Indiwords Journal

The Journey of Voices, Old & New

It is the start of 2015 and in keeping with the time of year, the first book we are publishing this year is an anthology of short stories penned by a group of new and talented young writers. Some of these writers have been previously published, while the larger majority is being published for the first time—hence our title—Voices Old & New.

Voices Old & New encompasses the scope, values and aspirations of Indireads as a publishing house. The genres of stories are in the realm of popular fiction, the space that we occupy and aim to excel in and ultimately revolutionize by creating homegrown Sidney Sheldons, John Grishams, Nicholas Sparks and Nora Roberts. Romance, Drama, Crime & Mystery and finally Paranormal, the anthology provides something for everyone in all these popular categories.

Some of the stories are by writers we have come to know via our 1st Short Story competition, some are by writers and bloggers with whom we have developed ties over the past months, but fittingly, most are by new writers whose enormous talent we have been delighted to discover. All these gifted and passionate writers reaffirm our own faith, in our commitment to uncover new voices and showcase them to a global audience.

Finally, the winners, and this year we had two winners for each category, were offered the chance to work with us to challenge themselves and move beyond short stories to create a full-length novel. We salute them in this endeavor and commit to support them with all the learning, craft and experience we have garnered in working with over 40 new authors, some who completed the journey and others who found that they could not.

We begin the New Year with this brave new group of writers and hope that they will make it all the way to the top. And we present to you this year, an exciting new line-up of books by those who have already made the journey and have emerged victorious in this labor of love. Thank you for your support and we hope that you will show your love and appreciation to the new and exciting stories that will be emerging from our press—for you and your enjoyment. We toast you all, writers and readers and celebrate the New Year with voices, both old and new.


How To Find A Good Book To Read

Growing up we had limited choices—one kind of bread, one kind of cereal, one children’s program on television per day—and life was a lot simpler. In these days of plenty, ‘too much choice‘ is a recurring problem and when paired with the modern ‘time is money’ dilemma, it results in continual decision-making stress.

To escape from stress (and housework and responsibilities) I have turned to books my entire life. Open up the pages of a book, new or old, and I am guaranteed several hours of happy absorption and oblivion. However, this aspect of my life has not escaped the ‘too much choice‘ phenomena and resulting selection stress. The books I am drawn to read these days are by South Asian authors and the sheer range and assortment of books being published is mind-boggling. Gone are the days when a few select South Asian elite authors held sway over the English writing market. Nowadays there is something for everyone and it almost seems like everyone has a book out there.

The problem then becomes which book to read? As much as I would like to, I can’t read everything out there, and in more cases than I would like, I wouldn’t want to read many of the books on offer.

After a great many cases of hit and miss I have finally perfected a three-point system that I am going to share since it might work for you as well. First off, I read the blurb of the book. A typo or a grammatical mistake here—and believe it or not a good eighty percent of books from the region mess up this critical element—ensures that no matter how good the story sounds, I will not go forward with the book. Call me elitist or over-critical, but if the author and/or publisher couldn’t be bothered to craft a good blurb, one of first points of reference for a reader and a primary marketing tool, what are the chances that the book was given the editing and attention it deserves?

If the blurb is well written and the story seems engaging, my next point of reference is to head off to Goodreads and check out a couple of reviews. I specifically go to Goodreads and not to Amazon since I find the reviews there to be much more balanced and more authentic. My strategy with reviews is to find a couple of longer ones, which generally tend to be written by thoughtful and articulate people. If you find a few of these and they seem favorable, there is a good chance that the book merits the review. My final step is to now move to Amazon and check out the preview of the book, such a wonderful feature and completely free. If the first chapter intrigues me, I happily add the book to my cart and proceed to checkout. If not, well, move onto option two.

While the process isn’t foolproof, it generally results in a good read and since I am planning to spend both my time and money into the book, I for one am happy to make the investment. Thank you Goodreads and Amazon!


