Ritoban Chakrabarti is a successful entrepreneur who wrote a romance novel recently and is in the middle of marketing it post-publication. We decided to interview him for benefit of all the readers of this blog who want to write a novel someday! You had been an entrepreneur before you turned a writer. Is this a strange thing? We don’t know of too many entrepreneurs who started writing fiction!
I would like to believe I’m still an entrepreneur. My internet marketing company is still my main revenue source and we’re still making softwares and marketing courses that people love. While many entrepreneurs turn to writing, most of them publish non-fiction books. Mostly portraying what they learnt while starting and running their companies. But I’m pretty sure there must be a good chunk of fiction writers who are entrepreneurs. If not, I’ll just take pride in being part of a small insignificant group.
Was it a childhood dream to become a writer? Why fiction and not non-fiction? Not really. When I first created my dream board, publishing a novel was one of my goals. I hadn’t given it much thought until then. I have written several non-fiction aka marketing related documents. A couple of ebooks and a lot of training material. But that was all business. When She Smiled is a product of passion. I wanted to tell a story about a simple guy dealing with simple teen(y) issues. After reading JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, I decided to write a little fiction book myself, and all it took was a couple of months of focus to finish the first draft.
Many wannabe writers never start writing because they are too worried that they are not good enough. Did you ever have any doubts in your writing abilities? Did you ever take opinions of experts or other writers on whether your writing is worth the effort?
I don’t think anybody will ever tell you they are good enough. Not even the bestselling authors. Why? Because we are all learning. We all keep writing and improving ourselves. No one expects you to write like Hemingway in the first go. You read, write, learn, improvise, write some more, re-write, learn, write, and the process goes on. I learnt a lot from my research on how to write, which softwares to use, and the best methods of plot development. In the end, I just sat down and started typing. That’s all that matters. I know there’s a very small chance that this book will be a hit. I’m not expecting it to make me any money. I wrote it out of passion and that’s priceless.
Do you have a book agent? If no, did you try to find one? If yes, how should a first-time writer go about this?
While it is not required to have a book agent, its always good to know people from the industry and the best way to go about this would be to search “literary agent india” in Google. There are about 5-6 popular agents, but they all are very selective of what type of titles to endorse. I contacted all of them and one of them is helping me edit my book. I would recommend first-time writers to contact them once they have their first draft ready. Although agents ask only for the first three chapters of the book initially, if they like your book they might ask for the entire manuscript. Its better to have that handy beforehand. While having an agent does not guarantee you will find a publisher, it increases your chances multi-fold than approaching publishers solo.
Did you start writing after you got a book contract? How did you go about finding a publisher? Did you negotiate a contract with the publisher?
The entire agent/publisher world is a big mystery for most first time writers, including yours truly, up until two months ago. But I’ve done plenty of research and decided to self-publish the novel and see where things go from there. Many budding authors don’t write because they are scared their manuscript will be rejected by publishers and then they would have wasted a ton of time. I want to put an end to that myth. It used to be very difficult to self-publish a novel up until about 5-6 years ago. It’s a very different story now. I’m getting mine published both in digital and print formats with expanded distribution worldwide without signing any contracts, retaining copyrights, and on my own launch schedule. There are several services that are self-publisher friendly, even in India.
It is said that a lot about writing is just discipline. It takes a lot of discipline to write a novel. How did you manage your time? How did you stay disciplined? What would be your advice to new writers on this aspect?
You’re absolutely correct. The most critical part is the initial stage when you have to write a basic plot summary, scene by scene description, and character sketches. Once you’ve done that, the writing part becomes easy. But not that easy. First off, before even considering writing a novel, you have to promise yourself that you will see it to the end. Next, you have to completely focus and drown out all the background noise. As in, other people’s opinions, social media, self doubt, and expectations. Once you’ve done that, then start writing. And don’t stop. Even if you have writer’s block, you have to keep going. It doesn’t have to be in chronological order. You can write the ending first, then the beginning, and then the middle. You can divide the story into 50 scenes and make sure you write one scene a day. Eventually its all about time and word count. Let’s say you take one hour to write 1000 words and your novel will be approximately 60,000 words. Even if you write only three hours a day, you’ll have the first draft finished in under three weeks. How many hours, days, and weeks we waste in our lives on mundane activities that have no conceivable impact on our lives, ambitions, and dreams? It’s time to start accounting for every day of your life and make a point to do something every day that takes you closer to your goals.
