Discover more from mad words by @ramachandranesk
I have a publisher now!
No, I didn't always have one. Please update your understanding and celebrate with me.
I'm thrilled to share that my debut book of narrative nonfiction will be published by Aleph Book Company. After nervous weeks of hearing my sample manuscript described as everything from "too raw" to the "voice of a generation", I am terrified—what’s it going to be?
You decide. In 2024.
If you’ve been around me in the last couple of months, you would’ve picked up on the fact that the process of pitching my manuscript has changed me a bit. The conflicting reactions I received from publishers, my reactions to those reactions, and just generally having my heart strings pulled at by strangers I didn’t think I’d be read by any day — all of it has forced me to think about what I’m really doing and why. I expect this reckoning to be continual as I keep working on the book—now more than ever before. And I’ll need your help with a few things, but some clarifications are in order first.
After I announced that I had an agent, many people mistakenly believed that I also already had a ‘book deal’. This is perhaps because traditional publishing is opaque enough to people within it, expectedly more for laymen. So, allow me to explain, broadly and briefly, How Publishing a Book Works:
There are multiple ways to publish a book today. If I ‘self-publish’, I am deciding to undertake the costs of writing, printing, and distributing my book. I can choose to pay companies like NotionPress, Wyzr or Scribe to help me with the latter parts of this, but I’ll retain creative control over the book. And all proceeds from book sales. (This is if you even want a printed book; you could also simply write and and sell an e-Book online, with almost no one else involved.)
But when it comes to what they call Traditional Publishing, a brand like Penguin or HarperCollins (two of the biggest names in the market, and there are many others) will oversee printing and distributing their list of books. I’d be selling my book to them for a portion of book sales (royalties). You’re still the one writing it, but creative control probably varies by author, nature of book, nature of author-editor relationship and more. Being published by a well-known brand means I accrue some of their prestige and credibility by association. This explains why they’re approached by hundreds of authors a year, and why literary agents exist—their job is to get your book before the right editors and publishers, and to sell it well, in exchange for which they get a commission. Books that are part of this traditional-publishing-industry-circuit are also the ones that tend to be part of awards and festivals and recognition of all sorts.
Perhaps you can already sense the segments of authors that go towards either type of publisher. This is broad, of course, but entreprenuers or influencers or anyone less bothered by literary prestige and more with building their brand, boosting sales from a direct audience, etcetera, might veer towards self-publishing.
On the other hand, I don’t think you’ll hear about Arundhati Roy or Salman Rushdie publishing their own books, although they have the means and the audience to do so. They wouldn’t.
There’s an allure to the world of Traditional Publishing. It’s what produces the literary greats. What you’re really signing up for, then, when you look for a traditional publisher, is a shot at entering that list, and being around people who are in the same game.
So, I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who are underwhelmed to learn of an update you thought had already happened—but no, please, I need you to correct your understanding and calibrate your emotions to mine. Because what has actually happened is that I, someone with no links to the literary world, got an agent first, and then a publisher, and after many rounds of shopping my first-ever book-length writings, I am now one step closer to a finished book, and the period until then is no longer indeterminate. I’ll see you in 2024.
Please be happy for me (and for yourself, if you really like reading my work as much as you say you do). I have more to say, but I’ll preserve some energy for the sixth gear of writing I doubtlessly need to enter over the coming weeks. I’m on a tight deadline. What I need your help with, apart from continued emotional support and eventually buying and reading and talking about my work, is this: please also amplify or respond to any reporting calls I put out? I have been reporting all this while, but some asks are best saved for what the internet uniquely allows for. The last time you helped with this, we got The Namesakes, Chapter 3 in the book, and a bunch of other stuff.
I’m looking forward to all that’s coming.
As nerve-wracking as the experience can be, I’m grateful to know, at least a little, how publishers think. In case you needed a recap, my book is about selfhood in contemporary India, how the several changes we’ve seen in the last three decades—politically, legally, technologically, morally—have impacted our collective and individual psyches. Getting to the bottom of how Indian aspiration is created can tell us why we are the way we are: what we study, how we work, how we love, make families, and more. It is the story I’ve always wanted to tell—surprising, I know—but I’m telling it in ways I’d never thought of—which is expected, and exciting.
I’m going to just get to work now. See you soon.
Reading this Guardian article during my engagements with publishers was encouraging and illuminating: it talks about the flow of novel literature today, from indie publishers who’re unafraid to take risks and work on what they believe in, to the big names whose decisions are often happenstance or influenced by past sales and algorithms. (It’s why you see sequel after Marvel sequel from Hollywood, but indie gems from lesser-known media houses.)