“I firmly believe that each of you has at least 1 book within you. And I hope this piece helps you bring it out in the sunlight for the whole world to cherish.“
Writing is like meditation and extremely therapeutic for me. I am often asked “how do I write my first book?”. Here are some simple steps for you to get started.
The mathematics of writing: A book is a lot of words. So if you are deciding to write your first book, I think 60000 words should be a good starting point. There is no science behind this number. I just went to Crossword last weekend and picked 10 books at random. I then looked up their word counts and did an average. My stats prof would be so proud that I used a sampling technique in real life . So coming back to 60000 words, imagine an A4 size paper. A book of 60000 words would be approx 120 such pages nicely filled up in font size 11/12 with single spacing. That is approx 500 words per page. Now that is a lot of work. If your typing speed is about 100 words a minute, you need to give at least 100 hours of writing to finish the entire manuscript. That’s just 4 days non-stop typing : no going to the loo even. Now we all sleep 8 hours a day, have our jobs which takes another 10 hours and so on. Technically, you might be left with just 1 hour a day if you are lucky where you can really write with no interruptions. So you need about 100 days or a little over 3 months if you type at least 1 hour a day without fail. But I bet you, that wont happen. There are bound to be days when you will not be able to write. And when you do get time to write, words wont come that easily. So 3 months can then stretch to many more months or years depending on various scenarios.
The process of writing Now that you understand the effort to write, the next step is to just start writing. Give yourself time to settle into the rhythm and get the flow right. Remember the instructions on the Aqua Guard that many of us have in our homes? We all are supposed to throw the first couple mugs and then consume the water. The same thing happens in writing as well. The first few pages are junk. But its important you bring them out. Be systematic in your approach. Plan your days and discipline yourself. Shut yourself in that room and don’t let anything enter. Paste a big printout of the target date that you want the manuscript to finish on your wall. This is a craft and requires that you hone your tools and respect them – your mind and your hands. Invest in a good table, chair and a reading light. Investing in a good creative writing course is also a great idea. A good starting measure of writing output is a “page a day” – roughly 500 words. Touch 60 days and compile the 30000 words together. If you have reached this milestone, treat yourself to a good coffee and cake that evening. Writing is a very lonely and consuming process. So gear yourself for this phase. Decline all social commitments and use every minute you can get to write. On weekends, visit book stores and let the books inspire you more. Take long walks with yourself and think about what to write. Keep a pen and notebook near you and keep jotting thoughts that come. Bookmark all the readings and maintain a bibliography which can be used in the manuscript to give the proper referencing. A lovely piece called “Solitude: a writers’s muse” came out in Hindu some time back.
The process of reviewing – Now that you have finished your manuscript, comes the most important stage of your book: feedback from readers. Choose friends who are avid readers and send them a copy of your manuscript. Having a mentor who has published at least 1 book is a great help in this phase. Make sure they give critical feedback on the style, plot, characters, grammar, flow etc. Request your readers to give you a written feedback. This makes the entire process a bit more serious. Moreover, when that person writes the feedback down, he/she will be a lot more involved into the process. Go through the feedback very carefully and see the patterns. Dont justify. Take the feedback on face value and see if you can do something about it in your manuscript. My first version was completely trashed by my reviewers and I had to modify it a lot after this stage. I am glad I did that. We all love our own words. To us, they are the best words ever written or spoken. But it is the reader who decides the impact. And this process helps us understand the readers point of view better. Add at least 1-2 months to your overall timeline because of this phase.
The process of editing – One can’t afford to write a book and not realize the importance of grammar, spellings and basic language usage principles. An offshoot of the reviewing process is to read your work all over again and polish your prose. Take help from experts of languages and if possible, don’t hesitate in hiring editors and proof readers. They do a wonderful job of taking your craft and making it ready for the next step. Usually this step is taken care by the publisher but given you are a first time author, I think its best if you do it yourself with the help of experts.
The process of publishing – Up till now, you should have invested about a year of effort on your book. Now is a good time for you to cast a wide net for getting it published. Most publishers have a well-defined process of submitting a manuscript. So go ahead and write to whoever you can. Anecdotal data suggests that 90% of the first time manuscripts don’t get published. This phase is a tough one. Many publishers don’t respond and those who do, are very curt “we regret….” with no explanation. A new trend in this phase is self-publishing. You could do that as well. But I feel that getting a publisher is like getting a VC for your venture. You really don’t need them. But hey, someone is willing to bet on your book. That means that your idea is making sense and has a potential for someone else. Blindly take up that offer. Now there are enough examples to prove that self-help does succeed and that one doesn’t need a publisher. I personally think that a publisher adds a lot of value in the distribution which is very important in the long run. Take time to find a good publisher. If it means waiting an extra year, it is worth it. There are many examples of famous authors whose first work was rejected by every top publisher – J K Rowling being the best case, till a young upcoming publishing house picked it up. It may take you upto a year to get attention of the publishers. Keep trying and avoid going for the easy route to haste the publication. Stay your ground!
The process of promoting your book – Once you have been published, your job doesn’t end there. You need to than promote your book and keep the buzz alive. There is no magic wand to make customers buy your book. Your role is to keep the book visible and known to the readers as it helps them decide better. Many best-selling authors troll the book stores and make sure that their book is visible clearly than others. Some even go to lengths by putting pressure on the stores to give the best space to their books. Having friends in the media are a great help to increase awareness of your book. The more your book is talked about by the readers and bloggers, the more it will help the sales.
The entire process may take about a couple years if you are lucky – from the day you first begin writing to the day it finally reaches the book shelf. Sometimes more than that as well. So have patience. The magic comes when you are sitting in an airport and see someone reading your book. That moment is indescribable and worth the trouble you go through in the steps mentioned above. A good book finds its audiences after a while. So good luck and hope to see your books soon!
(This piece is a summary of a panel discussion at a book launch where I was one of the panel members. The other panelists were my friends Jayant Swamy, author of Colors in the spectrum, whose book was getting launched that day and V Raghunathan, author of Duryodhana and 12 other books)
About the author: Rakesh Godhwani calls himself a nobody. He teaches, writes, reads a story to his kids every night before they sleep, bicycles his way to work when he can, does yoga, earns a fraction of what he used to, but lives a million times better. Follow him@godhwani. Read his other posts at http://rakeshgodhwani.wordpress.com