Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, whose books include Book of Voices and Love Comes Later, talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I’ve been writing since I was a teenager; stories that were gifts to teachers and even a romance novel in the 8th grade. It never occurred to me that writing was something you could do fulltime, make a living with, and be considered respectable. And even as a kid, writing daily in my journals, and then on into college, no one ever said “Do you want to be a writer?” It was a role I had to choose for myself, gradually, as more and more of how I processed the world around me happened in words.
Tell me a little about your books.
I’ve been known to say that I write stories that no one else is telling. This may seem arrogant since there are only a few plotlines across all of human civilization. But what I mean is that my characters and settings are probably new to the reader; I take you into countries, homes, and people’s hearts that you may not live next to or be friends with.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
So many. Other authors are why I thought writing would be something I wanted to do in the first place. People like Alice Munroe, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Leila Aboulela, SJ Walker; they tell stories that keep you up at night turning the page.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
I have a full time job teaching at the university level and a two year old which means that writing has to be scheduled each week or it won’t get done. It also means that when I sit down to write, I have to get out what I can in the allotted time because there won’t be a second chance. I generally can write 1000 words an hour and try to get at least three or four hours in once a week. When I’m working on a book, either editing or writing a first draft, that can expand as my schedule allows.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
I’ve published three titles of academic/non fiction prose through traditional publishers. And no one – not even my mother – reads them. That’s when I knew fiction could be a chance to do something fun AND get other people to share in my ideas. I tried the agent route and even after having several positive meetings face to face, when they then replied with the same form rejections others had given me sight unseen over email – I decided to try being my own boss as an indie.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
The sales side is something I’m now coming onto in my second year of self publishing. The first year you’re learning so many things; what vendors to use, how to make your social media attractive, where to post your books, how to get reviews. With each release this past year I learned something new and the process got smoother. For now success has meant getting books out on the deadline which I’ve determined and making sure they receive an ever expanding profile.
How have you marketed your books?
Since I work with college students, social media is absolutely the place to start. Luckily for me I was on most of the platforms before becoming an indie author and the question was more how to turn my accounts into book selling mechanisms or how to engage readers.
I’ve paid for advertising on Goodreads and been fairly pleased with that; their reports are very informative. I’d like to get more into Google Ads which I hear work well. It’s a constant learning process and the indie community is very open and friendly; we share information, tips, and of course, the spotlight with each other.
Have you signed up for KDP Select?
When I first started out I was on all platforms. This has advantages and disadvantages. The main one being the KDP Select days and tools Amazon has for people to promote free days. Also for the average reader Amazon seems to be a box that is worth ticking in terms of legitimacy. All 6 of my indie publications are now KDP Select because I find it easier to manage, promote, and also share gift copies with reviewers.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
There are always monopolies; the big six traditional publishers are another type of corner on the book market that is quickly fading. I’d rather think of Amazon has a great platform, available to anyone who wants to use it.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
2012 has been a big year for me because it was not only the year I went indie, it was the year I did a release almost every two months or so. I am hoping to release at least one more book, a coming of age story, before the year’s end. That’s what I said I would work on after the glow of vacation has faded. That’s sometime next week.