Archive for June, 2008

Television pays well. Really well. And on time. And by time I mean there could be a delay of about 5-10 from the pay day but in the larger scheme of Indian Stretchable Time, it’s fine. You may miss out on a car or a housing payment because your cheque didn’t arrive on time that’s all ūüôā

Writing in TV is divided into – Story, Screenplay and Dialogues. A writer may work any one or all three on a particular show. A daily show has at least 3-4 writers.

As a newcomer you can expect to earn Rs. 2000-3000 per episode for the story, Rs. 4000-5000 per episode for screenplay and ditto for dialogues.

You will be paid this money with a lag of 30-60 days from either the date of approval (from the channel) or telecast, depending upon your contract.

All, in all it works out to a tidy sum at the end of the month, once you enter the payment cycle. Plus, as you grow in experience, you can pretty much command your price. I know writers who walk home with Rs. 4 – 5 lakhs (Rs. 4,00,000 – 5,00,000) a month. But then they are good. They know the pulse of the viewers and can guarantee TRPs.

These are the kinds of writers who usually come up with winning pitches – the concept and initial story document for winning shows. And get paid huge amounts of money for the same.

Personally, I’m not a fan of pitches. I prefer to take on shows that are already on air. That’s because the success rate is 1:20, one show in twenty presented gets the nod. ¬†And if yours is one of the shows that has been rejected, as is likely to happen, all you would have ended up doing is wasting a lot of time and money in developing the concept and story, going for narrations etc.

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Every show on air begins with a premise, or what we call, a concept. What is the show about? It is a different matter that sooner or later every drama goes the same way. After about 50-100 episodes you cannot make out the difference between a Kyunki and a Kahani.  But by then the stickiness factor come into play.

But to grab eyeballs initially you have to have a differentiator. So we had Saat Phere: Saloni ka Safar which was about an otherwise accomplished girl but who has a dark skin. Banoo Main Teri Dulhan was about an illiterate girl who is conned into marrying a mentally challenged guy. The main protagonist of the show, and therefore, the concept is always, always about a woman.

The concept is accompanied by a broad storyline for six months and detailed story, screenplay and dialogues for a month.

So there is this girl who is dark skinned. She is otherwise accomplished and affectionate, an ideal Indian woman, but all efforts to marry her off are in vain. No one wants to marry a dark skinned girl and infuse the bloodline with her swarthy genes. And then comes along. End of month 1.

Nahar wants to marry her but he faces opposition from his family. Nahar eventually overcomes the opposition and the two are married but Saloni is made to feel unwelcome in the extended family. There are numerous efforts and attempts to belittle and humiliate her. Saloni faces everything with stoicism. And then she saves the family from dishonour on one occasion. This leads to her acceptance in the family. End of month 2.

(Disclaimer: I’m not very familiar with the show so I’m mostly making up the story. But yeah that’s how the broad, broad storyline goes.)

Based on this document, the channel takes a call. Though they usually hear out the concept and story, it is usually the concept that hooks them because the story can always be modified. Sometimes as soon as they hear what the story is about, they tune off. It happened to me once. We were pitching to a major channel for a show about a woman who becomes widowed on the day of her wedding and how she survives, thrives and eventually even finds love again. But as soon as the channel heard ‚Äėwidow’ they said, “Next.”

Yeah you do have to go with more than one. But never more than three. It’s never a good idea to present too many choices. I hate it when that happens to me. I can never make up mind about which jeans to buy.

Later, the story is fleshed out and we add incidents. How is Saloni humiliated? Does someone add excess salt to her daal when she is not looking? How does she save the family’s honour? Doe she save the unmarried sister from getting raped by reaching in the nick of time?

After the story is fleshed out – in minute detail for a month, we get into the screenplay stage. This usually takes a lot of time and involves a lot of back and forth with the channel. That’s because at the beginning of the show everyone is struggling to find a look and feel of the show. Ditto for the dialoguing stage.

And then there is casting to be done, sets to be built, costumes to be designed and a bank of 20 episodes to be shot (which usually never happens). It could be anywhere between 6-9 months (more if it’s a comedy) from initial approval before a show is ready to go on air.

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Apropos my post about authors’ contribution in promoting their books, one of my readers has a peculiar problem. And that is that in spite of doing everything to promote/raise awareness about his book there is little movement on sales.

