“Writing a book is a lot like having a baby. One needs to get pregnant with an idea. It needs to grow organically deep within one’s soul or mind. It has a gestation period.” Trust ‘Mr.Wordsmith’, former top cop and author Dr.Prateep V.Philip to lucidly highlight the nascent stages in the journey of a book in the Acknowledgements page in one of his bestsellers “For Better Through Verse”.
It’s about time we busted a few myths about writing books.
NO EUREKA MOMENTS.
No, you don’t sit under a Bodhi Tree, get enlightened and produce a masterpiece. For most authors, a book takes a couple of years to write. For many of us from different professions, it involves sacrificing weekends, free time, ‘me time’ and holidays to flesh out chapters, hammer out drafts, weave them all together in a logical sequence, get a bigwig to write the Foreword, seek endorsements, put together a Preface and tie up many loose ends. It’s backbreaking work with no short cuts.
Scouting for a Publisher may well be more challenging than finding a suitable boy or girl in the marriage market! True, there are self-publishing options. Truth be told, such work is not viewed seriously in the industry, with exceptions and many shades of grey! Many newspapers have a strict prohibition on reviews of self-published books. The most accomplished authors have all had their share of rejection mails before churning out a bestseller. When you do find one, there is an Agreement to be signed. If you are a lawyer like me, the fine print is routine. For the others, it may seem daunting.
NO MEGA BUCKS
To burst your bubble, authors make neither a living, nor the imaginary millions by writing books. Most publishing houses pay 10 to 15% as royalty on actual sales. The usual first edition print run is for a few thousand copies. So, do the math. These figures pertain to non-fiction and English books. Less said the better about the plight of vernacular authors, many of whom are nothing short of brilliant.
WORK IN PROGRESS
After signing on the dotted line, the Author will then have to deal with a Copy Editor assigned by the Publisher. This may involve time consuming and considerable back and forth on the content, with fairly strict timelines. There can be no let up here as, after all, an error free final product is in everyone’s interest.
A standard practice across most publishing houses is to send 10 to 15 complimentary copies to the Authors for their personal use. Out of this, family and close friends need to be given copies. Often, the Author would end up buying extra copies, at a discounted rate from the Publisher, to cater to a bigger ‘must give’ list.
Promotion of the book invariably falls on the Author’s shoulders, regardless of whether the Publisher has a marketing team or not. Authors may have reviewed several books of others but to get their own work reviewed is no mean task. Big fat egos and personal prejudices may cloud editorial decisions on clearing books for reviews in sections of the media. This is when people derive pleasure in riding the high horse. Mercifully, there are still folks out there with goodwill, who respect the hard work that goes into writing a book.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Aside of reviews in newspapers and e-commerce sites like amazon or discerning online platforms like Good Reads, a book release with a celebrity or news maker receiving the first copy, followed by audience interaction and signing of copies are essential to compete for readers’ attention.
DO YOUR BIT
Here’s how you can support Authors. Unless you are part of the family or close circle of the Author, expecting free copies, usually camouflaged with “when will I get my autographed copy?” is unfair. Encourage authors by buying a copy. You can go a step ahead and order several copies to gift your friends and well-wishers. I often do that. And guess what, a close buddy of mine Joshua Madan, who published my first two books, placed a bulk order to distribute to his clients. Read the book, if you can. If not the whole book, at least a chapter or two. And give the Author feedback. Just hearing comments on their work can be quite therapeutic.
Evidently, a book is not just the Author’s baby. It needs hand-holding till it reaches the target audience – your desk or book shelf!
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author of 4 Books & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)
Sanjay’s latest book ‘High & Law’ published by Thomson Reuters is available on amazon and at most book stores.