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Opinion: Asking Takes Courage

Opinion: Asking Takes Courage

Headshot of Mohana Rajakumar

Mohana Rajakumar

Let's start the week with an inspiring tale of perseverance and self-belief leading to success, by indie author and scholar Mohana Rajakumar, a South Asian American living in Qatar, who describes how she progressed from self-publishing ebooks to holding well-attended events signing paperbacks in bookstores.

When I first entered self-publishing it was learning about ebooks. I had eight manuscripts that had been politely declined by well-meaning agents in a ten-year period. Feeling like the literary version of a spinster, ebooks catapulted me into using the title of writer officially with friends and family. Two years later, I was ready to launch a paperback. At the time, I didn’t know the first thing about scheduling book events. I asked friends for recommendations of cafes that held events.

Christmas of 2012, we left our son with family to rush across town, wondering if anyone would even show up. They did. About 12 people, most of them friends who wanted to catch up.

“You don’t know me, but I follow your blog,” a bearded, spectacled man said, striding in with his daughter. An electric current ran through the rest of us.  This is real my husband’s look said. Hope you have something good to say.

That same year, a few weeks later, we were staring a “Closed” sign in Georgia, the supposed second stop of the book tour. The café had forgotten the New Year’s Day event they had agreed to. We went to the movies instead.

From Ebook to Pbook

One of Mohana's novels won the She Writes New Novelist 2011 competition

One of Mohana's novels won the She Writes New Novelist 2011 competition

I tried again six months later, as my new plan was to release all the ebooks as paperbacks, two a year. I wised up to independent bookstores and libraries, the living rooms of friends, and more or less anyone who wanted to talk to me about one of my books.

Some of them were great fun, like reunions, hugging old friends I hadn’t seen in years, who kindly bought multiple copies of each title. Some of them were embarrassing, like the phone call I had to make while sitting alone a signing table. “That’s okay,” I told the manager who apologized for the fact no one said a word to me during my hour and a half vigil. (Except for the guy who chatted to me for 10 minutes, ending with “I don’t read books. Bye.”) I didn’t want to be a primadonna, since he had warned me volubly about low attendance before agreeing to host me. I drove away as quickly as I could.


In April, visiting Tampa for a conference, I began emailing bookshops, asking if anyone wanted to host me and my two paperbacks, the memory of that solitary event hovering in the shadows. We don’t do book events came one gruff reply.

“Hi this is Mohana, I sent you an email about doing a book event,” I said to the person on the other end at the Old Tampa Book Company. I busied myself with my Twitter timeline to delay the sting of another brush off.

“Yes, sorry, I’ve been so busy, but we would love to host you.”

“You would?” I sat up straighter.

The conference I attended that month in Tampa had me scratching my head. What am I doing here?  I thought, suppressing yawns at heavily academic presentations.

Onward and Upward

That night I assembled myself for the event. And was amazed by the wonderful people who showed up – strangers! – who hung on the edge of their seats and bought multiple copies of both my books. They had come in because of the strength of the shop’s mailing list. “We did better sales on your night than we have all week,” the shop owner said to me with a huge smile.

Cover of The Migrant Report

Mohana's latest novel

“Yes, thanks for being persistent,” laughed the events person at a feminist bookshop in Atlanta. “We would love to have you.”

Again in New York strangers came into the volunteer-run shop, Bluestockings, to sit, listen, and ask questions about my work. They waited for me to sign copies for their friends and families.

This summer, 2015, I did a five-stop book tour, in independent bookstores from New York to Atlanta. None of this would have happened without persistence and humility. (Not to mention writing new books)

If you have a story to tell, keep telling it. Keep asking – someone will definitely say yes.

OVER TO YOU Do you have an inspiring case study to share about your self-publishing career, in bookstores or anywhere else? We'd love to hear from you!

How #perseverance paid off for #selfpub #author @moha_doha #Authors4bookstores Click To Tweet



This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. Well done, Mohana and thank you for you honest report of the vagaries of your book tour. It takes time and expense and confidence. I’m glad your friends and family were there to encourage you while the strangers among us began to catch up.

  2. Congratulations, Mohana. It’s good to know there is success out there! I’ve two local children’s bookstores host me, but I’m afraid to ask the most well-known one in town because she’s rather down on indie books. I just need to get brave and pump up the local angle. 🙂

    May I ask what you included in your emails? Did your books have a local angle? Win an award? Appeal to the feminist side (re: the feminist bookstore)? What did you have/do/say that made the proposal intriguing for them?

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