Rajan Bala
A soul-stirring first novel…could well be the first of its kind in India written in English …
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Meenakshi Mukherjee
It is a novel difficult to put down.

Charu Sharma
What can I say? Take a bow Hari.
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How it all started?
I started writing 'The Men Within' sometime in April 2002, an idea that had long been on my mind. The theme was quite clear - an underdog team, its fears and doubts and the part of utmost interest to me - how to get past the doubts and fears and think of winning. Anyone who has played cricket or any other game (or even in any life situation) would surely understand how a tough task affects one with low belief.

My idea was to show that with a strong intention, an honest effort and a never-say-die spirit, it is but natural to find that spot of excellence that lies within everyone of us. Naturally 'The Men Within' has some very unconventional heroes, unexpected teachers and philosophies that apply to the cricket field as much as to life (mine anyway!!)

Why cricket?
I decided to incorporate my learnings from the cricket field because it is so much like life. Hero a moment, villain the next. Unexpected wins, unpredictable losses. But no denying the fact that the one who wins most often does certain things right - commitment, honesty and an inextinguishable desire to win.

I chose the simple setting of a school because it keeps human nature rather simple at that stage and does not get too many complicated emotions into play. I did not want complicated emotions because I wanted to focus on telling the story more than anything else.

What is the hook?
Excelling in cricket or management or in life situations has a lot of similarities. I knew that somewhere I could find a common thread which could make an interesting story. The story, I knew, should inspire excellence. It is this pursuit of excellence or of giving oneself fully to the job that one is doing that gives happiness and the desired results. Not the other way round-as we always seem to do.

How did you get started after the idea?
I laid out a basic storyline of about 4 pages first and worked on it.
I kept the structure simple - down and out coach and the underdog team. Contrary to what many pundits feel I think there is a huge scope for sports fiction because it captures the entire range of emotions in the span of one game or a tournament.
Why a simple structure? So that I could address the process of uncovering goals in more detail. If I used a complicated structure I thought it might distract the reader.

Characters next
I needed clarity on the characters so I worked on each of the characters - writing about them and their background - a paragraph or so.
Then I split the novel into parts and chapters. And then I got down to writing out the chapters. I normally prefer to write in long hand simply because I am used to it, and then I type it into the computer. After the core idea is in place I do all the revisions on the computer.
It took me a good part of the year to complete the book. I decided to introduce each character as the story progressed. First the principal, then the coach, the each of the team members and their own issues. The first draft was then laid down to cool for a few months as I worked on the finer issues - training schedules, management principles I was trying to incorporate, etc.

Before the final version of the first draft I had a doubt. Should the boys win or lose? The romance of losing was very tempting but then after a discussion with a friend, I decided (maybe in my mind something shifted then as well) that such wholehearted effort needs to win. Call it beginners luck if you may!! Once that decision was made a lot more purpose went into subsequent revisions - there was no reason to manufacture excuses so to speak!
In my mind I was very clear that I was writing the book to four segments -
1) the reader who loves a good story despite not understanding or liking cricket as a game (my biggest challenge). Includes young girls, women, grandmas, cricket haters etc.
2) the reader who is an aspiring cricketer
3) the accomplished cricketer who may wish to take a piece of inspiration or something else from the book in a moment of confusion or doubt
4) the corporate executive who seeks to use a team to achieve corporate goals
As my friend remarked later, it more or less covered all segments of people in the world - those who liked cricket and those who did not! But believe me when I say I did not think of it that way. I always thought of it as four segments!
Now to find a publisher.

Finding a publisher
I made a proposal which includes a synopsis, a cover letter and sample chapters. Then I hunted for the best known names in publishing in India and sent off my proposals. I realize now when I see the first set of proposals that I sent that I had not worked hard enough to polish them. So here's a word of caution for aspiring novelists.

Before finding a publisher polish the manuscript in great detail. One way to do that is to let it lie for a while - maybe four to six months before getting back to it so you can see the glaring errors or gaps. Another way to do it is to look at it one angle at a time, once for factual errors, once for human nature, once for humour, once for dialogue, once for readability, once to catch heavy boring dragging stuff, once to know where it slows down etc. getting an opinion from friends and relatives is fine. Do try to get honest critique and use a good sample of people - age wise, readership wise so you know something you never planned on before. Alright, if manuscript is in a shape to send off, make your synopsis. 2-4 pages, getting the story across as best as you can. It's a marketing pitch so make it sound its best.
Similarly polish the first 30 pages which would accompany the synopsis into the best possible shape. They will decide whether your book is accepted or not. When I say best - it obviously means that grammatical mistakes and spellos are completely unacceptable.
A cover letter and now we are ready.

Who to send it to
The best in the business obviously. India has no literary agents as far as I know (those that are listed in the internet are too busy to reply) so I approached the publishers directly. Walk into any bookstore and head for your section. Check out the kind of publishers who are doing your kind of titles your work is similar to and write in to them. Check their websites to know more.

You can write simultaneously to one or more because this is just a proposal stage and I would advise writing to more than one to save time.

I wrote in as many as five at a time. Of course four would reject in the first week itself and would not even bother to reject you. Pitch on partner, no time for sentimentality here. You'll come across self publishing offers, co-publishing offers etc etc. But brave on-you'll find that publisher.

I found Indialog after about eleven rejections or more.

Copyright-will they steal my idea?
I was aware when I wrote "The Men Within" that there was not much cricket literature in India. Reason enough to start worrying about copyright and people stealing my idea etc. But I did not. I was way past that feeling by then. I was desperate for someone to just see the idea and say "hmmm…looks like an okay idea to consider". What a comedown!!

