Millennium Post

Travails of an author

When I passed the Civil Services Exam in May 2003, I had a strong urge to become a writer. My dream was to have a little book of my own which I could hold elegantly, read from time to time and share it with those who were interested in taking a peek in my thoughts. So for a long time I pondered to write a book titled Proactive India while walking the famous ring road of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Proactive India was an idea I had been carrying in my head and heart since my university days. Those days I felt that we Indians, as individuals and as a society mostly reacted in various circumstances, for a change we should start leading, becoming proactive. The idea remained in my head, though I started writing the first chapter of
Proactive India
, the book never got completed as I moved on to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussorie for civil services training. At the Academy, I was kept busy with early morning drills in the Happy Valley, which I had secretly renamed as the Valley of Sorrows, learning how to ride a horse, trekking in the high Himalayas and endless number of tests and assignments.

When I returned to Delhi after three months of rigorous training at the Academy in Mussorie, I was again busy for the next one and half year learning theories of International Relations taught by the Jawaharlal Nehru University professors and the retired diplomats, visiting various parts of India and the neighbouring countries, learning the rules that govern the Indian Foreign Service, doing a desk attachment at the South Block and so on.

It was in late 2005, I was sent to Moscow on my first diplomatic assignment abroad where I was expected to master the Russian language in the next one year and pass an examination conducted by the School of Foreign Languages, India at the end of the year. As I landed in Moscow I got enrolled myself in the Moscow State University for a course in Russian language. The language classes were held in the first half of the day, five days a week. This schedule left the second half of the day and the whole night for myself. It was during this time, mostly at late nights, I wrote my first book River Valley to Silicon Valley
- story of three generations of an Indian family. The book was an autobiographical account of the journey of my own family, mostly my own and my elder brother. It took me over six months to write this book of over two hundred pages which contained just over thirty thousand words.

I had a sense of bliss when I completed the book as if I had done the most important work of my life - telling my story and the story of my family to the whole world. Literally I was on the cloud number nine. Writing a book itself was a great challenge for me and I had overcome that. I was sure that the book will be published.

I started looking for a publisher. I sent the manuscript to a number of Indian publishers including Penguin, Rupa, Oxford and Manas. Penguin never replied. Rupa and Manas said no. Oxford wrote back that they didn't publish autobiographies. Soon I was back to the ground from the cloud number nine and my confidence of seeing my first book published had started waning. I again wrote to a number of publishers but no one was interested. It was time for a reality check. I found that there were so many writers in this world and majority of them don't get published, writing could be passion or need but publishing was a business.

One day I travelled to Delhi from Moscow on a short visit over the weekend and happened to meet my friend Ram Upendra Das who was a senior fellow at the RIS and mentioned my book during our casual conversation. He suggested me Bookwell, a publisher he had worked with, arranged a meeting with the publisher. Bookwell agreed to publish the book.

Now I had to find someone appropriate to write a foreword for the book, another challenging task for a new writer. After a long search, I decided to request Ambassador Kanwal Sibal to write a foreword for my book which I thought was very courageous of me that time. He was very kind to write a foreword. Afterwards, I sent the book to several of my diplomat colleagues and others to send their impressions, some of which I wanted to use as blurbs on the back cover of the book. This exercise took a couple of months. Meanwhile publisher kept me reminding about sending the manuscript at the earliest. Finally the book was published and I was again on cloud number nine.

Now the book had to be released and I had to find a very important person to release the book at a suitable venue. I wrote to a number of people including Karan Singh, Jaswant Singh and William Dalrymple. Karan Singh regretted, Jaswant Singh gave a diplomatic reply which neither confirmed nor denied whether he would release the book, William Dalrymple wanted to do the honour but was out of Delhi that time. Finally, Shankar Singh Vaghela, then cabinet Minister of Textiles, whom I had met in Moscow during his visit to Russia agreed to release the book. The publisher arranged for one of the halls at the India Habitat Centre.

I invited all my friends from Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University, colleagues from the Foreign Service and a number of journalists to attend the book release. They all came, congratulated me and I was happy to see my dream come true, but I had my share of worries too, the hall was not completely full. Anyway I signed copies of my first book for them and they all went home happily.

Now the time was to send the book for reviews so that it was noticed. By this time as a writer I was almost exhausted and left it to the publisher to send the book for the reviews. I gave a couple of interviews to my blogger friends and that was all I could do for publicity of the book. Fortunately, the Hindu Literary Review picked up the book for a review and reviewed it favourably.

Since then I have written and published another six books and I can now share this with the new writers that writing a book is just the tip of the iceberg in the publishing process. The more complicated part of publishing a book begins actually after writing a book, finding a competent copy editor, finding an appropriate publisher, getting someone eminent to write a foreword, getting even more eminent people to write blurbs, finding a very very important person to release the book, finding a suitable venue, promoting the book through a series of interviews and appearances, getting the book reviewed in the leading newspapers and magazines and staying sane while doing all this. Fellow writers, set on the journey of writing keeping these in mind, and once you have started, don't despair.

The writer is an author-diplomat. Views are personal.
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