Thursday, January 14, 2010

Writing of the 2nd Novel - Step 2

Keerthi and Ramesh Ramachandra
Having finished the novel at its first draft stage, I decided to polish it a bit before sending it off to some readers for some reactions. However much I tried I could not find a way of increasing the word count - 45000 I knew was kind of short - it fell in no man's land. But I was convinced that this was the only way the story would work.

I got a few reader responses. I was not sure if the time gap was credible, if their romance had anything that people identified with - the responses put my fears to rest. The women loved it, the men hated it (which was surprising, but then I realised then identified with the other character. But the publishers were the ones who needed convincing and they were not. Tough bunch they are and I don't know when I will ever know what they want or look for in a book.

Finally, when 'The Men Within' got taken for publishing by Indialog in 2005, I put The Tryst' on the backburner and focused on 'The Men Within'. I met Indialog's editor Keerthi Ramachandra, now my good friend, at Bangalore, where she had relocated to and was now working as a freelance editor, and we worked extensively on the book. After it was all done after a ten day job, and we had sent it off to the publisher, I gave Keerthi a copy of 'The Tryst' and asked her if she would evaluate it and tell me if it had a case to get published.

Keerthi and I got busy with our own lives and it was not until April 2008 that we got back together. I told Keerthi that I would like to hire her editing services before I approach the publishers with 'The Tryst' (which is not a common practice because the publisher normally has his own editors to work on the book). This also adds to the cost for the writer but I was okay with that because Keerthi adds great value with her insights and it would give me a better chance with the publishers.

Okay, this is how editors work. Either they take a lump sum, say one round of editing or evaluation would cost between Rs. 2500 to Rs. 5000 depending on how big the book is in terms of pages (Rs. 15 per page for level one corrections), or if you want to be hand held till the end, it could just go up to anything between Rs. 10000 to Rs. 25000. Sometimes the editors can get you some publishers as well. But the pricing does depend on the level of difficulty - i.e. how well or how badly you have written the draft!

Anyway, my one week long stay in Bangalore with Keerthi, was supposed to get the book into a final stage after which I could approach the publishers straightaway but Keerthi had other ideas. The first was that she felt I was telling the story and not showing it enough which was true. I consciously chose that style because my level of investment in the book was rather low but when she pointed it out, I felt, I could work on it. Also she had some issues with the characters and how they shaped up which I heard out. When I headed back to Hyderabad, the manuscript was full of suggestions and corrections and to such an extent that I got put off from working on it. I put it away for six months almost.

In October I took it out and worked on a few aspects. And then a few more. And then some more research to make it more authentic. I worked for a month extensively on the book and it swelled into 72000 words. It was more fuller, the characters rounded and I did think some justice had been done. I sent the proposal out to the usual suspects and they all rejected it again!

I had spoken about the new novel to Indialog, my publisher, and Basant Pandey the Director, felt that they could do it. We were discussing the possibility of using a different marketing approach but we finally did nothing about it. In December, I shot off a mail to Basant Pandey and asked him if he was still interested because I was getting to a stage when I wanted more control over the process. He said he was game and we took off from there.

The good thing about this deal was that we agreed that we should target the Book Fair in Delhi which is normally held in February. I said that my manuscript was almost ready and we could target that. Next came the commercials, the royalty. Obviously, Indialog would not offer any advances but I was not going to settle for a 7% royalty like a first time writer. However Indialog offered me 7% to start with which was not acceptable to me. After some negotiations, they agreed to a royalty of 10% and I decided to keep the movie rights with me to which they agreed. The MOA was then sent to me with the changes. I will share the main points of the MOA in the next blog. Getting the MoA is the first concrete step to getting towards published but frankly, if my 'Men Within' experience was anything to go by, it does not mean anything, because they given themselves an eight month period during which it can get published else you are free to go. So they just might leave you in the lurch and this period is a very frustrating because they don't say anything and keep very quiet while you wait.

Luckily for me we have a deadline to work with so I asked Basant Pandey for time to work on the manuscript till the 31st of December 2009 after which he can take over the proofing and printing process. The Book Fair is from January 30 - February 7, so we had enough time.

Since we had originally talked about doing something about the marketing mix to increase sales, we started at the most important 'p' after the product - 'price'. We had originally decided to price the book at Rs. 95 because that is a wonderful price to enter the Indian pocket and that is what I felt Chetan Bhagat has cracked. However Basant pandey felt that Rs. 95 would not work and we should price the book at Rs. 145. To me Rs. 145 did not make sense at all because it was middle of the road. Anything over Rs. 100 fell into the 200 range so we decided to at least stick with a price that makes the book fall into a range where it is perceived as a book with some production value to it and some serious content.

The pricing works something like this. The cost of producing a paperback of about 250pages with decent production value rages from Rs. 30 - Rs. 45, if you are printing about 1000-1500 copies at one go. Now you need to figure out pricing this way. From the jacket price of the book, 50% goes to the distributor-retailer, so if it is Rs. 200, then Rs. 100 goes to the distributor-retailer margin. The publisher now has about Rs.60 to play with of which Rs. 14-Rs.20 goes as author's royalty. Of the balance Rs. 40 he has marketing costs and post that, is his profit on each book. Of course there are many direct sales which offset his distribution costs. These are rough costs but it is a fair approximation and the author need not feel that his 10% is too high because there is sufficient padding in the margin already.

Anyway I involve myself in the cover design as well as the marketing aspect with Indialog, knowing their constraints and limitations, so that adds to my cost. I do that for myself and my book of course and also knowing that this must work in a partnership mode. Alright, now we are all agreed, let us now get down to polishing the manuscript and sending it off. Then we can worry about the cover design, the marketing mix etc.

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