Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Connecting readers to global stories via self-publishing

After a move to Doha in 2005, South Asian–American MohanalakshmiRajakumar found herself with an abundance of time to contemplate women in the modern Middle East and the expat experience. As a scholar of gender and literature teaching at American universities in Qatar, Rajakumar started a blog to further explore these issues. She soon used self-publishing to find a global audience for her fiction—like 2009’s romance Love Comes Later or 2015’s murder mystery The Migrant Report—which spans various genres but still centers on fundamental questions about racial and immigrant identities. Rajakumar has also released guides for aspiring writers and written academic articles like “She Needs a Website of Her Own,” exploring the new opportunities for women and minorities offered by the expanding world of self-publishing.  

How did your move to Doha impact your writing?

When I first moved here, so many interesting things were happening to me: new country, new job, new minority (rather than being the only nonwhite person somewhere, I was now the only non-Muslim), and writing was the best way to channel or process all those novel experiences. It was after my fifth time hearing that Kindle books was the place to be if you were an author that I decided to take three years of rejected manuscripts and release them as e-books.

What do you hope to show readers about life in Qatar?

That people in the Middle East are not all militants or abused women but adults with hopes, dreams, aspirations just like them. I am writing for people who love to travel and might not have the budget to keep discovering new places. Book club members who might have been Peace Corps members and want to stay current about the world outside their own. Also for expat Muslims who are tired of the stereotypes in mainstream media and popular literature.

Is it challenging to reach an audience from halfway around the world?

Rajakumar cover In fact, self-publishing makes it much easier to reach people worldwide because of the large platform it gives you. Social media means that often it feels as if there is no distance at all between me and readers despite our being in different locations. Having a blog means that people know they will hear from me on a weekly basis and can participate in conversations via Goodreads or my Facebook author page.

Why do you like exploring new genres?

All my books start with a central question, and I can't stop asking questions about this fascinating world we live in. When I started my Crimes in Arabia series, it was with the idea that the Arabian Gulf and Scandinavian or Nordic noir have many similarities: small countries, oil rich, entitled citizenry, with many noncitizens living among them, extreme weather conditions. What kinds of crime happen in a place where stealing can get your hand cut off in reprisal?

Do you think that self-publishing is opening doors for more diversity and women in publishing?

What self-publishing has done is taken away the gatekeeping nature of publishers-editors-agents between the reader and the text. It used to be that big houses would see it as their service to the industry to also publish books that were “important” or “promising” even if they weren't big sellers. Now, with the profit margins really squeezed by online reading and the digital revolution, publishing a book is harder than ever. So self-publishing is a way to reach readers for writers of those smaller “idea” books that are getting rejected even more often than in the past.

Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator based in Paris.

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