“The flashes from a hundred cameras blind my eyes as I approach the podium. My book in one hand. My sari gently raised with the other. I look at the sea of book lovers, packed on plastic chairs squished next to each other. The sound of people chatting suddenly decreases. Bundling the sari pallu on an arm , I open my book to a seemingly random page (that I have carefully chosen last night). This is how I start my book reading.“ – Me
Turns out, none of this happened. My second book “Back Home: An Emotional Guide for NRIs Who Are on the Fence about Moving to India” got published with a visible lack of fanfare. The publishers made it go live on a random afternoon on Amazon & Flipkart. I merely posted an update on Facebook and Linkedin, sent a few emails and shipped some author-signed copies.
Two years ago, today, I had started my book writing process. On this occasion, I invite you as a viewer, as I reflect on my 1.5 year journey of writing and publishing a book.
The good parts about writing a book
Millions of people dream of writing a book. This is why you should:
- Publishing your book is one helluva legit achievement. It’s makes a legit party ice-breaker over “I ran a full marathon”. You can call give yourself the title of an “author”.
- My book has impacted lives. I get emails telling me “I finally found someone who understood me”. Strangers have given me great reviews which made me happy.
What sucked about publishing a book
1. Friends are NOT gonna buy your book: The sooner you internalise this, the sooner you will be a happy puppy. I got requests like “Send me the pdf” or “Give me a free copy” which kind of hurt my feelings initially, but I recovered quickly after talking to other Authors. It’s a known issue in the Authors world — that people close to you might not buy your book. Even people whose names are IN the book didn’t buy it. Those who bought it, didn’t read it. Publishing a book is a reality shocker— It’s pure business. The book will be bought, but only by your target audience. Full stop.
2. Writing is a pain and only few fully appreciate the effort that goes in. When the book launched, people who previously supported me in my writing expeditions, were like ‘Oh! Congrats, nice’ and moved on to the ‘Check this video of a cute piggie rolling a grass’. I hope this post helps expose the underlying difficult journey, and also inspires people who want to write a book, to go and make it happen.
3. Marketing Is a necessary evil: A buzz-creating countdown like “10 days for the book launch”, “9 days to go”, felt incredibly stupid to me. I wasn’t bought into the marketing process. But I now see the value in perception and building up curiosity.
3. Dreams don’t match reality: I always wanted my book to be a hard-covered thick book, visible on a shelf from a distance. The book ended up being much thinner and I was sad about it. About 30% of what I envisioned did not materialise, so it’s important to focus on the greater good which is the 70%.
Where did I start?
Does’t hurt to start with an editor (Time Taken: 2 Weeks)
This was my second book. (Because, one book doesn’t a chetan bhagat make) and I learnt the value of a second pair of eyes on the manuscript. You might think, “I’m a gooood writer, so why hasn’t Penguin Random House or Harper Collins given me a call yet?”. That phone call ain’t gonna come, sister. I googled around and hired an editor. Paying the money was a good guarantee I would take this seriously. Might work for you too.
1. Select the topic (1-2 Days)
I have so many topics to write about, but I picked what I felt a sense of urgency on.
2. Create a Chapter Outline (2 Weeks)
The grind starts now. I had to put down all the topics that would make chapters and outline what goes into it. Each chapter had a “takeaway” for the reader. It went like this:
Content Management (2-4 Months)
Capturing Your Thoughts
I got ideas in the middle of the night, middle of the shower, during the rickshaw ride and what not— there had to be a better way to capture my ideas and structure them. First I wrote down all my thoughts per chapter, on paper:
For on-the-spot ideas, the most accessible digital format to capture them was through WhatsApp. I created a group with myself in it and when I got ideas, it’d hurriedly jot it down. I confused myself as I’d often forget context when I’d come back to it. I found a confusing comment like: “Everyone I told wanted to bring the acknowledgement”. Eh, What? What was I thinking?
You can see my logs above, some are at 2:30 am/ 5:30 am— probably woke up from sleep to write an idea.
Need More Ideas!
Often I’d run into a blank wall. I then did what’s called a Mind Map: Take a word and start connecting other words that are related to that word. This helped me connect my ideas. (Quiz question: In the photo below, which ones of these ideas didn’t make it to my book? You answer this question and I’ll treat you to a Starbucks!)
Structuring Ideas Into A Flow
Ideas don’t just hang in the air. They need to be pieced together, logically.
Consider J K Rowling. When was the best time to introduce Harry Potters Platform 9 3/4th? “Should I put in on the first page or leave it for later chapters?” she might have thought. In my book, I wanted to write about the issues female NRIs face. But I didn’t know where to place it. Should it go In the office chapter? Or feelings chapter? Or Gym paragraph? Should I write a full chapter on gender? So confusing!
I tried a few methods to work on my logic flow.
I tried an online flow tool, but it wasn’t helping me too much.
There is so much self doubt behind this curtain of work. I really couldn’t see the end of the tunnel at this time and wondered if I could bring a good logic to the book. There were so many if-then-else logics in my book. For example, I wanted to express that office life in India is pretty ok, but you gotta be street smart, but then that is also dependent on how you are, then you think its gender but it might not be, but then it also depends on age, and location, and depends on manager. Uff! Too many variables, too many dependencies. I starting freaking out because everything felt like a mess of ideas. After I realised my freaking out is not solving the problem, I built some logic by physically putting post-it notes on the walls of my room. (I had procrastinated on this hard problem and spent 3 days searching for good quality post-it notes on amazon).
I then booster dosed on getting myself better tools.
You’ll need the right tools, and it could even be a fountain pen.
I knew through writing my first book, that navigating 200 pages will not scale well— and you haven’t lived in the 90’s decade if you’ve not seen MS Word crashing and losing your data. Buying a professional tool really helped me manage my chapters— I could easily restructure and drag-drop chapters around.
