The Making of A Book – Part 4
As a beginning writer I dream of the day when I will never have to face another rejection. In spite of the practise I’ve had by now, rejection still stings. But it doesn’t hurt as before. I no longer mope around and curse the short-sightedness of a universe that fails to recognize my skills and efforts. I just work on the next project while I re-evaluate the rejected work and rewrite parts of it. When a literary agent or an editor from a major publishing house rejects my manuscript, perhaps because they feel no one’s interested in that type of story anymore, I don’t lose faith. I remind myself there is enough proof that no one knows for sure what’s going to sell and what isn’t. I have worked hard at developing faith in my own instincts about writing, even when no one else does. That doesn’t mean I am inflexible to suggestions, it just means I feel confident in whatever decisions I make about the course of my writing. I believe in my work, as I know, if I don’t no one ever will.
It was actually a chance meeting with a major publishing house’s representative, at my office in Chennai that gave birth to my dream to be a published writer. In response to my casual enquiry on how one can get their work published, he gave me the email address of the editorial department of his organisation. He guided me to write in to them with a Synopsis of my proposed work along with 2-3 sample chapters. By this time, I had been regularly writing short stories and poems. I had scaled the length of my short stories to over 6000 words, having initially started out at a word count of 1500, and was still able to hold the interest of readers. In fact, in order to test whether I could arrest reader interest outside of Sulekha, where I had built a friend-circle over time, I created an account on Ibibo. In this new platform, I reposted a few of my short stories and poems and to my utter astonishment and extreme delight, in a few months the blog had many more readers than I could ever hope to have in Sulekha and well over a 700 friends.
This gave me the confidence to go out into the world with my writing. However, I deleted the postings on Ibibo impulsively, thinking it wasn’t fair to be a part of two platforms simultaneously, with the same postings, thus retaining only the friends list along with the blog address. It was sometime in June, 2009 that I wrote a Synopsis for a proposed collection of short stories and sent it with three stories to this publisher I had been given the email address of. I did not get a response till a month and I wrote back to them inquiring about my proposal. They responded to the enquiry, requesting me to send my proposal in December with reference to this exchange. I found this quite strange, but since I was busy with my professional work and in planning my husband’s upcoming book launch, I put the thought of my own writing in the back burner. It was in November that I again toyed with the idea of resending the proposal though half-heartedly, assuming the publishing house was only going to formally send me a rejection note for it.
On Tue, 22 Dec 2009 I received the following response:
Dear Ms. Chowdhury, (I still use my maiden name at times)
This is with reference to your email dated 04.12.09. Kindly send us your complete manuscript in hard copy as well as in cd also for our editorial perusal by courier.
With best regards,
……………(name of editor)
At first I was stunned, then delirious. This was from a top listed publishing house and I had received a positive response contrary to the first-hand stories I had heard, of reputed houses not responding to submissions without a reference. After the initial elation settled down, panic set in. I had proposed an anthology of 15 stories with a common theme, but all I had ready were the three I had sent. How was I to submit a completed manuscript, when I did not have one? I had far from expected a response, let alone to be asked to submit my entire manuscript right away. I could not envision replying that I didn’t have a ready manuscript as they would think I was not serious. After all, in June they had asked me to get back to them in December and I should have got my manuscript ready by this time. So I wrote back, requesting for a few weeks to re-write the manuscript I didn’t actually have a first draft of.
They agreed, and this spurred me into action. By now I had quit my job, to join another organization. But instead I took a calculated decision not to join the new company, as I would need to write full time to submit my manuscript. In addition, I needed the time out to help with my husband’s multi-city book launches. For the uninitiated, let me enlighten here that publisher’s don’t take much interest in first time writers, even one with a sufficient reader base through his regular columns in a reputed newspaper. Thus all the detailed planning and execution of the multi-city promotions for B’s books was through my initiative. My years of working with reputed organizations had geared me for this cycle of public relations and event management process. I believed in his book, but I also knew that however good a product, without sufficient awareness at the right time it will just go without leaving sufficient mark. Incidentally I had even single-handedly planned and managed our wedding at Kolkata in 2006. My father had passed away the year before, mother was in no condition at 65 years to organize a wedding though she did her best, and my sister lived and worked in Bangalore.
I knew a few weeks would not suffice for writing 12 stories for submission, though I had rough drafts and outlines for a few. But I decided to give it my best shot nevertheless. I would have to send at least a few stories in a few weeks and request for more time for the remaining. Within less than a month, by the 20th of Jan, 2010 I was able to send in another five stories. This after spending almost 10-12 hours on days I could, away from planning, coordinating and attending my husband’s book launches in Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. I wrote as if my life depended on it, for I knew I could not afford to miss this opportunity, as fate may not offer me another. By the middle of March 2010, I was able to complete writing all the 15 stories and I was in the process of editing them for final submission in a week, when fate played a very cruel joke on me. I got an email from the publisher as below:
Dear Ms. Shuvashree,
We were very happy to receive your proposal. However, at the moment, our hands are full and therefore we won’t be able to undertake the same for publication.