Did you create a book proposal? Can you share it? How can one go about developing a book proposal?
I did create a book proposal while contacting the literary agents. While it still needs to be improved because publishers need a much longer proposal, I’ll share the initial synopsis that I had written for When She Smiled. Mrityunjoy Roy is a fifteen year old Bengali who has spent the last ten years of his life growing up in Shimla. While his family is completely academically oriented, he wants something more. Finally he meets Akanksha in school, who turns his world upside down with her gorgeous looks and mind boggling smile. As fate would have it, she joins his tuition, and thus begins the torrid year of puppy love, romance, heartbreak, tragedy, and self discovery. Set among the scenic Shivalik hills of Shimla when mobile phones and internet were non-existent, this is a story of how an average young teenager comes to terms with his destiny. First time authors should create a proposal AFTER they have written their novel, because publishers and agents also need the manuscript along with the proposal. If a writer has been published before, they can simply write a plot summary and character description and submit it to the publishers even before writing the first draft. Publishers take a lot of time to go through proposals. A lot.
How did you decide the title and cover page?
I wrote the entire novel untitled. The first draft document stored in my laptop still has the filename: book.docx After writing the novel, it became more and more apparent that the title had to do something with the girl Mrityunjoy falls in love with. He was obsessed about her smile. He adored those twitching muscles that made her lips wide and jaw stretch. I wrote down ten possible title variations, surveyed my friends and family, and one title stood out. That was: When She Smiled Being a graphic designer, I wanted to design the cover myself. The story is set in Shimla, and that setting had a very important role to play, so there had to be mountains. And of course, we had to have a girl on the cover. The cover shows twilight in the horizon and it gets darker as you come closer to the girl’s face. It has an apparent hidden meaning. The gradual increase of color and shadow intensity also symbolises Mrityunjoy’s journey as he comes to terms with his destiny.
Were there people around you who inspired you to write? Did you have any mentors who advised on the technical side of your writing?
Writing this book was a choice I made purely on instinct and passion. I knew I had a story to write, and I knew I could take out time from my schedule to write it. So I did. I didn’t have any mentors per say, but being an avid researcher, I read a lot about different strategies that different authors used to write their books. I decided on my own strategy based on my routine and lifestyle, and ran with it.
How did you discover your writing style? How will you describe your own writing style?
I discovered mine while writing my blog posts, company communications, and marketing material. I tend to write words that can be easily understood. Most of my lines are short and to the point. Sometimes even a single word if appropriate. Punchy. I rarely use heavy words since my vocabulary is mediocre at best. But my writing style is something that the young generation can connect with.
How do you come up with an entire plot? Did you know all the twists and turns right at the beginning? Or did you discover them along the way?
When the idea first came to my mind, I had a pebble. I only knew the beginning and the ending. Slowly, as more thought and words came into existence, I ended up with a boulder. Now that I look back at the manuscript, its more or less the size of a small hill. A lot of character development, most of the dialogue, scene details and description — they were all done as I kept writing. But the core idea remained unchanged.
What is romance? What is love? How many times have you fallen in love?
That’s quite a difficult question to answer. Without being all sappy, and by twitching my logic nerve, let me try to summarise love. Love is an unexplainable feeling of attachment towards a person/object. Romance is an action that sparks and/or enhances the feeling of love towards the said person/object. I have fallen in love quite a few times. Without giving any specifics away, the exact number is more than one but less than hundred.
Do you think that it is important to experience love and tragedy in your own life to be able to write a truly great love story?
A hundred times, Yes! You can’t describe the feelings of a character unless you have felt the same feelings at some point in your life. Its one thing to see characters being portrayed in movies and then trying to write down their story in words. You only write what you thought those characters felt. But a truly great love story needs much more depth.
