Aside

One year since I submitted my book proposal …

It has been a little more than a year (53 weeks to be precise) since I wrote my first post on this blog. So as a birthday gift to the blog, I decided to change the theme.

I had started my journey with the intention of sharing my experiences as  a first time fiction author who was trying to get his book published in India. On May 13th 2013, precisely one year ago, I had sent off the book proposals to the top three publishers in India. The result did disappoint me a bit, though it did not surprise me. All three of them rejected Now, Returned to India. Well.. two of them sent me the rejection emails, the third one is yet to respond.

As I worked on the draft, I became familiar with new terms like copy editing and cover design. The importance of a writing schedule became more and more evident (trust me, I am still not adhering to it the way I should). And thus continued my journey.

In the days to come, the editor will start their work on the draft. The cover designers will be finalized. And most importantly, my wife and I will start identifying self publishing agencies. And while I keep working on the sequel, she will fine tune the marketing plan. Exciting times lie ahead of us! With an end July/ early August release for the novel, time is really short.

The next few weeks are going to be quiet as the book is getting chiseled and polished. And I am planning to use this period to share what I have learnt about the book publishing industry in India so far. With that goal in mind, I thought of setting up a sister blog: Maze Pustak ( Maze, pronounced maa-zay, means mine in Marathi. Pustak is a Marathi word which means book. Pustak has the same meaning in Hindi and several other Indian languages as well. Watch out for http://www.mazepustak.wordpress.com in the days to come.

Since my last few posts dealt with the book publishing industry in India, I thought of creating another blog so as to stay true to the original intent behind this blog: tracing my journey as a first time author.

150 books as Royalty Payment

Well, sort of.

But first, my apologies – I have not posted on this blog for nearly a fortnight. But yesterday, a phone conversation prompted me to write this post.

I had a very interesting discussion with Dr. Sujata Niyogi, author of seven books on numerology. She is also a consultant, advisor and an expert on all things numbers. She got her PhD at the very young age of 70 (yes, you read that correctly), and published her first book when she was nearly 75. She is working on her eighth book. I am proud to add that she happens to be my aunt.

The reason I am writing about her is twofold. First of all, I am amazed by the amount of effort she puts into research. She spends several hours in the library every day researching. Now some may say- reading books in a library in order to write books: Isn’t that a dying art? Isn’t that old school? Why not simply google it up? But as she told me,

“I am not that technology savvy. I prefer going to the library every day, taking notes, and then compiling this information into the first draft. Then, I have someone type it out for me in Marathi. Following a few rounds of reviews, I send the manuscript off to publishers.”

Marathi, my native language, is spoken largely in the state of Maharashtra in India. With 73  million speakers, there are more Marathi speakers than the entire population of United Kingdom.  Marathi happens to be one of the most vibrant markets for publishing in India, with several bestselling authors who have evoked interested in the printed word for generations.I will write more about the  Marathi book publishing industry in a later post.

Coming back to the topic: 150 books as Royalty.

Dr. Niyogi asked me about what sort of royalty I was expecting for my novel, and then went on to tell me her experience with traditional publishing. For example, her publisher took nearly two years  to publish her first book after she had submitted her manuscript. And the first royalty check came a year after the book was released. Three years to see the first check is a long time. She also mentioned that there was very little transparency in the process. For example, one had to rely solely on the publishers’ sales figures, and it was difficult to verify them independently. Moreover, the author has no control on the reprints. And then one has to follow up with the publishers multiple times to get the money. In other words, the system is heavily leaning in favor of the publisher. Some of this may obviously be known to many of you, so no surprises here.

But to counter this problem, Dr. Niyogi summed up in one line:

“Ask your publisher for a check up front for an amount that is equal to the selling price of 150 books.”

In other words, if the selling price (MRP) is Rs. 100, you ask for a royalty check of Rs. 15,000. If the MRP is Rs. 200, you ask for Rs. 30,000 and so forth. While these are very small amounts, and will hardly enable writing as a career option, her method will make sure that the writer does not lose money in the process.