However, we wish you the very best of luck in placing it elsewhere.
With best regards,
(This time only name of organization, not the name of a person / editor)
I felt devastated, like if I had missed my flight after security check, on my way to appear for the entrance examination for a professional course. It was like seeing the flight taking off on the tarmac through the glass departure hall. I had put my work life and career on hold to prepare for this exam, but now I had been expelled from the examination which could have been my flight to success. After almost a week of mourning the loss of my efforts in completing the manuscript, but more so in giving up on a golden career opportunity in the new job I was to take up, I decided to never write again. This also explains why I disappeared from Sulekha completely and so suddenly. I buried the manuscript in a remote corner of the documents folder of my laptop and readied my professional resume for the search for a job. I was about to turn fourty in a couple of months in August 2010 and at the crossroads of life. I had to find my way back to a mainstream career or be lost for the rest of my life. But God again sent me a torch to guide my life into his chosen path and away from a regular job and career as I had planned on getting back to.
One afternoon, weighed down by deep melancholy that caused physical illness, trying to take a nap post lunch, to recover from a sleepless night, I received a call on my cell-phone. The caller introduced himself as the public relations manager of another publishing house, not as commercially successful as the previous, but reputed nevertheless. To calm my obvious suspicion, he came straight to the point of his awareness of my manuscript, even referring to it by title and whether I would be interested in submitting it to his publishing house. I refused to continue the conversation if he didn’t tell me how he had come about this information about the manuscript, along with my phone number and personal details. To my astonishment he replied that it was the editor of the previous publishing house I had submitted my manuscript to, who had recommended my manuscript to him. He explained that the editor had been unable to accept my work for publication, though he thought it was good. As perhaps due to current recession and change in economic times, the editorial board may not have found my manuscript commercially viable.
To assuage my curiosity further, the caller explained that the publishing world is a small one, where people know each other, interact socially, and talk about their work and that is how he had learnt of my work. Luckily to prove that I had not dreamt this situation, I got a text message shortly thereafter, with the callers official email address, urging me to send my manuscript. So I sent my manuscript to this publisher and within an hour I got a response that they do not accept anthologies, that he had not known mine was a collection of short stories. This left me with utter distaste and frustration at fate poking my sentiments repeatedly in this manner, rubbing salt to injury. I called a close friend quite senior in the corporate world-he had been reading me from the start and offering suggestions, to get his opinion on this kind of irresponsible organizational behaviour.
“Shuvy, this is like a sign from God” he replied spontaneously, “you have the potential as a writer and you just need to keep at it. You cannot give up now.”
That evening when B came home from work, I told him the whole story including the comments from my friend. B told me how publishers were perhaps not interested in anthologies from a single debut writer, as it was very difficult to sell. I also discussed this point with some other people and came to the conclusion that if I wanted to find a publisher for my anthology I would have to write a novel first and get it published. B suggested that while I look for a job, I should read much more. He pulled out literary books by master writers and story tellers, and goaded me to read them, if I wanted to seriously be a writer. Then we also discussed the plot of a novel I could write and he pulled out books from his large collection, which I could draw inspiration from, for such a plot. So while meeting with recruiters and attending interviews on one hand, I began to read avidly and planned my novel. I started writing spontaneously, as having just written the collection of 15 stories had given me good practice and immensely increased my speed and flow of thought. After I had finished 3 chapters, I wrote out a synopsis and sent it along with the chapters to the same publisher I had sent the stories to and the prompt response I got was:
With reference to your proposal titled “………” Kindly send us the hard copy of the manuscript at the following address for second evaluation and also would request you to kindly attach a copy of this email while submitting the manuscript.
Signature of an editor
Company name, address and phone
Again not having a ready manuscript, this email spurred me into giving up on the idea of appearing for interviews with companies I had been shortlisted for second interviews, in order to write full time to complete the novel. In about 10 months, I completed the manuscript and emailed it to the publishers on 17th Jan, 2011.
On February 28, 2011 I got the following response:
Thank you for submitting your manuscript to (name of publishing house). We really appreciate getting a chance to consider your manuscript and while there truly is some great writing here, we are afraid that we can’t find a spot for it on our list.
We would like to wish you every success in your future endeavour.
With best wishes
(Signed by an editor)
Now it had been over a year that I was not working, having quit by the last day of Nov2009. So there was no going back now and yet all I had were two manuscripts with only plenty of lost time. I called the friend who had urged me to follow my calling and God’s chosen path.
