Jay Mandal’s novels and short stories are written with the gay audience in mind. So far he has written three novels and over 200 short stories.
His books, which include the novel Precipice and the collections of short stories, A Different Kind of Love, The Loss of Innocence, and Slubberdegullion, have been well received. His debut novel, The Dandelion Clock has sold over 1,000 copies, mostly through online sales. His latest novel, All About Sex, is currently at number six on the Amazon (U.K.) gay romance section.
In an email interview that took place in August of 2006, Jay Mandal spoke about his writing, his newly released novel, the challenges emerging writers face and how new technology is changing the publishing industry.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
It was something that happened gradually. As a child, I’d make “books” by folding sheets of paper, and I’d make up episodes of shows I watched on television.
It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I began to write short stories with the aim of getting them published.
As a writer, my main concern is probably that of every author: I want readers to enjoy what I write, whether it’s serious or humorous.
Who influenced you the most?
My favourite authors are Douglas Adams, John Steinbeck, Bill Bryson, and Armistead Maupin, and my favourite books are Il Gattopardo, Wuthering Heights, and To Kill A Mockingbird.
It was The Tales of the City books that encouraged me to start writing again and not to give up until I had a publisher. Armistead Maupin’s books were written in the sort of style that I liked, and they had a track record. There was humour and pathos, and I wanted to attempt a British equivalent.
How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?
I’ve suffered from depression and in Precipice I explore its effect on one of the main characters. Overall, though, it’s not a depressing book. Precipice is about coming to terms with cancer, and learning to live with the disease and its consequences.
The novel took about a year — I let it languish in a drawer for a considerable length of time before sending it anywhere. It was published in 2005 by BeWrite Books.
Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?
The chapter dealing with depression took a lot of work. I’d jotted things down as they occurred to me, and had to get them into some kind of order and not overload the reader.
What sets Precipice apart from the other things you have written?
The very first word is “Cancer.” Right from the start the reader knows it’s not going to be a comfortable book to read. But despite the theme, there is a lot of humour in the novel.
Which themes will you be exploring in your next book?
My next book is entitled All About Sex, which gives a clue! But it’ll be classified as romance rather than erotica on Amazon, so loyal readers should not be put off by the title. It’s due out in the autumn.
How did you get there?
I try to write 100 words every day. It’s not a vast amount, but it soon adds up. It allows you to continue with your daily routine — few authors make enough to live on their earnings. And I was lucky enough to find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unknown writer.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Publicity is a huge challenge, but it’s one that writers are now expected to undertake themselves to some extent. Not only is there a flood of manga on the market, but there are also very few independent bookshops left. Manga refers to the mostly Japanese graphic books. In the top 20 of my genre, 14 books (70 percent) are manga ("yaoi").
The chains are unwilling to take a chance on books by relatively unknown authors, and content themselves in a cut-price war of bestsellers that the small publisher can’t hope to compete with.
The big chains refuse to take advantage of the new print-on-demand technology, as the latter means they have to pay upfront for books and can’t simply return unsold ones for pulping.
Of course, self-publishers using print-on-demand may not have access to the same level of editing and proofreading expertise, so some errors or poorer writing may slip through. Also, the print-on-demand books have so far been a bit more expensive than those produced by mainstream publishers, as printers are not always able to take advantage of the economies of scale.
What effect does this have on readers and writers?
Readers who obtain their books from high street shops are forced to buy bestsellers and books by celebrities. New, unknown authors aren’t stocked, which means that publishers are even more reluctant to take a chance on them. It’s a vicious circle.
Writers are now following the self-publishing route more and more which, in turn, means there’s less likelihood of their books being stocked and promoted.
Unless a new way of selling develops, readers are likely to find even less choice in the future.
What is print-on-demand technology? How does it work?
Print-on-demand means books are printed as and when ordered, and is the technology used by some book publishers. This does away with stockpiles in publishers’ warehouses or authors’ garages and spare rooms, and means capital is not tied up in unsold books. It’s more efficient, and a book never becomes out-of-print.
Self-publishing describes the whole process of producing a book, including editing and proofreading, and is paid for by the author himself. It may use either print-on-demand technology or the more traditional larger print-runs.
Print-on-demand technology — used by publishers rather than directly by writers — is still in its infancy but is growing fast, fuelled by the large number of books written.
In time, quality can only improve and quantity increase. Different outlets — such as cyber-cafes — may offer facilities for downloading books.
How do you deal with the challenges that you face?
I read writing magazines as well as the books sections in national newspapers — these give you ideas. There are also writers’ websites to which I belong. Members often draw attention to writing competitions and literary festivals being held. Most of my books are sold online, where print-on-demand is not a problem.
Do you see a time when online booksellers will replace the traditional bookseller? Why is this? What effect will it have on readers and writers alike?
Nothing compares with the pleasure of browsing and of actually being able to hold the book in your hands. However, there are few independent bookshops left, and very few chains, too, and the latter rely heavily on bestsellers.
Online bookstores offer a vast range and are able to include reviews of many books — not just those that win prizes or have been written by celebrities or those reviewed by newspapers and magazines at their editors’ discretion.
Then there are e-readers — hand-held electronic devices that store numerous books — which could replace textbooks in schools. But I hope there will always be a place for the traditional bookseller.