2015 has opened, like every New Year does, immediately into the season of sunlight and mellow vanity, also known in certain circles as the season of literary festivals. Writers, that small band of eccentric, egotistical, sun-deprived cave-dwellers who are supposed to shun human company at other times to keep their heads down and focus of their few hundred words a day, have begun to emerge one by one from their (now gadget-filled) caves to order new clothes, hairstyles and opinions in preparation for merry festivities.

Wait, did I say small group? Okay, correction there: by all accounts, the group is no longer small, especially if, in the Indian context, we put together all those writing in angrezi and the bhashas. In fact, the number is so substantial by now that writers could have claimed themselves a tiny country if they were able to achieve consensus on even one thing. But that is the subject of a different piece.

As writers get ready to meet the public and champion their books, we decided to compile a handy guide of tips for minor writers who have been invited to their first ever lit fest.

Play it cooooool

If the organisers invite you a few days – as opposed to a few months – before the festival is slated to begin, then definitely do not go blurting out, ‘What is today – Monday? Of course I’m available on Thursday, thanks a million, can I send you flowers?’ even if that is what you want to do. (You’ve been hinting around for an invitation for months, ever since your finely crafted novel about death and memory and forgotten cities was published.) You restrain yourself firmly and maintain a long pause. Then, as though teaching a three-year-old that 2 plus 2 equals 4 – that is, affecting obviousness – you tell the young PR whippersnapper that you cannot possibly answer such questions offhand. Your publicist is going to kill you if you agree to any appearance without checking with him.

Then, get your best friend/bossy cousin/gay roommate to call up the PR boss pretending they are said publicist. They convey your acceptance only after clarifying several times to the whippersnapper’s boss that you, in fact, have to cancel three important meetings to help them out by heeding their rather presumptuous 11th hour request.

Don’t pay for your travel

Someone else pays your travel expenses. DO NOT settle for anything else. Even if they say they don’t have budgets. (Quickly check the list of attending authors they published six months ago on their website. The big guns there – the guy who sold a gazillion copies of the Facebook series of novels, beginning with We Met @FacebookTM & Luved on SkypeTM, or the brilliant wildly radical former enfant terible of literary fiction who shot into international superstardom on a book-burning, or the willowy fifty-year-old American writer who knows everything there is to know about sex – have all been paid to appear and are flying first class. The festival people do have budgets – they only want to cheapskate on you.)

They pay for the hotel

Get the lit fest people to put you up, even if your mother’s third cousin’s offspring’s spouse has expressed great willingness to accommodate you while you attend the literary festival and even ferry you to and fro. Believe me, the third cousin’s offspring’s spouse will, while dropping you off to the venue, definitely reveal a secret ambition to be a writer and then – surprise! – on the spot tell you everything about their magnum opus novel and why it is the greatest thing yet unleashed on humanity. While picking you up from the venue, they will ask you if you’ve managed to get them a book deal already. Do. Not. Fall. Into. This. Particular. Trap.

Don’t settle for a cupboard

Be prepared for the organisers to try to shunt you to a secondary hotel far from the venue. Apparently, just the night before, wedding parties descended on the posh hotel where the major authors are, in flaming droves, and much as they would have liked to keep you in the Taj, they have no option but to send you to Hotel Yes Sir. There are two ways to deal with this: throw a fit. Or, throw a fit. (There is a slender chance it may not work but it’s better you tried the fit thing than not.)

Never be on time

Finally, when you are in your room and you open the goodie bag (do note, every lit fest gives you a busy little bag replete with name tags, dinner invites, schedules, information booklets yada yada yada) you find in the schedule that your session is at 10 AM the next day. Do know if you get there in time, rushing on your kitten heels, your crisp dupatta fanning behind you in a fiery red arc against the bright blue sky, you will find exactly five people in front of the stage under the shaamiana. The festival director (who will leave after giving the welcome address, for she has to pick up the former enfant terible from the airport), the festival director’s main flunkey, two other wonderfully charming minor writers whose session follows yours, and one old man with a severe handlebar moustache who has a very long rambling observation to make at the end of every single session.