The Packed Punch of a Short Story

Alice-Munro-could-be-my-neighbourAfter seeing her books everywhere—she is Canadian after all—I finally picked up a book of short stories by Alice Munro. Let me state clearly that I am a big fan of the short story format. Gems like The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, Jane by Somerset Maugham, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and anything by Roald Dahl are touchstones in my mind, and I return to dwell on them fondly. But by and large, short stories are, in my opinion, quick, interesting short pieces of fiction that offer a pleasing journey and a satisfying conclusion. I expected nothing more or less from Munro.

From the first page of the first story I was hooked. The story came alive as I read it, characters and situations were presented with the intimacy and depth of a five-hundred page novel, layers of underlying meaning and emotions were unveiled and there was no need for the obligatory twist at the end; the conclusion of the story was more insightful and yet more unexpected than any twist could offer. Alice Munro richly deserves her Nobel prize—her stories are intricately crafted works of art, each unique, each containing a world within it.

Reading her stories rekindled my love for literature and the written word, and made me fall in love yet again with what I do, namely finding new and untapped writing talent. Some with a knack for telling stories, some with a burning desire to make a point, some who make you look at things a little differently and then the rarer ones, masters who work magic, wielding their pens like wands. To uncover this talent is a rare pleasure indeed and one that is my privilege and honor.

Towards this end, we at Indireads run a short story competition every year. This year we received over a hundred entries, out of which five stories were selected in the genres of Crime/Mystery, Drama, Sci-Fi/Paranormal and Romance. Each story was judged on merit alone, author names, gender, affiliations were withheld and each entry was reviewed several times. Not surprisingly, the stories that made their way into the shortlist were the ones that scored highest on style, content and impact time and again. The stories are written by new and not-so-new writers, who are not yet masters of their craft, but who someday might be. This is the start of their journey, so read their stories, encourage them and let their talent and confidence grow and bloom under the light of your attention. I hope you will take the time to read each story, vote for it and leave some words of encouragement for the authors. For who knows, you may just have come across a future Alice Munro.


The One-Year Indireads Crash Course in Writing, Publishing and Reading

generic-roadIndireads turns one today. This statement doesn’t seem very momentous, or earth shattering, but for me it is both. June 12th, 2013, a year ago today, we launched the Indireads website, bringing over 18 months’ worth of hard work to fruition and publishing 30 books simultaneously (that has got to be a record for a brand new publisher). I hadn’t slept in months, my house was a mess and my husband was on cooking duty—but euphoria held me up and kept me going.

And then, reality set in. Book publishing is a tough business. Writers can be difficult and demanding, editing is never-ending, the world of e-books and social media is evolving by the minute and loyal readers seem to be in danger of extinction. And although there have been more times than I can count when I have asked myself ‘why am I doing this’, I did not stop. Could not stop is more like it. And the thing that kept me going and going and is simple—the sheer joy of seeing (not holding) the finished product. Someone’s story, translated into words and dialogue, edited, tightened and polished to become a book that we can all be proud of. A feeling of achievement that is unmatched.

One Year Later…

An entire year filled with high highs and low lows, accompanied by an extremely steep learning curve. Learning everything about the business, from contracts to marketing and from social media to sales. While there is too much to pack into one neat blog, I do want to share the top three things I have learned about writing, publishing and reading.

