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!!)
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.