I did have a scare once, when I lost the latest version of my manuscript due to syncing between devices. There was this particularly frenzied phone call I made from office to my mac-challenged dad, instructing him to make changes in my Mac desktop. That is one problem of using a costly professional writing software– you have to setup cloud syncing, printing defaults etc. It has a learning ramp up time. I watched hours of YouTube videos on how to use the software (instead of spending time writing).
Writing the Content (8-9 Months)
How much do you need to write?
I wrote 80,000 words and they got edited down to 39,000 and an additional 6000 were added later. Basically this means you need to just keep writing till you’re senseless. Write a LOT. Write till you’re out of things to talk about and push yourself through that too.
Where do you find the time to write?
You basically don’t. You write because you want this badly enough that the time finds you. You write after you wake, in the uber, in the airport lounge. You go to cafe’s and write, you write in your kitchen, in your friends home, secretly at office when you have a sudden idea that you gotta capture.
It becomes your thing to do, all the time. All you’re thinking about is getting those blank pages filled out with words. Even if they are words that suck, words that don’t make sense, words that bore you already. Anything, but just keep putting your thoughts down
Why you should write a bit of your book every day
When my manuscript was ready (yea baby!), my editor was like “What is this? You don’t have a conclusion, helloow!”. I was mega bored to write more as I had already crossed the victory line with my hands raised, and I didn’t feel like going back and running another lap. But it had to be done. The chapter was written over two days. It came out bland and boring— like a chapter on cost accounting. It didn’t meet my own bar of loveliness. I didn’t like it. What could I do?
William Wordsworth wrote a famous poem on daffodils. “When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils”. If he wrote it in the hurry I did for my conclusion chapter, the poem would have been like “Hey, I saw yellow colour daffodils”.
I realised the wisdom in writing a bit every day to achieve good writing. Write aaram se. Think about a topic, feel it and write it.
Editing: From First Draft to Final (2-4 Months)
Writing is boring. And first drafts make you hate your own creation. This is fixable. Years of editing has taught me, the first draft might not be the best, but at least you can edit it down to non-yuck. The right way to write a book is to write a LOT and kill most of it. Throw out sections that don’t add value to the reader. Editing is the most fun part of this process and this is how I edited my first draft:
One: Kill your babies
There are going to be times when you’ve written a lot and you just HAVE to delete it, for the greater good. For me shopping in America was a big part of my life. My paragraph however didn’t seem relevant to the reader.
"I had many big changes after moving. Shopping was a major part of my capitalist infused life in america. I have a handwritten stamped certificate, in the boasting drawer of my mind, which claims I have a PHD in shopping-- oh yes baby. I can lay my eyes on the display window of any shop and tell its suitability for me-- its fit, its pricing, its collec-shion-zie-- everything. I know the pulse of a shop when I pass it. I was a good clothes snob in america-- retailing at Nordstrom, recognising anne fontaine shirts on rich women, buying on-sale Rebecca Taylor dresses off e-bay alerts. Oh yes, snap! I knew some tricks. Every weekend I'd check anthropologie, stare at their desirable stationary and wait for the next weekend hoping the prices would drop. Shopping in america was an impulse I couldn’t control. I was handcuffed to it. I felt the fear of missing out. I had to buy something to feel I am progressing. I had to spend money to be happy."
It didn’t take the story forward. And as much as I enjoyed talking about shopping, the paragraphs had to be thrown out. I had to, as they say, “kill your babies”.
Two: Leave Sentence refinement for later
The goal of your first draft is to get it out— thoughts, ideas, everything. The refining comes towards the end. Here is an example of how I refined and edited my paragraphs to finalise it.
He looked the same, crew cut, fitting clothes with hands in the pocket, except that I still didn’t recognise him— he had changed so much. His smile was off, his eyes filled with a cold evil gaze as if he was privilege to know something you didn’t. He manipulated meetings to steer it back to his profit, he approved requests that fit his agenda and he cut off people when they spoke. Then he even got promoted.
He looked the same– crew cut, fitting clothes with hands in the pocket. Except that I didn’t recognise him. His eyes were restless, his smile was off, as if he was privy to know something you didn’t. I saw what he did– manipulated meetings to steer it back to his profit and approved requests that fit his agenda. Was this the same David I knew?
I removed the judgement “got promoted”, broke sentences to make them shorter, removed too much negativity “evil”. Basically made it crisper.
The Final Output (2 Months)
Finally, 1 yr from my start date, the manuscript went out for Copywriter editing. It corrected my English– I never know if it should be “I am going to eat a boat” or “I will be eating a boat” or “I would have been eating a boat yesterday”– that kind of correction. They also decided what should be highlighted in bold and if chapters were ending well. Notice that the bulk of work is still mine. Editors are not going to write your 100k words or guide you on what to write.
Here’s a snapshot of versions & comments the editor and I went over. Notice some docs with 500+ changes.
It isn’t over yet. The typesetting and cover design remained. I was given cover design options and at first, I didn’t like what I saw. Apparently, there’s a science behind colours of a book-cover and I didn’t want to go against the wisdom of the editors. So I picked one and went with it.
Finally after a year of hard work, the book released. By now, I had already waited so long, that I didn’t have the energy to pump into marketing my book. In retrospect, it made sense to hire a strong marketing firm that can show the enthusiasm I couldn’t find energy for. Not because I don’t love my book— but because I was not sold on the process of showing it off.
I got a lot of love from readers. People sent me emails with pictures of the book in their hands. I even gifted it to Anand Deshpande (Google him). Till date, I get emails from readers who have said the book has changed their lives. And that made all the effort worth it.
You can buy my book here. Tell me if you’re also planning to write a book. Would love to heard from you.