  1. Indireads came about because I felt strongly that the times were changing and that people, especially women, wanted a chance to express themselves and tell their stories—their kahaanis—for themselves and to the world. Everyone asks me how I went about finding writers and whether it was difficult. Finding writers has never been difficult for us, right from the beginning. Blogging and social media have opened the floodgates of self-expression and have swept away inhibitions. People want to tell the stories they have carried inside them and are not afraid to share them with the world. In this new world of connectivity and sharing, our stories are important, timely and deserve to be heard. And we are proud to play our part in helping people achieve their dream of becoming a writer.
  2. This plethora of people wanting to tell their stories also means an explosion of books coming out, with vanity and self-publishing, hitherto unheard of, playing an increasing role. Gone are the days of a handful of established publishers dominating the landscape. New, innovative publishing companies are coming up, offering writers new avenues. These new publishers are needed in order to serve the demand from the writer’s ranks, creating original and inventive content. Others, however, are mere facades that front the business of self-publishing and demand payment from the author, adding no value in terms of editing or vetting. It is easy to get lost in this deluge of books and it is often disheartening to be lumped together with all sorts of unscrupulous publishing firms. But throughout I have held firm to one tenet—that hard work and attention to detail will win out in the end. Time and again, readers and reviewers have come back and praised the quality of our books, the writing and meticulous editing. Quality shines through, good writing trumps bad writing every day of the week and readers will come back for more, if they like what they got the first time.
  3. And finally we come to readers—the one person all the writers and publishing houses are searching for. Where are they and what do they want? In this time-strapped world of live updates and hyper-social-connectivity, do people even have the time to read? And how do they go looking for what they want to read next. I know that readers are out there—as addicted to books as other may be to Twitter and YouTube. Looking for a good book and a satisfying read. They are, at the same time, more exacting and less critical—they will research and read reviews before buying one book, and purchase another simply because someone else has. But the bottom line is that they exist, they buy books, they read and they will come back for more. And the more they read, the more they can differentiate and the more they will hone into what they like and what resonates with them. Which, in the end, will be writing that they can resonate with, written by writers from amongst themselves. This is what I know and I believe.

And so that, summed up, is my learning over this year as a new publisher on the block. Many people have told me that while South Asian literary fiction can compete with the best in the world, popular fiction, the space that Indireads occupies, is unoriginal and unexciting for the discerning reader. I know that the times are changing. Popular fiction writers from this region can and will compete with the Sidney Sheldons, the Danielle Steeles and the John Grishams of the west. We—South Asian writers, publishers and readers—are all growing, learning and competing. What will emerge from this apparent chaos are strong writers, worthy publishers and readers who will demand homegrown, quality fiction.

And that is what our aim is, one year along at Indireads. Join us on the journey.


Helping Others In Order to Help Ourselves

indiwriteWriting is an art and a craft. A thought wafts through your head, inspiration strikes and you feel words beginning to align themselves in order to give shape to your runaway imagination. You write, re-write, strike-out, write some more, put it away to get some distance and then come back. It’s the writer’s dance; the need to practice and perfect.

Rising South Asia today, among other things, also has a rash of rising writers. Some are brilliantly original storytellers, some have mastered language and can charm words into doing anything for them and yet others bring to life culture and traditions both old and new. A large majority however, are writers. Just that. They have a story in mind and have decided to write it down. Faithfully and linearly, just as it came to them; in the Queen’s English, however they learned it.

These people have certainly penned a story, but are they writers? I am afraid, in my opinion, they are not. To me, a writer is someone who burns from within, who approaches writing as art, yes, but also as a sacred craft. It is someone for whom writing is a labor of love, who agonizes over the right word, who lovingly crafts sentences. Above all, to me a writer is someone who constantly strives to be better.

Last year we started Indireads, South Asia’s first digital publishing agency, with a vision. Passionate about stories and good writing, we aim to publish quality popular fiction—well-written and carefully edited. To nurture and guide new writing talent and inspire young writers to set higher standards for themselves. Whether we get there or not, we do think we’re on the right path.

Staying true to our vision, we’re launching Indiwrite, our way of offering support and feedback to all the aspiring writers out there. Through our Indiwrite blogs, we will be sharing all that we know about writing, editing and marketing and our Indiwrite Facebook group is envisioned an open group for writers to interact with us and to support each other.

Feedback Fridays, yet another new initiative of ours, however, needs your support, and at the same time is an opportunity to help the writers among us—the faithful servants of the old practice of writing and rewriting. This is how it works. We will post, on our website, an anonymous submission of 600-800 words by an aspiring writer. We call upon you—authors, writers, bloggers and critical readers—to give back by posting your constructive feedback. The exercise will take you less than five minutes; it will help you develop a critical eye for your own writing, just as much as it will help the person whose submission you will critique.

