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Does Love Look Different In South Asia? With Naheed Hassan, of Indireads [Interview]

Posted: May 19, 2014

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Indireads, a one year old publishing house, aims to bring alive the vibrancy and intensity of modern South Asian life through their books in digital formats.

“Inviting new generations to fall in love with what it means to be South Asian”, Indirom is the flagship brand for Indireads, a range of romance novellas written by women as well as men, and with characters from the South Asian community (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka), wherever in the world they may live. 

In this interview with Naheed Hassan, Co-Founder of Indireads, we talk about writing, reading, and above all else, the labour of love.

What are your thoughts on completing a year of Indireads? Has the journey been harder/easier/different in any way than what you thought it would be like? 

Naheed Hassan: There has been tremendous learning in our first year as a publisher. There were some things that were expected – such as the fact that ebooks have not yet caught on in South Asia as they have in the West, and others that were completely new – such as the difficulty of getting an ebook reviewed in mainstream media, which is not something we were expecting.

We have slowly built a name for ourselves, and finding new writers has become easier as we have become better known. However it is still a challenge to find stories that really stand out from the rest. And then social media marketing of books is evolving on a daily basis and is becoming tougher and more competitive.

All in all though, the year has been a positive one. Our books have been well-received and we hear time and again that our books strike a chord with readers because they don’t follow a formula, and because we take particular care both in terms of telling good stories and strong editing.

Among the stories that come to you, and the ones that you choose to publish, do you see any trends that indicate how South Asian women are changing, or do they reflect any changes in how women in our part of the world see themselves? 

Naheed Hassan: We get all sorts of stories submitted to us, and our selection criteria is very clear – we look for a good story with well-drawn characters and need the writing to flow well and be engaging.

A lot of aspiring writers seem to think romance is all about highly coincidental circumstances that force two people into proximity, combined with high melodrama in the form of broken home backgrounds and convenient heart attacks that lead to reconciliations. We believe strongly in love stories that happen everyday, between two ordinary people who can make choices based on their emotions and desires without having Bollywood like scenarios thrust on them – and those are the stories we accept.

The good news is that we receive many more original stories featuring strong, independent-minded women than the other kind, and that to us signals that the times are changing.

The good news is that we receive many more original stories featuring strong, independent-minded women than the other kind, and that to us signals that the times are changing. Women can write about and relate to these strong female characters who know how to both give and receive love.

What draws you to a particular romantic story, given that there are new romances being churned out every day? 

Naheed Hassan: As I said earlier, for me, romance is not about exotic locations and happenstance and coincidence. It is about the girl next door, who finds her Mr. Right, probably in the next cubicle, or in her neighbourhood. What appeals to me is that the characters and the setting be real and believable. I always tell my writers to stay close to what they know – write about girls who are bankers, accountants, software developers – someone that they know – perhaps the most unlikely person to have a love story.

The journey of the romance is also very important to me – that the romance could start off with an initial spark, but that it evolves and grows, overcomes hurdles and only then, is strong enough to eventually win out. A good story for me is one in which the reader is taken on a journey and experiences all the stages of falling in love.

Do you find any men writing romances too? Are these different in some way? 

Naheed Hassan: I do have men who have written and are writing love stories for me. I feel men approach love stories without M&B baggage and therefore have a very different take on what a love story should be. And all of our books, written by male writers, are more than just love stories, they bring in elements of drama, mystery, even the supernatural.

I feel men approach love stories without M&B baggage and therefore have a very different take on what a love story should be.

Now that you plan to extend your repertoire beyond romances, what would your focus areas be? How do you plan to build a list that is unique/different from what other publishers offer? 

Naheed Hassan: Our focus has always been to expand the range of well-written and well-edited South Asian popular fiction, and to nurture our own local Danielle Steeles and Sidney Sheldons.

We are not focused on genres as such, but on good and compelling stories. We have a mystical thriller in the works, along with psychological drama, crime, and detective stories. We plan to put them out there and let readers judge for themselves. I, for one, am confident that good stories, written and edited well, will always find a discerning audience.

Any advice for aspiring authors eager to see their work published? 

Naheed Hassan: I think my advice to aspiring authors is first of all that it is not enough to have a story and want to write, to become a writer. Writing is a craft that one must learn, practice and keep honing. There is not enough respect for the craft in our part of the world. In addition, many new writers resist editing advice and have issues with rewriting. If all writers came out with perfect final drafts, there would be no need for editors. But that is not the case, and writers need to understand that.

As far as I am concerned, anyone can write a story, but to write a story that draws one in and gives a reader pleasure – that is the only kind of writing worth anything – and that, takes effort and time on the part of the writer.

To explore Indireads’ work, or contribute as a writer – do visit their website or Facebook. 

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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