A rather worn-out saying in Kannada suggests building a house and performing a wedding to realise the essence of agony. I would add one more — write a book and try to sell it! I am, of course, not referring to word wizards like Sydney Sheldon or Arthur Hailey whose blurbs claim that millions of copies have been sold: nor do I allude to writers like Norman Vincent Peale whose books are supposed to change your whole life. I am talking of struggling authors like me who learn that writing a book is easier than trying to sell it!
One of the first things that I learnt after writing a book was, I had a lot of friends. “Oh; I read the review of your book,” gushed Sushma whom I had met three years ago for the first time. “It sounds great fun. I’m sure you will give a friend' like me an autographed copy.”
“Imagine having an author for a neighbour,” enthused the lady on the 10th floor of our flat in Bombay. Except for travelling in the elevator occasionally, there was no neighbourly bonhomie till she chose to remind me that I should love my neighbour enough to gift her a book.
Our phone kept ringing and each time, it was either a long lost friend or a newly acquired one, making me feel absolutely a worm for not being generous enough to distribute autographed free copies. The bit about autograph is usually thrown in to make me feel great. I’d rather feel rich than great though!
Letters poured in, reminding me of my obligation as a friend, to mail complimentary copies to them. They did not even have the courtesy to enclose stamps for postage. I am supposed to be so grateful that they want my book and hurry to the nearest post office. The most amusing letter came from an elderly gentleman (or so it seemed) who poured out his woes about his wife treating him so badly that he had no money to buy my book. So would I please mail him a free copy?
If friends want free copies, can relatives be far behind? Uncles, aunts and cousins, both close and remotely connected, laid claim to special treatment and demanded a copy as their birth right. Mary dropped in to read the book in installments and I had to supply coffee and tea as part of hospitality.
Some blatantly borrowed the book and circulated it but no one breathed a word about buying it. If I had been selling home-made pickles or chutneys instead, there would have been a greater demand and they would not have minded paying for them too!
To rub salt into the wound, there were those family jesters who said, “You must be real rich with all those royalties pouring in for your book.” “I saw your book in the bookshop,” said another brightly and added “You know, I’m a perennial browser, so I sat and read your book in the shop in three sittings.” Is there a law which prohibits browsers from killing the sale of a book?
Instead of my stock going high as a writer, my reputation as a miser seemed to be doing the rounds. “As if she can’t gift a copy to close friends and relatives,” they grumbled behind my back. “Don’t worry. I’ll buy a copy,” consoled a cousin who bought it for her circulating library. She appeared to be making more money than me, lending it to her large clientele!
Wanting to be the female Dale Carnegie of India, I wrote two “How to” books. After my experiences as an author, I aim to complete the trilogy and write How to Write a Book and Sell it. Any useful tips please?