What made 2014 special for me?

Devika prompted me to write about what made 2014 special for me. Here is the post that I wrote for her blog. This piece originally appeared on Devika's blog

2014 is a very special year for me. I'd always remember it. For the rest of my life. After all, my first book, The Nidhi Kapoor Story (#tnks), published and released in 2014!

Writing a book has been a dream that I've had for I don't know how many years. And now that #tnks is out, I don't want to stop. It's a high like no other. To see your name in print. To have strangers send emails to you and tell you that they enjoyed the book. To have your long lost friends call in and congratulate you. It's a feeling that is unparalleled.

When I look back in time, I wonder why didn't I write a book sooner. I always thought that writing would be tough and getting a book out will be next to impossible. But when I got around to doing it, I realized that starting was the toughest bit. After that, everything just, sort of, falls in place. Trust me it does! Start writing yours and you'd know what I am saying.

Apart from the dream-come-true bit, even though #tnks doesn’t sell a lot, the book has opened a lot of doors for me. I made tons of new friends and each friend taught me a thing or two. The ever-elusive doors to the Bollywood opened up (as I write this, I am talking to a few people to sell the movie rights of #tnks; fingers crossed). Friends and strangers read, appreciated and said kind things about #tnks (most people who've read the book have liked it and of course there are few who do not). And all these things have encouraged me to go forth and write my next.

Also, may be, just may be, writing is my calling! I don't know yet. I will figure out in the next few years.

Most importantly, writing and publishing a book has given me confidence like nothing else. Now that I have done the seemingly insurmountable task of getting a book out, I believe that I can do anything. Throw a challenge my way and I will accomplish it. Well, any challenge except beating Mr. Bhagat on the sales or popularity charts. If all goes well, I may actually do it someday!

While I was working on the book, there were so many moments of self-doubt. I remember I had considered leaving it midway at least thrice. After all my grammar sucked, my vocabulary was limited and the story was full of clich├ęs. And which interesting writer has a name as boring as "Saurabh Garg?" I mean if I were called Chandraprakash Paul Chatterjee or Basant Singh Chatwal or something, I would've become famous by the virtue of my name. But Saurabh Garg? No way!

But everytime I felt like quitting, I was reminded of this famous quote by my self-appointed guru, Steve Jobs. He often said, "real artists ship." I shipped. I did not allow my limitations to deter me and I continued to write. Once I was done with the manuscript, my publisher fixed a large part of my book. And helped me ship. If I didn't ship I wouldn’t have got so many people to give me feedback on how I write. Each piece of feedback has helped me improve. This post and the new readers I'd reach to, hopefully will help me as an author. In fact, if you are reading this, I urge you to please point out mistakes. I urge you to please write in. I shall be grateful.

Apart from the book, another highlight of 2014 would be my decision help other first-time writers. I realize that I've been lucky with the entire publishing process and there must be a lot of first-timers who may not be as lucky. So, I try and work with them on their manuscripts. So far, have worked with three authors already. I don't claim to be an expert, but I do have some experience and insights. I have given them inputs basis my limited understanding of the publishing process. If you think you need someone to go through your manuscript, please do let me know. I would be happy to help.

Why am I doing this? Call it a way to give back or call it paying it forward. It just feels natural. So I am doing it!

To end this, 2014 has been great to me. And I am very excited about 2015. I plan to write 250K words #in2015. That's like three full-length books. I also plan to publish my second book in 2015. And I plan to work with more first-time authors. And I plan to continue to push myself. From where I am, the journey will only take me higher. I know it will be one hell of a ride.

Join me, if you will.

All the best to you too for 2015.

@Devika, thanks a ton for making me review the year gone by. Like last year 2014, I hope that in 2015, you continue to allow me to pick your brains.

@Other readers, may 2015 be the greatest year of your lives. Like I said, please do tell me if you think I could improve somehow. And if theres something I could do to help you, please do let me know.

Thanks!
Saurabh Garg
30 Dec 2014

Why Starbucks?

