Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A New Writer's Dilemma - Some Pointers

Recently I got a call from a friend of mine - after many years. While in the US he met another successful professional who had written a book based on her life experiences and was looking to get published. My friend said that he hoped I could guide her on how to get published because she had tried and given up. I told him I could share what I knew - not that I was an expert at getting published - but I'd had a few knocks along the way which could come in use.

When she called, I heard an interesting story from her. Her friend, a published author himself, had asked her to contact an agent. She did. The agent got back within an hour and told her that the entire book has to be rewritten. If it has to be rewritten at the level of writing for a top notch publisher, it would cost her 18 lakhs (one could buy a house for that). If it had to be rewritten at a normal level it would cost 3 lakhs. Take your pick. In both cases no guarantees of getting published. Your book will be taken out of your hands, your bank account dented seriously and someone will rewrite your book and go home laughing. The writer gave up on her dream of getting the book published and went back to her life. I would have if this would have been my experience too. After all publishing in India is vague and difficult to make a dent - if you do not have the right profile or are not persistent enough.

It's not about the 18 lakhs really though it was a jaw dropping amount for me. Many medium publishers would queue up outside to publish the book for half the amount! What anyone charges for their services is their own business and I have no problem with that really. But what reeked of mischief here in the agent's response was this. There is no real need for having someone rewrite the entire manuscript. (I saw it and I can pretty much say that there's no need to rewrite at all - just develop it some more.) It's not that she does not know how to communicate, or write. She's from India's top management institute, a senior Vice President in a large IT company and a Fulbright scholar. And anyway people write to express themselves, to feel good about what they have written, not have someone ghost write their stuff.

Any decent advise would have focussed on the improvements that the book might need and the time involved and costs involved. Not rewriting which is rather presumptuous. (Self publishing a book won't cost more than a lakh of rupees, for say a thousand copies.) Even if I get an expert editor to work through the book development process and pay another lakh to the editor (a decent amount) to help develop the book, we still have our book written by ourselves, which has a fair chance of getting published.

I suggested to her that since she was a first time author her work may need some work. Hiring the services of a good editor can help bring out the potential of the book. All it requires is patience (and and this is one thing one must have in this business, many rewrites and persistence). Let's say after a year, the book comes to some shape, she can then approach publishers or agents and try it out again. Worst case scenario, the self publishing route is always available as is the e-publishing route. My only word of caution for new writers before they jump on that route of sp and ep is that those are easier routes to take - which means one could compromise heavily on the quality of writing. One could instead spend time going through the grind because it will help better the craft.

Writing is a wonderful way to express oneself and it is a process that makes an honest person out of you. For good or bad, it is best if the writer writes his or her story herself because it is after all her story. More so when it is filled with such experiences of an intense nature. Agents and editors must encourage people to write, to go through the process and better themselves, perhaps give assistance there. Not merely take over the book, rewrite it and get it published under this person's name which would be a dishonest way to arrive at the result. (Rewriting is understandable when the person has no time, has language issues - not in these cases.)

I saw two more books recently written by first time writers. One who has written three full fledged novels and novellas - and a fine writer to boot with good command over the language and good story telling abilities. Another a young college goer. I feel it's the best time to write, so everyone who feels like it should write.

For all new writers then, go ahead and write. Work as hard as you can before you head to the publishers. Approach the agents and publishers. Face the feedback and the rejections. If it is not good enough, find a good editor who can help with the manuscript. It is your first after all so there could be some issues. There are plenty of good editors and you can find them if you search. Pay them well, work closely with them and develop the manuscript to satisfaction. Be patient. Then seek the agent and publisher again. If you still do not find success go the self publishing/ e publishing route. No harm. Your book is in good shape and you have worked at it hard enough to deserve this. Now with the Internet everyone has a space to express, to publish and get a fair chance. If it's good, it could just take off. If it does not, it's still okay, the journey would have grown you anyway.

The shortcuts are tempting. But they may not add to the development of the craft. Nor will you enjoy such fame - when you have not written your story. Enjoy the process, be true. If writing is about anything, its about honesty. So stay honest.

And keep writing!

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