Last week, finally, I moved to the other side of a book. From a ‘voracious reader’, I became a ‘debut author’. And the transition has been deliciously sweet, extremely gratifying and completely fulfilling. Of course, as the topic of the book is my Dad’s biography, I believe in giving 110% credit for this book to Dad. I was just a messenger for his life journey, his experiences, his thoughts and most importantly, his beliefs to be shared with the world.
So how did it all start? My first memory of when I considered writing seriously, was way back in 2017. We had our school (Campion School Bhopal)’ s 25th year reunion. I was so emotional about the whole experience, that I wrote about it and shared the same with my school friends. Excited from the feedback on the article, I consulted one of my school classmates, Sukant Bhattacharjee, who was known for his literary skills even in school. I told him about my aspiration to get serious about writing, serious enough to write a book some day. Fortunately for me, Sukant did not mince his words and gave an honest feedback. He said ” Hetal, before you start writing, you need to enhance your reading. Your writing ultimately is a reflection of your reading.”
The reading journey:
Sukant did not know it then, back then in 2017, I was hardly reading anything of significance. A few non-fiction books in a year. Even fiction, which I downplay the importance of, I was not reading much. I took Sukant’s advice very seriously, and decided to read 100 books, yes I mean A HUNDRED BOOKS in 2018. The reason I am emphasised on the target, is that in a routine working life, where we have a 9-5 job, its not easy to read 100 books in a year. It’s not impossible or very difficult, but it’s not exactly easy. That’s almost 2 books every week. And to be honest to ourselves, we do not cheat and find the tiniest of books to easily achieve the goal. We include books which deserve to be read!
Well, that was it, I got serious about reading 100 quality non-fiction (mostly, 90% of it was) books in 2018. Not only did I achieve the goal, I actually exceeded it by a bit and went on do it again in 2019 and 2020. As of now this year, I have read 85 books, so hope to overachieve again.
Though this article is not about my reading journey, I cannot emphasise enough, on how reading helped me become a better writer. It’s not just about the writing style of various authors, how a book is constructed, what are the various parts of the book, the foreword, postscript, etc., it’s also to expose ourselves to variety of content. For example, if not for Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesday’s with Morrie, I might not have visualised writing my Dad’s biography. While it’s not a biography in truest sense, I found more ideas from this book than many biographies that I read of great people.
Baby Steps to Writing:
The next step after this stint of reading voraciously, was to start small on writing. I started writing blogs on LinkedIn. Initially, I was writing about the startups that I was engaging with. I found their business model unique and wrote about them in form of a story. “Story Telling’ as an art-form of writing has now picked up lot of prominence. It helps to bring life into the topic, it makes it lot more relatable to the reader. I am sure many of you would have observed this style in my articles as well. Subsequently, I wrote on many topics, contemporary issues, my own journey and experiences that were worth talking about. They all contributed towards increasing my confidence that “Hetal Can Write Saala” !!
But of course, writing article and blogs and only take you thus far. Writing a book is a totally totally different ball game. It’s like different between practicing hitting a cricket ball, put in a sock, tied to a rope on your bedroom door (yeah, I did that as a child with my first cricket bat.. it was supposed to help build the stroke play of the bat!!) and playing an international cricket match. Its THAT big a difference !
What to Write on:
As for “Against All Odds” journey, those of you who have read the book , know it well. It was an impromptu decision in June 2019, when I suggested it to Dad and he was super excited about it. I still have a copy of the first email I wrote to him, where I had drafted out the entire plan of what the book would be like, etc. And yeah, I very much stuck to the plan. This part is difficult one, no doubt. You need to think hard on the topic of your book, what will it be about, the genre, fiction or non fiction. Within fiction, whether you want to write on philosophy, self-help, management, personal experience, human emotions, current affairs, politics, etc.
How Much to Write:
Needless to add, you will need to know the topic well enough so that you can fill up some 200-250 pages or an average of 35,000 to 40,000 words, which is the typical word length (unedited) that a manuscript is expected to have. In my case, the editing process reduced the book-length by almost 40%. So you can now imagine how much of content had to be left out. And to remove content is as important as adding. One needs to be a bit harsh/ruthless when content is removed either by the editor or oneself. However passionate we may have been when we composed that text, we have to be totally un-emotional when it has to be deleted.
