If I knew that it would take a 1,000 days to get my first book published, I probably would have given up. I am glad I didn’t.
Here is the story of how it all happened.
This happened between 1980 to 1983. We used to live in Madikeri, Coorg District, Karnataka State in India.
The Hunger to Read
Like all kids of my age, I was fascinated with stories. For me, it was bordering obsession. It started with monthly Kannada magazines for kids — Chandamama, Bombemane, Balamitra and Putani. We used to get all of these books to our home every single month. Sometimes, I used to wait outside my home so that I don’t miss reading those periodicals FIRST — before my elder brother got his hands on them.
Slowly, I shifted my interest to novels. My Mom had a treasure chest of novels.
The local library, of course, had a LOT more. They used to lend TWO books per library card at the local library.From our home to the library it was about a 90 minute walk. I still remember the days when I used to walk to the library, borrow two books and walk back reading one book and when I almost finished reading that book on the way, I used to get confused and conflicted because I would have only one more book to read. Without blinking, I would turn around and walk all the way back to the library quickly reading the other book and if I had not completed the second book, I would stay there to complete it. Once that was done, I would borrow two more books but this time ensure that the books were thick so that I don’t run out of reading material when I got back home.
I slowly upgraded to Enid Blyton and then went up the ladder to Earl Stanley Gardner (who was famous for the Perry Mason series of detective novels.) In Kannada, I had read works from dozens of authors.
My parents were probably happy about my love of reading. Or, since my grades in school were good, they didn’t bother much about this side of my life.
Long story short — I had read close to 700 books by the time I was ten. I used to play guessing games about the books — guessing how the stories will evolve and how they will end. Sometimes I used to win but mostly I would lose in those guessing games. But the games themselves were fascinating to me as I was trying to get a sneak peek into the minds of the authors.
The Writing Journey Begins
Then,one day, I had a brilliant idea. Why guess about what happens in other novels? Why not write my own? I have already read hundreds of them both in Kannada and English. I think I could make up a plot, some characters and some scenes and stitch them all together.
That thought turned into action quickly.
I started writing my novel — a spy thriller at somewhere in June 1981 and it took me about eight months to get to around 200 pages. We didn’t have a typewriter and I didn’t know how to type either so it was all written by hand. I struggled to complete the novel will be an understatement of the year. I rewrote multiple times, got stuck with a character, didn’t know how to further the plot and lastly when and how to finish the book (the climax)
But finally at the end of eight months I had the draft of the book complete.
The (Naive) Dreams and the Reality
The next logical step was to publish the book and I thought it would be a piece of cake and anybody who reads this book would welcome me with a red carpet. It was a good book and it should be in stores. If I tell you all the dreams I had for how fast I would see it in stores, you would think I was TOTALLY crazy — and you would be right about that.
I started pitching in my own way to any and all publishers that I know. Most of the pitches were written via “Inland letters” (postage paid letters). I kept track of all the pitches. I was waiting for multiple publishers to reach out to me and I knew I would be soon be having to choose between all these offers. It didn’t take a long time to realize that I won’t be having any such problems — not even remotely close. Most pitches never got an answer and occasionally I would get stock rejection letters. Then they start coming with higher frequency.
So, the pattern was clear. There were only two outcomes for almost a year
a) No response
b) A stock rejection letter
My reaction went from “shocking” at first to “totally expecting it” by the end of the year. I had to do something else.
A Ray of Hope
Next year, I started reaching out to some of my favorite authors that I had admired to get some help. I could find their addresses from their books or I would put their name and the address of their publisher. They say history repeats and I have to agree here. Most of my letters went unanswered. To be fair, I don’t even know whether my letters had reached all the people.
Then, one day, there was a ray of hope.
One author, G. Prakash responded to one of my letters giving some words of advice all in a post card. I was delighted. Actually I was ecstatic. After all that I had gone through, this could be labeled as a breakthrough.
In parallel, I had not stopped writing. I was in my novel #3 by this time. My theory was that once my first book was published, there would be a demand for more novels from me and I wanted to be ready. Why waste time, right?
Over the next few months, I built a postal-mail relationship with G Prakash. I would get a response promptly in a post card. Prakash was super nice and patient to answer any question I was posing him.
Then I decided it was time to pay him a visit. I wrote a detailed letter to him about my visit. I also mentioned that in case he won’t be available on that date, he should let me know and I won’t make the trip.
I didn’t hear back from Prakash so that meant he would be there on that day.
So, I convinced my parents that I would make a day trip to Mysore on the set date.
