Known for his dark plots and strong female protagonists, this man and his books have become quite popular among readers. Novoneel Chakraborty seems to have his finger firmly on the pulse of a large section of adult readers. In this candid chat with The Telegraph Online Edugraph, he gives us a fresh and honest perspective of what it is like to write for the readers of today, bringing insider insights into the publishing industry for aspiring writers.
- When did you initially realise you wanted to be a writer?
That would have to be when I was 20 or 21 years old and pursuing my BBA. I only took up the course because one had to do something after class 12 and writing was not an option back then. It was during that time, in my third semester, that I started imagining stories and characters - which were a distraction from my studies. As a result, I started writing down my stories, thinking that would free up my mind to study. This soon became a continuing process and in a relatively short span of 2-3 months, I had ended up writing 30 odd short stories. That’s when I realised that the bug had bitten me and this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I dropped out of college and I have been writing since then.
2. With the boom in digitalisation in the present time, what does a full time career as an author look like?
Focusing strictly on fiction and commercial fiction writing, I don't think ebooks sell too well in India when weighed against the United Kingdom. Hence, making a career selling e-books in India is still very challenging. In fact, building a career as an author is difficult and challenging as the returns are not immediate. It's an ultimate blackhole as one doesn't know where they’ll end up in a few years. I believe an area where digitalisation has really helped people is helping them get their work published as we have very limited publishers. Additionally, digitalisation has made one’s exposure to a target audience easier helping them develop a loyal audience base. Once that is done, they can approach a publisher to get their work published.
3. What about Kindle editions, they perform really well ..
Yes, they do. But when it is a career option and you are not doing anything else - it is your bread and butter - we haven't reached that level yet where that is enough. The problem is that with every book you come back to zero, because your first book may do well and the second may not. Every story may not create the buzz required and hence making a flourishing career that way is yet to happen.
Novoneel Chakraborty started his writing career at a young age of 22 Source: Novoneel Chakraborty
4. You are often called the Sidney Sheldon of India. What or who has been your greatest inspiration?
Reading was a big part of my life when I was growing up. Belonging to a typical Bengali household I was exposed to the world of Tagore and other fiction quite early and that's where I picked it up. Bengali literature itself is quite vast and my dad being an avid reader, I grew up among it. So, I cannot pinpoint any one author as I have picked up as much consciously as subconsciously. I’ve always tried to tell engaging stories, so I'm thankful to my readers for labelling me as the Sidney Sheldon of India.
5. Your best selling books have twists, dark plots and gripping sequences that keep your readers hooked. Do you have a formula and how do you understand what your readers want to read?
No, I don’t have a formula. But having written 17 books, I can say that you end up having a certain style and it's a very subconscious process. As an artist you cannot create something minus your personality. Being a restless guy myself, I guess I create dark plots and twists so as not to get bored myself. I constantly try to knit and weave stories which are twisted and complex and somewhere, as a person, the darkness of the human mind attracts me as a storyteller. I also believe that reading is a very personal experience and it can allow you to connect with your own dark side - one you may not have to necessarily tell someone. I believe this darkness attracts me because of the persona I have and maybe someday I will write in a different segment, but not right now.
6. Do you think female protagonists connect with the audience? It is challenging to write strong characters of the opposite sex?
First and foremost, I respect and love women and I feel women have more layers than men, emotionally. I believe it is the society that ends up projecting them as weak. As a storyteller that is what makes me delve deeper into their psyche. Also, I have never come across a weak woman in my life. Furthermore, I also feel storytellers as artists have both feminine and masculine energy inside them, and for me when I express my art, the feminine energy takes over, giving rise to strong female characters that my female readers can connect with.
Novoneel Chakraborty is the author of 17 best selling novels Source: Novoneel Chakraborty
7. According to you, what is the best way to market your books in the current time?
Undoubtedly, social media. Over the past few years, the platform has gained significant importance and it allows a budding aspirant to connect with their target audience, especially if they are young. It doesn't guarantee sales but it certainly lets a lot more people know you and who knows, in the future, they might give your writing a chance. Beyond that, it has to be the magic of your writing that keeps them hooked to your books. Every author has his own unique image and they should not try to emulate others. I also think that authors who may have the resources resort to using PR agencies to market them on social media, but even they cannot guarantee readership and sales. It is quite a task to generate your own loyal readership and it's a task that only an artist can do.