Dr. Niyogi spends nearly 2 months per book on research. A visit to the library costs her Rs. 200 in commuting costs. Assuming 20 visits to the library every month, the cost of commute amounts to: 200*20*2 = Rs. 8,000

The person who types out the first draft charges nearly Rs. 6,000. In other words, the amount of money Dr. Niyogi spends up front for every book is:

8,000 + 6,000 = Rs. 14,000.

If one relies on the royalty received from sale of books for recovering this investment, one may have to wait for three years or even longer. But remember, it may take more than three years to recover the up front investment, because the royalty depends on the sales of the books, and sometimes the books may not sell at all.

Then we must also re-visit what we learnt in our financial literacy classes. Had this money been invested at say at 10 percent interest rate compounded annually for three years, the 14,000 rupees would have become nearly Rs. 18,600.

For a first print run of 1,000 books, and a MRP of Rs. 200, you get your 30,000 Rupees, and you don’t have to worry about the timelines, follow ups, compound interest or any other issue related to royalty payments. So while you wait for your book sales to take off, the 150 book principle can come to your rescue.

How I shortened the manuscript from 98,000 to nearly 76,000 words

When I had sent the draft of Now, Returned to India to my beta readers, the word count stood at nearly 98, 000. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, almost every reviewer had mentioned that my writing seemed verbose. So when I sat down to reduce the word count, I also began to maintain a chapter-wise ‘before and after’ word count. I also kept track of what was the reduction in words in percentage. During the process, I also learnt an important lesson – how to narrate the story in as few words. I am posting the results of my two week long effort below. Note that I also merged two chapters which would explain the numbers in the paranthesis. I am not sure if this was the most effective way of reducing the length of the manuscript, and would like to know how others go about the process.

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Manuscript WC- Before and After

Beta Reviewers Have Spoken

Over the past week, I received the feedback from several readers about Now, Returned to India. Some read one or two chapters, others read the entire book. And their feedback was an eye opener.

First, a word of thanks to the beta readers. They not only took the time sample chapters or the manuscript, but they were also kind enough to point out what worked and what didn’t work about the draft. Some even took the extra effort to comment section by section and sent the word document back by email. I am summarizing the overall feedback below. I’d like to call it my book’s “Report Card.” The good part is, that it is for the Beta version, so there is room for improvement.

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Feedback for Now, Returned to India from beta readers

The above is just a summary, and specifically, I was told that the OK’s can be upgraded to ‘Good’, once the grammar and the typo’s are addressed. But I took the “too lengthy” and “too verbose” comments seriously. And before sending the draft off to the editor, I worked on the manuscript one more time. Note that I had acknowledged that the draft had not been sent to a professional editor and the reviewers were aware of it.

I spent the nearly an entire week making the manuscript more concise. It was a lot of work, and I learnt a lot about brevity. A dear friend of mine had cautioned me – he said “use a scalpel and not an axe” while reducing the wordcount. The manuscript now down to about 78,000 words from 98,000. In other words, nearly one fifth of the words were either redundant or the sections weren’t really adding value to the story. That was the most important learning for me from this process.

On a positive side, the comment “Improve the pitch” led to an unexpected bonus- I was able to submit the manuscript for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award.

I will write about how I went about editing and trimming down the wordcount in my next post. Till then, happy reading! (And in the meantime, a big THANK YOU to C S Lakin for her very helpful guest post on Catherineryanhoward’s blog.)

Would you wait to finish the manuscript first?

In almost every blog post I have read, conversations I have had, and email exchange with authors, both published and aspiring, there has been one consistent theme: they have all recommended that one should finish the manuscript first before sending it to the publishers (or agents, as the case may be).

While this seems like a logical approach, my question is as follows: at least in India, most publishers expect you to send a book proposal which includes at a minimum a synopsis, sample chapters and author bio. Then, there is a long wait anywhere between two to six months before the publishers respond to you – informing whether your book proposal has been  shortlisted or not. Then you have to send the full manuscript, which will get reviewed again and then finally you will be informed of the decision.

While what I have written above may already be known to most of you, my question is as follows: Why wait to send the sample chapters till the entire manuscript is ready? Why cannot one send the sample chapters as soon as they are completed, and finish the rest of the book while the book proposal is being evaluated?

I would like to know the pro’s and con’s of doing so- I am thinking of trying this approach for my next book.