“Now this only proves that you must not give up Shuvy” he repeated, “even Amitabh Bacchan was rejected by All India Radio and now his voice sells a million products. Even Hema Malini was rejected by Tollywood and see what became of her in Bollywood….so don’t give up on trying with other publishers, but you could start looking for a job too, now that you’ve finished this novel and can write on a slower pace along with a steady job.
So again I wrote to another reputed publisher and the responses I received chronologically, first for my novel, were:
I have received your manuscript and will begin reading it soon. I hope to write to you with my feedback etc by the second week of June. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to read ‘Across Borders’
Date: Thu, 5 May 2011
I just read the first two chapters of Across Borders and if you could forward me the entire manuscript, would help me hugely in better forming an opinion.
Date: Mon, 6 Jun 2011
My mistake entirely. Apologies. I have indeed received the full manuscript and will begin reading it again soon.
Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2011
I read your remarkable manuscript and enjoyed it immensely. However, I feel that it is perhaps not the best fit for the lists we are publishing at the moment. We will regretfully have to pass on ‘Across Borders’ Thank you for your patience and for considering ………..(publishers name). I wish you the very best in your efforts to find a suitable home for ‘Across Borders’
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2011 (this was just a fortnight before my 40th birthday on 23rd August)
Then I tried submitting to literary agents. Below is a sample reply…
Subject: Re: A Submission for Publication titled ACROSS BORDERS
In the meantime I had not given up on my short story collection for which the responses I received from the above publisher and editor are:
Subject: RE: A Short Story Collection.
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2011
Been snowed under, buried, with work and haven’t had time to look at your stories. Will get back to you by the end of the month with feedback. Thanks so much for your patience.
Subject: A Short Story Collection.
Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2011
Absolutely not! I haven’t forgotten your stories nor have they been buried under. Just that I have been incredibly snowed under. I am going to look at your stories over the weekend and let you know. Thank you for being patient.
Date: Mon, 26 Dec 2011
I read your collection of stories over my vacation. I really loved some of them. However, on the whole the collection to me felt uneven as all the stories are not equally strong. And I am sure you will understand that publishing a collection of stories where only some of the components work does not make the best sense. We will unfortunately have to pass.
It has taken me a while to get back to you. Apologies. And thank you for your great patience.
The above is the string emails, of interactions with only two publishers. I have a whole lot more in my collection. However, I did not approach my husband’s editor/ publisher nor did he ever suggest it. I did not want my failed attempts to negatively impact his image, as after all, he is the actual writer in our family and I’m only an aspiring one yet. All through the time that I was sending both my manuscripts to other publishers, I was continuously rewriting my novel line by painful line, reading and only reading other than writing. It had become an obsession by now, to find a publisher. Self-publishing is an option I would perhaps consider after I was fifty and had not found a publisher in the next ten years. I was not going to allow fate, not even God defy my spirit, to lose the battle I had embarked on unwittingly.
In January, 2011 – I moved to Kolkata from Chennai to help with my parents business as after my father’s demise my mother who is 72 now was struggling to keep it running. I travel to Chennai every month for a few days and my husband joins me in Kolkata whenever he can. The plan was to either revive the business or sell out. With the long break I had taken from work, this would give me a way to re-establish my professional skills through our corporate clients and I could consider getting back to a good job soon. It was during this period, sometime in March 2012 that I met an independent publisher through an ex senior colleague, and in conversation mentioned my writing sojourn. He requested me to share my manuscripts, in spite of learning from me the long list of rejection notes I had collected. I shared my short story collection and he didn’t show any interest. I should have given up on him, but I decided to share my novel as well, if only to have him reject it too. But to my utter amazement he loved it and wanted to publish it, though he knew so many publishers had rejected it.
Thus I finally found a loving home for my work, with someone who is as convinced about my manuscript as I am. He has put all his efforts into every stage of the publishing process – assigning editor, designer, and monitoring them along with the proof-reading and printing. It will be launched by February. In the meantime I’m on the fifth chapter of another novel – it takes my mind off the anxiety of the one due for release. Please pray for me.
PS – Posted on 5th Jan, 2014
The rest of the story of my struggle can be summarized along the lines of my husband’s column, inspired by my experiences, in the link below:
Please read the article in the link below to differentiate between self and vanity publishing: Here’s an excerpt…“Self-publishing has been around for years (Virginia Woolf did it, as did Mark Twain and James Joyce. William Blake did nothing else) and is considered to be a perfectly respectable way to get your book into the marketplace. In fact, because getting published by mainstream publishers is so tricky, many authors are choosing to self-publish in the first instance by way of a stepping stone. A high-quality self-published book shows the author is ambitious, organised and serious.”