Another reader, Dr Arun Kumar, posted a comment in response which basically said:

“In the field of literature, mode and role of publicity is limited. If your creation is interesting and meaningful it will get response sooner or later. When there were no means of publicity, great literature was created by unknown persons and the society noticed it. It will be fruitful to send books to critics and editors of the literary pages.”

While in most parts I agree with what Dr. Kumar says, I would be reluctant to label any product “uninteresting.”¬†I have seen¬†bad, and I mean really BAD, products do¬†really well.¬†¬†

Which brings me to the next subject in marketing. While it is important to market your product, it is more important to market it well. Which basically implies identifying your target audience and accordingly providing hooks to engage them.

My book, Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, is chicklit-meets-crime and I am quite clear that my target audience is Male/Female 16 – 35, SEC – A and B. Accordingly the most important media for me are magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Femina, JAM, Fad, Seventeen, Marie Claire, national dailies, and social networking sites on the Internet. And even within these, I work out different pegs for different publications.

For Vogue/Femina/Marie Claire, my protagonist¬†is one of their readers – smart, sexy, confident.¬†And that goes for me too – a¬†sexy¬†ex-investment banker turned author. For¬†Fad and JAM, the irreverence and street-smarts of my protagonist matters, as well as the fact that I as the author¬†am a multifaceted person – marathon runner, mountaineer, MA in Economics and MBA in Finance who’s chosen a career based on my passion; for trade related media,¬†Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions is a tongue-in-cheek look at the TV industry and a great inside joke….and I belong to that industry.

While book reviews never hurt, I am not really pushing for them. Let’s face it, while it is exteremly well written (yeah, even if¬†I say so myself. You can form your own¬†opinions after reading the first chapter.¬†) and racy, it is not¬†nobel prize winning category.¬†Plus,¬†young readers don’t go¬†much by reviews.¬†

Beleagured authors try and even succeed in getting media space devoted to¬†them (media companies as as hungry for content as we are for space), but if they don’t maximise the platform given to them they may have limited success.

As for the rest, I agree with Dr. Arun Kumar. If it is interesting and provides value it will get a response sooner or later. The important thing is to keep pushing and pushing it right.

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Asian Age asked me to write a column for them in their Books Plus section. I said sure and asked the editor, what I should write about, knowing instinctively, and fearing that she would ask me do a book review of a new release.

When she said, “It’s your column. You can write anything you want to.” I was just about to jump in air and click my heels together when she added insidiously, couching it as an innocent suggestion, “Maybe a book review?”

“Let me guess, it has to be a current release right?”

“Well, yes, that is the idea, you know behind the page.”

Uh-oh, I thought. I’m in trouble. You see what happens is that I normally go once a month and buy a bunch of books. But by the time I get to reading them they’re way past their current status. As of now I have some three thousand ‚Äėcurrent books’ to be read. I have only just finished Ashok Banker’s Siege of Mithila, book two in the Ramayan series. Just to give you a perspective, Ashok Banker has written and released Demons of Chitrakoot and Armies of Hanuman, books three and four respectively, since then. That should give you some idea of how far behind I am in my reading.

Plus I always get sidetracked by a good murder mystery and am currently devouring Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries.

And through this I have to write my screenplays (at the average rate of an episode-and-a-half a week), watch and review Sarkar Raj and Sex and the City, write a blog and my next novel.

My editor could sense my hesitation and added hastily, “We’ll put a picture of you next to the column.”

Always a winning argument with me. Sigh. I prepare to read Cherie Blair’s autobiography.

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Your job is by no means over once you’ve written your book or your screenplay. In fact, it has just begun. After that you have to get it produced. which means writing several query letters and endless rounds of submissions and rejection letters.

Say, you manage to get your baby produced, then you have to promote it. One word of caution to wannabe screenwriters. There are several production houses which are routinely on the lookout for scripts. Resist the temptation to drop your screenplay in an anonymous drop box or leave it at the reception. Chances are it will never be read and after two years or so you’ll get a call to come and collect it. Try and meet someone and narrate the story to him/her. If the story grabs him/her then get into the screenplay.

Meanwhile, coming back to publishing, once your book is published, the onus of marketing is on you. Publishers in india, especially English language publishers operate on wafer thin margins and their keenness to control expenses on the marketing front is understandable. So learn the art of marketing yourself.