As I write this, its 5.25 PM on a Tuesday. I have left office early. Not because I did not have a lot of work. But because I had a lot to do and I did not know where to start from. I just needed a break from all the things I was working on, all the people I was surrounded by and all the things open on my plate. So I took one.

And I am at Starbucks. And for some reason, everything that was bothering me for last few days, all of it is gone! I am in my zone. Where thoughts come to my head and those thoughts become words. And the words appear on the laptop screen. And I feel that I am moving in some direction.

I dont know what is it. May be I have trained my mind to work best when I am sitting on a wooden chair on a wobbly table under the yellow light with all the din of a coffee shop listening to my music on headphones tapping onto the amazing keypad of a MacBook pro.

And while I wrote this, I asked a few questions about a website to a friend, replied to a few work emails, bought the secret santa gift for a colleague and sipped onto an ice cold Javachip Frappuccino. And it's 5:36 PM. About 10 minutes to come up with these 200 odd words.

#ftw. Or as they would have said, "all your base are belong to us"!

Dear Chetan Bhagat

Dear Chetan,

First things first. Let me get a few confessions out of the way.

A, I have not read any of your books and yet I have seen your popularity and sales figure soar with every title you come up with.

B, the only rendezvous I’ve had with you was when I was working as an event manager. I came within breathing distance of you when I was trying to put a mic on your jacket, moments before you were to go up on a stage and address a gathering for the a motivational lecture. Oh, you seem to have done a brilliant job of delivering the lecture. Because after you were done, I heard enthusiastic and loud applause from the audience. Alas, I could not hear you deliver your lecture because I was running around to get the next act ready.

C, I am yet to meet anyone who has shown fondness for what you write or how your write. But for some reason, everyone I know has an opinion or two about you. And that sir, is no mean feat.

Chetan, I write to you to thank you for giving me the courage to quit my day job and wade in uncertain waters while I chased my dreams of being a published author. If not for your success, I couldn’t have done it.

Please indulge me as I go back in time. I first heard of you sometime in the later half of 2004. I was a first-year MBA student at a leading business school - MDI Gurgaon. Since it is a college of repute, students were expected to be good with academics and be well rounded. Those days, reading was regarded as a great way to “build CV value” when the placements happened. So I picked up reading.

I tried different genres. And by trial and error I settled on and fell in love with winding and layered tales of injustice, crimes, murders and the common-man-doing-uncommon-dares-in-face-of-adversity spun by the likes Jeffery Archer, John Grisham, Sue Grafton and others. What more, I often found myself lost into day dreams of creating such plots and stories myself.

Even though I had faith in my abilities and a fire in my belly, I was not sure if I could actually become an author. How could I? After all, I came from a humble background and English to me was, what can I say, intimidating! To me, English was something that only the elite could indulge in, in their fancy, lavish dinner parties. Lingua Britannica was something as exclusive as an admission to your alma matter – the IITs and the IIMs.

The writers and the readers of content created in English had to be special. I mean look at the bestseller list in India from Oct of 2004. Giving you company on those charts are greats like Dan Brown, Amitav Ghosh, Paulo Coelho, Robin Sharma, Mitch Albom, Khushwant Singh, Pawan Verma and others. All these authors have a pedigree that I could give an arm and a leg for. Each of them is read by and discussed by those socialites in their fancy Page 3 parties. And like most things they mulled over in their parties, I could hardly comprehend the language, the depth, the richness, the detail, the pain, the suffering, the longing and other such things that their books talked about.

You, Chetan, were like a whiff of fresh air in an old room full of yellowing books that hadn’t seen sunlight in years. You presence on the list dispelled the famous notion that writing was a serious business; and the notion that you had to be, if not a doctorate in literature, a post-graduate at least to even think about writing.

In fact more I read about the publishing business in those days, more I realize that if I had approached a publisher back then with my manuscript, they would’ve laughed on me. I probably would not even get to enter their grand, opulent offices. On top of it, back then, there were hardly any publishers. And most of them probably believed that they were the custodians of English language. In today’s parlance, we call them the Grammar Nazis.

