With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and editor/writer Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with author Anjali Banerjee
Anjali Banerjee was born in India, raised in North America and received degrees from U.C. Berkeley. She has written five books for children and four for adults. Of her recent novel, Haunting Jasmine, Melissa Bargreen of The Seattle Times wrote, “Banerjee invites the reader into her colorful, hopeful world, one in which the Northwest island tides coexist with the ghost of Julia Child, Charles Dickens’ mirror, and a sari or two.”
You’ve worked a variety of different jobs, from veterinary assistant to office manager. What keeps bringing you back to writing?
As a child, I loved writing mystery and fantasy stories, but as I grew up, I “put aside childish things” and focused on other pursuits. But I always loved to write – it just took me a while to recognize writing as a profession. I remember in one large undergraduate class at U.C. Berkeley, the professor xeroxed one of my essays, announced that it was the “ideal answer,” and handed out copies to the entire class of 400 students. I was floored! I knew I liked to run off at the pen, writing into the margins of my blue books, but I thought I was weird and the other students were normal. I didn’t know I was doing all this writing for a reason. At the time, I thought I might become an anthropologist like Jane Goodall. I even volunteered for Jane Goodall’s ChimpanZoo program, observing and documenting chimpanzee behavior in zoos so that conditions could be improved for chimps in captivity. I tried many jobs as a way of discovering who I was. I also gained important perspective and life experience. I finally returned to writing fiction in my early thirties, and I never really left again.
You’ve written books for both the children’s and adult market. Do you have a favorite genre you like to write in?
No. I wish I could clone myself a few times so that Anjali #1 could write books for children, Anjali #2 could write literary novels, Anjali #3 could write cozy mysteries, Anjali #4 could write romantic suspense, Anjali #5 could write mainstream women’s fiction, and on and on. I love it all. At the moment I’m writing a mainstream women’s fiction novel with elements of suspense, and I’m enjoying the process.
How have your degrees in anthropology and psychology impacted your creative writing skills?
I believe that every life experience informs our writing. I bring the knowledge I gained in my university classes to bear in my stories, and in university I honed my self-discipline and the ability to complete a project and follow through. I also developed my critical thinking and analytical skills, which are extremely useful when I’m revising a manuscript. In psychology, I learned about personality types, psychological development, abnormal psychology, Freud, Jung, Maslow and so on – all helpful for creating fictional characters.
Have you always worked with an agent? What have you learned from your journey to publication? Is there anything you would have done differently?
I’ve always worked with an agent for book-length fiction, but I worked on my own when I sent short stories to literary magazines. I’ve learned a lot the publishing industry, and I’ve still got a lot to learn. For example, I’ve learned that cover art and advance buzz are important, and that the industry is unpredictable. There are many highs and lows in a writer’s career. You have to genuinely love writing to stay in this profession.
What advice do you have for writers trying to get their novels published today?
Take time to learn the craft. Read widely. Follow through – finish a project. Don’t be afraid to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. Be tenacious. Don’t ever give up.
Do you work with a critique group? Do you think such groups are a helpful tool for serious writers?
Each writer is different. I love my critique group. We meet biweekly. The other writers keep me focused and directed. They’re great authors and savvy businesswomen – a true inspiration for me. So yes, my critique group is extremely helpful for me. But that may not be true for other writers.
What steps have you taken to promote your books? Has social media proven to be effective? Why or why not?
To be honest, I don’t know what promotion methods work best. Foreign translations of my novel, Haunting Jasmine, have been well-received in Italy, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, and Germany, and yet I have done no promotion in those countries. In the U.S., I’ve sent out postcards and e-newsletters, and I’ve done book signings and signed stock in bookstores. I have a website, a Facebook author page, and I’ve done blog tours. I’ve bought ads on various websites with high traffic. Have any of these promotion methods helped? I don’t know. But I enjoy meeting and interacting with readers and booksellers, which makes the effort worthwhile.
What inspired you to write your island series beginning with Haunting Jasmine?
I’m flattered that you called Haunting Jasmine and Enchanting Lily my island series! Haunting Jasmine came from the question: what if the ghosts of dead authors could come to life in a bookstore? I love the islands and small towns in the Puget Sound area, so it seemed natural to set the story on a rainy island.
Enchanting Lily is your newest release. Can you tell us a little about how the story took shape?
My husband and I live with five cats, and one day I wrote a scene off the cuff from a cat’s point of view. My editor thought the scene was charming, and that was the beginning of Enchanting Lily. It took me several rewrites to discover the underlying story of a young widow who hides out in her vintage clothing store on the island, and comes out of her isolation with help from an exuberant cat. The story is told from the woman’s and the cat’s points of view.
To learn more about Anjali and her upcoming projects, check out her website at http://www.anjalibanerjee.com