After an year full of pain (and I am not even talking about the pendemic or my back injury…), our first book, the Forest Bed, was finally released worldwide in June.
Manpreet and I are still so excited, which is weird considering that we have been working on it for an year now.
Those who have followed my blog in the past one year probably know that I had been creating a short story collection for quite some time now. I had believed that since the stories already written, self-publishing them would be a breeze. As you would have already guessed, I was wrong. It was an year filled with dismayed discoveries one after another. Here is the journey and lessons learnt.
Selecting stories: Choosing the probable candidates for the book was a pain. As a mother to 400 (now 500) stories, it was impossible for me to choose the best. So, I chose around a hundred and threw them in Manpreet’s way, knowing that as my best friend, she is duty-bound to help me and she’s too loyal to back out later. She chose forty stories that she loved the best. Then she told me the loopholes and words that didnot make sense to common readers. I went through the stories again and tried to give them more character and less confusion.
Providing a flow: I read in a very informative blog that a short story compilation is successful only when one story flows into another. There should be an underlying theme and a natural flow. I created an excel sheet to find a theme based on underlying emotions, starting and finishing emotions, keywords, age of characters, the timeline/chronology…nothing made sense. So I pitted the stories against each other, reading and re-reading, moving them around in the excel sheet until they started to flow.
Creating illustrations: All this while, I was working on the side with Manpreet to create illustrations for each story. Manpreet is a freelance painter with a gift of open-mindedness, which is rather rare. Most painter try to create and stick to a certain style. Manpreet, on the other hand, experiments with various mediums, just to see where it takes her. Hence, she was my natural choice. There one glitch in the whole plan–she lives 500 miles from my home and we had no way of putting our heads together except Whatsapp…
She began with hand-drawn illustrations and, then, experimented through various means to enhance the experience. Finally, she discovered a way to digitalise handmade illustrations through applications already available on the phone. It was surprising what one can achieve with a little imagination and strong resolve to learn. As an example, the painting on the cover page was created solely on her phone–No colours, no pencil. Just stickers and effects!
We spent several months on getting the correct illustrations for the stories. It was a process of discovery and understanding how to visualise a story without giving away the content. We laughed and cried while sitting 500 miles apart, joined together through the very inadequate means of phone that allows us to hear and see, but not hold hands. It was an emotional journey, reconnecting with my best friend of twenty years on a daily basis, just like we did during our Bachelors degree.
Creating a template: When I began with creating the template for the book, I looked up my old books to see the basic courtsies required from a writer. And to think, I had never even looked at the Copyright statement and Acknowledgements pages of any book ever before. For a week, I researched how to copyright my book, only to find out it wasn’t even required since books are automatically copyrighted upon publication. It isn’t like I’ve invented a car that uses sea-salt as fuel…hey, that one has a potential for a story…
Anyway, when it came to Dedications page, I started to mention each person I wanted to thank, but I couldn’t fit them all in one page…it was a moment of realisation how lucky I am to have countless people to be thankful for…family, extended family, friends from schools, colleges, jobs, neighbours, roommates, family-by-marriage…and the many people I’ve met through them. They have all moulded me into…well, me!
And then, there were people who hurt me…who taught me that life was not all pretty and gave me the challenge of fighting back with grace. How could I fit all these people in one page?
The About Author page mystified me. What could I ever write about my mundane life that would be of interest to readers? I could, of course, blabber till eternity pointlessly but the short stories concept did not allow Author description to be pointless. It had to be short and succinct with humour to keep people engaged since it was going to be the last page of the book.
Header and Footer: I thought I knew MS Word, until I had to set up the Header and Footer. Pagination had me down on my knees praying for divine intervention, which came, eventually, through Google.
Editing: It was a herculean job and I was doing it one story at a time. Editing your own work is like searching for grey hair out of platinum-blond. You believe all’s well when actually it’s not. You read a story for the 15th time, only to realise that you had missed typing an article, conjunction or preposition while your perspective had been filling in the gaps for you all the while.
Proofreading: When it came to proofreading, I realised I could not be relied upon anymore. I needed someone who was a pro at finding loopholes. That’s when, I begged my father, an Indian taxation writer, for help. He did it overnight and, for the first time, praised my stories, which, I think, is all that I had been aiming at for all these years since I started this blog. He also helped me cut out a couple of stories that were killing the flow. In the end, I was left with 30 good stories.
Finding publishing platform: Once all was done and dusted, I thought, “Well! Now publishing a print and ebook would be a breeze…” But then, I tried finding a platform that would create an ebook out of a massive 100 MB word document…and failed…over and over. When I finally found one that would accept my file, the result was horrible. The text was all over the place. The chapters began and ended at their free will and images floated around like helium-filled baloons. There was no guarantee where the text would appear in the next page and I was losing my heart…and brain…in the process.
Finally Amazon Kindle became my hero. It accepted my superheavy manuscript and converted it into a sleek book, both ebook and printable version. It also helped me understand the problems and gave probable solutions. Most of them worked. It also created an eye-catching cover using Manpreet’s illustration.
Distribution: Finally, after I was done whooping around for the victory, I learnt that Amazon doesnot distribute prints in India, my homeland. I realised that my parents would never see my book (that is, if they want to see it again after reading the manuscript). So, I began a fresh search for a local distributer. Most of them cost more money than my three-months’ salary. While I can afford it, it is certainly not the kind of flight I would sit in wondering all the while whether it would crash.
Then, while going through site reviews, I came across Pothi.com that publishes and distributes in India free. It works on a zero-inventory, print-on-demand basis. For a minor fee of Rs.1500 (around 20 US dollars), they provide expanded distribution through Amazon India and Flipkart. So, now I am publishing our book through Pothi, Amazon.com, Amazon.uk and Amazon Kindle.
I hope that would suffice. I am thoroughly exhausted and wish that I could simply lie down and leave the headache to others.
But now, I have a marketing campaign to deal with. Manpreet is dealing with Instagram while I am with Facebook and WordPress. I don’t understand Twitter at all, so I will leave that to fate and you. So, help me dear reader to spread the message and get my dream across that bridge where earth meets the sky.
In case you are wondering where the book is, click this link for details.