Become a bestseller by “not painting within the lines,” an interview with authors Sara Connell & Nandita Godbole

Sara Connell
Jan 16 · 9 min read

Creativity is not painting within the lines — spill some paint, mix some colors and write to your heart’s content.

As part of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nandita Godbole.

Nandita is a food writer and bestselling cookbook author. Originally from India, she came to the United States nearly two decades ago to study. Nandita writes about her favorite foods and recently published a biographical fiction called Ten Thousand Tongues: secrets of a layered kitchen — a book about eight women who influence comfort foods in their home. Nandita’s books have reached more than 30 countries in digital and print form, and on any given day, she is either writing about food or cooking up something delicious in Atlanta, Georgia.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I started teaching Indian cooking back in 2004 in Michigan, and later in 2010, I started a supper club in Atlanta after we had moved there a few years prior. My guests kept asking for recipes, tips, and tricks to cook Indian food better — because nothing they had eaten tasted anywhere half as good as what came from my kitchen. I shopped the concept around with some agents but discovered they were not as confident as I was about a cookbook for a niche audience. So I crowdfunded, wrote and then published my first book in 2014, A Dozen Ways to Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts for the Culinary Indulgent.

What was (so far) the most exhilarating or fulfilling experience you’ve had as an author?

I am always amazed at the number of people interested in niche books like mine, that are not written based on a celebrity fashion but responds to a specific need and interest. After each of my five titles, the most fulfilling experience has been hearing back from readers who tell me how rewarded THEY felt after reading and using my methods to better their own skills, and are particularly thrilled when their family loves the books too. Just knowing my work is making more people happy is the best experience an author can have.

What was the craziest, weirdest, wildest experience you’ve had as a bestselling author?

This was a recent encounter. I was feeling ill and decided to have it checked out at the nearest urgent care facility. I waited for the attending doctor who seemed to take a few extra minutes even though the facility was empty. He entered with a rather quizzical expression on his face, and after several awkward moments even before he checked for my symptoms, asked if I was the same author whose book he owned or the person behind the famous brand ‘Curry Cravings.’ I was mortified for a few minutes, as I was in one of the most unpresentable state — stuffy nosed, in my sweats. But his sense of humor eased the awkwardness. He said he had stopped to look me up because my name appeared familiar. We chatted long after his diagnosis all the way from movies to restaurant recommendations!

What is the greatest part of being a successful, bestselling author? What is the worst (if anything) part?

Being successful means nothing if your readers cannot relate to your work in a practical way — in my case, less fluff, more stuff. The wonderful thing about having a bestseller title is that people have confidence in my work and know that I won’t steer them wrong. This kind of trust, and ‘consumer confidence’ becomes its own quality control. If an author is not authentic about their work, even a minor slip can lead to a major problem. We are all human and make mistakes, so owning up to it or being open to eating ‘humble pie’ is just as important as toasting a success.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?

For each of my books, I spend more time working through the idea before it goes on paper. I routinely flip through design magazines, engage in creative writing and spend time loosening my creative ‘nuts and bolts’ before I begin to write the material intended to go in ‘the book.’ I only write when I know that my time will be uninterrupted, and the ideas can flow effortlessly. I brainstorm and make changes along the way, and this helps keep creativity fresh and vibrant. An idea that I may have had two years ago may not be relevant today.

Many people believe that one must write every day to be any good. I believe it depends on your work style — and everyone must find it before they can achieve any measure of accomplishment.

Because I do the writing and book design as well, my timelines are a little different compared to other authors. My global bestselling techniques book Crack The Code is based on more than 30 years of practical knowledge and required six months of intense writing, and book design to synthesize the techniques into a form that was appealing and could stand alone. This is a teaching book, only a little over 100 pages long. On the other hand, I spent a good part of two years of writing and research, five to six hours every day to finish my recent novel, Ten Thousand Tongues: secrets of a layered kitchen. The resulting novel represents a complex biographical fiction, spanning more than a century, over 150k words and includes more than seventy authentic, old-fashioned recipes. Each project takes its time, and must not be rushed or shared until it is ready.

Which writer or leader has had the biggest impact on you as a writer?

Along with a healthy dose of comic books and YA fiction, I grew up reading philosophical books intended for adults: some explored spirituality, while others showcased leadership qualities. My parents encouraged these because these allow a person to find their inner best self — it shapes who they become and how they best contribute to the world. My father also encouraged me to stay curious about non-fiction books that made me inquisitive about the world beyond my neighborhood. These books were some of the most meaningful ones I read.

