An Aspiring Writer in Wonderland
By Santosh Bakaya
My earlier books—mystery novels for young adults, were hastily published. The publisher, a complete novice in the field of publishing fiction, did a shoddy job, to my utmost discomfort. When one finishes a manuscript, one starts indulging in positive imaginings, itching with the intense yearning to see the writings in print. The same was true for me. Once involved in writing the book, I felt like Alice in Wonderland, growing small and big with every big hurdle and every small victory, stumbling, tumbling, fumbling, grumbling, and then, finally, crumbling into a heap of tears, trying vainly to swim through this sea of tears and not knowing how to dry them. So, in utter desperation, I went for the first publisher I could find, and was more than happy when the book saw the light of day. But, alas, it was so full of typos that I still squirm in embarrassment when I see the couple of copies lying with me.
Now, I realize that it is no use making haste. A manuscript should go to the publisher only when it is honed, polished, and scintillating. Bad proofreading and editing can kill a book. I have seen many an excellent book suffering dismally at the hands of self-publishing agencies that take exorbitant amounts from the writers, but do an extremely poor job. Recently, I happened to read a self-published book. The paper used was of high quality, even the cover was well–designed, but it was full of typos and reeked of pathetic editing. Poor publishing had ruined an excellent book. I felt so bad for the writer.
Traditional publishing still has its aura, and the image of a printed book in one’s hands prods one on, and in this prodding, one makes haste, forgetting the time-tested aphorism that haste makes waste. It is no point being saddled with a book with printing errors and editorial gaffes. So, I feel it is better to delay the publishing of a book, rather than jump with it into a hole, where, like Alice, one encounters only locked doors of all sizes. Let me make myself clear.
When I got my first book published, the image of a soft, fluffy, doughnut kept popping before my eyes. I yearned for the entire delicacy, but kept seeing only the hole—and the image of the hole proved to be such a self-fulfilling prophecy that I fell into the hole—straight into the trap of a bad publisher. I knew that my book was a tolerably good book, but the bad printing and shoddy editing almost killed it. I was naïve enough to believe that my job was over once I had handed over the book to the publisher. But, I was wrong there. In leveraging the success of a book, the writer cannot shy away from playing a proactive role, and in this, social networking sites also play a major role.
Facebook has proved a wonderful opportunity for all writers. Apart from instant gratification, the constant feedback one gets spurs one further, and one also learns from others’ publishing experiences.
My recent book, Flights From My Terrace, started as notes and status updates on Facebook. At my friends’ insistence, I later compiled them to be published as an eBook on Smashwords. When it was published, I was ecstatic, and when it got some good reviews, my ecstasy touched greater heights. I faced no hassles and no hurdles while trying to get it published on Smashwords. Flights From My Terrace will soon have a printed version.
Digital publishing is soon getting currency, but the printed books have an aura all their own, which I believe is never going to end. Maybe the younger generation will prefer e-books, but the older generation can never get over the love for printed books. So, even if one has a digital version of a book, it is absolutely essential to have a printed one, too. Many know about my e-book, Flights From My Terrace, but have not read it because they prefer a printed version.
I started writing, “Oh Hark!”, my long poem, in installments on Facebook in the writers’ group REJECTED Stuff, which has a huge membership of more than 6,000 writers from all over the world, and as the poem progressed, it tickled readers’ curiosity.
“What next?” said the messages that came flying in, cheering me on into writing almost hundred pages, which went on to fetch for me the International Reuel Prize 2014 for writing and literature.
So, whatever the flibbertigibbets might say, Facebook has come to stay, and publishing one’s pieces there also gives a writer some satisfaction, and at least some idea where one stands among the fraternity of writers. On the basis of the feedback, one can keep improving oneself.
“Oh Hark!”, which started on a Facebook group, won me acclaim and now forms a part of an anthology, The Significant Anthology, where I rub shoulders with some eminent writers. I am soon planning to get it published as an illustrated, printed book, and some publishers I approached are enthused by the idea.
Approaching the well–known names in the publishing business is not easy, so some writers tend to settle for the more accessible ones. Sometimes the big traditional publishing houses do not even respond to the manuscript sent, and sometimes, they respond with curt one-liners. The fear of a manuscript being consigned to the dustbin has given many a budding writer sleepless nights. At times, a writer whose manuscript has been returned with a curt one liner, “your manuscript does not match our publishing profile,” almost starts having nightmares and dreading that someone might shout like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, “off with her head,” for the crime of having been impudent enough to have written a book!
When Vitasta publishers, Delhi, got a whiff of my attempt at writing a poetic biography of Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi, they contacted me. Renu Kaul Verma, the dynamic publisher, literally pushed me into completing it and I was published in 2015 and am glad it is being acclaimed. I believe the publishers have also to take many things into consideration, the first being the marketability. Even in the publishing world, it is a question of the survival of the fittest manuscript.
I have almost finished my latest novel, Sanakpur Shenanigans, set in the backdrop of Kashmir, and this time I am definitely not going to let it suffer the same fate that my earlier novels suffered. One definitely learns through experience, and experience whispers that a bullet-proof manuscript cannot be consigned to the dustbin.
On the basis of hindsight, I can safely say that an aspiring writer needs to do a lot of networking, research, and brainstorming with writer friends before finally settling on a publisher. One never knows which idea might clear the cobwebs of confusion. One should realize that writing is not a solo venture, but one that involves a lot of teamwork, where the team members, be it the son, daughter, wife, husband, or friend, can give deep insights that elude the writer because of the writer’s emotional involvement with the book.
I strongly believe that good and bad editing can make or mar a book. A good editor needs to go into each word with a fine-tooth comb, answering questions like, what is a particular word doing here? Is it not redundant? Can it be replaced by a better word? Picking at every word is important if one does not want the true potential of a book to be undermined by bad editing.
One has to push one’s limits in order to produce a compelling bullet–proof book proposal that has the potential of pricking the cynicism of the publishers. But the publishers, too, cannot be blamed outright as they need to be prudent enough not to tumble headlong into a venture that might prove risky for them. So, if the proposal is off the beaten track, well-edited, and has something different to offer, and has a mass appeal, the publishers will have to think twice before consigning the manuscript to the wastepaper basket.
Dr. Santosh Bakaya is an academician, blogger, essayist, poet and novelist. Her latest book is a poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu, published by Vitasta Publishers, Delhi, India. She is now giving finishing touches to her novel, tentatively titled, Sanakpur Shenanigans.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.