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Journal

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!

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Journal

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.

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Journal

The Unexpected Side Effects of Trashy Novels

My first exposure to books was my mother’s extensive library. She is a voracious reader, and over the years, she’s collected an impressive array of books, both fiction and non-fiction. I read Perry Mason, Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart at a young age, though I never got into Agatha Christie (for some reason), and when I started making major inroads into her collection, she quietly hid the Harold Robbins and James Hadley Chase books so that I wouldn’t be tempted. She didn’t realize that I had friends whose mothers weren’t as selective about what their children read…

We were undeniably curious. And we did anything we could to satisfy that curiosity. We scoured bookstores, old books fairs and small shops (no internet back then—I know. That really dates me! And, libraries didn’t stock popular fiction, only literary fiction), looking for forbidden fare, and found all kinds of treasures as a result. I found Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon (really, look these guys up; you’ve heard of Stephen King, but you don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t read Sidney Sheldon), and discovered Mills & Boon and Harlequin in the process.

I got into the habit of reading every night, and couldn’t sleep until I had read something. I was reading trashy novels, and lots of them, under the cover of darkness (and I was also making inroads into my mother’s library at the same time). But I had limited access to books, and very little money to spend on them, particularly as I was in school and not earning. So, either I hoarded all my pocket-money, or I found friends who also read trashy novels. Friends, and cousins; it turned out, there were loads of them. Everyone read, and they read everything—trashy, popular, literary—it didn’t really matter, as long as there was a book in their hands.

We exchanged books and reviews, and that led to other books—non-trashy books—equally entertaining, and worth the amount of time I spent with my nose in a book. I found S. E. Hinton and Paul Zindel because of a cousin who also read Mills & Boon, and we bonded (I grew up outside of Pakistan, and barely spoke Urdu when I returned—books were the first things we bonded over). I read Jean Plaidy because I introduced Georgette Heyer to a school friend. I found Anne Rice, Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut because I traded Nora Roberts with strangers on the first day of school (and there were a lot of schools—eight, in total, not counting college—and the best way to make friends, I found, was books). I introduced a friend to John Wyndham, who got me hooked on to Asimov and C. S. Lewis’ adult fiction. And, when my grandfather passed away, and no one but my mother volunteered to take his books, I found Shaw, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare’s complete works, and a bunch of fiction writers I had never even heard of.

Reading gave me all kinds of joy, which led me to choose literature as an ‘A’ Level subject. Over the course of two years, we read fourteen works, and my friends (who were all taking accounts and economics) hated me because all I needed to do was read.

I realize now that I got into the habit of reading because of trashy novels. I often wonder, if they released all popular fiction novels with a disclaimer…

Warning; excessive reading may lead to more serious and literary works, and may be habit-forming and/or addictive. It may also lead to new friends and possible bonding with complete strangers

…more people may be inclined to turn their secret guilty pleasure into an open one. Because the key is not what kind of books you read, but that you love reading.

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In the Author’s Voice: Unsettled

Download, share or listen online to Neelima’s sneak peek of her novella, ‘Unsettled‘.