When¬†I was just starting out in my career and contemplating which field to take up, a senior colleague advised me to get into sales – the door to door kind. His theory being that once you’ve learnt to take door being slammed in your face gamely, you develop either a thick skin or a winsome personality. Both are handy. And you are ready for anything in life.

Moreover, it’s all about¬†selling. Think about it. Whether you’re in a job interview, a sales call, matrimonial interview, you’re always selling something.

Some authors are the retiring sort who would rather die than¬†ask journalists to¬†write about them. They are horrifed at the thought of tomtomming themselves. Well, if you are that sort, you can do two things here. One, you can lose that cloak of modesty and pick up the phone. Or two, hire a publicist to do it for you. Of the two, I prefer the former. It’s cheaper and it builds relationships.

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My hard disk crashed, taking a week’s quota of writing with it (You got it,¬†I hadn’t made a¬†back up). That’ll teach me to surf crack sites for free Bollywood songs! Still, I suppose it¬†could have been worse. Instead of losing 5,000 words I could’ve lost 50,000. And then I discovered that my maid, in a fit of pique,¬†had sold my handwritten notes to the local paper recycler!

Everything just made me so…well,¬†I was too far gone to be angry, so I suppose¬†bemused would be more it….¬†so I decided to Google just why it is that people write. Came up with some interesting quotes. Here are a few of them:

What a writer wants to do is not what he does.
Jorge Luis Borges

If you’re a freelance writer and aren’t used to being ignored, neglected, and generally given short shrift, you must not have been in the business very long.
Poppy Z. Brite

Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer – and if so, why?
Bennett Cerf

Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you ‚Äď as if you haven’t been told a million times already ‚Äď that writing is harder.¬† Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.
Harlan Ellison

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.
William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.
Gustave Flaubert

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
Robert A. Heinlein

The quality which makes man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure and masochism. Like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street.
James Jones

It’s tougher than Himalayan yak jerky on january. But, as any creative person will tell you, there are days when there’s absolutely nothing sweeter than creating something from nothing.
Richard Krzemien

Writing is not a genteel profession. It’s quite nasty and tough and kind of dirty.
Rosemary Mahoney

A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
Thomas Mann

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
George Orwell

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.
Sidney Sheldon

People are certainly impressed by the aura of creative power which a writer may wear, but can easily demolish it with a few well-chosen questions. Bob Shaw has observed that the deadliest questions usually come as a pair: “Have you published anything?” ‚Äď loosely translated as: I’ve never heard of you ‚Äď and “What name do you write under?” ‚Äď loosely translatable as: I’ve definitely never heard of you.
Brian Stableford

Writing is the flip side of sex ‚Äď it’s good only when it’s over.
Hunter S. Thompson

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
Red Smith

Follow the path of your aroused thought, and you will soon meet this infernal inscription: There is nothing so beautiful as that which does not exist.
Paul Valery

Writing is so difficult that I feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.
Jessamyn West

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
Oscar Wilde

If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.
William Zinsser

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Well, my pants are down here. Do look and tell me what you think:)

For more such quotes on writing click here.

On a more positive note, after the early morning fiascos, the day got progressively better.¬†I only had to shell out Rs. 60 when I went to receive a friend at Mumbai Airport, not because I had to park but because the airport is being renovated and in the meantime one has to drive through parking to reach arrivals;¬†then my car car got towed away, but only from parking; and three, after¬†I had paid the fine and retrieved my car from impound, I developed a flat tyre…Just another day in the life of a writer. Sometimes I feel God does these things only to give material for my writing.


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It’s official. Indians don’t write.

It’s true. I’m a member of Shelfari and have tried to encourage writing amongst Indians. No go. In spite of gentle and not so gentle reminders and encouragemnet,¬†they just wont!

I try to tell them it’s a good thing to write.¬†As you write more, you become more focused and articulate. You don‚Äôt need to write much, but you must write, and write often. Writing just fifteen minutes a day, every day, adds up to about book every year!¬†So think about it.¬†

And if that wasn’t enough motivation, writing, it seems helps also helps you lose weight! Julia Cameron, in her new book, The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size” talks about this at length. Artists and writers are familiar with Julia Cameron. For those who aren’t she is the creator of the morning pages concept.

So get cracking!

On a separate note, thank you all for reading the first chapter of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions and giving feedback. Thanks, it means a lot.

For new visitors, I’ve posted the first chapter of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions. You can read it here.














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