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Finding Success As a Novelist – A Bestselling Author's Realistic Five-Step Guide towards Nailing that Book Deal

By Nish Amarnath

It Lies in your Lost Half 

You’re a splendid writer. And you have a breakout novel at the ready. But, these are just half of the ingredients for perfecting your recipe and nailing that book deal. So, where’s that other half? What do you think that other half might be? Take a guess before reading any further.

Well…it’s delusion!

That’s right. If you’re convinced that you were put on this planet to be a writer, it helps to be delusional. Being delusional does not mean being “crazy.” Delusion is a way of being true to yourself. And that involves breaking free from your past – aspects of your childhood, cultural upbringing and various forms of social conditioning – that may be holding you back from the true essence of yourself and the life you want to create today. Being delusive means honoring your feelings, daring to dream and exploring the forbidden. And that is your lost half.

Landing a Literary Agent: Authors as Entrepreneurs

Finding a literary agent and/or publisher cannot come from a place of desperation. It comes from a place of being connected to yourself. And that’s where your role as an entrepreneur – or authorpreneur – comes in.

Let’s say you are writing a love story set in the future. There are thousands of love sagas and sci-fi stories out there in the form of novels, memoirs, films, documentaries, TV shows and more. What makes yours different and unique? How are you going to get literary agents and publishers to read your work? One answer to that question lies in thinking about why your readers should care about your novel and your characters. Perhaps, you want your readers to see a bit of themselves in your protagonists. This kind of thinking goes a long way in setting you apart from the rest of the tribe. Getting a good book deal today involves exploring multiple avenues. But you are now exploring each of those avenues with the aid of your lost half a.k.a from a place where you know you are being true to yourself.

Avenue 1: Building your voice across multiple online platforms

One day, you want your novels to grease the wheels for social, cultural, economic and political change, whether said change involves a ban on at-will employment clauses or a policy to check price increases on life-saving medicines. That’s what literary agents are looking for too. The legwork for that starts now.

You have to be out there on social media, contributing to ongoing debates on every issue that you think is pertinent to your lifeblood as a writer. It is true that your follower base is one of the metrics that literary agents consider in deciding whether you have enough of a foothold that gives you the kind of credibility that will elicit their interest in representing you. But, you want an audience of people who will buy your next book. That does not mean your audiences have to run into the thousands either. It could be as low as a hundred real followers who will read your next book. A real literary agent will understand that.

Simultaneously, you need to be seen blogging on your author website and, where applicable, other relevant platforms and websites you’re writing for. It is also helpful to submit your fiction writings and/or poetry to various literary journals.

Avenue 2: Stay on the radar outside social media

Networking isn’t about attending wine-soaked book launches and book-readings or ponying up in registration fees for literary events…only to beg for an agent or publisher. It’s never about begging or asking. It’s about connecting with people whose interests mirror your own as a writer. That involves dropping all your masks and building sustained relationships with each of those people. Sometimes, they could be book-lovers whose day jobs involve medical imaging or writing about municipal bonds. They could be your friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, former classmates and/or their significant others. It’s important to think laterally and see how you can tap into your own networks, while connecting with other newer people at writers’ conferences, book fairs and literary festivals.

Avenue 3: Connecting beyond the physical

People like to be heard and feel understood. Be quiet and listen to them when they open up to you. Those are the moments they would remember if they decide to move mountains for you. And give gratitude when they have helped you in some way.

I found my own literary agent roughly five years ago through Sage Publications India’s CEO Vivek Mehra, who is an alumnus of my alma mater, Columbia University. At the time, I was leading a public diplomacy mandate for the UK government as an Associate Director at a consulting group (and yes, that was a full-time job!). Vivek, who has a passion for fiction, offered to introduce me to his friend, Anuj Bahri who, he said, might be interested in my work – a novel called Falling Bridges that I had completed writing as what I vaguely labeled a psychological thriller. Anuj Bahri leads India’s legendary Bahrisons Booksellers and runs the Red Ink Literary Agency, which is India’s top literary agency and one of the top ones in the world. Falling Bridges was evaluated by three editors at Red Ink before I was offered representation.

Falling Bridges, reborn as Victims For Sale, was released worldwide by HarperCollins as a crime and suspense thriller to become a paperbacks bestseller in India and one of only two fiction books on HarperCollins’ list, which was getting repeat orders from hundreds of bookstores and multi-product retailers across the country, less than three months after its publication. By then, it had sold in thousands, far superseding the average 300 books-per-year sales mark recognized by Publisher’s Weekly. Through this all, I have not forgotten Vivek. We continue to meet up. When we can't, we communicate over phone or email. We have had several conversations about our respective lives and what we continue to make of it.  

Avenue 4: Recognize that there’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript

There are tons of services out there, which charge hefty fees for the “perfect, professionally edited manuscript.” Signing up for such a service will not only likely yield no returns of any sort for you, but is also an action, which reflects that you do not believe in your work and your talent. Every good novelist is a writer, researcher, editor and proofreader rolled into one.

Write. Edit. Restructure. Edit. Repeat the cycle. I write and edit simultaneously, scene by scene, and I was particular about using this approach while completing my next novel, TWIN FLAME, in roughly seven months amid two overseas book tours and tons of domestic travel. I have found that this approach works well for me because it is efficient. Not that it may work as well for everyone else. But, the key here lies in finding your own balance with the writing and editing process. Keep the proofreading and word-length trimming to the end. You first need to believe in your manuscript for an agent or publisher to get hooked to it. That brings me to my fifth point.

Avenue 5: Recognize that there’s no such thing as a perfect query letter

A query letter is as perfect as it feels to you. Do not pay for services that promise you the perfect query letter. That will not guarantee an agent or publisher.

The essence of a compelling query letter lies in the log-line of the novel you are seeking representation for.  A log-line is the elevator-pitch for your novel – in one or two lines. My log-line for ‘Victims For Sale’ was: “An aspiring TV reporter fights to expose a crime ring where mentally challenged women are being sexually abused.” A log-line must be addictive. It helps to think about the key elements of conflict and/or exotic appeal embedded in your narrative, and cull them out for your log-line! And  the blurb of your novel is no more than an extension of the log-line. The purpose of the log-line and the blurb is to entice the literary agent or publishing editor to read further or ask you for more. Offering a snapshot of your background in a distinctive voice will be a huge shot in the arm. This isn’t the same as your bio, but it should point to other relevant works of fiction that you’ve published in other journals, and/or those fiction titles that have fetched you awards, as well as authors you have admired, and most importantly, what personal and/or professional experiences you’ve undergone, which inspired the novel in question.

Finally, if you know that you’re in it for the long haul, it helps to be realistic about the landscape out there and explore all five avenues simultaneously while being delusional enough within yourself to visualize – and know – that you will make it. 

Nish Amarnath is an award-winning American author, journalist and speaker based in New York. Her latest book, Victims For Sale, published by HarperCollins, is a bestselling crime thriller. Nish has written for The Wall Street Journal and was Managing Editor at one of Europe’s most prolific magazine publishing groups. She holds post-graduate degrees in media communications and journalism from the London School of Economics and Columbia University, where she was a James W. Robins Reporting Fellow. You can learn more about her at
You can also follow her on Twitter at @nishamarnath and on Instagram at @themillennialchick, which is a brand new page for writers, authors, novelists and poets. 


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