We are committed and passionate about our cause—helping to bring about great stories and writing. And now we ask you—writers, artists and craftsmen—to go back to the beginning, to help others in order to help ourselves and to be true to your chosen paths. See you all online this Friday. Let the good work begin!


Resilient, Beautiful Butterflies

In literature and in life, the themes I connect to most strongly—perhaps because they echo the story of my life—are those of discovery and freedom, leading inevitably to disconnection, displacement and eventually to new beginnings. The themes are a familiar literary backdrop, revisited again and again in love stories, novels and movies.

Why are these commonly recurring themes? And what makes them so powerful? The answer lies, I believe, in the trajectory of life. We are perpetually pitched into the unfamiliar, jolted out of our comfort zones and asked to move, with times that are a-changing. And no matter how much we kick or scream or resist, willingly, or unwillingly, we are continually poised on the brink of letting go of something old to find something new. And so, when we read about it, we relate to the fear and sympathize with the unfairness, and inevitability of it all.

Our newest release, Butterfly Season, launched this month, touches on these themes in the life of a thirty-something Pakistani woman Rumi, who is blithely and unsuspectingly on vacation in London for the first time in ten years. The spirited side of her, squashed by family and cultural dictates, wakes up and causes Rumi to act on impulse, to let go and to fall in love—until reality catches up with her in the form of her moralistic sister, who brings her face to face with the far-reaching consequences of her actions.

What strikes me, ironically enough, is that, although Rumi believes herself to be an emancipated modern woman, how hemmed in and closely scrutinized her life actually is. Although she is independent, employed at an unconventional job and is able to invite her friends over for breakout evenings on her rooftop, beyond these small incursions, Rumi is not really free to venture out and discover what she wants in life. It is her vacation that grants her the freedom to discover, to explore and to experience the heady power of being attractive to an attractive man.

It is telling that for so many of us, the process of going away may be the only means of coming alive and coming home to oneself. For so many South Asian women the disconnect has been linked to marriage—the end of the old and the beginning of a new life. More and more young women however, are able to choose other paths. To begin offbeat careers, to work or study away from home, to travel, to break boundaries, forge new paths, to explore and discover and find ourselves, as individuals, unconnected to family, tradition, or relationships.

Ultimately however, like Rumi, each of us is challenged to choose between old and new, and at that precise moment of choice and courage, we are rebirthed—free of our cocoons, to venture forth into a new life.

Here is to all of us—beautiful, resilient butterflies.


Only in the unfamiliar are we able to distance ourselves to recognize who we have become, and what we really wanted to be.


She Reads, South Asia

My journey to appreciating South Asian writing was a rather circuitous one.

While growing up I read widely and eclectically, which is another way of saying that I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on. At that time, familiarity with the classics was considered essential for the well-read person, so my father enthusiastically supported my love of reading by buying me the unabridged works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few. The longer it had been since the author had died, the better.

By the time I went off to college, I considered myself quite well-read. Unfortunately, my knowledge of South Asian literature was next to nothing. This is something that I have tried to remedy as I have grown older and wiser, at least in terms of fiction from the sub-continent written in English. From Vikram Seth to Arundhati Roy, from Salman Rushdie to Mohsin Hamid to the wonderful Chitra Divakaruni and Kiran Desai, I discovered and fell in love with the writers and their craft. And then I branched beyond the award winners and discovered delightfully evocative fiction written by the likes of Anuja Chauhan, Advaita Kala and Rupa Gulab, who have become some of my favorite South Asian popular women writers.

As I started discussing my reading likes and dislikes with friends, I was surprised at how common my journey had been. Most of my friends had read the classics, but many of them had never even heard of enormously evocative writers like Indu Sundaresan or Anjana Appachana.

