by Ratna Dalal
We are living in incredibly interesting times. Back in 1990, while giving a talk as part of my thesis presentation at I.I.T. in Chicago, the audience was told by my advisor that I spoke very well. To this another advisor namely Prof. David Sharpe remarked,“Wait till you read what she writes. She writes beautifully”. At that time I thought, if I ever get a break from my career as an architect, it would be a good idea to pursue writing.
In 2004 I finally got a break from my career when the chapter of motherhood began in my life. Seizing upon this as a great opportunity, I started writing my first book of contemporary fiction with a dozen short stories. By 2007 the book was completed and hence my research on how to get it published in a traditional way began. As an architect I had written a book of short stories and I was trying to get it published. Hence I was an outsider at three levels or shall I say trifecta! In those days a writer needed a literary agent to sell his/her book proposal to a publishing company. But it typically took two to twelve years to find one! Who has that kind of time?
So I sent my book proposal directly to a few publishers. One wrote back: it’s a great piece of literature but we can’t find a slot for it. A couple of stories were sent as entries into short story competitions. It was only later that I learnt that even before you send your story, the winner is predetermined! So it is a waste of time, effort and money. It was shocking to know that this was happening in America, the land of meritocracy. At this point I was glad that I did not do this for a living!
With this I decided that finding a traditional publisher/literary agent was a waste of time. But the writing bug had caught on and so I started a blog. Initially I posted a few technical papers which were published in Indian magazines in the past. Then I introduced a few elements from my book in the blog. The blog soon got a regular following and received 10,000 hits each year with many appreciative comments from people in different sectors. Now the book was on the back burner but I was happily following news and events about how tectonic changes were going on in the publishing world and how it was getting harder and harder to publish traditionally. My inbox started getting offers to self-publish my book. But in 2008 such books did not make it to the best-seller list and were not reviewed. So I just let time elapse till it would become more widely acceptable.
However by 2009 with advancing digital publishing, short stories were making a comeback as people wanted quick gratification in small bites, through a digital medium. Here are a few articles about the same:
By 2010 many new books with short stories entered the market. One even topped the best-seller list! Here are a few of them: Books of Short Stories in the Current Market. Meanwhile my blog had established itself well and many articles from it were also published in web-magazines, websites and LinkedIn groups based in UK, USA and India where they were often mentioned in the most popular section.
By 2012 self-publishing was becoming a norm and even being used by teenagers. Besides this e-books were gaining momentum along with cloud computing and social networks. Here are articles about the same:
This year I read Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. His vision and spirit inspired and convinced me that now was the time to self-publish. His words of “think different” and “make a dent in the universe” threw light into a world of possibilities. In an article by Thomas Friedman, Jeff Bezos said “eliminating all the gatekeepers”- is making it easier and cheaper than ever to publish your own book, start your own company and chase your own dream.
With the decision made to self-publish, the question that arose was how to do it. I got four to five books from the local library on this issue. Most of them were junk and seemed like somebody had downloaded pages from a website and bound it into a book! The only useful, informative and well-researched book on this topic is ‘The Fine Print of Self-Publishing’ (fourth edition) by Mark Levin. He says, “While it is great to be a dreamer in book publishing, it’s smarter to be a realist”.
It covers useful topics such as:
Qualities of an excellent self-publishing company and the services they should offer.
Favorable contract terms.
Detailed survey of outstanding self-publishing companies in USA.
Detailed explanation of technical terms such as ISBN, LCCN, copyright procedure etc.
Infinity Publishing had the best website, a real person each time I made a phone call and even sent me a free and very useful brochure on how to self-publish. The brochure was a clear road map to this process with detailed description of each and every step.
With all this behind me, my book The Watercolor of Life is finally out in the market! The Gita says that one should do one’s karma and not expect results. As will be your karma, so will be the fruits (results) from God. By publishing this book I have done my karma! It was said that if the ship does not come to you, then swim to it. I say build your own ship, self-publish! As for self-publishing, according to Jeff Bezos, “Sixteen of the top 100 best sellers on Kindle today were self-published.” We are indeed living in incredibly interesting times!
Ratna Dalal is an architect by profession and holds a B.Arch. from S.P.A. (New Delhi) and M.S.Arch. from I.I.T. (Chicago). In 1989 she won the first prize in the national level ‘Spartek Study Abroad’ contest in India and was awarded an international scholarship. She has lived, studied and worked in India and U.S.A. and gained diversified experience as an architect in many different sectors. She is also a prolific writer, refined artist and blogger. Her work is shared with the world, via her blog: http://creativejoys.wordpress.com/. She is happily married with one child. The Watercolor of Life is her first book.