Tell us a bit about your protagonist Mrityunjoy that even those who read the book don’t know. Will you write about him in other books as well?
Mrityunjoy is your average high school teenager. Academically, he’s been drilled by his parents to study long and hard. Emotionally, he’s a fool. He used to be the guy bullies picked on, but then he went to an Army school, and came out stronger and more confident. When She Smiled is Mrityunjoy’s POV story over the course of a year when he rejoins his school post the Army School experience. The book goes deep into the psyche of that teenage kid as he helplessly falls in love, experiences both utopia and confusion, makes and loses friends, and deals with his family. I believe he’s a character every guy can relate to. I was initially planning on including Mrityunjoy in my next novel, but the plot is in a completely different genre. He might have a cameo though.
How did you plan the launch? What kind of media attention did your book get so far? Please share some clippings!
Being an internet marketer, I started with the book marketing research online. I found several good resources that gave away information on how to market a book, but most of them were US based. I had to conceive a new plan combining established marketing practices and my own ideas based on previous experience. A book launch is very similar to launching any other product. You have to plan several months ahead. Use as many related services and resources related to your product that help with getting exposure and keep building up the buzz until the launch. First was the cover reveal, then the book trailer, Goodreads giveaway, building an email list, then interviews with several blogs (Including yours. BTW, Thank you for doing this.), then getting reviewed by book bloggers, then press releases and media interaction, then distribution of bookmarks and teasers in bookstores, and about twenty other things. When She Smiled will be launched in February, so I’m building up for that launch with as many avenues as possible. You can find some of my interviews below:
Are you planning to write another book? What will this be about?
I visualised the plot for my next novel about three days ago. Lying in bed, I didn’t get any sleep that night because a story kept coming to me piece by piece. By the time it was morning, I knew the plot was engaging and interesting enough to work on. I got up from bed, fired up the laptop, and wrote down everything I could remember. By afternoon, I had written down one-liner descriptions of all the scenes. It’s a mystery thriller and I’m really excited to see what will become of it. A similar thing happened with my current novel as well. I couldn’t sleep so I took audio notes narrating the basic plot. And now, we have a novel ready. I believe we all keep getting fancy ideas time and again. It’s best to keep writing them down because they might come in handy in the future.
Have you watched Happy Ending? I think after a long time a writer of romance is the main character in a mainstream Bollywood movie. It seems to be portraying what goes on in a writer’s life in the background – while a lot of it is hyperbole, do you think there was any truth in it?
I haven’t seen that film, but since you’ve brought it up, I might go watch it soon. I read the basic plot of the film on Wikipedia, and I don’t think its an accurate representation of what happens in a writer’s life. While I’m just one book old, I have read about several bestselling authors as well as other writers who have written a lot of books sans fame.
– A busy writer seldom gets time to party and chill.
– Writers are busy people. While they do get a lot of free time because very few people can write more than 3-4 hours a day, most of their time either goes in promoting their other books, or creatively researching/idea generation for their current book. A good writer’s brain is like a machine.
– About one in ten thousand authors have a one-book-wonder. The other nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine authors have to keep hustling and keep writing more and more books. I would agree with the film on one point though. A writer’s books are heavily influenced by the people and situations that they face in their real life.
If someone wants to invite you to a book reading, or wants an autographed copy of your book, how can they get it?
I’m open to book readings, and I can be contacted via Facebook or email. I’m giving away signed copies of the book via a Goodreads Giveaway here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/113445-when-she-smiled I can easily be approached for getting a signed copy
Will you share your insights with other first-time authors if they want your help? How can they approach you?
I was planning on blogging about my writing journey with tips and resources to help other writers. I haven’t quite come around to doing that because I’ve been busy marketing When She Smiled, and now this new mystery thriller that’s invading my brain cells. But I will get around to it soon. If there’s a workshop/conference/gathering for budding writers and anyone wants to me speak there, I would be glad to do it. I have always believed in sharing knowledge, because that’s the way to achieve immortality. At least that’s what Dalai Lama said.