Saturday, October 30, 2010

Utterly Bitterly Un-delicious

The world of publishing is a minefield.

No, I’m not talking about books, genre, production, printing, distribution, marketing, technicalities, legalities, or even sales. I’m simply talking about managing to wriggle amongst a world of established or aspiring writers, without accidently stepping on someone’s toes.

Think it possible? Hmm.

In quite another incarnation, another avatar, when I did not know (or imagined) I would be a publisher someday, just to distract myself from the dreariness of my daily job, on another one of those drowsy, tedious afternoons, I joined Facebook.

It was a new thing those days, and there were only a couple of friends on my list, mainly colleagues from office. We used it in our spare time to suggest books we had read, to each other, writing two or three lines about what we thought about them.

There was a title someone had suggested I should include on my must-read list. It was supposedly a brilliant piece of work. I was keen to get hold of it, since I had already read and enjoyed a short story by that writer earlier.

I searched high and low for days, found it triumphantly at a shop one day, and bought the hardback immediately.

Then I tried to read it. I tried, and I tried, and I tried. I tried going back and forth; I tried re-reading sections in case I’d missed something; I tried asking others how they’d managed to get through (some never did). I found it impossible to keep myself awake in spite of all my best efforts. After page 150, I quit. I found the book dead dull and told my friends as much over our little book review section, using two concise lines of beautiful adjectives.

And I forgot all about it instantly, as usual.


Switch to Incarnation Two (two years later): a new, aspiring publisher fighting against all odds, to establish a place for herself in an apathetic and opaque world.

Some family friends, wanting to be helpful, direct me to an ‘established author’, ‘a very good friend’ for help and guidance.

‘You MUST write to her; she is very sweet and helpful,’ I’m told twenty times over in six months.

Eventually, I do.

And of course I cannot understand the prickly, bristly emails, fuming and frothing from the opening word to the end, I receive back every time.

I wonder and wonder, and the mystery deepens. For the life of me I cannot guess what’s wrong. At last the lady cannot hold herself back any longer, and sends me the copy-pasted two lines about her book posted online two years ago.

Aha. Enlightenment at last!

(So your past does catch up with you at the most unexpected moment; beware!)

Well, I tell her honestly that I enjoyed her short story some years ago, but simply couldn’t read the novel.

She is still fuming and frothing, but insists she’s always tried to be very nice and helpful. She asks me why I did not write to her with my criticism instead if I didn’t like her book.

What do I say now?

(a) I did not know her personally (I still don’t);
(b) Every time someone doesn’t like a book, does he/she sit down to write to the author?

I tell her I have written and published a book. I tell her she is most welcome to read and dislike it wholeheartedly if she wants to, and write a nasty review; I would not hold it against her.

(Some people have indeed read the book and not liked it. It doesn’t mean I hold it against them.)

Plus, I repeat that I enjoyed the short story she did earlier. I wonder why the ‘liked the short story bit’ never registers. I tell her she can discount my opinion anyway, since better-known literary figures have praised her work.

Guess what. It will not happen.

I try tapping her again online months later, thinking she must have got over it, being a mature and sensible adult.

No chance.

I have made an enemy for life.


Lesson learnt: Never say anything about someone else’s work, esp. if you have a latent desire to turn a writer/publisher someday. If at all you do, only take up books you can genuinely say nice things about.


Then there was an author on my network once who’d tag me on her book cover every time she did a new title. And thanks to my limited skills, I did not know how to un-tag myself, so that my inbox would be inundated with junk mail every day.

I made the mistake of mentioning it to her quite politely.

The seven plagues of Egypt were unleashed right away over my little account, with full fury. I was lashed for daring to stop her from doing what a networking site is meant for; I was rudely told off and ‘un-friended’ since, she said, I did not ‘deserve to be’ on her friends list.

Whew! Peace – at last?

No chance again. The professor-author continues to haunt the FB inbox of her un-friended non-connection to this day, with messages about her new releases.


  1. seems like there's virtue in being anonymous after all. You can say all you want to, send curses to anyone you want to with all the liberty of being unknown. But once you start being known, you gotta hold your mouth for even a peep might insult some bird! haha.

    Lovely post, by the way, very entertaining, though I understand the experiences mentioned must have been far from any shade of lovely :-)

  2. Ah. A case of any feedback is welcome as long as it is positive, eh? If you like me once, for whatever reason, you gotta love me forever. [snicker, snicker]

    Must have been terribly awkward for you.

    But on the other hand, for a first time writer like me, getting valuable feedback has turned out to be a real challenge. You know? Critical deconstruction is a rare species these days, but I guess I'm bush whacking in the wrong part of the jungle. [smack!] That's an appreciative gnat that just won't stop buzzing annoyingly in my ear.

    Oh well, What's poison for one man is a pleasurable pick-me-up for another. Such is the nature of this world.

  3. Uh.

    Back to clarify what I said here. Am learning to write, and trying hard to find both a writing rhythm and a good set of honest critics.