Let me begin by saying that I do not buy books from peddlers who sell books on traffic junctions on the streets of Gurgaon near New Delhi, where I live. Nor is the intention of this post to promote this “trade”.
I have been observing these peddlers with great interest over the past several weeks. The books they sell very closely follow the bestseller lists one reads and hears about. This is not rocket science. It is quite likely that someone using these peddlers as another ‘point of sale’. I have touched and felt some of these books and have noticed that the quality of paper used, printing, and binding is at par with the books published by the major trade publishers. Many of these books are wrapped in plastic cover, and are sold at nearly half their list price. Almost none of them have dog ears or any other signs that they are used.
At two different traffic intersections this week, I saw that the following books were being sold. And to me, it is proof that these books are indeed in demand from readers. And the list is an interesting mix of both fiction and nonfiction. In a random order, the list is as follows:
I am left wondering: should the folks at Nielsen Bookscan India include these sales in their rankings? And as an author, would you be excited to see your book being sold at traffic junctions? (i.e. would that be an indicator that your book is indeed selling well, even though you lose out on the royalty payments?)
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
Don’t get confused by the title. I am simply trying to give in to my urge of writing the sequel for Now, Returned to India. Actually, not one, not two, but three sequels. And thanks to Camp Nanowrimo, work on the first one is under way. Noe you might ask, why a four part series? It so happened that as I was working on the first novel, a few other ideas kept pouring in, and somehow they involved most of the characters I was already working on. The plots are interesting, and I hope to complete atleast two of the sequels by the end of the year. Ambitious, I agree, considering that the first novel took two and a half years.
I am also using this opportunity to give a couple of updates: I will be on vacation next week, so I will not be posting on the blog for nearly 10 days for now. Some may call it a blessing, as they will be spared the torture of reading what I write. For those who think otherwise, I am excited to inform you of a new blog that I am setting up. More on that later. till then, happy reading/ writing/ writing about reading, or reading about writing – as per your preference.
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.
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.
Earlier this week, a writer and fellow blogger asked me how did I approach my reviewers. At the same time, I heard on the most recent show of Simon’s Rocking Self Publishing Podcast that probably 20 is a good number of beta readers to have. This got me thinking: How did I actually do it? Over the past several months, I had been so enamored by the novel that it is quite likely that I must have told anybody and everybody who cared to listen. And that probably got a lot of people interested to read Now, Returned to India during the interview.
Coming back to the question: When and where did I approach the reviewers?
In my case, the book reviews took place in two phases. The first phase was from June to September 2013, when I only sent the first one or two chapters to over 30 readers. My starting point was the tried and tested method- largely friends and family. I also approached few readers from my alumni or professional network, but the majority of the reviewers were “cold calls”. It so happened that my wife and I had set up a food stall for nearly a week in September at a fair. While she was getting the orders ready, I pitched the book to the customers or other who were simply curious to know what we had to offer. I had prepared a bunch of leaflets that told the prospective reviewer about the book, and also had a tearaway for people to write their names and contact details. I managed to get more than 30 reviewers this way. It was an interesting experience to say the least!
The second phase began in January, when I had substantially re-written the rest of the draft. I contacted a few of my friends & family again, but largely my alumni network and also members of the Return to India Forum, where it all began for me. I also happened to attend a family wedding in January, and unexpectedly discovered a new potential audience of my novel. They reviewed a few sample chapters and gave really encouraging feedback. (More on my target audience in a later post).
I am also including below the profile of the respondents. As you may note, nearly 1 in every 2 persons who I approached has given some feedback or the other. Many of them have gone line by line and sent back the sample chapters in track change mode (I had sent word docs to most of them), others sent long-ish emails with details on what works in the novel and what doesn’t.
For those who did not respond, I understand and appreciate that they are busy people, and it is perfectly fine!. Or maybe they did not like what they read and are too polite to let me know that.
I would be curious to know what other’s experiences have been with beta readers. Same question again, when and how did they approach them?
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!