Death of books on dead trees?

Yes, I know it’s too poetic and dramatic. That’s the reason for that question mark there. What do you expect from a writer who is just chartering into an industry which by the looks of it is on its death throes?

Let me start from the beginning. I used to be a journalist. Then one day, I decided I would rather create my own stories and so quit my job and since then have been trying to live the dream of every journalist – that of becoming an author.

It’s not an easy job and I am not talking about the writing only. If I gotten into this industry 15 years ago, I would have had one aim: Get a couple of books out there on the book shelf. And one dream: I pass through a bookstore and see a child picking up one of my books and flicking through it with increasing interest. So much so that she might eventually buy it. Simple.

In olden days (think 10-15 years from now) a writer’s problem was mostly sustaining herself–both economically and emotionally –till she came out with that one winner. That one winner would be published by a publisher of repute or not, marketed decently, covered or thrashed by critics and if you were lucky, you won an award and a celebrity named your book in her favourites.

A couple of books and you could sustain yourself to write more. Basically get yourself an agent/publisher and work as a freelancer with them.

WRITER PUBLISHER TRADITIONAL MEDIA / BOOKSTORES READERS

Now my dear reader, it’s a web that a writer has. I talk literally—the World Wide Web or the Net or Internet. The internet has changed the way we writers functioned. It has especially started to show the door to traditional style of publishing.

Content, dear friend, has become free and easy to get. We are buying lesser books today than we did some years back. The reason can be youtube.com or Facebook. The reason can also be Wikipedia or Dictionary.com. If you have a ready, searchable encyclopedia online, why would you buy a printed edition which comes which is old as soon as you buy it? Content in today’s world is free. Now logic says that if something is free (like air), you don’t buy it. To sum it up, the print industry is dying as all the content can be read for free online and no one’s buying things written on dead trees anymore. Or so will be the case in another 10-15 years.

The confused lot that are writers, are clinging to different ideas of selling. Publishers are trying out the e-books way. Producing e-books brings their paper, distribution and stock costs to nil. But if it’s all about making e-books, why does a writer need a publisher? Why can’t a reader simply convert her book into an e-book and put it up online? My publisher friend Shobit, is asking the same question in a great blog on e-books and the publisher.

So how does a writer, whose sustenance comes from writing or content creation, survive in this new world?

More and more writers are trying out ‘self-publishing’. It means the writer pays a website some money to publish her work as per demand. So the more people buy, the more you earn. You are marketing mostly. Some savvy websites have also added e-books and services like editing, book layout, marketing and designing as part of the package. The people who I have seen take this route are a mix—some are those who tried and got rejected by traditional publishers. This is their way to pay and get their book published. Then there are those who are tired of the measly royalty that traditional publishing gives—20-30 percent and want more. Then there is a third kind who wants to experiment with this medium, has already published some works the traditional way. I don’t know if this is the new publisher and the new model of sharing the revenues and if it will be successful.

One thing is clear though: In the mess that is the Internet, content (I mean your or my book) needs to be actively advertised to the right people to be read. Else, it will be simply lost. I am sure there must be a sea of e-books lying in archives of internet killed by mismanagement. The writer has to take responsibility of her content. No more is it about convince a publisher and leaving the rest to them. If you want to sell content, you have to be there online, interacting with your readers, convincing them to buy. How do you do it? Maybe the route is one of the above. Maybe those are desperate ways of traditional modes who don’t understand this new dark world.

Maybe the answer is completely different: The story that is interactive, or uses different mediums to be told—a comic book, a video, an e-book, a web application, a mobile app, a game – all seamlessly stitched together. Or maybe it creates a web – as complex as the Web itself—built upon by various people (author and reader) who own and nurture it. Maybe this becomes the new medium, the new novel. The one every traditionalist will call ‘scrape’ or ‘trashy’ before it becomes the norm.

I still haven’t figured out how the author will earn money out of this new world. But one thing remains certain and gives me constant assurance. Everyone still loves to hear a story. I just need to figure out where my readers are sitting, waiting for a story to come by.

More, when I understand this better.

Writing horror

Trying to write a horror story but the characters keep bringing in more drama in than a horror requires. Controlling the people is becoming a problem. An extract I will most probably delete from the story:

‘Oh my Gawd! Are you smiling Mr Mishra!’

Mohan looked up with a start. He had been so deeply sunk into his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed Mrs Gowda walk into the teacher’s room with her gang of lady teachers. It was almost lunch time, he noticed, looking up at the huge black clock on the broken wall at the far end.

‘What’s the special occasion, Mr Mishra. You seem to be smiling to yourself.’

Mrs Gowda looked excited at the prospect of needling Mr Mishra. Her breasts jutted out like beaks of twin crows from her black sari blouse. That and her huge body, draped in a tight chiffon sari, blocked the remnants of sunlight streaming from the window behind. Mohan looked up towards her sneering face.

‘Yes, yes, tell us Mr Mishra, we want to know too’ echoed the other me-toos who hung around Mrs Gowrah, looking up to her. His stretched lips sunk back into a frown.