A Day Trip That Turned Into a Two-Day Trip
I reached Mysore early in the morning and took a city bus to reach Prakash’s home. I was expecting to meet my favorite author who had been the guiding force for the last few months. I was in for a surprise. Prakash was not there. In fact, he was not even living there. He lived in a town called Hunsur and he used his in-laws home for the mailing address. So his father-in-law and mother-in-law talked to me and gave this news.
But, all was not lost.
As my luck would have it, Prakash was supposed to be visiting them and he would be coming home around 2pm. That’s three hours away. They said, I could come back around 2.30pm. I was all set. I told them that I would be back at that time and stepped out. Of course, I didn’t know where to go. I roamed around for a bit and found a playground where there was a basketball game going on. It was a long three hours to spend for sure.
I went back to the home right at 2.30pm. Prakash had not come home yet. Probably he might be taking a bus at a later time. They asked me to come back in an hour.
I went back at 3.30pm. Same answer.
I went back again at 4.30pm. Same answer.
I went back again at 5.30pm. Same answer.
By this time I was getting a bit anxious as I would have to get going back to the bus stand to catch the last bus to Madikeri.
When I went back to 6.30pm, Prakash was not there yet. But they had heard from him. There was some election duty he was involved with and he won’t be visiting them that weekend after all. That was bad news for me. While I tried my best to not show my disappointment, my eyes watered and Prakash’s mother-in-law noticed that. She asked me what my name was. I answered. She asked whether I had eaten anything since morning. I said No. By that time, I had tears in my eyes. They asked me to come inside and served me some food. I wanted to explain more but they asked me to eat first and we could talk about everything after that.
After an early dinner, both of them listened to my story. I was carrying my unpublished manuscript. Prakash’s father-in-law actually took the time to read the manuscript in its entirety. This was my novel #4 actually so I had better writing skills than what I had during writing novel #1. He liked the novel.
That night they asked me to stay over and they would help me to trail to Hunsur so that I could actually meet Prakash. We called my parents and explained them the latest plan. It took some time to convince them but they were convinced.
That night we had more discussions about the book and my journey so far.
Next day morning, both of them came to the Bus Stand and saw me off to Hunsur. I had the address of Prakash’s home and didn’t have any trouble finding the place. When I reached home nobody was there so I waited next to his home for the next two hours.
Then, it all happened. Prakash came back from his election duty. He was surprised to see me at his door and really didn’t know who I was. He had not read my latest letter and it took him a while to understand I was one of his fans that was interacting with him. I am sure I was one of the many fans he was communicating with.
But, he was NICE.
We spent the next few hours together and I narrated the story all over again. He didn’t read the manuscript right there but promised to do that right on that evening. If he liked it, he would endorse the book and also put in a good word about it to one of his publisher friends.
There was real HOPE for the first time. I went back home and was eagerly waiting for a word from Prakash.
True to his word, Prakash reached out to me next month via a letter. He liked the book and had talked to his Publisher friend Natraj about the book. Natraj from Chethana Book House had promised to look at it and had asked me to come and meet him in Mysore. There was no guarantee but at least I was going to be meeting a Publisher in-person.
So, I was on a bus to Mysore again and reached Chethana Book House. Nataraj Chowdhury was a nice person. He asked me to wait as he was right in the middle of reading the manuscript. I waited, of course. In fact, I was standing on a side right until he finished reading the book. I didn’t know whether it would be a Yes or No so anxiety was building up.
After about 30 minutes, he looked up and realized that I was still standing. He asked me one question — “How much do you want for this?”
That was one question I was not prepared for. Again, I had tears in my eyes. But this time those tears were different.
I finally had a deal. My first book “Mr. X Killer” was published in 1983 when I was thirteen years old.
1. First time for anything meaningful is hard
My first book was published when I was thirteen years old but six of my books were published before I was seventeen. First time was hard but only because I got something done first time, there was a second and a third time.
2. Tenacity is invaluable
I didn’t know what that term meant when I was going through my quest to get the first book published. But by the time I completed my journey, I was immersed in it 100%. The fact is that I didn’t know when to give up. When you get more than 100 rejections, you get immune to it and it helps to keep moving forward.
3. There is so much to be grateful for
I still remember the two days where I spent the time with Prakash’s in-laws and the day I spent with Prakash. Those were some of the defining moments of my life. Today, I have published fourteen books and close to 1900 articles on my blog. But the journey would NOT have begun without Prakash and Nataraj believing in me and giving me a chance. It was a leap of faith for them and it was the biggest breakthrough of my life. There is so much to be grateful for in life.