A few years ago, when I started on the Indireads journey, I was equally surprised to see how many in my reading circles had favorite Western romance writers—Georgette Heyer, Mary Balogh, Sophie Kinsella and Judith McNaught et al, but when it came to South Asian romance, most of my women reader friends were just not interested. Slowly I came to realize that, by design, accident or choice, we know very little about the amazing writing talent that lives and thrives within our own region. It is hard to be an author anywhere in the world, but to be an author in South Asia, and that too a writer of ‘women’s fiction’, can be quite a challenge.

SheReads South Asia was conceived as an initiative to allow ourselves to be inspired by these writers and to celebrate their words. Motivated by 2014 being celebrated as the Year of Reading Women and building on the success of the #ReadWomen2014 campaign, SheReads South Asia will reach out to women readers, encouraging them to support, discover and engage with our very own South Asian women writers and their works.

Through SheReads, Sabahat and I hope to make the journey of discovery easier for many readers.

Over the years, I have also been drawn towards spirituality, and there, the masters point out how the discovery of oneself is a long, winding road. Maybe the path to discovering yourself, your roots and your stories, was never meant to be straight either. The journey may be long and circuitous but we hope SheReads South Asia will take out at least a few bends on the road, allowing you and us to get ‘home’ faster. May the journey begin!


From Blogger to Author?

Are you a blogger? Many of the writers we work with are dedicated bloggers who have been putting their thoughts out there for the world to see. Whether their following is large or small, the blogger’s central purpose is met—to bring their voice, their thoughts and their words in front of an audience, to someone other than just themselves.

After consistent blogging, one’s thoughts start falling into place, and one recognizes oneself differently. Writing skills improve, self-expression come to the fore and feedback from readers boosts confidence. So what is the next step? Can a blogger take a leap of faith and move from random thoughts and opinions into creating a coherent, sustained story?

Many of our writers have had the courage to take their writing and creativity to the next level, going from blogger to author. How many of you would like to do the same?


Campus Pyar

I met my future husband for the first time during interviews at the business school we had both applied to. Along with a roomful of nervous applicants, we were assigned an obscure topic and expected to fire off insights, one after the other. He is the only one I remember meeting that day; firstly because of the unkempt, bushy beard he was sporting and secondly, because of the conviction in his voice and his eloquence. Subsequently, when he shaved off his beard one day, to finally fit in with business school protocol, it was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.

What is it about campus-life that sparks love interests? With everyone eyeing everyone else as a potential connection, life on campus can seem like a long chain of checking-outs, hook-ups and dramatic break-ups, punctuated by boring exams and holidays.

Campus love is like no other—everyone knows who’s dating/mating/cheating who. Love is in the air and so is melodrama. Squabbles escalate into epic battles, boyfriend troubles can lead to three-day long crying jags and a shared cup of ice-cream can become the most memorable date ever!

Aided by suggestive songs from romantic movies, cheesy lines from romance novels and poetic couplets stolen from poetry books, campus lovers embark on the Technicolor, larger-than-life, no-holds-barred, love story of their lives. Whether they succeed or not, the point is to join in on campus pyar.

Was your college romance, love or crush the best of your life?


Books Everywhere, Which One to Read?

In today’s world there is no shortage of books and writers, both of the published and self-published variety. With this deluge of books, how does a person decide what book to buy and read?

I have various strategies, depending on what I am looking for and the mood I am in.

When I am looking for a good read, I usually follow the tried and tested author path. If I like an author’s book, I generally buy everything that author writes—whether the second book lives up to the first or not. If I’ve liked the first book, I will generally like the second, and the third and fourth.

The other strategy I adopt is when I am out looking for a new experience. That means looking to read the back of the book blurb, reading a few reviews and dipping into the book to see if I like the author’s style of writing. Bookstores are a great place to browse and do this, and so are e-book retailers.

Finally, there are times when I just want the universe to literally hand me a good book. That’s when I look around briefly and pick up the book—any book that catches my eye—and purchase it. I have found some of the best books I have ever read that way.

What strategy do you follow when looking for something to read?