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Of Dreams, Hopes And Waits: An Aspiring Author In India

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By Ilika Ranjan:

It all commenced when the ‘maverick’ in me decided to quit the seven years banking career and start from scratch. Needless to say the bank gave me high designations and recognitions and yet a great amount of cynicism. The callousness and the manipulation that prevailed forced me to call quits. Entrepreneurship has been a delightful experience but I was unable to let go of my utterly disillusioning banking stint. Thus I wrote my first book ‘Puppet on the fast track’.

It took almost a year to write the book and then began my search for a publishing house that could take my story and showcase it to the world. Being a novice, I taxed the search engine to highlight the names of leading publishing houses and then checked the webpage of each of these to find the criteria and requirement of submission. Mostly all of them highlight the requirement of a synopsis and three chapters of the book. None quote an example of a good submission unlike many international literary agencies. I typed the synopsis and then simultaneously submitted to all the publishers. To my dismay, the rejection came from all without highlighting any reason. This was my first mistake to have submitted the manuscript to all the Publishers simultaneously. I should have submitted to one or two first and then waited for the response. Wait is keyword because that is exactly what one ends up doing with each stage of publishing the book.

Dejected and disheartened I re-read my synopsis and then edited it. Since there are no examples of manuscript submissions, I guessed the mistakes I must have made and rewrote the synopsis. Post this I sent it to few remaining publishers. By God’s grace the manuscript was picked by a decent publishing company. After almost six months, my book ‘Puppet on the fast track’ was visible in all the prominent bookstores of the country. It did not sell as much as I wanted it to. After months of trying varied marketing stances, including blogging and book reviews, the success was not visible. Searching the internet, I discovered that on an average a bestseller written by an Indian author accounts for not more than three thousand copies. Simply put a majority of the Indian authors DO NOT MAKE MONEY. After deliberating on the possible reasons, it occurred to me that the leading Publishing houses in India (including multinational corporations established in India) are not building a brand of either the characters in the books or of the authors. Do you think none of the Indian authors have written a Harry Porter or Percy Jackson or equivalent in the last ten years? If you peep in the Indian website of Penguin books, Random house, you will come to know innumerable Indian authors who have written fantastic books, but their characters were not a brand to identify with and thus they neither got publicity nor made money.

I gave up. The dream to make ‘Puppet on the fast track’ a popular and an inspiring book did not become a reality. Some well wishers came back with candid feedback saying it was too intellectual, pointing at the editing issues, while a majority iterated that it lacked the current trend of ‘adult permutation’. I was subtly informed about some books of similar genre. Well, I bought the trend setting books with bolly-wood storyline and head hurting vulgar descriptions. (Vulgarity is a subjective call; some may find it outstandingly creative).

With this exposure came the realization that I was still a child and even the attempt of creating such adult stuff made me blush. Definitely it was not my forte. Unfortunately by this time writing had become a passion which I could not let go. Thus after a year of judiciously reading the children fantasy best sellers, I came up with my book for the children and young adults. This time I was absolutely sure that it was imperative to get the book published through leading publishers, for it to get some shelf life at the bookstores and to catch the eyeball of the readers. The first cut of the book was given to family and friends for critical appraisal. Everyone seemed to like it and post incorporating all the suggestions, I made the synopsis to be submitted to one of the leading publishing houses in India. The idea was to wait for the feedback. Post five months of waiting, the reply came in the negative, just one line ‘it does not fit our literary genre’. Oops! My research had pointed out differently then why the rejection with such an answer?

Intensive research on the internet revealed that one needs to find a literary agent to represent the book to the publishers and for professional editing of the manuscript. Post aggressively searching for Indian literary agents, a list of six came out along with a blog warning authors against falling in the trap of fake literary agents in India. Considering that the probability of success with only six agents in India was low, I began sending my request to international literary agents as well. This was not all, to catch the international agent’s attention one had to draft a query letter that could grab their interest. After three days of trial and error, I came up with query letter hoping that its magnetic energy would pull some literary agents towards itself. The first rejection came fast, the second after a while and a third in a month. Post receiving rejection from three international agents, I was left clueless whether these international agents represent Indian authors at all?

Disillusioned and slightly frustrated I turned to Indian literary agents, sending (via email) the synopsis and three to four chapters of my children book. One of them based in Mumbai replied as soon as I clicked on ‘send’, stating she had read the submission with interest and yet did not want to represent it. I wondered how she could have read fifty pages in five seconds. By this time I was convinced that my children book was not appealing enough. Crestfallen and inquisitive, I rummaged around for the names of the books this Indian literary agent represented, trying to get a pointer to modify my script. The website of the agent revealed a miniscule list of books like ‘spiritual healing’, ‘spiritual pregnancy’, ‘I’m not alone’ and others. I saved spiritual healing in my shopping cart considering my petite wish of being a successful author was going down the drain and that my soul would need spiritual healing in future.

The point is why can exact reason of refusal not be highlighted? Yes creativity is a subjective call, but mentioning what is putting the selector off may give some direction to the author. This is not only my view but many aspiring authors opine similarly in their blogs.

India is a developing country and even literary talent needs nurturing and development. If one compares with the trend in US and UK, publishing houses regularly come up with writing contests for promoting talent. Many get their first break of getting their books published by eminent houses through these contests. In India, everything is blurr.

It was around January that the news featured the caption Bloomsbury has set up its office in India because Indian market has huge potential for growth.

The question is growth of sales of writings of foreign authors or bringing Indian authors at par with their foreign counterparts in terms of branding, promotion and quality?

As far as my book is concerned, the response of other agents is awaited. Hope to meet a guardian angel to take my dream and make it a reality.

You must be to comment.
  1. Daras

    A from the heart, candid, open and honest piece from a budding author. If you continue to be truthful, real to the things around you and keep on listening to your heart, and describing it without fear and/or reprisal, believe you me, you will have done it. Keep on keeping on, my friend, your bestseller is not too far. BUT, when you get there, having sold much more than 3000 to achieve the best-selling author honor, please keep on helping other authors and new talent to get across the line…………………..

  2. Puneet Sandhu

    Very well expressed Ilika. The success is not too far for you and such writings by you are inspiring for your friends who have left the banking career as disillusioned as you did.

    1. ilika

      Dear Puneet, Thank you for the encouragement.

  3. Sameer (HarperCollins Author)

    Thanks for sharing this story, Ilika.

    Unlike in the U.S., the Indian publishing industry doesn’t have a fully developed literary agency model. That makes it even tougher for new authors to break into the super-competitive publishing industry.

    I went through the same experience for many years. After I got published, I started a blog (http://www.sameerkamat.com) to share tips and ideas with other aspiring authors in India.

    Good luck with your journey.

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