Chillibreeze Interview with Shuchi Singh Kalra
Shuchi Singh Kalra has been writing professionally for over 7 years. Start-ups to corporates and publishing houses to popular magazines, she has a diverse repertoire of clients in her kitty. Shuchi is also the founder of Pixie Dust Writing Studio, a quaint little writing and editing firm that services a global clientele.
1. An optometrist turned writer…that’s some transformation! But you must have been writing all along. Do you think a master’s in English Literature and Linguistics brought about a change in your writing style?
Yes, it has been an incredibly exciting and satisfying journey. I have loved reading and writing for as long as I can remember but I didn’t go commercial anytime before 2005. Until then, it was just my personal diary and a few essay-writing competitions in school and college. I took up the master’s course for the sheer fun of it – I absolutely adore books and the master’s program gave me an opportunity to revisit some of my old favourites with an entirely new perspective. Moreover, it was such a huge digression from what I had been studying at Optometry school and it just opened up so many metaphorical windows in my mind, if you know what I mean. I believe that the more you read, the better you write. So yes, the master’s program would have definitely added to my skills.
2. You used be a guest blogger for Chillibreeze. What was that experience like? Any comments for our readers?
Chillibreeze is “the” hub for Indian freelancers so I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity. It sort of validated my belief that I had the potential to make it as a professional writer – I really needed that at that stage of my career. As writers, we don’t attach enough importance to the concept of guest blogging whereas it is one of the best ways to network, expand our client base and increase our visibility in the online marketplace.
Definitely! In fact, I was going through one of my older articles the other day– it was wordy as hell and amateur to say the least! It made me cringe, but I take it as a sign that I have grown as a writer and editor. My writing has evolved over the years and today, I feel far more confident experimenting with styles and writing for different audiences.
4. Has ‘online’ English changed much over the years? As an editor, do you get a lot of shortened versions of regular words, ‘sms’ style? What do you think are two things that wannabe writers simply must keep in mind?
I get it so often, it’s not funny. I have found ‘sms lingo’ in admission essays for Ivy League Universities as well as academic books written by professors. Online English is still English and it ought to remain that way. However, ‘online’ writing differs significantly from print and other kinds of writing. The tone is more conversational and the sentences are shorter, simpler and easy to scan through. Anyone who aspires to write professionally must take their writing seriously. There is no room for spellers, typos, tacky grammar or misplaced punctuation – even in emails. Secondly, more than the actual writing, it is important to be perceived as a competent professional – market yourself well, network with the right people and make your presence felt.
5. You are an established freelance writer and have written for leading magazines. Can you share some tips on pitching to magazines. How does one go about bagging an assignment with magazines and portals – what really works?
To be honest, most of the big names that I have worked with (such as Femina.in, Good Housekeeping, Time ‘n’ Style Beauty, Home Review) have approached me to write for them rather than the other way around. I attribute this to a strong online portfolio. However, while approaching magazines and portals, make sure that your article pitch is awesome enough to stick out from the hundred others in an editor’s inbox. Draft a stunning cover letter, provide a detailed synopsis of the story (you should have researched the subject beforehand), and explain how you are going to approach the topic and why it will be of interest to readers. Bonus points if you can add the opening paragraph (make it sizzle!). Generic article ideas almost never work. Editors are usually looking for a unique spin on a subject– something that readers are not likely to have come across before. For example, “Tips to Spice Up Your Love Life” sounds banal but “Spice Up Your Love Life With Power Yoga” might pique the editor’s interest.
That said, it is much easier to break into online publications compared to print. The former is likely to provide you with a steady flow of assignments while the latter offers better remuneration (upto Rs.10/word). It is good to have a balance of both.
6. Do you think freelance writers in India are getting their due? Any guidelines you can share for newbies and experienced writers with regard to bidding for projects - is there a cheat sheet or a matrix to follow when quoting for an assignment? (for example – how much per word for editing/writing/proofreading)
I believe we can do a lot better on the monetary front. While there is no blanket rule for how much writers should charge, they should definitely not sell themselves short. It sort of drags the rest of us into the rut. I have had instances where I sent a quote of $20 for a 500-word blog post and the client found it ridiculously expensive because another writer quoted $2. I wish writers in India would place more value on their worth. As for the rates, I usually factor in the nature of assignment (blog post, editing/proofreading, web copy, product review, magazine article, ad copy, white paper etc.), degree of research, time taken and volume of the project before sending a quote. Rs.2-4/word is a reasonable quote for magazines and website content (more if the subject is niche), while Rs.500-1000/piece should be the average for online articles. For editing assignments, I usually charge on a per page basis – one page being 300 words. The rates can vary from Rs.100/page to Rs.300/page depending on the complexity of the subject and amount of editing required.
7. What do you think is the best way for Indian freelance writers to network? Are there sufficient online and offline portals for writers to get together as a community?
I think we are severely lacking in that area. When I first started out, Chillibreeze was the only significant community for writers and it still continues to be. In fact, the void prompted me to launch a blog specifically for Indian freelance writers, which received a phenomenal response.
8. What do you think of ebooks? From the writers’ point of view, how different are they when compared with regular books?
For me, ebooks come nowhere close to conventional books as far as reading experience goes and I don’t see them replacing the latter anytime soon. However, they do have an enormous market of their own, which I believe, is a good thing for writers. Since ebooks are shorter, and do not require a literary bent, they are relatively easy to write and read. Short fiction, anthologies, how-to manuals, self-help books – you can write anything and there is no fear of rejection. I know writers who have written a score of ebooks and independently marketed them online. I am told they bring in good money.
9. If you ever write a book, what will it be about? And what will it be called?
Writing a book and getting it published is my ultimate dream. I am slowly inching towards it, although I have been guilty of slacking ever too often. I enjoy light-hearted, feel-good novels so my first would most definitely be in that category. We’ll name the baby after it is born.
10. Can you please tell us about your hobbies/other interests as well?
I love travelling (backpacking and road trips) and exploring new cultures and cuisines. Fortunately, that is one of the perks of marrying an army man! I am a die-hard foodie and I find cooking very relaxing, especially baking. I also make my own wine at home. So yes, it is pretty much all about food.
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