So Many Factors: Damyanti Biswas
Updated: Dec 16, 2022
Luck and timing. Luck and timing. Luck and timing. Luck and timing.
Does a shot in traditional publishing really depend on these two factors? Like for real, for real?
You're kidding, right?
Eh, it's mostly true. It's unfortunate. Very unfortunate In a business that is heavily subjective and very much dependent on the mood or perspective of one person and then another and then another, sometimes catching the lighting in a pan is what it boils down to.
So why not throw your hands up and say "F$*! it"???
What's the point? Is the game rigged? Pre-destined by a cruel, slow god whose praise is misery?
There are certainly times when you will feel like that. Probably many times. But it's not a total crapshoot. There are some things one can do to up their odds: get the right CPs/betas, revise, research agents who rep and sell your type of work, read books that have been pubbed in the last 2-3 years to stay on top of market and shelf trends.
Are these the only ways? No, but they're a start for things to start looking up. And what are writers without looking forward?
Keep reading for more about Damyanti Biswas's journey to the day when she could hold her book in her hands. And P.S., her novel. THE BLUE BAR, is available NOW and an Amazon First Reads pick of the month! See below:
If you’re not a prime member, head over to Goodreads to enter this wonderful giveaway.
If you've pre-ordered the book, tell Damyanti here so she can mail you some swag.
1.Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your publication journey (agent- first published book)?
I started writing You Beneath Your Skin in 2012, and queried it in 2016, getting a lot of agent interest fairly early on. The agent I ended up signing with, Ed Wilson from Johnson & Alcock, went on submission with it a few months later, but the book only sold in 2018, to Simon & Schuster, India. It went on to become an Amazon bestseller and got optioned for screen by Endemol Shine.
My next went out on sub in 2017, but we froze it after a few rejections, and I began writing what became The Blue Bar, the third manuscript I’d worked on. In 2020 when covid hit, I polished the next draft of The Blue Bar.
By the end of that year, my agent and I mutually decided to part ways, and he continued to represent my first book for screen rights.
I entered the query trenches a second time in 2021. After 3 months of querying, I received four offers, and the wonderful Lucienne Diver signed me with an updated version of The Blue Bar. Two more drafts later, we went out on submission in August, and by September had a two-book deal with Thomas & Mercer.
Reading between the lines, you’ll spot a lot of heartbreak and a roller-coaster pace, none of which is uncommon with trad publishing.
2. What advice would you give to querying authors seeking representation? About rejection and waiting?
Ok, bear with me for this long answer, because I have a lot to get off my chest here.
Querying is soul-destroying. I say this despite my relatively short stints in the trenches because I’ve come to understand that once you begin writing at a publishable level, timing has a lot to do with whether an agent picks you, and if you manage to sell.
We do hear of a lot of the HEAs in publishing when someone persevered and finally got a book deal of their dreams and sold a million copies, but unfortunately for the rest of the author universe, this remains tricky.
It is hard not to give up because the odds are stacked so high: trad publishing only punts on debuts they think might stick, and invests the rest on their lead titles, so agents pick very very very carefully. Sometimes, the only thing that lifts a writer from the slush pile is the story whose time has come.
I wish my advice were to say: Persevere. If only you keep taking rejections on the chin, you Will get that wonderful agent and a ginormous deal.
The reality though is that there are no guarantees that this is the only way to publication.
For querying writers, my advice will be:
Put yourself and your mental health first.
Don’t judge your worth as a writer by whether you get an agent. Timing plays a huge role, and no one in publishing knows the exact science behind that.
Set aside wallow time for rejections, and figure out your own ways to handle the sting.
If you need to take a break from querying, do that. Be kind to your writing self.
Do whatever needs to be done, in order to preserve your obsession with writing. Keep writing other projects while you wait for query responses—sometimes the timing is right for a project that’s different from the one you’re querying.
In the end, no matter what your writing career shapes up to be, your passion for writing is the only thing that will carry you through. Sorry about the gory metaphor, but getting an agent is only the first step in a violent video game with infinite levels that is trad publishing.
Celebrate the small things. Celebrate your stories. Celebrate yourself.
3. Your forthcoming novel, THE BLUE BAR, follows the disappearance of an Indian bar dancer and her lover who pledges to find her. Please tell us more about the inspiration behind this book. Was it based on a real crime? A dream? Where did the idea sprout?
The Blue Bar began in my consciousness in a workshop in India led by noted author Romesh Gunasekera, back in 2017. The writing prompt? Write about a character who is being watched. And in strode a woman wearing a glimmering blue saree, at a railway station in Mumbai, standing alone like a pool of light amid the clamor of evening rush hour. I named her much later, but that image of a woman in a blue saree became the first three lines of The Blue Bar, and the entire story came from the questions that rose from that scene I wrote for the workshop:
who was this woman wearing a shimmery blue saree at a packed railway station in Mumbai, who must escape from view in 3 minutes? Who was watching her? Why?