8. Do you think patience is required to succeed in this field? Even when it comes down to marketing via social media and gaining a loyal amount of organic following
Yes, of course, truckloads of patience is required. One of the biggest flaws an artist can have is expecting applause and appreciation the moment our creation becomes public. When that doesn't happen, there is frustration and depression. To succeed in this field you need to have a lot of patience. You need to understand that this is not an MBA job where at the end of the month you get the fat salary that was promised to you. In fact, patience is not something you can give up, even if you have already written 100 novels.
9. What, in your opinion, is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
The practice of editing to an extreme level. Personally I have seen writers build a reputation and market themselves really well, when the actual writing is done by the editor. This practice is extremely unfair to legit writers. An editor should be there to just polish your writing, however, at times the actual manuscripts that reach them are so loose that they end up writing the majority of it themselves. And this according to me is unethical.
10. You mentioned about an editor polishing the writer’s words... How can a writer polish their own words instead?
Becoming a better writer is a continuous process having two facets - one is you have to read a lot and the second is you have to live your experiences. You have to live in those dark corners, question yourself and experience everything minutely. At times it may not be the greatest of experiences, but an artist is all about his or her experiences. There will be certain things which may not happen to you, but as an artist you need to be able to draw from the experience of others and use it realistically in your story. These things end up making you a mature person and the moment you mature, it automatically reflects in your writing. In fact, today when I read my first book, I might find it juvenile - because I was young then, but I did the best I could. The process of improvement and growth is living life, reading a lot and having a lot of experiences!
Novoneel Chakraborty signing his books for his readers Source: Novoneel Chakraborty
11. Do you always deliver what your readers want? Would you say there is scope for originality?
I believe all my stories and characters are so diverse that it is very difficult for one reader to like all my books. If one single reader likes all your books, it probably means that the reader’s point of view towards you is biased. It's important for an aspiring writer to indulge in different backdrops, different characters and approaches. Throwing light on my own books, my characters are such that many people may judge them and ultimately judge and hate me. But I take that risk because I feel that that’s the adventurous and fun side of writing, and I don't want to play safe.
12. What sort of research do you do before and while writing a book?
I don’t write mythical or historical stories, so I pick up things from real life itself. Normal human life, the journey, the psyche and reactions to different experiences. So my research is more like an everyday activity, which is ongoing and I just keep experiencing it.
13. You’ve been in this industry for quite some time now. What is the one thing you would like to tell your younger self?
I would say care less and be more daring. When I was young there was nobody to give me advice and I had no references as such. I figured it out all by myself, though my parents did have faith in me. However, everything was dark as I didn't know whether my books would work or not. I believe any one coming to this industry should be more daring.
The author feels today's youth should care less and be more daring Source: Novoneel Chakraborty
14. Do you think one should fall in love with their writing?
No, I think one should not be falling in love with anything about themself, because the moment you fall in love with anything about yourself, be it writing, physical beauty or anything at all, that's where a blind spot develops and your shortcomings only get magnified, eventually. You will never rectify yourself if you fall in love with your writing, there will be no room for improvement. I think you should fall in love with the process of writing instead, so you can excel in the long run.
15. And finally, what is your advice to aspiring young writers who are still trying to find a footing in the industry?
My foremost advice would be, don't run after money. If you want to be rich, you shouldn’t aim to become an author. If you want to become rich, try something else. You might end up becoming rich, if you write good stories, but there is no guarantee. The second thing is that you must have endless faith and patience as without those you cannot move even one step ahead in this industry. Finally, I think budding writers should always be open, be it to interpretations or life experiences. A storyteller should never be a guarded person, and they should also be open to constructive criticism.
Writing is a sacred calling - and going by what Novoneel had to say - one needs to be open to experiences and criticism, daring to try and try again - and most importantly, love the process of writing rather than what’s written. And of course - if you think this sacred calling is your cup of tea - take the plunge today. What are you waiting for?