When I quit my job two years ago, everyone thought I was going to write a book. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.
I began working as a freelancer. But somehow, people had difficulty wrapping their head around the fact that freelance work was still…work. Perhaps they thought work was something freelancers did between their decoupage classes, workouts with celebrities and meetings of the local chapter of the Sourdough Starters Society.
Relatives would call to chat in the middle of the day and I’d have to tell them I was working. “Really?” they’d ask, disbelief dripping from their voice like the fillings from a burger. Ex-colleagues would ping and ask ‘hows the book going?’, right after ‘hows u?’ Well-meaning friends would send me links to insanely expensive writing retreats in the Himalayas and words of encouragement: “Bro, bestselling author X is so crappy; you can write much better!” I am not referring to Preethi Shenoy. Well, not just her anyway.
In the early days — when I still had writerly dreams — I used to be pleased that other people cared that I was writing a book. It didn’t matter that if I ever did, most of them were the kind that would ask me to send them a copy or wait for it to be listed free on Kindle Unlimited. But I am pretty sure that at least half of them would reshare my Instagram Stories with captions like “My friend’s an amazing writer and she’s just written A BOOK!!! Go read.”
Here is the real reason why I am not writing a book: It. Is. So. Hard.
No, not the writing part. That’s alright. It’s what comes after any new author gets published.
For the first few weeks, grit your teeth and do some self-conscious self-promotion. (Hashtags: humblebrag, authorsofinstagram). The enthusiasm of friends and family will be inversely proportionate to the number of posts you make about the book, but never mind. Tell yourself that while acquaintances might unfollow you, true friends will just mute you for a bit.
With pressure from your publisher to ‘build more discoverability’, you’ll have to start posting pictures of yourself holding the book, nudge friends and family to share pictures of them holding the book, and do live online readings for the 4 people who join the session. Giveaways are another good way to get visibility, although like the proverbial horse, you can’t make any of the winners actually read the book.
In a pre-corona world, there would have been literature festivals and reading events. What kind of writer would you be if you didn’t show up at these dressed in your casually glamorous best and spam everyone’s feeds with live updates? After skulking around the festival bookstall, moving a pile of your books to a more prominent position and waiting endlessly for someone to pick up one of them, you can buy an overpriced, underwhelming latte, exchange contacts with the dozen or so other obscure newbie authors, and return home.
Over the months, the chatter around your book, however feeble it may have been, will die down. But ‘Writer’ will now be a part of your established identity and the onus is on you to remind the world of that. A popular approach is to post pictures of your notebook (hashtag: #writerlylife). Make sure it has cream-coloured pages and a fabric cover with illustrations that a real writer would call ‘whimsical’. After all, which self-respecting writer would write a novel in a single-ruled Classmate notebook?
I recently saw such a post: a well-known writer lying on the grassy lawn in front of her hill station home. Flyaway hair, pen in hand, surrounded by loose sheets of paper and a cup of tea, her dog dozing next to her. My questions are (in order of how badly I want to know):
- If it’s that windy, why aren’t the papers flying away?
- How are you writing on grass, without a table or a writing pad?
- Isn’t your chai getting cold?
- Who uses fountain pens anymore?
- Also, who is taking these pictures?
My guess is she has either a devoted husband who is handy with a camera or a very enthusiastic social media intern. If you’re going down this path, make sure you have at least one of these.
All writers, we are told, are readers. So you are morally obligated to post photos of the books you’re currently reading; well, the ones with the most grammable covers anyway. Posting a photo of your Kindle is not cool, unless you can create the right ambience. Delicately crumpled bed linen (that’s right, ‘linen’, not sheet), a wooden serving board with a single muffin and cherries strewn around, a pair of glasses laid next to it. No matter that you’d then be too blind to read. If you choose to quote other authors, let it be Murakami or Atwood. Depending on how hipster you want to be perceived as, you may or may not call them ‘bae’.
After a few months, it is completely okay, even expected, to say you’re struggling with writer’s block. Rant about how difficult the writerly life is and how the road to book signings and panel discussions is long and weary and paved with more tubs of ice cream and self-loathing than you’d imagine. Pro tip: post a photo of the cursor blinking wretchedly on a blank document or the Hemingway quote on how writing is akin to bleeding at a typewriter. Wait for people to send you virtual hugs and tell you ‘You’ve got this!’ Once you feel sufficiently validated, open Swiggy and order your next tub of ice cream.
Oh, I nearly forgot throwback photos. Ironic, I know. If it’s been more than a year since the book got released, repost old pictures of the launch, friends posing with your book in hand, and the 5-star reviews they’ve left for you on Amazon. Good old nostalgia is a great way to plug in the fact that the book is now at 80% off on Amazon, in case anyone has *still* not read it.
The truth is, your job does not end with writing a book. You now need to become a master marketer (“Aarti didn’t like the first chapter of my book. But she ended up giving me 5 stars. Find out why!”), pyramid scheme sales person (“Tag 3 people who’d like to get my book and ask each of them to tag 3 more”) and social media personality.
Are you prepared for all of this? I wasn’t. That’s why I haven’t written one yet.
Besides, between sourcing the best scoby to brew my kombucha and doing chakra meditation with Shilpa Shetty, where would I have the time?