The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream…It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.
Benjamin E. Mays
Where do you find the most innovative, brilliant and groundbreaking ideas? Go visit the nearest graveyard! It is full of human beings who lived for years, nay decades, with that brilliance, awaiting the right moment to unfurl their pathbreaking and breathtaking ideas in front of the world.
That moment never came while they were alive and that brilliant idea got extinguished with that last breath. The books never written, the innovation never attempted, the music never created, the sport never learnt and played, the alms never distributed, the small step that could have wiped the big tears from the eyes of a destitute child never taken, the dream never dreamt. Alas, we sell ourselves short on so many counts! If only … we had dreamt and taken the tentative first step towards the fulfilment of our dreams and goals, the world would have been a better place.
There is a great story, a bestselling book, inside all of us. All it needs is a trigger for us to sit down and write, for the process of writing can appear to be too formidable, a grind, unless we associate it with a cause which is close to our heart. While the bright spark, the story idea may occur in a flash, it may take months and sometimes years for this idea to mature and get converted to a book.
Having written two books now, in a span of 18 months, and working currently on the third one, I can confidently say that the experience of expressing your thoughts in the form of tangible words, is indeed cathartic. You get to meet your true self, learn to vocalise your feelings better and in the process, leave a legacy behind. Your thoughts get immortalized for generations to follow and that alone should be a motivation for most of us to consider writing. This post though is not about the process of writing, which will follow in the following weeks, but about the next step – to showcase your labour of love to the world.
Be that as it may unless your book is the next “Five Point Someone” by Chetan Bhagat, the editor finding priority time for it may be difficult. Incidentally, “Five Point Someone” which was later converted to the super hit movie, “3 Idiots”, was also rejected by nine publishers
Once you finish your book, naturally you want it to reach the intended audience at the earliest. You want the feedback of real people, good or bad, for the book is your labour of love, as a child is to a mother who carries the child in her womb for nine months. The publishing process, though, can be quite a nightmare, especially for a first-time author. Let me tell you how the process goes. What follows is strictly based on my personal experiences. But before that, the story of a modern-day great author, J K Rowling.
Rowling wrote the first of her Harry Potter series in 1997. The first book took her all of six years to be completed. Her real name is Joanne Rowling and why she changed it to J K Rowling is another interesting story. The “K” in her initials is in the honour of her mother, who had died when Rowling was 25 years old and had just begun writing the first Harry Potter book. She got married, had a daughter and divorced within the next year. She was penniless, jobless and practically homeless and surviving on welfare. But she kept writing her book and kept her dream alive. Once the book got completed, the grind of getting the attention of a publisher began. Her book was rejected by 27 publishers before Bloomsbury Publishers decided to publish it, but with caveats. Her first name Joanne had to be dropped because the publishers felt that men do not take books written by women too seriously. In came the gender-neutral “J K”. The book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” sold more than 450 million copies and is still going strong. A dream and its relentless pursuit made a poor, single mother a billionaire.
Getting back to our story now, the first thing to do after we have written our book will be, you guessed it right, finding a publisher. There is a bewildering array of publishers of all kinds out there. As per the Association of Publishers in India, there are about 9,037 publishers in India. Needless to say, there are many thousands more who are not registered- let’s say an equal number, which may well be a conservative estimate. On the other hand, Nielsen Book India, a continuous book sale tracking company reports a figure of 70,000 books being sold per week- a humungous figure indeed. If we do simple math (just for a back of the envelope calculation), every publisher, every week, is being bombarded with 16 books from wannabe/established writers. In such a complex web, how does one go about contacting a publisher?
Obviously, sending your book to 9,000+ publishers is an impractical option, so one ends up asking friends/family/relatives, especially those connected with the publishing or media world to “put in a word” to a publisher. The publisher may, very condescendingly, ask you to send the draft of the book to him. Having done that, there is a long wait, for many months, to hear from the publisher. The sad fact is that most of these book drafts end up in a trashcan as the editors don’t find them worth their time.
Be that as it may unless your book is the next “Five Point Someone” by Chetan Bhagat, the editor finding priority time for it may be difficult. Incidentally, “Five Point Someone” which was later converted to the super hit movie, “3 Idiots”, was also rejected by nine publishers. Assuming the best-case scenario, you will not hear from the publisher before 3 to 6 months. If the editor has not liked the book, you may never hear at all. If and when the publisher contacts you, rest assured that he has found your book interesting and commercially viable.