Fast forward to the Oct of 2014. The tribe of these Grammar Nazis is fast headed towards extinction. The remaining, handful Grammar aficionados are hardly given any importance by anyone. There are more publishers than there are authors. Even foreign publishers have set up shops in India and they regularly publish books by authors like you. And I. Literary agents, and good ones at that, are now dime a dozen. Experienced editors are willing to work with newer authors without expecting a fortune for their editing talent. Great designers are willing to work for next to nothing. Modern trends like self-publishing and social media have unleashed a new crop of writers and given them cheap innovative ways to reaching their audience.

The publishing industry as we knew it traditionally had changed. And Chetan, you ushered this change. Your success made this change possible.

Unchanged however remains your presence on the bestsellers lists. Or may I you’re your dominance? On the latest list of bestsellers in India, you are accompanied by the likes of Paulo Coelho, Sachin Tendulkar and Boria Majumdar. And then there are authors like Preeti Shenoy, Ravinder Singh and Durjoy Dutta.

Sachin is an exception here because it’s his autobiography and it would probably be his only book in life. Apart from Boria (who co-authored Sachin’s book), I am not sure if any one else on the list has a background in literature or journalism.

The Ravinders, The Durjoys and others like them are not yet in their thirties and they command a fan following as large as established Bollywood or Cricket celebrities. Each book they come up with, is much-anticipated and celebrated by their fans. Without your influence I bet they wouldn’t have even considered writing as a career.

You know Chetan, you not only gave the Ravinders and Durjoys the confidence to go forth and write, you gave me a precedent that I could share with my family when I decided to quit. I could tell my friends that I was going to be an author like you and no one raised even an eyebrow. I could talk my employer into granting me a leave without pay for a period of one year. Your success gave me a plausible justification for switching careers after almost 10 years of work. The world around me questioned my sanity but because I had your success as an example, they eventually acquiesced. 

There is more Chetan. You also helped create an entire ecosystem. Because of phenomenal success of your books and non-stop inflow of money pouring into your coffers, new publishers, distributors, designers, editors, reviewers sprang up. All of them attempting to ride the wave, the avalanche of new authors pounding on the doors of impending boom in the publishing industry.

As one such writer, an author, I shall remain indebted to you forever for your seminal work, 5 Point Someone. It started the avalanche that we all are hoping to be a part of. You have proved beyond doubt that English language and literature is no longer a slave to the modern and the rich and the famous. Isn’t that what you are reinforcing in your latest book, Half Girlfriend?

Chetan, Thank you so much! For giving wings to a common man like me to chase my ten-year old dream. And for helping create an ecosystem where the dream could actually see light of the day! You are the knight in the shining armor for dreamers like me. If not for you, my dream would’ve remained a mere thought bubble. I would’ve gone through life without realizing my true passion, my potential.

Thank you once again!

Saurabh Garg
Author, The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Oh, would you have time to read my first book? I would love to send a copy. Please do let me know.

Note: An edited version of this letter appeared on qz.com at http://qz.com/315668/dear-chetan-bhagat-i-quit-my-job-and-became-a-writer-because-of-you/

Untitled. 12.12.14 / 18.12.14.

It's one of those days... Just too much has happened in last 24 hours. Let me try and chronicle those things here.

(a). A friend's dad was unwell. I spent an entire day in hospital. The hatred and aversion that I have for hospitals came rushing back at me. While I was there, I could totally see lives of my loved ones flash past by me. I took a vow to get healthy and never ever see inside of a hospital (for myself). So unless it's REALLY REALLY important, I will not step inside an hospital. More on hospitals on some other post.

(b). One of those important women that I talk about in (a), I called her. I told her that I loved her more than anyone else, anything else. And she hung up on me. She had to. I had no right calling her after all these years and do that. I am sorry for doing so. But I was way too full after the incident at the hospital.