Therefore, if you want to tell at least a few readers and potential book buyers why you wrote the book you did and what the forgotten cities signify about the cosmos, the trick then is to get late. Have some sort of emergency or other – claim you’ve lost your wallet, phone, hair dryer, wits, whatever – and consequently arrive at least an hour after your session was supposed to begin. Everyone will be in a tizzy. There will be many more flunkeys milling about. The festival director had to send her husband to the airport.

Be profoundly apologetic and supremely charming all at once. To pull this off better, ditch the salwar kameez and wear a saree of indeterminate colour – teal merging with mauve – that swishes and sways and a dazzling neckpiece. Make several self-deprecating jokes. And finally begin your session in front of the twenty-five odd people who have, by now, gathered in the audience.

Learn to lounge

A critical part of surviving lit fests is learning to navigate the author lounge. (Every lit fest has an author lounge.) At lunch, when you wander in here, you will observe several coteries have already formed by now, authors and editors, local bigwigs and foreign talent, arts enthused bureaucrats and professors of English. It may not be the easiest thing in the world to infiltrate their ranks.

Instead, look for the Press table. There will be a bunch of youngish people – who dress like authors but are having far too much fun at their table to be authors. They are the journalists who have come to cover the event. Their brief is to do big stories on the big ticket authors and some general feel-good gloop nobody will ever remember. Still, try to befriend them. You are not totally averse to being the feel-good gloop.

But there are rules to this game. If you just waltz in there and demand publicity, you’ll not only get zilch, you’ll also be frozen out. So just be funny and warm and genuine – tell them how you lost your marbles in the morning or how this reader is stalking you because he is convinced you are Deepti Naval. Who knows?  You might actually make a memorable gloop story this time. And who knows, next time the journalist has been assigned to cover municipal affairs and is doing a piece on cities and demolition or some such, they might even call you for a quote?

Digest the dinner politics

Nowhere is the caste system in the author community more evident than at the formal dinner in the evening. The Indian authors published abroad stick together in a tight clever circle, at the centre of which is the regally gossipy former enfant terible. (Of course, he’s off in ten minutes to a private party somewhere discreet; but the circle remains tight.) They do not stoop to speak to anyone else; they may stoop to hook up, of course, but that’s only later and we cannot quite confirm.

The Indian authors published in India belong to many sub-castes. There are the ones published by the big, mostly MNC, houses; there are the ones who has above 30K followers on twitter; there are the ones who – irrespective of publishing houses – call books ‘products’ and writing ‘entrepreneurship’ and sell a large number of books, content be damned; there are journalists-turned-writers; there are those who write in the Indian languages and have urgent matters of politics and sex to discuss with each other; there are the film historians; there are the minor celebrities who wrote tell-all memoirs though no one wanted to hear what they wanted to tell; and other assorteds who don’t quite fit into any of the above groups and end up as a group of their own.

At some point, when the progressive competitiveness reminds you, first, of your family and, then, peculiarly, of your college dorm, you feel deeply exhausted. You must now excuse yourself and sit in a corner and fill a plate wholesomely with food. The food, let me tell you, is bound to be excellent.

Find a friend

Exactly at that point, you will find one of the other charming (also minor) authors whose session was right after yours – and had been a surprisingly good session – come and join you. It is weird how she knows you need a glass of wine. She’s got you a white which is just the right kind of dry. You start eating, start venting, and by the time you get to dessert, you are evidently having so much fun together that the others are eyeing your table jealously. And you haven’t even got to your editors yet.

The trick is to remember this moment. The hall with flowers, the ugly rich people who have sponsored the show, the other writers in their little foolish groups, the sophistication of the pudding. This is your major reward. And a decade or so later, when you and the other writer have been friends for years and years, surviving moderate fame and severe writer’s blocks together, in spite of the distances between your cities and genres, you will think of the lit fest that had invited you at the 11th hour and put you up in a shady hotel, with a certain fondness. Lit fests are a kind of karmic pit-stop, after all.

Devapriya Roy is the author of The Vague Woman’s Handbook and The Weight Loss Club. Her next book, The Heat and Dust Project, co-written with husband Saurav Jha is an account of a hysterical journey through India on local buses, on a very very tight budget. It is due to be published in May 2015. You can follow her on twitter @DevapriyaRoy.