Seven Shades of Grey: The lessons I learnt from my first novel
I first wrote this novel in 1999 using what was then the most popular way people communicated on the Internet – Chat Rooms. Once I finished the manuscript, I spent a year or more and thousands of rupees chasing publishers but all I have to show for this is a stack of pink slips. Many publishers didn’t respond. Those that did, sent me one liners.
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I learnt many valuable lessons along the way. It was the early days of the Internet and there were many frauds waiting to take money from gullible individuals like me.
Lesson 1 – Professional Editors need to be chosen with care
I got a professional editor in the UK to edit an earlier version, because an agent I pitched it to insisted it be edited first before he would look at it. He had a few “recommended editors”. I used his recommendation and was given a bill of £600. The edits were basic and even the elementary track changed version of the manuscript wasn’t provided. Strangely the literary agent disappeared after making this recommendation. My conclusion – this was a set up. I was made a victim. I refused to pay the editor even though I was threatened by him. All communication stopped only when I asked for the connection between the agent and the editor.Any agent who recommends that your book be professionally edited or critiqued should be approached with caution. There is a conflict of interest here. The agent needs to represent the product. If he feels it needs editing he needs to distance himself from the editor.
Lesson 2 – Professional reviewers (paid to critique your work) need to be approached as potential frauds I then tried to find other ways to get published. I read about some success stories and came to the conclusion that you needed a ‘Godfather’ to recommend you. I can give you a list of authors who have had someone ‘recommend’ them before a major publishing house touched them. I came across a website http://www.writersservices.com run by a William Hoffman. He claimed to have published 41 books with his 42nd on its way. For a fee of US$350 he was willing to critique my manuscript and if it was good, he would recommend me to his agent. His email was email@example.com . I paid him the money, he critiqued it as he said he would, but I didn’t get anywhere further. He didn’t think his agent handled my kind of book. He would give me a letter of recommendation that I could use to write to other agents. And I was $350 poorer. The strange thing is that he too disappeared. Both http://www.writersservices.com and http://www.writers-services.com don’t mention any William Hoffman. There is another William Hoffman who passed away in 2009. But he certainly isn’t the one I contacted! I mentioned to my ‘Bill Hoffman” that he had an uncanny resemblance to Sean Connery in the movie, Finding Forrester. The movie plot too resembled what this William Hoffman was trying to do on the net (become a mentor). He was good and I was way to naive to notice this. He got the money from me. I doff my hat to his brilliance at scamming.
Lesson 3 – Publishing houses (especially trade and fiction) won’t touch your manuscript unless you are connected. I have come to this conclusion simply because when I was a nobody, nobody gave me the time of day. I wrote to David Godwin, the man who represented Arundhati Roy. I sent him my manuscript and at great expense, sent him conventional mail but to no avail. There wasn’t even a whimper of a response from him or his office. In 2000, I even traveled to London on a shoe string budget and pleaded to see him. His receptionist didn’t let me through. I reached out to him when I joined SAGE and a junior at least responded to me. I proved my point, you had to be someone with a fancy title or connected to elicit a response. I didn’t respond to him. I had made up my mind that I would never use my official position to get the book published. I must add a disclaimer here – there are publishing houses that will look at a first time author. I believe its like finding a needle in a haystack. In my struggling years, I didn’t find a single one that even responded to first time authors; and believe me, I contacted everyone that I could find on the Internet.
3 Things to remember while writing
1. Don’t give up. A published author is an amateur who didn’t quit. This is true even today. There are many options that didn’t exist earlier. Over the next few months I shall post information on the options you have. Discipline yourself and ensure you write at least 1 or 2 pages a day.
2. Critiquing helps: Yes, it helps if someone with a fresh pair of eyes looks at it. If you would like to get someone to critique your work, find a group of writers who can help. I have a loose group of budding writers who have started critiquing each others works. I am thinking of formalizing this a bit more so that it reaches out to many more writers. Let me know if you are interested.
3. You cannot edit your own manuscript: This is something I firmly believe. I have seen it with my own work and I have seen it with many writers. It’s important you find a good editor who can do justice to your manuscript. In the coming months, I shall compile a list of such people who I believe can do their job.
For those who would like to read it digitally, it’s currently only on the Kindle Store. It will shortly be available in digital form with all aggregators in India.
I thank you for your time and don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of any help.