Nothing more rewarding

Mansi Shah (LLM Law 2007) describes her journey to achieving her lifelong dream of being an author

I knew my culture’s stories were worth telling, so it was the fuel to keep going until I found the right agent and editor

Mansi Shah (LLM Law 2007)

Profile image of Mansi Shah showing her wearing a blue top against a white background

For November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), we are celebrating the stories of alumni who have become published novelists. Mansi Shah had made a career in entertainment law, but her longest-held dream was to be a writer. Mansi tells us how she came to publish her first novel, The Taste of Ginger.

A Desire to Represent  

As a kid, I was an avid reader - I would check out the maximum number of library books and finish them in only a few days. As an adult, I realised that I’d never read any stories that reflected my lived experience as a Gujarati immigrant, and very few that reflected the Indian diaspora at all. The message from the publishing industry seemed to be that the 1.4 billion people of Indian descent with their varying cuisines, languages, dress, and customs were interchangeable, and the handful of existing books were enough to satisfy that readership. I was determined to change that and ensure my culture was represented on the shelves. So, in 2009, I began the first draft of The Taste of Ginger.

Facing Rejection 

I faced many years of rejections before eventually landing my first book deal. Agents would say they’d “just signed an Indian author,” or editors would say they recently had “a book like this” on their list. That type of rejection was one of the hardest parts of the journey because it was completely out of my control. I wasn’t being told that there was a problem with my writing, voice, or story. If I had been told any of those things, I could have worked harder, spent more time revising, or come up with another story. But the idea that there wasn’t room on the shelves for what I had written was demoralising. 

My most memorable rejection was in 2011, when an agency meant to send an internal email but instead replied to me. Their true, unfiltered thoughts were: “Solid voice. Great title. Though I’m worried because you said the India wave has passed…” I spent a long time thinking about my culture as a passing “wave.” What kept me motivated from that response and others like it was that none questioned my writing abilities. I knew my culture’s stories were worth telling, so it was the fuel to keep going until I found the right agent and editor who wanted to join me in my efforts to disrupt the publishing industry.

Getting published

 In 2020, the racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd and too many others, and rampant acts of Asian hate, meant I got my chance. The Taste of Ginger, a story about an authentic Indian immigrant experience and the search for identity and belonging when straddling two cultures without fully being accepted in either, was a story that people seemed now ready to hear. When I received the offer, I was stunned because it was from an editor who had reviewed the manuscript eighteen months earlier but had declined to make an offer at that time.

Taste of Ginger book cover showing the title in white writing against a blue background with red flowers, green leaves and a red kite.

However, the success came with a mix of emotions. I could not divorce the publishing industry welcoming my novel from the many lives that had been tragically cut short. My childhood dream had come true but against a backdrop of pain. I questioned if I was getting an offer because it was the current “wave” to sign authors of colour—I didn’t want to be seen as a token or quota metric. I wondered whether I’d have to change elements that a white audience might find uncomfortable or controversial. While my manuscript hadn’t changed, it felt like everything around it had.

I ultimately decided that this offer was a foot in the door and that I should let my writing and characters do the talking. And I’m so glad I did. I’ve had nothing but support and encouragement from my fabulous editor and publishing team at Lake Union, who want to put authentic stories into the world as much as I do.

The Joy of Writing  

I enjoy so many parts of the creative process, but my favourite is deciding what message I want to convey in a novel and then creating the story and place that supports it. I’ve incorporated my love of travel into my writing by setting each of my books in a different country thus far. I feel very fortunate that I get to explore new places so that I can write about them authentically and bring those places to readers who might not be able to make those trips. When I set down to write the first draft, it’s exciting because anything is possible. I love it when I'm writing, and the words flow effortlessly from me to the page. There is no better feeling than typing "The End" on that draft. 

Advice for Alumni

Writing for personal joy and fulfilment must be prioritised over financial success because it is tough to earn a living through writing, especially as an author of colour. My transition to full-time writing is due to my success as an entertainment lawyer rather than my writing - even with The Taste of Ginger and my new book, The Direction of the Wind, having reached significant numbers of readers. Given my immigrant upbringing and need for financial stability, I would have had too much anxiety to write if I was constantly worrying about how to pay my bills. Each writer needs to find the financial balance that best allows them to unleash their creativity. Once I found that for myself, there’s been nothing more rewarding than writing and hearing from readers who have connected with my books. Despite being a pragmatist, I believe that when you follow your passions, unanticipated doors open for you, so you need to have some faith thrown in as well. 

Mansi’s third book, A Good Indian Girl, will be released in summer 2024.

Find out more about Mansi and her books.

November 2023