How to get started on your book
SUCCESSFUL DEBUT AUTHORS DISCUSS THEIR EXPERIENCES AND GIVE KEY ADVICE TO ASPIRING WRITERS
IN THE literary world, this year has very much been about some incredibly talented debut authors who have made a mark with their first book. They have not only introduced themselves as interesting voices with acclaimed work, but also become strong role models for aspiring authors wanting to follow in their footsteps.
Eastern Eye got four debutant British authors who have made a mark in 2021 and one with a forthcoming book in 2022 to give key advice to those wanting to write their first novel and what their own experiences have been like.
Aliya Ali-Afzal (Would I Lie To You?)
THE publication day for my debut Would I Lie To You? was very different to the way I had imagined it, when I got my book deal a year ago. I had dreamt of a launch party in a bookshop packed with friends and family, book signing events with queues of readers who I would chat to, and perhaps a tour of different cities across the country.
Of course, my 2021 publication day didn’t include any of these elements, and yet it was still one of the best days of my life. I celebrated the day with a mini bookshop tour and will never forget the surge of emotion I felt when I saw my book in a bookshop for the first time. All the booksellers welcomed me warmly, asked me to sign stock, and I couldn’t stop smiling when they put ‘signed by the author’ stickers on my books. When I found out that three copies of my book had already been sold that morning, I literally jumped in the air. I wanted to ask all sorts of questions about the customers who had bought my book; what did they look like, how old were they, did they say anything about the book as they paid?
A very special sighting of my debut was in the main hall at Waterstones Piccadilly. I burst into unexpected tears. This branch was where I had met my writing group for years to get feedback on my book, and where I also wrote a lot of it in the café, never knowing if it would ever get published. It felt like coming full circle.
So, what helped me get from those days writing in the café to seeing my debut novel in the shop? I have two suggestions for aspiring authors, which were game changers for me. Firstly, give yourself permission to write, and to take your writing seriously. It is sometimes hard for friends and family to understand how much time and energy is required to complete a novel. Your writing might eat into family time and impact your social life and other commitments.
The path to publication is not guaranteed and you yourself, and others in your life, may question the sacrifices you are making to write. It is vital to remind yourself this is your dream, and it’s okay to spend your time and energy on it. You don’t need to justify yourself to anyone. If you want to write, just write. Secondly, if you can, join a writing group, which can also be online. My writer friends provided invaluable support, both practical and emotional. They gave me feedback on my work, advised me on cover letters to agents, gave moral support when I got rejections and a published friend gave me helpful inputs for my publication journey.
So, go for your dream and find writer friends to keep you company.
Neema Shah (Kololo Hill)
BECOMING a published author is a surreal and intense experience. My book launch day was one of the most amazing of my life and I’ve had many wonderful interactions with people who’ve loved my book since then.
When my novel Kololo Hill came out in February, bookshops were still closed, and it was difficult to stand out as a brand-new author. But fantastic support from the writing community and readers alike has meant that my book was still able to shine during an otherwise challenging year.
My advice to aspiring authors is simply not to give up. There are many talented writers out there but what will set you apart is keep going no matter what. I’ve had my fair share of rejections, just as most authors have, but the main thing was to dust myself off and try again. It also helps to find writing friends who will support and encourage you. I’ve made lifelong friends through writing and couldn’t have done this without them. Build allies and relationships in the creative community and you won’t go wrong.
Sara Jafari (The Mismatch)
HAVING my debut novel released has been a real joy, especially when I hear that readers related to the characters in The Mismatch.
I think that’s really what all authors want to hear. Being completely real, too, having a book out can be quite a strange experience. It is something you dream of for so long, and can wait years before it comes out, and then in a blink of an eye it’s out in the world. I’m really enjoying working on my second novel and seeing myself grow as an author.
My advice for aspiring authors would be to keep going and always back yourself. Publishing is such a subjective industry, and everyone (yes, everyone) gets a rejection of some kind, so even if it’s a long road, keep going.
From working in the industry, I know that rejection is a part of publishing and may have nothing to do with the quality of your writing. Listening to feedback around you is so critical, but please don’t stop writing or feel discouraged by constructive criticism. I would also say continue reading widely, as I have always been taught that to improve as a writer you need to read other works and I really think that it’s true. You learn a lot from reading other people’s novels, both from a reader’s perspective in what you like about a book, and as an author in noticing the more technical aspects of writing you think particularly work well. Ultimately, though, please keep going.
Rahul Raina (How To Kidnap The Rich)
MY TOP advice for aspiring authors would be – write, write, write. Publishing’s a crazy, mixed-up, very confusing industry, especially in a year like this. You never know what’s going to happen, and you can’t control anything but the words you put down on the page. Create new worlds, shine light on things that are ignored, put your personality, story and life down on the page.
The world always needs more stories, and you’ll never know where they’ll take you until you write them down. It’s been a really testing year for me and my family, and I don’t know what I would have done without some of the people I’ve met through writing. The sense of community is for me what the book world is all about. Everything else – the money, reviews, praise, attention, media interviews and book lists – that’s all secondary.
It’s a world of people brought together by their love of stories, of living, of life. That’s what I’ve come to cherish most of all.
Aneesa Marufu (The Balloon Thief)
I AM often reminding myself I am going to be published and didn’t make the whole thing up.
Social distancing measures have prevented me from meeting my editor or visiting my publisher’s offices. The lack of in-person interactions has perhaps made a long journey just that bit longer.
With countless edits and multiple rewrites, it is true what they say that half of what you write will never make it into the finished book. I have a 50,000-word document full of deleted scenes I can’t bear to part with.
My advice to aspiring writers is to be flexible and willing to adapt. It can be easy to become too attached to your work that you risk becoming unwilling to listen to feedback and criticism. But writing is all about rewriting – and you will do a lot of it!
Agents, editors and publishers will all have their ideas of how to make your work better, and it will often involve big changes, sometimes entire rewrites. You will have to put aside any personal attachment to your words and focus instead on what the story needs. It can be disheartening editing out scenes you love to meet word count goals or cutting out characters you adore, who serve no real purpose to the plot. Focus instead on the end goal: making your story the best it can be.
The book I originally submitted to my agent doesn’t remotely resemble the finished version – only the first chapter remained the same. But I know it’s a much stronger book and knowing the number of redrafts and late nights spent working on it, only makes me that much prouder of it.