Last week, my printer delivered 250 print copies of NRI:Now, Returned to India to the Amazon fulfillment center near New Delhi. I was excited, but my excitement was short lived. Turns out that one part of their inventory system acknowledges that the copies are available, but the other says that some information is missing. Nearly 5 days of contacting the Seller support folks has yielded no results till now.
Super excited! I will summarize my journey to becoming a self published author in the Indian market in a few future posts..thank you all those who have been witnesses, supporters, participants and fellow travelers in my journey.
I am happy to post a guest blog by Vinod Kaul, a fellow first time author who has just published his book, Confessions of an MBA. In only the sixth decade of his life, Vinod has turned into an author. This is his story in his own words below. Note that this is not a sponsored or paid post. Vinod has in fact written this article based on my request. Hope you will find his story useful.
“In a sense I have been a closet writer all my life. In spite of being praised for my amateur pieces from school onwards, I never got down to putting together a manuscript long enough to submit for a book. Even when I was between jobs in Canada, I found the tumult of looking for one too distracting to focus on a treatise.
The first challenge was, therefore, to write in the first place.
Luckily, in my last assignment I launched a somewhat successful e-journal in retail and fashion. I was the proud editor and was compelled to not only write but to also correct other writer’s pieces. However, when I finally got down to putting a manuscript together, I switched to fiction. Once I started it came out so smoothly and I cursed myself for not starting earlier. Looking at the calendar, I realized I was over sixty. But that didn’t stop me from starting my marathon running and I was sure I could do this for writing as well.
I decided to write a collection of short stories. I thought this would be easier than writing a single 50-thousand-plus words manuscript. There were many smaller hurdles to cross but I must say I enjoyed the ride. Often, I would write non-stop for hours. I wasn’t sure if what I wrote was good enough. So I selectively shared some of my works with alumni, my running mates and other friends. I wanted to guard against the ‘it is nice’ comments that friends are wont to say. However, I did discern that my writing had an appreciative reader. There was, of course, a lot of brushing up to do, but I would learn it along the way. Finally, over a year, I did complete a manuscript of 50-thousand-plus words, a collection of eight short stories.
I knew that publishing was another cup of tea that I would have to grapple with. I was keen not to self-publish but to go ahead with the old system of publisher-author relationships. This I thought would ensure that my writing stood on its own merits rather than being hoisted by self-serving thoughts.
Having read about ‘rejections’, I was ready for a long haul to find a genuine publisher. This started with research and listing of the top and commonly known publishers. I started my submissions of sample chapters and other information. Submitting online made things a lot easier but a number of the publishers were still old world, asking for hard copies which they would gladly sell by the weight. I smirked at the comments such as ‘if you don’t hear from us in three months, we will not be going ahead with your manuscript’ or ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. A number of publishers did send polite notes of ‘no’. It did help to hear something rather than nothing at all.
While scouring for publishers, one kept hearing about the ‘vanity press’. These are publishers who play up to one’s vanity and vulnerability by agreeing to accept your manuscript as a ‘conventional publisher’ but pushing in costs for editing, cover design, printing and myriad other things. After two publishers accepted my book, some hard research on the net threw up the ugly truth – that they were vanity press in mufti. I didn’t even bother to reply to them despite getting a ‘yes’.
When I did get a call from a publisher, not too familiar, but seemingly with clear credentials, I thought I must investigate further. What impressed me about them was that they were well organised, accessible and were able to give clear and meaningful explanations. An online search indicated that they were quite sturdy in distribution to book chains and independents. This was one of the important features I was looking for. While a lot of book retailing is going online, I thought that a store presence is important for a new writer like me.
In my research I was also able to pull out the publishers history and past association with authors; some of the books and authors had reached national status. The publisher was also regularly participating in all the major book awards. By signing up for their newsletter, I was able to keep a track of their new book launches and even attended a couple of them.
Through references I was able to reach out to an established author for advice. He had already published three books which were medium successes. His publisher was Harper Collins. He was quite helpful in guiding me through the Agreement I was offered by my publisher.
I had been offered a straight classic type of publishing but with possible marketing delays or a shared cost basis with higher royalties which would put the whole arrangement on a fast track. The cost suggested was quite reasonable. I had also built confidence about the publisher by this time. So I decided to go ahead with the latter with the blessings of my wife and the writer-reference.
Unfortunately, the story does not end with ‘they lived happily ever after’. Being new I didn’t realize what an enormous work needs to be done after the first draft of a manuscript. What I thought would take three months, took six. The editing itself took three whole months. The cover design and layout another month, not to talk of the printing and distribution process itself. While it was reasonably fast to sign up the online sites, the distribution to book stores on a national basis takes three whole months.
The author, especially a first time author, cannot completely rely on the publisher to market his book. The latter will do a basic job and at minimal costs. The author has to dig into his own resources, friends-circles and networking to make a din. Worst of all is that feedback is not easily forthcoming. The book retailers, especially the independents, are a law unto themselves. So one has to keep huffing and puffing and keep hoping that it is producing results. It is as much as a year before the numbers can actually speak.
There are no promises of success. A writer must write because he is a writer and nothing more. Today I have to divide my time three ways: my regular work, writing and the marketing of what I have written.”
