(Opinion page column in Khaleej Times, dated Nov 14, 2019)
What sobers me the most when I spend time browsing in a large book store is the sheer number of authors that this world has produced and the amount of words and thought they have proffered to mankind through their works. It was the same humbling thought that came to me at the recently concluded Sharjah International Book Fair too.
Rows and rows of story-tellers from across the globe gawked from their book covers at browsers and buyers. Many of them popular authors backed by major publishing houses. And some, like me, self-published and less known.
Yes, I write.
I have a novel, a book of poems and a collection of stories to my name and I was an Opinion page columnist for many years. However, none of these credentials put me in the same segment as established authors because I am ‘self-published’. I used to cringe at that term for several years, secretly deriding me for not making the cut at the publisher’s table. For not being able to match their market-driven literary expectations. For not being sale-worthy in their estimation.
But now, I have broken free from that hopelessness. Not because I have received a signing amount from a publisher, but because I have realised that to be an author all one needs is high-quality writing and discerning readers who appreciate it. All the fancy trappings of the publishing world are irrelevant. It is as if a dandelion seed has burst and the pappus have begun to fly in my head.
It is this positive mental stride I took after several failed attempts that gave me my breakthrough as an author. The learning didn’t come easily, though. I took some hard knocks, wasted loads of money on vanity publishers and spent years writing persistently to get here – an independent author whose prospects do not rest on an editor’s power to accept or reject her manuscript, nor on hired promotional campaigns, but one whose success hinges on her unflinching faith in her work and perseverance.
What makes the tag of ‘independent author’ gratifying now is the fact that I have learned to get past even the vanity publishers. The ego boost that came with publishing a book that way wasn’t worth the money or the post-partum depression it induced. The day I decided I will not pay any money to get a book published was when I truly came of age.
It is not to say that the problems and pitfalls are over for me. Far from it. But with every hurdle on the way, with every stumbling block, I have learned lessons that will make me only better at my future endeavours.
Writers will know that ‘there is no greater agony than that of carrying an untold story’. The stories that we have inside us need to be released and for this we don’t need huge wherewithal. We don’t need to modulate our writing voice to suit the mass market or wait for acceptance letters to arrive.
What I have discovered is this. If, as an author, you can offer impeccable reading stuff, if you can invest every cell in your body into it, your book will be lapped up by readers aligned to your genre. It’s time for unrecognised writers of quality to step out of the shadows and make themselves count with their contribution to the literary world.
There is hope, if we look past the fences around us. And there is scope if we are prepared to go it alone, when no one else is willing to walk along.
I am reminded of Tagore’s song, Ekla Chalo Re. If there is no one responding to your call – then go on all alone.
Asha Iyer Kumar is an author and creative writing coach based in Dubai. Her collection of short stories, ‘After The Rain – Stories that bind us’ is out now