‘No, Mrs Gowda. It was nothing.’

He hated this room. He hated these Pink Lizards. He wanted to throttle them all

‘Hmm. I seem to have made a mistake. Mr Mishra could never smile. He has no sense of humour.’ She said, laughing. The other girls followed their crow leader into a cacophony of laughter.

Most days, he would have been depressed by this. But he didn’t mind. Not today. Today, he had found the perfect solution. Murder. The path that will set him free. He stared on his computer screen and pretending to type.

M_U_R_D….

He quickly pressed the Delete key looking around hurriedly to ensure that no one had noticed. It was definitely on his mind. Murder. He rolled the word in his tongue and smiled and puckered his lips. It was a delicious thought.

An obituary to my ghosts

It’s painful to sacrifice ghosts. I don’t mean it allegorically in a past baggage sort of a way but rather literally. Let me begin in the beginning. I have been working on a kids’ story for the past eight months trying to get it approved with a publisher. The story, which I was very excited about started out as a ghost story and now has converted into a kids’ detective story. This is a result of about eight back and forths between me and the editor. Now, the editor has quit and I am working with a new one. This results in another series of back and forth. But this post is not about the shaping. It’s about my ghosts.

My pretty, enthusiastic ghosts who were the ones who coloured the story with their pale sights. They were funny, sarcastic and made the story their own. I loved writing about them. They owned the story from Day 1. On Day 154th, they are being chopped out of the story. First it was just rendering them in the second half of the book, then they appeared only in the climax, now they are being completely chucked out. It’s a simple case of the camel taking over the tent and pushing the poor owner out in a cold desert night. Sigh.

I, their creator and the one who loves them the most, is kicking them out of the ‘real world’ created in my fiction story. Making them story-less. Killing them off in cold blood. In other words, I am selling my ghosts to the suggestions by a series of editors who claim to know more about their ‘audience’, ie, the children.

So this is a post to give them a hug and bid them goodbye. Today is the day they die and are forgotten. But only by the story, not by me. I will bide time and create another story – this time exclusively for them. A story where they are the heroines. Till then, I know they have enough space in my imagination. At least they have no choice.

This post is my exploration of the pain of killing characters you have grown to love and associate with a story. It hurts. It’s as bad as taking out a thorn from your hand. Or cutting your own limb, without anesthetic. I am emotional over this today.

My poor ghosts are quiet. They don’t blame me. They just stand there in a corner, waiting. Biding their time. Another time. Another world. Another story. I owe it to them.

Now back to my story for the final kill.

Rant of a writer’s block

Blank. Blank. Blank! How will I ever finish my novel and get it to be published if I just can’t write? I should quit. Should for sure, quit and take up a cushiony job of an editor somewhere and criticize other people’s writings. Maybe the writer in me is dead and the only way to get her is to meet Yamraj and BEG!

But I know I wouldn’t quit. What’s life without a little bit of fun like writing anyways?

All the strings need to tie together. Only then will a complete picture be formed. Holistic. Is it okay if I write bad than not write at all? What stops me from writing? I had decided to keep on typing to try to record what thoughts are coming to tell you how it feels to be stuck without any words in a head which is supposed to be a writer’s.

My mind thinks of many things but my hands aren’t fast enough to write and my vocab not varied enough to express. Write, write write. Language binds my thoughts.

But still I try to write because I have decided to do something and try to stick to it. Is it that bad? Shouldn’t I stick to something? I want to. I seem to float in empty air, meaninglessly drifting with the flow of life. Aren’t I supposed to do something I believe will bring me pleasure? But is this pleasure? Is it even right to run after the fleeting pleasures I get from writing? Or do I want to experiment with highs and lows which come from new experiences? Is writing like extreme adventure sports for me? I don’t know. Again as I told you, my dear long dead document, I have only questions, no answers.

These answers seem to be quite tricky to find. Even if you manage to grab hold of one, it smokes up and manages to silkily slip through your fingers. Also, as soon as you have this creature called an answer, your eyes become blurry and myopic, almost blind and though you can see your answer, it becomes a misty, mystical creature. Soon, it starts turning invisible. That’s how it works with answers. The more you look at them, the more they start to vanish. Then suddenly, the slippery bugger vanishes completely leaving you with more questions. Sigh. Can someone live their life with only questions around them? Why do we need these slippery buggers called answers anyway?

Only 413 words. That’s the tragedy. You think you have said a lot. You think your thoughts are quite fresh, new, unusual, never heard, dah, dah, dah. You think you have millions of words at your service, working like minions standing and saluting you where you want them to. You think you control them and then suddenly, the seat of power changes. They start playing with your mind. Thoughts which were cohesive and coherent in the garbled walls of your mind turn into gibberish when converted into words in an e-document. How does expression work? How do you put your thoughts onto a document in a cohesive order?

The control is slipping away. But isn’t that the magic of writing? Why do I need the control anyway? You wanted abyss, abyss is what you get.

Men are crazy. Women are crazier. No, it’s not relative; it’s just the way it’s meant to be. You are but a puppet in the hands of language.

(Again, not edited.)