Sundari Venkatraman, an indie author, plunged into her passion for storytelling through her writings. Her age nor the genre of her choice hindered her from pursuing what she loves the most: writing! She thoroughly enjoys her indulgences in the genre of hot romance through her writings and has around fifty-nine novels under her authorship and aims to accomplish her self target of achieving #60at60 soon.
ICY Tales is in conversation with Sundari Venkatraman, where she talks about her journey as an author who aims to complete her 60th novel this year and proves that age is just a number.
Q. Can you tell us something about yourself and your journey?
Sundari Venkatraman: I started writing very late in life, in my forties. Back in my school and college days, writing was never my thing, maybe because nobody ever asked me to indulge in creative writing. Whatever I mainly wrote involved what I look at as boring subjects, so it never really interested me.
But I was a voracious reader, which aided in building my imaginative skills like running graphics; every time I read something from the western authors, I would visualize how it would be happening in the Indian context. Stories with “happily ever after” ending and other reads from the romantic genre always fascinated me.
When my children were off to school and more independent from me, I was bored with nothing much to do, so I started writing my first novel, named “The Malhotra Bride,” and I finished writing the book within forty-five days. I never really thought of publishing it; rather enjoyed the fun experience of telling stories and in the next six months, I completed writing three books.
While the writing happened very fast, I thought of publishing only after six months, so I approached publications worldwide with minimum to no response from them, and I gave up and went back to work. I worked with ‘Mumbai Mirror’ for a couple of years, followed by that, I worked with two websites of Network 18 for five to six years, and then I was freelancing.
Midst all of these, I started blogging my stories as I did not want to stop writing, and by that time, I had completed another novel. Then one of my friends based in the US, an independent author herself, suggested I try Amazon; Kindle Direct Publishing, as many people in America are doing well using the platform.
So I checked the forum and found it an easy process, after which I got my book cover designed by a professional and published my novel in two weeks. So I became a published author in fourteen days compared to the wait of fourteen years, so that’s what is my journey from being a writer to becoming an author.
Q. What has been the motivating factor behind this new beginning?
Sundari Venkatraman: It was the inherent call within me that got me started, and later it was my audience, my readers, who have constantly been motivating. On Amazon, we have a dashboard that lets us see the number of people reading the book through Kindle, followed by that we get feedback, the reviews, and such inputs come in through social media as well; so this indulgence motivates me to write. Moreover, income was slow initially, but gradually I started getting monthly income; up and downs are part of it, yet it is very encouraging.
Q. What do you feel about the audience and their expectations from authors?
Sundari Venkatraman: Feedback from the audience is very encouraging, but coming to expectations am not sure because when I write, I express myself through words and stories, and people have different levels of perceptions. So when my readers enjoy my stories or can resonate with them, that makes me happy.
Q. How do you deal with critics?
Sundari Venkatraman: In the beginning, it wasn’t easy. I used to get upset. You know that there are two kinds of critics; one who gives genuine input and feedback is very helpful. Secondly, there are those critics who, for the sake of critiquing, provide information; for example, my genre of writing is primarily hot romances, so there are these critics who criticize, saying how you can write such stories?
I ignore such kind of criticism because it does not make any sense; I am one of the authors who writes hot romances. If you like it, you read; otherwise, you don’t. It’s simple. Touchwood, I am pretty strong with my grammar, so mostly, I don’t have critiques in that aspect, and I always ensure to do my thorough research and mindfully roll out my stories.
So whenever I get some genuine and heartfelt feedback, I keep those in my mind; otherwise, I have grown over random inputs; there are a hundred people, so there will be a hundred opinions, so they don’t bother me anymore.
Q. In India, where romance is a hush-hush affair, did you ever have any inhibitions relating to your content?
Sundari Venkatraman: I started writing at the age of forty, and age gives you a lot of freedom which further helps in getting rid of most of the inhibitions; in addition to that, I have always lived my life on my terms, so these things have helped a lot. So what I see here is that I have a lot of readers; my first book, ‘The Malhotra Bride,’ must have sold more than fifty thousand copies, which is a big thing for any self-published author.