Regular Rhythm of Writing:
Unlike a blog or an article, which one can compose more instinctively, book writing is a more rigorous process. One needs to have a routine in place. Identify the time of the day when you will be most motivated to write. For me, it is early morning. But many great writers are known to write late into the night. So, to each one its own. How much time you spare on a daily, weekly basis, is again, upto you, but to be regular is very important.
Paper or Digital:
You would be surprised I am even mentioning this, when typing this blog on a computer and you are reading it on a digital device ! But yeah, even in this day and age, there are manuscripts written with pen on paper. Barrack Obama’s recent book, “A promised Land” is the best example. So it’s totally fine if you would like to write it that way. Yeah, editing will be longer and more tedious, but hey, who writes a book in a hurry, anyways?
The Publishing bit:
For a debut author, one does not worry about the publisher initially. At least in my case, I did not. We need to build something concrete first, so that after accessing the worth of what we have built, we can approach the publisher with confidence. In today’s day and age, one does not even necessarily need a publisher. You can self-publish your book on many platforms, starting (and ending) with Amazon. The book is only printed when ordered, aka Print on Demand (POD). Then you will be wondering, how publishers still do business? Well, for one, they have the creative brains to work on a book as a project. So for activities like editing, proof-reading, re-editing, again proof checking, spell checking, then again editing, then again proof reading (ok, I added a few extra loops as it happened with me!!!), cover design, positioning, identifying the channels to sell : off line, online, local, national, global, distribution network, promotion, endorsements, commendations, reviewer network, bloggers, media coverage, PR, etc. for all this, it makes a HUGE difference if you have a publisher involved. Q.E.D.
Promotion and Marketing:
So you must be thinking, that once you have a good publisher, then your job is done after the writing is done. Right? Wrong!! Your involvement in the sales promo, marketing and PR is extremely critical. Especially, if like me, you are NOT a celebrity and the book is not going to sell by itself, then you need to make the effort of connect with people in your friend, family, known circle, who, either are influencers themselves, or know those who are. They will have a big role to play in enhancing your pitch, broadening the message about your book and most importantly, boost sales! Mind you, every book need not be a bestseller or even a mediocre success. One needs to write for oneself, period. If it resonates well with lot of people and generates good demand in the market, smile, pat yourself on the back, and move on. As quoted by Jeffery Archer in a talk ” For every 1000 manuscripts, 1 gets published, For every 1000 books published, one will ‘do well’. For every 1000 books that ‘do well’, one becomes a bestseller.” So, be realistic about your expectations.
Keep talking and listening:
While you may doubt your writing, do not stay quiet or secretive about it. Keep talking about it and share your idea of the book. People generally have high regards for authors and budding authors. Many might downplay you for your ‘ability to write’, but they will still appreciate you for your ‘guts to write’ – and that is a very solid acknowledgement of your effort and a great morale booster. Writing books is picking up lot of popularity of late. From not knowing anyone personally who had written a book in 2017, now I know at least 15 people who have. And that’s quite an impressive growth, I would say. Don’t be disheartened by the increasing number of books being published and reducing number of readers (as they all get distracted by the audio and video entertainment content all around them). You are writing for yourself and you need to remain true to your goal. Its amazing how some of the most awesome authors are so down-to-earth when they talk about their book-writing journey.
No, this is not all that I wanted to talk about. But this is a lot, to start with. I am still thrilled and over-the-moon, seeing my book finally out in physical form. It’s nothing short of seeing your own baby being born. The joy of creativity, to see all the hard work, pain and effort yielding a tangible product that you can hold, touch and feel really proud about, that joy is unparalleled. Yes, one can get same sort of joy when one builds a product or prepares some food item or composes a song, etc. Creativity has an unparalleled charm and one should try and experience it as often as possible. From that perspective, one should at least write one book in life. Its an experience totally worth going through. All the best for your book !