Sara Naveed
Image Credit: Supplied

Sara Naveed writes about love, and she loves every bit of it.

Author of Undying Affinity (Penguin Random House India, 2017), Our Story Ends Here (Penguin Random House India, 2017), All of My Heart (Penguin Random House India, 2018), The World Between Us (Penguin Random House India, and Liberty Publishing, Pakistan, 2020), and The Cold Heart (Sasha Publishing, 2022), Sara’s literary journey is short but so remarkable it deserves a special round of applause. Many rounds.

The process of writing is an essential part of Sara’s life. And it becomes even more gratifying once her work is published and receives a positive and personal response from her readers in Pakistan, India, and elsewhere.

There is a structural simplicity in the plots of Sara’s novels while her characters exist in their emotional rollercoasters. In her uncomplicated writing is the desire for the complexity of love that builds and destroys and rebuilds and fractures and heals lives. Her love stories are conventional but substantial for their impact on her protagonists’ hearts.

Noticeable in Sara’s love for her writing career is her social media footprint—her posts about various aspects of writing a romance novel and her tips on writing in general. Her virtual interactions are reflective of the importance of inclusivity in the realm of the written word. That writing despite being a deeply personal experience is a universal thread that connects humans to one another beyond the identities of faith, colour, status, nationality. Sara’s love for books is generous, honest, empathetic, positive. And simply lovely.

For Gulf News, I asked Sara Naveed a few questions:

You have authored five romance novels. When was that first moment you knew you had a story that needed to be told in long form?

I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. My love for reading grew when I came across Archie’s comics, Nancy Drew stories and books of Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine during my pre-teen years. Not only did I enjoy reading them, but I also loved hoarding them! As I entered adolescence, I stumbled upon Erich Segal’s “Love Story” at a book stall in Murree and instantly fell in love with the romance genre. Soon, I realized I had developed a newfound love for romance books.

My love for romance novels and movies led me to write fanfiction on online forums. When netizens appreciated my writing style, I felt motivated to write more stories for them. I still vividly remember one online user advising me to work on a real novel and get it published. However, at the time, I was completely oblivious to such an idea as I knew nothing about writing and getting a book published.

I did not take writing seriously until I enrolled for my master’s degree and started living in a hostel. It was the first time I was without my family. Living alone and a hundred miles away from them put me in a state of solitude, and that was when I felt a void in my life. That was also the time when the idea of my first book, Undying Affinity, came to my mind. It was an epiphany; suddenly, nothing excited me as much as the idea of writing a book. As soon as the story developed in my mind, I knew I had to pen it down without knowing how I was going to share it with the world.

What constitutes a romance novel?

A romance novel comprises two main elements: a central love story between two characters and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. It also contains several other elements such as passion and commitment. Romance novels can be found in various subgenres such as contemporary, historical, fantasy, and suspense. My favourite romance subgenre is contemporary.

Romance novels are mostly known for happy endings; however, not all of them have one.

I’m more inclined towards tragic endings—endings that break your heart and make you teary-eyed.

Four of your novels were published by Penguin Random House, India. What was the process for a Pakistani writer to be published in India?

For a writer, writing a novel is one task while getting it published is an entirely different one and an extremely challenging one. In fact, I would say the process of writing and getting published is an exhausting yet satisfying experience.

When I finished my first novel, I started reaching out to different publishing companies in Pakistan and abroad. Continuous rejections from local and foreign publishing companies did not deter me from my dream of becoming a writer so I kept trying and decided not to give up. While I was conducting research on publishing on the internet, I stumbled upon the term “self-publishing”. Soon, I was convinced I would opt for self-publishing because I could not let my manuscript rot in the computer—unnoticed and unread. Fortunately, I got in touch with an indie publishing and printing company in Lahore that agreed to print copies for me against some investment.

With the help of the same company, I managed to distribute my book across the leading bookstores in the country and sold copies on my social media platforms. Following the nationwide success of my debut novel, I started working on my second. However, for the second novel, I had different plans as I intended to get it published via the traditional publishing route.

Once again, I started sending query letters along with my manuscript to literary agents across the world, including India. Unbeknown to me, one of the literary agents in India had forwarded my query letter to one of the editors working at Penguin Random House India. One day, I received an email from the same editor expressing that she’d read my work, and that she wished to read the entire manuscript. Giddy with excitement, I shared it without wasting another minute.

Penguin Random House India offered me a two-book contract, agreeing to publish my first and second book, and the rest is history.

In 2022, you founded your publishing house—Sasha Publishing. What is the story behind that decision?

When by the end of 2019, Pakistan halted all trade, including books, with India, it was an unexpected blow to all the Pakistani writers whose books were published in India and brought for sale in Pakistan. Repercussions of the book ban also greatly impacted Pakistani bookstores where the majority of the book consignments were delivered from India at relatively cheap prices and had less delivery time compared to the UK and US markets.

Due to the ongoing commodity ban between the two countries, I could not think of getting another book published by an Indian publisher as there was no possible way to have my book available for sale in Pakistan. Also, without any sale in Pakistan, Indian publishers did not see any point in picking up a book by a Pakistani author.

That is what led me to the decision of setting up my own publishing company titled Sasha Publishing. Fascinated by the publishing industry, I had always wanted to set up my own small publishing setup but due to lack of resources and experience, I could not make the decision.

In 2022, I took a leap of faith and started my own company. My fifth book The Cold Heart, a romance psychological thriller, has been published under the same publishing wing and has already won the hearts of hundreds of readers.