I find inspiration in lives and works of visionaries like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and the late Steve Jobs. They challenged the norm, thought outside the box and influenced the core of how we all function, their drive inspires me and millions of others like me.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it?

The hardest thing for any author is the right representation, someone who becomes your partner and confidant, understands your visions and helps you take your work directly to the readers. It remains a hurdle for any creative person. The lack of confidence in a dream project can also cause a domino effect on future projects. I am constantly dealing with both.

However, I am also very fortunate to have found an audience that believes in my visions and makes it effortless to stay true to my artistic expression. I am not a perfectionist but like to keep my work in check by asking peers for feedback when I am in doubt. Any criticism only means there is room for refinement. This journey started with my first book, and through the years I continue to engage in a lot of self-evaluation before I commit to a project. When I commit — I pledge to take it to the finish line the way I envision it.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career?

My biographical fiction was extremely personal and therefore, took longer to write. Many readers have sent in endearing and heartfelt praise-filled notes, but despite two spots on NBC-Asian America coverage, it is yet to find the right audience. However, I know that each book shines in its own time, and I am quite confident that there will be a time when it will be ‘discovered.’

What are the 5 things you would tell your younger self who was just starting out on their writing journey?

I would tell my younger self a few important lessons, I wish someone had told me:

1. Explore the possibilities of your passion — no one could be more driven than you.

Several years ago, I found a quote by Richard Branson and it has inspired me since: “What is the best way to do it?” Each time I need to find an answer, I ask this. The answer is the winning idea.

2. Creativity is not painting within the lines — spill some paint, mix some colors and write to your heart’s content.

Before I began my supper club, I had never permitted myself to do something unconventional. When I challenged myself to go past it, I opened the doors to possibilities. Eight years since my first supper club, and fourteen years since my first cooking class, I am about to publish my sixth cookbook. I would not have been here if I did not take those leaps of faith.

3. Dream. And then wake up and find out how to make those dreams happen.

When I was younger, I allowed a lot of self-doubts to cloud my visions and allowed circumstances to quash my desire to look outside the common parameters. It kept me on predictable paths that lead nowhere. When I was able to change it, I gained so much more than an ordinary career.

4. Ask questions. Don’t fear the answers. And then ask new questions.

True success requires the ability to be a life-long learner, especially about subjects one is passionate about. We only have one life to live — why not make the best of it? I am always looking for ways to enhance my knowledge base — it will make me a better person, and a better writer.

5. Do. There is no other way to reach your goal.

I had struggled for days with an idea, an illustration style I wanted to use in my book Ten Thousand Tongues, envious of the examples I saw, wishing I knew how. After several days of wishful thinking, I spent an hour one morning exploring online tutorials and viola, taught myself how to achieve the results I wanted, receiving a lot of praise for the results. Not only had I learned a new skill, but I had also earned the respect of my peers too!

What are you most excited to work on next?

I am excited to finish my next teaching book on Indian bread, Roti. This book has been on my mind for a long time and is another one that has received a tremendous amount of support, even in its pre-release state.

When I finish this one, I am plunging into some research and some learning before I write again.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I apply a mantra every day to my work and life: Live Well. Eat Well. Be Present. It comes partially from my spiritual beliefs that we all are part of a larger universe, and must be responsible for our actions — and that I am only a small piece of the puzzle we call humanity. Each person has the ability to make life better for people around them — whether it is the quality of life through tangible or intangible pieces. Our field of influence must be larger than our immediate families. How can we be better human beings? How can we live well by being the best we can be? How can we eat well in a manner that nourishes us, not just feed us? How can we be present so that we engage all our senses with those around us? Big questions that need only small actions to answer.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for asking about my work and my inspiration. I hope more readers feel inclined to check it out. Since I did not have help but learned along the way, I am available to those who may be still starting this journey into book publishing, and wish to use my help to help shape their dream projects.

Thank you so much for these great insights!


About the author: Sara is an author and writing coach with a private practice in Chicago. She has appeared in Oprah, Good Morning America, NPR, The View and Katie Couric. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tri-Quarterly, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, IO Literary Journal, and Psychobabble. Her first book Bringing In Finn was nominated for ELLE magazine Book of the Year. www.saraconnell.com

Sara Connell

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Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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