“Rimi B. Chatterjee presents her insights into writing and publishing in India- A Yourstory Exclusive”
The words tenacious, humorous, insightful and talented are but a few descriptors that fit her personality and mind… Rimi B. Chatterjee is a university lecturer and a published author with two novels and one history, under her belt not counting the numerous translations and short stories she has done. An expert on the history of publishing in India (Oxford University Press and Macmillan) she gave us many insights into the inner workings of publishing in India. Currently working on Antisense, her next prose novel, and Kalpa: Shadowfalls, the graphic novel, whilst balancing a busy academic career, she took some time out to answer our entrepreneurial queries.
Yourstory presents Rimi B. Chatterjee and her insights into writing and publishing in India
Please tell our readers about your published works
I have published three novels and am working on the fourth and on a graphic novel. My latest book is Black Light, an ‘ideas thriller’ about the death of an artist. The second was The City of Love, a work of historical fiction set in the sixteenth century against the backdrop of the spice trace, piracy, the Bhakti movement and the Mughal empire. The first was Signal Red, a near future science fiction story about a scientist in a semi secret defence lab. The book I’m working in presently is a far future science fiction story. The graphic novel is a parallel-world tale set in Alinagar, the city that Calcutta becomes after the British are thrown out in 1857 and the Nawab of Lucknow becomes the ruler of Bengal.
What is the genre you prefer to write in? Any reasons why?
None. I take on stories as they come to me, in whatever genre they seem to fit into. I’ve done historical fiction, sci fi and contemporary stories. But I tend more towards fantasy than realism.
Do you believe that writing has an entrepreneurial aspect to it? Not sure I understand the question. However, for my graphic novel I’m having to hire an artist, since I can’t draw, and of course in India writers have to promote themselves.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far, and how did you overcome it?
Surviving cancer. You take one day at a time.
What is the hardest lesson you have learnt as a writer?
Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise.
Can you shed a little light on how a written work gets published?
It takes a lot of time and patience to get the first book out. It took me ten years to publish my first book; Salman Rusdie’s first book remains unpublished. Usually one has to write several novels before one is good enough to break into print. My tips for a new writer would be: finish the novel before you hawk it round to publishers. Write a very good 100 word blurb, a 300 word executive summary, and a chapter wise synopsis that leaves nothing out, and send these around with a sample chapter. Don’t send the whole novel because large packages go to the bottom of the slush pile. Personally I find the synopsis the hardest part of a novel to write. Once your packet is ready, send it round to all the publishers you know (their postal addresses are on their websites) and give three months reading time before you prod them about it. Rinse and repeat.
Also, on the subject of entrepreneurship, the world of comics is a particularly hard gig to get published in, since mainstream publishers find it hard to get their heads around the process path of comics publishing. Accordingly, me and my partner Avijit Chatterjee are setting up a new all-original comics magazine called Project C. Right now we’re working with artists and writers who are generating content, then we’ll have to raise money to finance the first issues. It’s a huge undertaking which personally makes me quake in my shoes, but we feel the time is ripe for a mature Indian comics magazine that targets adults rather than kids and we want to bring all the great work that’s being done to a wide audience.
What do you feel has been your best work till today (and why)?
My best work is yet to be written. There are merits and demerits to all of my books. But I think Kalpa, the graphic novel I am doing, has a special place in my heart, because it’s soaking up an enormous amount of labour and money and it will be a huge achievement to finally get it done and published.
What are your goals for the coming 2 years? Any new releases?
I need to finish Antisense, my next prose novel, and Kalpa: Shadowfalls, the graphic novel, definitely both within the next 2 years. As my editor keeps reminding me.
What technology platform are you using? Does it have any advantages over others?
Good ole Word. No it doesn’t have any advantages, apart from being common as muck. I have a secret desire to convert to Linux but my Ubuntu CD didn’t work. Sigh.
Do you have any tips to share with budding writers and entrepreneurs who wish to work in your field?
For writers, I would say the process of writing has six parts: observe, dream, think, feel, write, revise, with a seventh part, get read (or tell the story). I teach creative writing and there’s no easy (or single) way for a writer to work, but by and large that’s it. For entrepreneurs, I would say that Indian publishing, particularly for fiction, is in boom mode right now, and if you want to set up a dream company now’s the time to do it.
What do you think is the key challenge for an Indian author or entrepreneur in the field of literature?
Reaching the readers. In the English language especially, readership in India is scattered across the country, mainly in A and B towns. You need a huge network to get stuff out to them. This is one reason why small presses in India have tended to concentrate on nonfiction, or translation. Selling fiction is a bigger gamble. This is an exciting time for authors, though, as the market is diversifying and new readerships are coming up. Genre fiction is an area where expansion is happening like mad. Pretty soon we should have a mature market for genre literature in India as well.
Yourstory thanks Rimi B. Chatterjee for giving us her time and wishes her Godspeed with Antisense and Kalpa: Shadowfalls. We hope that her work gets the success that it deserves and eagerly await their release… To learn more about her upcoming work and inner thoughts saunter on over to http://rimibchatterjee.net