Personally I don't think anyone has the time nor the inclination. Mostly rejection letters seem to fly back even before your letter reaches them. In fact 90% of the publishing house seems to be engaged in sending reject letters considering the speed at which your rejections come. Also I suggest that you do not worry about them latching on to your idea and stealing it because I feel (it's a personal opinion) that you and only you can tell your story the way you want to. I feel that no one else can tell the story your way and that's where you are different - even if someone did copy it word to word it still would not be the same. So put your best foot forward and go with trust. In thinking about all this stealing your idea etc you normally don't put your best in trying to hide the main idea, so banish that thought and go on. It's important that your work gets considered for publication first.

Acceptance-rejection
If the publisher accepts the proposal great. Celebrate. If they reject, take it on the chin and move on. Maybe you're not ready yet. Polish. Move on to next publisher.

Work again on the synopsis and sample chapters. Don't take it personal.

I applied to all leading publishers with my synopsis and sample chapters. Penguin, Harper Collins, Rupa, Jaico, Roli,…by now I was well accustomed to rejection - my first book had gone to practically all the publishers in the world and returned as did my collection of children's stories. Fortunately Dahlia Publishers, Thiruvalla, owned by Senu George offered me a contract for the children's book in 2004. More than a contract it was a lifeline to my dreams of turning fulltime writer. The book should be released soon and news of that will be up on the website when it is ready for launch.

I received rejection letters from all - big and small. It was then that my brother Ram spoke to his fiend CP Surendran, Editor TOI, Pune, a well known novelist and poet as well, and he advised me to contact Sampath of Indialog. I spoke to Sampath and sent him the manuscript in April 2005.

Normally publishing houses take a month or so to evaluate and get back. Sampath called me from Delhi in May and told me that the book would be taken up for publication. I was over the moon. I wrote 'Misfit' my first novel in 1997 and finally someone had said yes (apart from the redoubtable Senu of course).

Sampath however said he was leaving Indialog and that Keerti Ramachandra would be my editor. Keerti was a huge cricket fan he said. It was a nice long chat that I had with Sampath during which he recounted his old Hyderabad days at the HCU. I felt really good. Thank you Sampath.

Incidentally Sampath was the name of one of my ex-coaches of the Hyderabad Ranji team who passed away prematurely-really passionate and a fine man. I named my protagonist in 'The Men Within' as Sampath in his memory though my protagonist is not so much like him.

The contract
Normally simple. 7-7.5% royalty is offered on cover price for first time authors. More if you're established I guess. Calculated at the end of the year on books sold-trust your publisher on the numbers. Copyright is always with the author. Right of offering next work can be asked which can either be waived and kept based on mutual comfort. You normally get a few copies (ranging from 7-20 in my experience) as the author, and several more at a discounted price.

Editing the manuscript
I sent in the manuscript via email to Keerti and she said she would get back to me. Sometime in August Keerti sent me a few pages of corrections. From simple grammatical errors to yawning gaps in the story. I still have those pages. You realize then that all the polishing you'd done still wasn't good enough. "Hey I have done a hundred revisions already and what's this."

Back to the drawing board. We were targeting January. I finally sent off the corrected version by Oct 2005.
I called in January. But due to some unavoidable circs the launch has been put off for 8 months. That really killed me. Will
they do it or no?

But then, that's the stuff you got to be prepared for sometimes.

I went on with life and kept following up once in a while. Nothing moved. Yes, Keerti moved from Delhi to Bangalore. I asked her to give me sometime so I could sit across the table and edit the book. I don't know if that's done but in my mind that was the best way. Finally I got a fortnight off in Oct and headed to Bangalore to edit my book with Keerti.

Those ten days were the best learning experience I had in writing this book. Everyday I'd sit in at her house from morning to noon and then head home to make the changes and corrections she suggested. I agreed with some, did not agree with some, changed some after giving it some more thought etc but had a great time. Keerti and Ramesh are a great and warm couple and I enjoyed spending every single moment I spent with them. I also remember meeting Keerti's mother and Keerti telling me that her mother found this rather strange. 'Do authors work like this?' or something to that effect.

Momentum

I finalized the copy, proof read it. Asked Keerti to check it one last time. After her final version, we got the typeset version from Delhi. One final round of proof checking and then the manuscript is ready for print. Meanwhile I worked with my friends Shiva and Ashok Nair on the book cover - just to provide some options and well, among the 3 options that were presented, the one with Shiva's design (inspired by Keerti's inputs) got selected. Lesson - do visualize a cover for your book, it always helps.

Few more additions and changes, front and back cover, comments from my friends and mentors, photos and most things were organized. Remember, check everything and double check - spellings, dates etc right now because once its printed there's no going back.

Now the book is all about to be printed. Cross your fingers. Your baby is about to enter the world.

Marketing
I planned a launch in Hyderabad my hometown. I followed it up with events in Bangalore and Mumbai so far. Keeps the buzz going locally and nationally.
A good launch is necessary. Think of people, places and events that add to the brand value of your book. Maximum publicity is the goal. Press, book reviews, electronic media coverage - the works. You must do your bit with the publisher and the bookstore to make the event a success of course. Right from organizing the crowd, to the chief guests, to calling the press and PR people, to the menu - you must get involved everywhere. After all it's your baby!
For all those who think that they have written the book and now it will be sold by someone else - wake up. It won't happen that way. Involve yourself and help your associates (publishers, bookstores, distributors to sell the book by adding your best).

Congrats! Enjoy the moment. It's all worth it when you see it on the bookshelves in your favourite bookstore and even better when you see someone buying it. Makes it all worth the trouble.

 
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