Let’s look at the economy of book publishing now. The normal mode of book publishing is “offset printing” which is a printing technique in which the inked image on a printing plate is printed on a rubber cylinder and then transferred (i.e. offset) to paper or other material. The problem with offset printing is its cost. There have to be a minimum number of books that must be printed for the cost per book to come down to a commercially viable level. Normally, one talks of a minimum of 1,000 odd books for cost-effectiveness in offset printing. The publisher, who is there in the market for profit, must find your book commercially viable, that it will sell 1,000 copies, at the cost mutually decided by the publisher and the author.
But we have jumped the gun here. Much before a book goes for printing, there is a multitude of activities that go on for making it print-ready. First of all, the book needs to undergo professional editing. We may have written the best prose/poetry, as per our capabilities, but there is always scope for improvement in grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, consistency and so on. That is where a professional editor comes in, but with a price. As I found out during my struggle, the going rate for editing is 30 paise to 1 rupee per word. So, if your book is 50,000 words long, be ready to shell out between Rs 15,000 to 50,000 for editing, depending upon the quality of editing you want.
As an author, you need to be very clear about how your book should look and feel in the reader’s hand, so far as the feel, cover, and the interior is concerned.
Then there is the process of Cover designing. Though it is said , “never judge a book by its cover”, we invariably end up making our initial impressions based on the cover of a book. I will not get into the details of cover design but would like to share a very striking cover of the novel, “No one is Ever Missing” by Catherine Lacey . You will notice a lady slowly drowning in water indicating her life struggle. This book would surely have grabbed eyeballs and readership. Ideally, a cover should give a very fair idea of the theme of the book to the reader. Cover Designing may cost you between Rs 4,000-15,000.
Both the activities i.e. editing and cover designing are iterative and go on simultaneously. As an author, you need to be very clear about how your book should look and feel in the reader’s hand- so far as the feel, cover, and the interior is concerned. This will result in more incisive editing and designing. There is also a requirement to give a synopsis of the book to the cover designer so that he/she gets the book theme right. Be very mindful and deliberate while making the synopsis as that epitomizes the basic idea of your book which will be running right through your editor’s and cover designer’s minds.
You will also be required to give a Blurb of the book which normally goes on the back cover of the book. A blurb is a short write up of the book for promotional purposes and needs lots of deliberation. You really want to pack a punch in less than 200 words and hence these 200 words may be the most deliberate in the entire writing process.
The Author’s bio is another requirement, which is normally up to 200-300 words. One has to strike a correct balance between vanity and modesty here. Your credentials must be made known to the readers, especially those which may matter to the theme of the book. At the same time, too much narcissism may put off the reader even while reading your bio and the book may suffer.
Once these activities get over, which may take 3-4 months, the process of formatting and interior designing commences. It is only then, that the book goes for printing. These two activities will cost you between Rs 7,000 to 13,000. As you must be calculating alongside, we have already accounted for Rs 26,000- 78,000. The publisher must be willing to invest this base amount and other expenses which go into printing, warehousing and distributing the book. Offhand, the publishers have given me an expenditure of Rs 2 lakh, before the book lands in the reader’s hands. The expenses on advertising are over and above this amount.
Are you already breathing a sigh of relief? Don’t be in such a hurry for there are a lot of activities which need to be taken care of before your book reaches the readers. But, I will give you a break here so that the author within you can mull over these points and take the first steps towards writing a book.
Next week, we will take on the additional activities that are involved in a smooth book launch. Also, I will discuss with you a far more cost-effective way of publishing a book. For now, pick up the pen and write- begin with a letter to your parents/ boy or girlfriend/ spouse/ sibling. Do express yourself- beginning now.
I am eagerly looking forward to your feedback on my books, “The Millionaire Mechanic” and “Musings of a Financially Illiterate Father”.
The Millionaire Mechanic: Financial Wisdom in the Rann https://www.amazon.in/dp/1646787404/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_-ZU9EbFWMC05T
 http://www.publishers.org.in/: accessed on 17 May 2018.
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