4. Your books fall under the mystery genre. A genre that has many sub-genres. Which of these genres would you say are the most common (or marketable) in the traditional realm? Do some err more literary or commercial? What sub-genre do you think your books fall under?
There are so many sub-genres now, with their own genre expectations. There are thrillers and suspense novels: which can range from domestic to military, to forensic or psychological; legal, political, or environmental. There’s hard-boiled detective fiction, cozy mysteries, police procedurals, courtroom dramas, and gritty noir.
It’s hard to say which are the most marketable—tastes keep changing from year to year. I do see a lot of cozy mysteries doing well now, as are thrillers and their sub-genre, like domestic suspense and noir. Diverse stories are gaining acceptance, and I hope that continues.
Literary crime novels are a difficult terrain to land well—literary tends to be a slow burn and character-driven, and crime works best when plot-driven—but I can’t help writing within precisely this cross-section. The Blue Bar is as much an exploration of relationships, second chances, and social justice issues, as it is a crime novel. I can only hope the cocktail will find its takers.
5. Mysteries often engage readers with lots of tension and tight plots. What are your tips for this?
Mysteries definitely need tight plots, because a good whodunit is a puzzle piece—challenging enough to keep the reader invested in solving it, and accessible enough that it remains plausible. Tension on the sentence level and in the plot keeps the reader turning pages.
To maintain tension:
Start small, and let it lead to bigger things. Always escalate, on each page. Repetitions without escalation kill tension.
Ticking clock: a fixed time frame builds urgency. If a detective has all the time in the world to solve a crime, it lowers reader investment.
Cliffhangers: Each chapter and scene must end with a question that is related to the central dramatic questions of the story: the whodunit and the whydunit.
To tighten plot:
Make sure there’s causality between scenes. If your scenes work like: this happened and then this other thing happened, that makes for a weak plot. It is always: this happened, so this other thing happened.
Each scene must do at least two things: advance the plot and show character and setting. If there are scenes merely in service of character and setting, your plot will slag.
6. U.S. traditional publishing isn't the world's only publisher, it is the dominant publisher that has the most resources and probably the better financial compensation for authors. With this being said, as an author living in Singapore how do you keep a finger on the pulse of the American publishing industry? How can international authors keep up with an industry that is not based in their home country?
I’ve been blogging since 2008, and since many of my blog friends were from the USA, I began to read more about US publishing earlier on.
Over the last fourteen years, I’ve made friends with many US writers via their blogs, signed up for workshops, and also mentored other writers via different programs. I was able to interview publishing professionals, authors, and writing teachers, and that taught me a lot, as well.
The blog friendships have spilled into my social media over the years, and social media has brought me more publishing friends and contacts. It also helps that I’m now part of the wonderful Forge Literary Magazine, and various other organizations like The Crime Writers of Color, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.
For international authors, the presence of publishing on the internet, especially social media like Twitter, can be particularly helpful and educational.
7. What are your writerly forms of self-care?
During the pandemic, I discovered the joys of walking in nature, and also audiobooks! Combining the two has been a balm to my soul. I feel recharged after those long walks and can read up to one extra book a week, which is heaven. I listen to books outside my genre-which is like a mini-vacation for my writing brain.
Regular yoga takes care of my spine and the rest of my body. I can’t stress enough how important good health is to writing.
The last is regular social media breaks. It could be as short as a day or extend up to a week or even a month. Disconnecting from the cacophony of social media lets me connect better with my surroundings, my real-world connections, and myself.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. Your dream book birthday would take place at
A Bollywood-premiere-style party in Film City with Deepika Padukone as a host.
A tea and crumpets brunch at the British Museum with Indira Varma as host.
An evening soiree in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands hotel with Aishwarya Rai singing a theme song for your book
I’m not much for parties and soirees, because they give me social anxiety. I guess tea and crumpets it is. I like museums, and Indira Varma would be amusing to talk to.
9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
I used to be different, but these days I’m a supporter of not finishing all the books I pick up. With shrinking reading time and a growing awareness of mortality, I now only push through a book if I feel the rewards would be worth it. If I’m not feeling a book, I won’t finish it.
Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Apart from being a novelist, Damyanti is an avid reader of true crime, a blogger, and an animal lover. For more information, visit www.damyantiwrites.com.
Book order link: https://linktr.ee/damyantibiswas
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59917933-the-blue-bar
Website link: https://www.damyantiwrites.com