About Vinod Kaul
Vinod Kaul is an alumni Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedadab and St.Stephen’s College New Delhi. He has worked 40 years in fashion & retail and today he has refocused on writing and marathon running. His debut book, Confessions of an MBA and other stories, has just been published. The author can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org
Confessions of an MBA and other stories can be found on Flipkart and Amazon
For the past two weeks I have been experiencing a very nasty back ache, which has caused me to stay away from posting on this blog. But I am working on a very exciting assignment right now- will post the findings of my work this Thursday.
Before I add anything further, here are a few updates- March brought two negatives : Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and the DNA/Hachette Hunt for the Next Bestseller. And while I await the final verdict from a publisher on the manuscript, I have also been exploring the self publishing route very seriously. And that’s what my “exciting assignment” is about.
I thought that my novel was quite ready to share with a few near and dear ones, and so I made a call for help to my friends and relatives, alumni community and also members of the R2I Forum and requested them to review the sample chapters. The response was great, and this weekend, I sent off a few chapters to each of the 30 odd well meaning persons who responded.
Their feedback has been humbling to say the least. They were very willing to share the Good, the Bad and even the Ugly. The Good, of course, was what works in the novel (language, flow, etc.) the Bad being what doesn’t work (too verbose?) and the Ugly are the typo’s, grammar that is out of place and the likes.
I had believed that after three rounds of review by myself and the missus, I was quite ready to send the novel off to the editors. Far from it. In order to do justice to the time and the effort put in by the reviewers, I will have to put in extra effort going forward.
Which makes me wonder: have other first time authors sent the draft across to their near and dear ones as well? How has their feedback/ response been?
In a few weeks’ time, it will be nearly two years since I started my bookwriting journey. It has been a rewarding experience, although many times I was a little slow in writing. There were bursts of writing followed by long phases of almost no writing activity. In the meantime, one got many other ideas that have made me resolve that I will turn my novel into a four part series.
So I have set myself a new target. By November 9th, I will complete the manuscript of Now, Returned to India with no more edits from my side till an Editor sends it back with their comments. Come Nov. 10th, I will start writing the second novel in the series, which will hopefully not take two years!
When I started writing the book, I had so many thought on what to write and how to write, that whereto write took a backseat. I started with a notebook that I began to maintain for the book, with different pages dedicated to characters, anecdotes and random one-liners that I could think of or recalled. That helped me developed the storyline, and then the actual writing part took off. But only for a while. As and when ideas occurred, I began writing them down- with the goal that I will put them all together in the notebook once I reach home. But that rarely happened. One fine day, I realized that I had several post-its, credit card receipts and every possible piece of paper, handbills included, where I had written down ideas for the book. One had voluntarily offered speaking points to one’s spouse regarding one’s organizational skills in the process.
That’s when it occurred to me – why not organize everything- chapterwise- on Evernote? After all, I can always add to/ refer to the notes from wherever I am (work, home or on the road) or whatever the mode (laptop or phone). Moreover, as I type out each chapter, I can also maintain a backup. I am sure this has been tried by others before, but this is a new experience (and experiment) for me. And so far, it seems to be working. While I have not migrated away from longhand, this is a baby step.
I had mentioned in an earlier post that one also needs to think about some basic questions about one’s book that need some introspection. It’s like applying to grad school, or even a job. These are the questions make you think about the ‘why/who/how/what/where’ aspects of the book.
Here are a few of those q’s and my initial thoughts that I had penned down several months ago as I started writing Now Returned to India:
Why did I decide to write a book?
The main reason was to share my story with a wider audience. My online diary on the R2iclub forum, which forms the base material for the book, had received a good response, and the feedback was positive. So writing a book seemed like the logical extension of my work.
2. What would be the category or segment of the book?
Based on what I have read, discussed and learnt so far, my book would fall under the fiction/ humor category.
3. Why did I choose this segment?
There was no specific reason for choosing fiction/ humour. My book covers a two year period of my life, so its not quite an autobiography. Moreover, I thought fiction would make it more readable.
4. Fiction is okay, but why a satire?
First and foremost, I thought of humor/satire as a category because my book is based on incidents that are now life’s lessons. Many of them seemed to cause a lot of pain and emotional suffering at that point in time, but these are also incidents that I can sit back and laugh about. And laughter can be contagious. There have been several authors who are masters of tragedy, and I have a great amount of respect for them. But for me, humor would work best.
5. Who is my target reader?
I initially thought that the 30 to 40 year old readers, typically those who have spent a few years outside of India, would be my target readers. They continue to be the main segment I am focusing on. But as I am talking to more and more people, I am discovering new groups of people who might be interested too. For example, parents of NRIs are such a segment. In an age where almost every publisher and most first time authors are focusing on the 15 to 25 year old demographic, I might be considered as an outlier.
Another day, another rejection from a publisher. But that’s not what I am going to write about.
A couple of days ago, I was at an alumni meet where I met an alumnus of a much refined vintage. It turns out that he was trying to get his first book published as well – a collection of short stories. He proudly informed me that he had received ten rejections. But more importantly, he suggested something that really was an ‘aha’ moment. His advise was : pick up a hobby – preferably a sport or running. That will get the creative juices flowing. And equally importantly, he mentioned that one needs to set a time for writing, and just write during that time. It need not be related to your book, though that would be preferred! The idea was that one needs to become more disciplined. His thoughts were echoed by another alum who has published two books so far. It was good to meet others who had traversed the same journey that I have just started.
So here I am, writing this post early in the morning. For me, the 4 AM – 6 AM time works best. I had always thought that writing was an escape of sorts from the daily grind. But in order to focus on writing, taking up a sport or running or meditation is something I am going to try out. Let us see what its impact is.