copy or hard copy.
It is preferable to send a spiral-bound proposal if it’s in hard copy. Once it is accepted, ask the publisher if they would prefer the entire script as bound or loose sheets. Different publishers prefer different formats.
Learn to wait. After submitting the proposal, give the publisher the amount of time they have asked for to get back to you. After that, you may send them a gentle reminder.
Most publishers and literary agents have a presence online – websites, blogs, groups on various networking sites, etcetera. You could begin the process right away.

[You can find professional help here as well:]
This is a guest column by Publishing Entrepreneur, Divya Dubey, founder of Gyaana Books. Turtle Dove: Six Simple Tales is her first collection of short stories. Her other short fiction has appeared in literary journals such as Out–of-Print, Muse India, Kindle Magazine, Urban Voice 4, and New Fiction Journal (forthcoming). She has also written for The Hindu Literary Review, Hindustan Times, Indo-Asian News Service, Pravasi Bharatiya, All About Book Publishing, Book Link, The Publisher’s Post,Chicken Soup for the Indian Couple’s Soul, etc. She occasionally conducts lectures on publishing and creative writing. She was shortlisted for the British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur Award, Publishing, 2010. Find out more about her journey as a publishing entrepreneur here.
Through this column, Divya Dubey will be sharing insights into the publishing industry with the readers of


  1. Very useful one, Divya. I did most of what you said when I submitted my manuscript directly. It all worked out wonderfully well. And it did take a lot of hardwork...esp., the 'editing it hundred times' bit :-) Thanks for a good piece, Sonali D'silva

  2. Thanks, Sonali. Glad you found it useful. It's hard work, but essential. One needs to do some heartless editing and rewriting to get a good script. :)

  3. I also followed your advice but got rejected by the Gyaana Books twice! Please help...Your current fab profile strongly reminiscent of a brooding Rekha; the combo of the crackling words and charismatic profile are an electrifying grapho-visual effect!
    Thanks---for all the efforts taken in guiding an industry where an MA in English means an immediate visa to an instant literary stardom.

  4. Hahahahaha. Dr Sharma, you should perhaps try GWC? :)And no, an MA in English doesn't mean a visa to literary stardom at all. I wish it did. :)

  5. Thank you very much Divya! Your tips are very valuable. It's rare to get such excellent information. Thanks again. :)

  6. Thanks a lot for this post. Very happy to connect.

  7. Thanks for the very useful post Divya! I also had a question for you - to what extent should a (aspiring) author reverse-engineer from what the market demands while coming up with his first (hopefully saleable) book? For instance, I see that love stories do immensly well in India. Would you then suggest that it might be easier for me to get published if I write a love story, ceterus paribus?

    On the other hand, what if I write a (assume) brilliant gay love story? Do you think the inherent lack of market focus in this theme will significantly hamper my prospects of getting published?

    Would really appreciate your take on this rambling question :).

  8. Dear Sankalp,
    I believe you should write whatever you really wish to write. Yes, love stories (Chetan Bhagat and campus novels) usually sell.But, it's not true that gay fiction doesn't do well. Last year we published Mahesh Natarajan's collection of short stories, Pink Sheep, and the book was well received. :)