Establishing Your Presence & Knowing Your Niche: An Interview with Author Neil D'Silva

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Neil D’Silva is a popular horror writer from India. Starting out as a self-published author, he now has published books with major names such as Penguin, Rupa and Hachette, and deals for screen adaptations with well-known television and web platforms. 

He has also written 300+ episodes of a children’s animation show, he heads an interschool literature festival named Litventure, has given a TEDx talk, has been on numerous litfest panels and his novels constantly climb the bestseller list. 

Q1) Horror is one of the most difficult genres in which to become a successful writer. What made you choose horror over a more popular genre like romance? 

Truth be told, when the story for my debut novel Maya’s New Husband struck me, all I wanted to do was to write it. I did not even remotely think about things like marketability or commercial viability. I wanted to write the story because it wanted to be told through me and I believed in it. Since then, all story ideas that have spoken to me have had dark elements. Horror appeals to me because I am wired that way. Perhaps it all goes back to my childhood when I used to assist Dad in his freelance job of translating movies (most of them were horror movies from the Ramsays) and reading classic goth literature when I was merely 13. 

I haven’t written romance yet because a strong idea hasn’t hit me yet. The day it does, I might write one too. I do read the occasional romance novel even now. 

Q2) You also write children’s animation. I was once told horror and writing for children do not mix but I’m finding more and more successful writers of dark fiction are also writing for kids. How did you get into animation? And how do you keep these two sides of yourself separate? 

The project on kids’ animation (available on the YouTube channel KooKoo TV) was offered to me by the producers as they knew about my background as a teacher. They convinced me that I would be able to write these moral stories for kindergarteners and young adolescents. When I started writing Funtime with Shiny and Sasha, I found that I truly had a fun time. The show worked (the channel in its Hindi version has 5 million subscribers) and then I was motivated to write more. 

But, though I dabble with other genres occasionally, horror will always be my primary passion. About keeping them separate, I don’t let two genres overlap. When I am writing for kids or any non-horror stuff for that matter, I allocate specific days to those projects. The days that I write horror, I write only horror. I go on writing trips outside the city to write my stories sometimes, thus removing myself totally from all influences. My horror stories are complex works on character evolution, and they need my utmost dedication sans distractions. 

Q3) You started out with a small publisher and as your success began to build you were noticed by bigger houses. Do you have any tips for new writers who are embarking on a similar journey? 

My first advice would be to have active profiles on all social media platforms. You need not post every day everywhere, but you must check and respond to comments as promptly as you can. On Facebook, have an official page as well. The first place to get noticed is social media. All the relevant people in my career — my literary agent, my screen agent, most of my producers — have contacted me on social media. 

Secondly, delegate work that’s not your forte to people who are better equipped. Hire an agent. Authors must focus on writing and marketing their books. But let an expert handle the publishing deals. So, instead of spending your energy chasing one publishing house after another, spend some of it in finding a good agent. 

Thirdly, don’t turn down anything at first glance. This specifically applies to meeting people. A lot of people who sent me stray messages to meet them have now become important people in my journey. My policy is to meet everyone who wishes to meet me and hear what they have to say. I got a book to screen adaptation deal this way—by agreeing to meet the producer (whom I did not know when he pinged me) at a café. 

Fourthly, you will go nowhere without your craft. You need to spend your time honing your writing. Good writing comes from a lot of reading; there are no two ways about it. The commissioning editors at the big publishers are well-read erudite people and they can easily gauge the level of maturity and finesse in a writer’s work. 

Q4) With so many projects on the go, how do you remain focused? Do you have any writing rituals that help you stay on task? 

I am an early riser. I like to write in the early morning hours before the world wakes up. My mind is at its sharpest then and since there’s no one around me (online or offline), I can write without distractions. 

I work on multiple projects at the same time, but I don’t work on two different things on the same day. As I mentioned before, I go on short writing trips as well. At times, when I am stuck with a plot point, I might take a short trip of 2-3 days to sort it out in my head. The change of location helps. 

And, I feel if you are very passionate about your story, you gain confidence in it and the focus comes by itself. 

Q5) Should a writer brand themselves? What can writers do to stand out from the crowd? 

Yes! I cannot emphasize this enough. Writers need to take themselves seriously and not try to be like some other famous author they idolize. They must carve their own identity. How to be different? Maybe the answer lies in the kind of stories they write. I write horror, but my stories are uniquely Indian stories that evoke our culture and way of thinking. That has been my identity in this crowded world of literature, and I get invited to litfests to speak on my particular brand of writing. 

Social media needs to be used judiciously to generate your image as a kind of authority on the subject. It is also important to be consistent. The best advertisement for your first book is a second book, and so on. Every book brings new readers and establishes your name as a prolific writer of the genre. Also, attend literary events and fests, both big and small. Making yourself seen and known is an essential part of the process. 

Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She also dabbles in screenwriting.

You can find Emma on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or lurking in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity.

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