With November being National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, it’s a good opportunity to hear from a NaNoWriMo veteran about his writing, marketing, and publishing experience.
Ronit J is preparing to self-publish his debut novel, Help! My Dog Is the Chosen One!, which he wrote during Camp NaNoWriMo in April 2023. In his interview, Ronit shares insights into his publishing journey, including tips for those currently participating in NaNoWriMo or hoping to do so in the future.
How did you come up with your NaNoWriMo idea?
It all started when I was walking Joy. (She’s my in-law’s golden retriever, but I love her like my own child!) Joy loves chasing cats, and the area I live in has a ton of them. One night, when we entered our building compound, she spotted a cat on a bench. Naturally, she ran toward the cat with the intention of chasing it. But the stray cat just raised its hackles and hissed at Joy. At that moment, I noticed the cat’s eyes flash a red-green. I assumed this was some trick of the light, but I couldn’t help but wonder, What if this cat is actually a dark lord in disguise?
That stray thought (pun intended) sparked an idea, which I finally started working on for Camp NaNoWriMo April 2023, and the rest is history.
How did Camp NaNoWriMo help you?
Like most writers out there, I’ve dealt with my share of writer’s block. Every iteration of NaNoWriMo that I have participated in has helped me break it.
Camp NaNoWriMo April 2023 was particularly important to me because I hadn’t worked on a novel-length manuscript in over two years. I had worked on several shorts, and focused on honing my storytelling skills, but they hadn’t been put to the test yet.
Participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, especially because of its gamified setup, helped me consistently write and reward myself for writing daily, and it left me with a complete draft by the end of it.
What happened after you did the initial writing in April? What steps toward publishing did you take?
About halfway through April, I was certain that the book I was writing was good. Maybe even the best manuscript I had worked on so far. So, I started planning to self-publish.
At that time, the most important thing for me was to polish my draft. I spent May through July reading, editing, and rewriting the draft until it was ready for beta readers. For context, I had a 55k-word manuscript by the end of April. By the end of July, I had removed some 15–20k words from the manuscript, added another 30k words, and rewritten one chapter and a whole bunch of sections. The first draft and the final manuscript each stand at around 70k words.
Once my first draft was ready in July, I sent it to a bunch of beta readers so I could gauge where my book stood. By August, I had received feedback from five beta readers (three gave detailed feedback, and two shared their thoughts in brief). This stage helped me identify all the minor issues that had slipped through my editing phase, so I spent the next week fixing those. I read my book once again to check its readability, and then I hired a professional editor.
The editor took two months to edit my manuscript, which meant I had two months of doing nothing to the manuscript. I utilized that time to apply for ISBNs, set up my KDP profile, research processes, find formatting templates, et cetera. And, most importantly, I started working on the cover design—I hired my friend’s agency for this, since I’m not a professional designer.
As the editor and designers worked on their respective tasks, I began building a social media calendar, a detailed to-do list, and an action plan. Sometime in mid-September, I updated my social media profiles and began posting content related to my book.
Once I got my edited draft and cover design back, I started my marketing processes, set up my KDP and IngramSpark dashboards, and announced my release date, December 1, 2023. I’m currently (November 2023) in the middle of finding ARC readers and getting as many reviews and starting as many conversations around my book as I can manage.
What are your book marketing plans?
Focusing on sales at this point seems a little unrealistic; if I can get enough followers, and I can in turn offer those followers something worthwhile, I’ll be building an audience who’ll stay with me for the long run. So, my current marketing goals aren’t about immediate sales but about following and recognition.
With those expectations managed, I’m focusing on identifying and establishing my online presence right now. As a first-time author who’s self-publishing his book, I need to be putting out content that gives a glimpse into what I can offer, and gaining a relevant following. I had barely used social media, so the first thing to do was to update all my profiles, change their handles, and make it clear that I’m a fantasy author.
The next step was to expand that presence by actively engaging in online communities (I’m a lurker, but I’m working on overcoming my social anxiety to be able to achieve this). This engagement has helped me get new followers and start new conversations.
My hope is that all of these steps slowly bring more attention to my book (as well as my future releases; I plan on releasing at least two more works next year). The more I can get people to talk about my book, review it, and spread the word, the better it’ll be for all my upcoming projects.
Of course, it’d be amazing to have hundreds of pre-orders and sales, but the need for reviews and recognition trumps that goal. At least at present.
What advice do you have for people writing books THIS month, given it’s NaNoWriMo?
I always tell myself three things whenever I participate in NaNoWriMo, which I would give as advice:
1. NaNoWriMo is a rough-draft challenge. The best thing you can end up with is a rough draft. But a rough draft is better than no draft at all.
2. You might not publish this manuscript, but you will learn something. November 2023 is my fourth time participating in NaNoWriMo. Before I wrote Help! My Dog Is the Chosen One! I wrote three other manuscripts (two for NaNoWriMo, one on my own) that failed to get published. But each one of those drafts taught me something extremely important about writing. Every single lesson I learned is what got me here, publishing my debut novel.
3. It’s okay to fail. The best part of NaNoWriMo is that the stakes are only as high as you make them. It’s okay if you don’t write daily. It’s okay if you don’t finish on time. More importantly, it’s okay if you don’t finish at all.
I’m working on a manuscript which I might not be able to finish on time, mostly because my first book is less than a month away from being published. If I have to choose between focusing on publishing or writing a rough draft, at this given moment I will choose the former.
Did you hire a professional editor? If yes, how much of a difference did it make?
Yes. I wanted my book to be the best version of itself at the time of publishing, and a professional editor was of utmost importance to achieve that.
I hired a professional editor for this release, and I can see the difference it has made. The readability has improved by a lot, all my formatting and syntax errors were caught, and I learned so much about editing, I managed to catch the few things my editor missed.
If anyone is wondering if it’s worth it to hire an editor, I would say YES. Of course, editing is subjective, and you can always resort to self-editing. But personally, I prefer someone else to edit my book, so that it undergoes at least one round of editing by completely fresh and objective eyes.
What are 3 reasons why you think people should read your book?
1. What if the fate of our world depended on YOUR DOG? This is an urban fantasy adventure featuring anxiety and a cute dog! Written with the traditional hero’s-journey structure, the book was my way of subverting the typical hero story by making the ”chosen one” the protagonist’s dog.
2. Tons of pop-culture references. I’m a huge fantasy geek, and I haven’t held back in my book. Every chapter is full of pop-culture references, and they aren’t just there for vanity. While a lot of the references will be clear to an SFF fan, each of those elements plays a key role in the book’s plot and narrative to give readers a complete experience. My aim was to do what Brandon Sanderson does with his Cosmere books: write an awesome book, which becomes even richer when you understand all the references.
3. Mental health. As much as I want my book to be entertaining, I also believe that all art has a responsibility of presenting its audiences with a deeper truth about life. For me, that was mental health. While my story is a light-hearted read that’s funny, exciting, and fast-paced (per the feedback from my beta readers), I also wanted the story to have its moments of stark reality. For that very reason, I’ve incorporated mental-health issues, primarily anxiety, to give the book a unique perspective through my protagonist’s eyes, as well as some insight into trauma and anxiety and coping with the same through conversation, resolution, and acceptance.
About Ronit J:
Ronit J is a fantasy author and indie filmmaker based in Mumbai. He decided to write fantasy books at the age of 11, and at 29 he’s finally self-publishing his debut book, Help! My Dog Is the Chosen One! Ronit is a fantasy nerd with big dreams and bigger anxieties, all struggling to make themselves be heard within the existential maelstrom that is his mind.
Learn more about Ronit and his work at https://ronitjauthor.com/.