And today, I have fifty-nine books, so definitely, I have an audience, right? People are coming back for it. Another thing is romantic or explicit content is frowned upon in India, but that’s the India of today. We are the land of Kamasutra, so I find it hypocritical of us to deny our roots. I sincerely believe in the thought-provoking dialogue from the movie ‘pK,’ where Aamir khan asks, “Why do people play drums and music during marriage announcing that they are having sex?”
I feel we are being fake when we say we do not believe in romance or sex because we celebrate the child’s birth and marriages with great pomp and show; it is all about the union only, and we cannot deny that. I am comfortable writing these stories, and my audience is comfortable reading them; as far as I am aware, my audience has people from seventeen or eighteen years to come in their nineties, both male and female readers.
Q. How do you deal the stereotypes and moral policing?
Sundari Venkatraman: I don’t particularly appreciate picking up fights; one must accept that everybody is different and has independent opinions but should not impose those on others. I feel it is their battle that they have to fight out. I, as such, don’t have anything for or against the moral police. However, here understanding human tendencies is essential; we know the more we say ‘no,’ the person would be doing that thing, so leaving the person by themselves is better. Eventually, they will cross the natural path and outgrow it.
Q. How did you navigate dealing with failures and rejections through the initial years of being an author?
Sundari Venkatraman: Haha !! Frankly, I used to cry, and I cried like crazy. Every time a rejection came, the next forty-eight to seventy-two hours was the outset of absolute gloom. I remember the worst was when the rejection came from Millis & Boon UK; they had liked my synopsis but rejected it when they read my sample; it was entirely an overwhelming process because their responses used to be gapped by months’ wait.
This process ranged between two to two and half years, so with the rejection, I was heartbroken and thought that was the end of my writing life. But I didn’t know something in me that wanted to tell stories, so I gathered myself and started blogging. That made me happy; even today, when I am writing, that makes me happy; I do my marketing, publishing, and formatting, but I am happiest when writing.
Q. What is the next milestone you aim to achieve?
Sundari Venkatraman: I have created this hashtag “#60at60” I completed sixty years in 2021, and I have the target to complete sixty novels before I turn sixty-one. So till now, I have completed fifty-nine novels and planning to publish the sixtieth one by June; that’s the self-challenge I have taken up.
Q. Do you think audiobooks, podcasts, and other e-medias are reducing the number of book readers?
Sundari Venkatraman: I think not to a large extent see readers will be readers, whether you are reading on Kindle or paperback, it’s the same. Maybe due to lack of space, people opt for e-copies, but some prefer paperback again. Coming to audiobooks, I haven’t tried them.
However, I have input from my nieces and nephews who pick audiobooks as it allows them to indulge in the act while doing something else like driving, traveling, etc. So I think there is a market for everything; audiobooks maybe suit people who prefer using their ears over eyes to enjoy a story, but in my opinion, printed words are best to play with imagination.
We feel that audiobooks are for people who have never read or are not interested in reading for them; these audiobooks are like listening to a story or a soundtrack. So the market is different for different audiences, and I think there is a minute overlapping when readers indulge in listening to the audiobooks of books they have already read. Moreover, I believe there are only more and more people born in the world so that it won’t matter much.
Q. What advice do you have for someone intending to start their career as an author?
Sundari Venkatraman: First of all, one needs to write, and you must read. Since I am a fiction writer, I will talk about that; to become a fiction writer, one must have a powerful imagination that comes only through vivid reading. And if you want to become a writer, then write every day because that’s how you will build on your skills for writing.
Passion gives you wings, and determination blows the wind. Starting late in life happens to be one of the major inhibiting factors for many. Still, Sundari Venkatraman broke free of that inhibition exactly how she breaks through the stereotypes and judging eyes for the kind of genre she writes in. She establishes that nothing can make any person happier than pursuing the passion that enables them to enjoy every moment of their life. The author’s target of #60at60 is indeed a source of inspiration for many.