Nalini Singh was one of the special guests at Word Cafe Raglan 2017, a Writers & Readers Festival in New Zealand.
In a very full hour, Nalini discussed many issues facing authors today along with background on her own writing journey and the genesis of her series of novels.
“I wrote six books for Harlequin. At the time they were the only ones taking submissions from authors without an agent. But I had been through a number of changes of editors and didn’t get on with the new one. So I sat down and started writing the start of my whole Psy/Changeling series. I wrote the first draft of book one in three weeks, eating peanut butter toast for dinner each night.”
When asked about her Breakthrough point, Nalini explained how she became a full time writer.
“I needed an agent so I went online and made a list of agencies who were working with the writers and publishers that I wanted to work with. I condensed my pitch down to three simple paragraphs:
Para 1 = about me
Para 2 = brief book synopsis
Para 3 – why I wanted work with that agency
“One agency replied that I had met a senior agent at a book fair. I had to admit I didn’t remember the meeting. However my blurb had caught her attention and she passed it on to a junior agent. The agent loved my work, even though she’d not sold a book yet. She had a list of specific editors that she would approach and she really went to work.”
Risk to be a full time writer
The book went to auction and that was the breakthrough. The advance was enough to allow Nalini to take the risk to be a full time writer. One huge benefit was readers and librarians and book sellers were enthusiastic about her writing and recommended her books widely.
“When I started I was contracted for two books. Today you can self publish, but 12 years ago that wasn’t an option. I knew the overall arc of the whole series from the start, but the first three books of Psy/Changeling were standalone in case the publisher didn’t buy into the whole series.”
Nalini says she’s always been a writer and would be writing in every spare moment around school, uni, and work. But that gave her strong skills to be focussed and with a good work ethic.
“So once I became a full time writer I could write two books a year. And can do that without excessive hours.”
Aspects of the paranormal and psychic are of great interest to Nalini.
“What would it be like if we used 100% of our brain 100% of the time. What if we are just a generation or few away from that. I ask the questions like, if we did become telepathic, what might be the cost? For example, in my books the Psys do go mad.”
Nalini’s books are set slightly in the future. In 2082 three races agree to work together, without war or loss. But the past is not an old coat, but a scent of blood and betrayal.
“My books are Paranormal Romance and relationships drive the books, especially family relationships. Paranormal means anything beyond the norm – telepathy, ghosts etc – and that’s a huge canvas. I have friends who write myths and legends, and others write vampires. There are so many levels a writer can go into. Within paranormal, romance, mystery, science fiction and fantasy are all available.”
Nalini’s Psys have incredible psychic abilities. Her Changelings – shapeshifters – are very strong socially. Both the races are evolutionary divergence from humans. At the start, humans are not very important as they appear to have become the weak link. But over time the humans become more and more important. In Nalini’s words, “welcome to the age of Trinity.”
6 Million Book Sales
Nalini has thrived on international sales for many years. Since her first publication in 2003 her books have sold over 6 million copies. She is a Hachette author and is now on UK best-seller lists alongside other international best-seller lists.
“I don’t judge my writing process by time but by words. Having a goal makes it real. I aim for 3000 words per day for first drafts.”
Even though Nalini is a seat of a pants writer rather than a plotter, she says a well planned and well written series has to have the end goal right from the start. The climax needs to be defined.
“I fix the end of the series, but don’t plan each book. So my process is that I rewrite a lot. I have a friend who’s a planner and writes almost a final draft at the start. But we both take the same amount of time overall.
Write dirty to get the first draft
“I still like to write dirty to get the first draft – my skeleton. So the second draft is also on the computer, then the third draft is on printout. Then back on the computer for other drafts until the page proofs, which are printed out.”
For Nalini the first draft is the creative surge, but she also loves the editing and rewriting, to bring in extra layers, characterisation, and story arcs.
“And it’s another part of my brain to respond to editor comments. I’m not precious but I’m also protective of the story. I always want what is best for the story. So yes, there are different parts of the brain at work.”
As a full time author, Nalin often has two projects ongoing at any time, in different stages of development.
“I need to do fresh writing every day. And a maximum 30 or 40 pages a day of proofing. And a small amount of admin or social media. But if I work on two projects at a time that gives me two 3-hour bursts of creativity each day.”
To be a novelist you need to write … and write!
If you want to be a novelist, Nalini is very clear: you need to write novel after novel after novel.
“When you first start the books can be 2D but soon they become 3D. But the books still have to progress. Is it the best I can possibly do? I know in my gut if something is me, but sometimes you need to write that bad book to get the book out. With each book I got better. So I’m very self-taught. You can do courses, but in the end you have to put it down.”
Nalini’s last words of wisdom are personal to each author.
“The essence is finding you voice and trusting what you do as a writer. We now have a sharing economy and lots of young writers are “Crowd Thought” and I think you need to write in isolation to develop your own voice. But I also learned when feedback was useful and when not. I always tell people to protect their work and protect their voice until they’re certain enough to share it.”
Nalini’s website: http://nalinisingh.com