Book contracts, Netflix deals, and celebrity book club picks - in the last few years, Alka Joshi has experienced phenomenal success with her novels The Secret Keeper of Jaipur and The Henna Artist. She is currently working on her third book, set to release in 2023 and eagerly anticipated by her millions of readers worldwide.
The novelist recently delivered a masterclass at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature sharing her tips on how to write a bestseller and I was lucky enough to get a ticket. In person, Joshi is as vibrant and dynamic as her writing, sharing personal stories along with practical tips and I left feeling inspired and with a head full of ideas.
Here’s what I learnt:
1. Take Your Time
Joshi questioned the pressure many of us often feel to achieve success before a certain age. Joshi herself only started writing fiction in her early fifties and her first novel was a long labour of love. “It took me 10 years to really learn how to write The Henna Artist, how to layer it with all of the complexities, and how to grow a character in order for the story to come alive and make it meaningful to so many people,” she explained to The National last month.
2. Understand Your Motivation
When you’re about to start writing a book, make sure you know the answers to these three questions to help you stay on track and motivated:
Why am I writing this book?
Why am I the best person to write this book?
Why is now the best time to write this book?
3. Consider Studying Or Joining A Writing Community
Alka referred to her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programme frequently during the session and it’s clear that this formal education had a huge impact on her work, not only from a writing standpoint but also in terms of connections. “If you do an MFA, make sure your teachers are working novelists and have those all-important connections to the publishing industry,” she advised. The MFA programme also helped her ‘unlearn’ writing rules that she picked up at school, such as never starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’. Feedback is also critical to writing a bestseller and Joshi recommended being part of a writing group or community to evaluate each others’ work.
4. Character Is Everything
Joshi uses a visual board to bring her characters to life, choosing images from the internet that reflect her imagination. She also chooses visuals for her settings which act as a prompt for her writing. This is something I have also done and was particularly useful during the writing of The Perfect Lie as I had a lot of characters to keep track of. Joshi also advised to ‘have compassion for your characters’ and to write their backstories. While a lot of that material won’t make it into the book, backstories impact character motivations and actions.
5. Include All The Senses
A self-confessed foodie, Alka talked about the importance of using all the senses, especially smell and taste, which might get overlooked. “Food holds memories,” she commented. This was a powerful reminder for me about the importance of focusing on details that resonate with the human experience. Most people will have a favourite childhood dish where the taste or smell will bring back memories. Using this in your work will add depth to your writing and connect more powerfully with the reader. Joshi takes this to a whole new level when she said: “Every scene should have sensory details.”
6. Hire An Independent Editor
Part of Joshi’s writing process is to get feedback from an independent editor, even if you already have a publishing deal. This was interesting to me as I always rely on my publishing editors. Joshi’s rationale is that an independent freelance editor has no stakes in the game; their editorial recommendations are purely based on improving the book, not by book sales.
7. The Magic Of The 3 Ps
Getting stuck with your writing is something that happens to every author. There are various things you can try such as using a different narrator or changing the gender of the narrator but ultimately, Joshi adheres to three values when it comes to writing a bestseller which she refers to as the three Ps; passion, perseverance, and patience.
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