November 11, 2013

The road to publishing

Dear M,

I recently saw an update on one of those social networks. A person who has just completed a book (or will complete soon) is looking for publishers and wants to begin discussions with them.

Like the wrinkled old woman in the story who laughs at the naïve, arrogant, optimistic and pretty young woman, I guffawed quite a bit at this. But I hate to kill anyone's enthusiasm so I did not respond, and walked away whistling (as much whistling and walking away as the Internet permitted me to do).

Seriously, as aspiring newbies, we expect publishers to line up before us and we only need to choose the best from among them. No, that's an unkind way of putting it. Everyone knows that publishing is tough business. But we do half-expect that the publisher will see our book as the next big thing. And we do think that things are going to sail smooth and in the next two months, we will have a book to show. Even when we read everywhere that these publishers get a thousand manuscripts a day, we still believe ours will stand out (and possibly shoot a Cupid's arrow). Even when we read that brilliant authors have had only a hundred rejections, we still believe ours will not have to go through the torture.

It is the boundless optimism (as well as ignorance) of the new writer that actually serves as the initial push to take the plunge. Once he begins to read up on different publishers he would realise that we need to approach them, and they are not hiding behind our gate for a glimpse of the next best-selling author. Then once he lists out all the possible publishers and agents that he is going to blow over, he would realise that querying is as tough a job as completing a novel. And that, even for some kind of a response to come, it could take up to six months. Rejection letters sometimes come after a year.

As time passes the optimism wears thin, until it is a shadow of its former gigantic, towering self, and that's when the test really begins. That's when you know for sure if this is what you want to do for the rest of your life.

I cannot say all this to a new author putting up enthusiastic updates on social media, and I will not. Even if I do, he is not going to believe me (Thank God). He will have to find out for himself and then decide how to put his knowledge to good use. And if he is really the genius he believes he is, then he would not have to know any of this either.


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