Happy with My Muse
In the year 2004 I was on my mettle to get into print come what may. Enough is enough; I had no patience for being told repeatedly that poetry does not sell. Self-publication? Yes, that will do.
Then came a quick idea: why not send the stuff again to the publishing house, Writers Workshop, Calcutta? Four years ago, its proprietor, Mr P. Lal had returned the stuff as unpublishable, saying that the poems lacked "prosody". Still, there would be no harm if he refused again. I resubmitted the manuscript to him.
And the reply came in a fortnight: he was willing to publish, but on his condition. I should make an advanced purchase of one hundred copies on payment of 16,000 rupees. Of course, he wrote in his draft agreement that he would give me a royalty of 10 percent in the shape of books. That means out of 350 books he was to print, he would give me 135 books for a sum of 16,000 rupees. I had no other go. Moreover, I had heard many good things about Writers Workshop, like one would get famous getting published through that concern; that Writers Workshop is a publishing house sympathetic to new authors, and so on. What else should have I done than except accepting it? By then, I had already kept the poems with me for almost ten long years!
As promised, he printed the book entitled “In Harness” on time and sent me two copies of it. [ISBN 81-8157-183-5] I was happy to note the quality of print, the cover design and the binding. They were impressive. For a moment, I thought my money was spent well—or at least it was now easier to get convinced. Others who saw it were full of similar appreciations. That pleased me.
I was eager to take possession of another 133 books, for I thought I would distribute them among my friends and colleagues, get their appreciation and go through the real feel of being a published writer. After a month or so, say in April 2004, I went to Calcutta. But at the Writers Workshop I was told that it would take some more time to get finished with the binding of the book. Then I thought I should meet Shri P. Lal, having come such a distance, but I was told that he was busy. He did not have even five short minutes to spare for a personal meeting! I felt bad and then thought I should talk to him over phone from “The Book Nook”, the dingy bookshop at the ground floor of his residence. I talked to him, but after I was finished with talking, I felt I should not have asked for getting connected in the first place and I should do better to forget that I had ever talked to that gentleman.
Then I was told that I should pay for the postage for the despatch of books to different reviewers, poetic societies and libraries. It was not one of the conditions in the agreement I signed with Mr P. Lal, yet I paid that. Then I decided I should not come to this place again to collect my books. The fellow sitting at the dingy bookshop asked me to deposit the postage for sending the rest 133 books and I promptly acted upon that. Anyhow I wanted to get out of the place.
In due course I received the books, and they were not 133 in all, rather three books short. I had no mind to tell that to the Writers Workshop. I knew keeping quiet would be far more peaceful than kicking up a row.Besides, all the time, I was not oblivious of the fact that I was a new poet. Probably it was in my interest to tell that everything was fine and even to this day I continue to tell that.
Then the question remained what to do with those books? The answer was simple: distribute and get over the hassle. I distributed it to everybody I thought I could. My boss, my subordinates, my friend who hates me for speaking unnecessarily pompous English, an important visitors on my premises, and so on. I remember once I offered it to a senior officer who refused to accept it. According to him, he would not be carrying any more load in the flight, for it would overshoot his weight. And he advised me to send the book across by post!
There was another incident worth remembering. A colleague of mine said that he needed two copies to explore the possibility of selling them through a countrywide chain of bookshops. I gave him exactly two of them, but since then he has not bothered to report me the developments.
I was unable to reconcile that publishing a book of poems could be such a losing proposition! Well-wishers reasoned it out for me:
'Look, you’re writing poetry for your pleasure, isn’t it? If so, every hobby demands some expenditure. So, you’ve rightfully spent some of your money and why bother?’
Yet I went to bookshops to personally hand over my books. Through them I thought I would reach my esteemed readers. But the shopkeepers are shrewd businessmen, not the hapless poets. And they had the same usual creeping response: poetry doesn’t sell. Finally I distributed 13 books to three bookshops at Bhubaneswar, 5 books each to three booksellers at Calicut, Mangalore, and Visakhapatnam. At Bhubaneswar, even after one year, nobody could sell a single copy. One bookshop sold one but said he was not sure about that and asked me to visit him again to collect the book, as he was hopeful of tracing it out. Another bookseller has still five books with him and my four or five visits in the mean time have not helped me to get them recalled. Every time I had gone there, the salesmen informed me that the proprietor was not present. I do not know how many more visits I should pay to succeed in that.
The position was not different elsewhere. Nonetheless I got my money (after deducting forty percent) from there as some people bought the books returned from the shops. I do not know who exactly bought them and I am still eager to know about them.
Two and half years have gone in the meantime. Somehow all the books have got distributed. The other day, Mr P. Lal responded to my query that he does not keep tab on the review of books he publishes. One Professor S. C. Tripathy got my book and attempted a critique of it. A very encouraging review at that! A friend of mine took it to a local English daily to publish it, but he was told that it was too late. In fact, he approached the paper at a time when more than a year had elapsed since the publication of the book. I thought I should help myself but then I had no contact for this small job. Later when I created a blog (My other blog: http://books.myvisitindia.com), I published it there. That was the satisfaction--a nice feeling to be able to help myself, to return a favour in my own way. Thereafter, a few of the poems out of “In Harness” have been translated and broadcast in Radio, and published in Oriya magazine.
So, that is all about the money the book generated and accolade it brought to the author. I do not have the guts to do the final accounting of what I gained or lost in money terms. I know I might not have broken even, or maybe I have achieved that if I take into consideration the honoraria I got from the All India Radio. The only satisfaction is that I am a published author now and I can brag about that.
Isn’t this blog the right place to brag? May I post a few poems in this blog? Next time...
Labels: In Harness: my old poems