(c). I made a new friend over the last few days, thanks to the book. She is THE 3 AM friend that I've always wanted in life. Not that I dont have other such people. But she is in a different continent and is as broken as I and can totally understand where I come from. But then these are early days. So let's see how it goes.

(d). I am ready to move on yet again. Its not been three months and I've had enough. Let's see what is next. More on this in some other post in some time. I DEFINITELY know what I dont want. And I still dont know what I want. May be I need to see a shrink or something. If only I had the money.

(e). I was messed up in my head and I was killing time on YouTube. Stumbled on this video. And while I enjoyed the performance, I had this shade of guilt and pity. My heart goes out to artiste like Lucky Ali. I have some vague idea of the show business and the kind of tantrums people artists throw. Here he is, performing at a stage that looks small by all standards, on a sound that is fucked up and with a band that looks like an ensemble at best. And he's Lucky fucking Ali. The God reincarnated. Yet getting old by the day. Lucky Ali is / was my first tryst with romance. With O Sanam. How can he perform at such a small stage? May be he likes to do so. May be he does not feel the need to be on a stage that is worthy of his stature. So yeah, pity, guilt and confusion.

(f). I have almost closed on my goals for 2015. Top on that list is my health. Second is guitar. Third is running a marathon/ The others are same as that of 2014. Financial freedom, travel, writing etc. Again, more on this eventually as we draw close to the year-end.

That's it.

Wrote this on 12.12.14. Published on 18.12.12. Why? I did not get time to work on this. Wonder how would the next book happen. #fml

Hello, #trss

Ladies and gents, #trss is now live. 

And it will be out in the market in less than 365 days. 

Help Me!

I sent this email to a few friends and strangers. Seeking help. The version below is an edited one; after I got feedback from some who chose to respond. If you want to help me as well, please do let me know

Hi,

Most of you know me. The ones who don't, I met / spoke / interacted with you while I was working on my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story. In a couple of cases, you read the book and wrote in. In one case, you are a friend of a friend and you've liked what I wrote. And one of you is a person who reads my blog (yay)!

I write to you because I need help. I have realized that writing makes me happy and if I can get better at it, I can work on my terms, actually make a living out of it and get out of the rat-race. And not just living, I could live comfortably!

For the record, I define comfort as a state where I don't have to think twice before I buy the latest iPhone. I use the iPhone as a proxy to PPP or the Big Mac index.

So coming back, I know I make a lot of mistakes when I write. My grammar could do with improvement. I even slaughter a few sacred cows! I thus want to create a group of trusted friends, acquaintances that would read first drafts of what I write and give me feedback before I publish those on public platforms.

 It will help me in two ways.
A, I will get advice from a trusted group of people.
B, It will help improve the quality of my output.

So, here are some more details on it.

Why you?
Because you have helped me in past. Because you have a view point that I thought was really unique. Because I believe you could help. And most importantly, because I thought you cared about how I write!

What kind of things will I send to you?
These would often be things that move me, things that I need an opinion on, things about technology, life, travel, writing, characters. Things that I really want to share. And of course things I write for commercial purpose - books, scripts, speeches etc. Think of this as a private blog or a closed mailing list. Think of this as way to peek into my brain. Think of this as a testing ground for me to test my ideas on. Think of yourselves as guinea pigs. And FYI, guinea pigs are actually rodents!

What do I expect from you?
Three things. Only.

  • Honest critique on what I send you. This could be comments, praises, edits, suggestions, ridicule, death threats, love letters, friendly fire etc. 
  • Opportunities. If someone asks you for someone who could write, please point them to me. 
  • Links, tips, things that I should be reading, videos that I should be watching, content I ought to be consuming, people I must talk to, practise that I need to put in, to become a better writer. 

What is in it for you? 
I dont know. Except the rush of good hormones that you get when you help someone. And my gratitude. Think of yourself as a king. Or a queen. and think of me as an artesian who's come to your court seeking your patronage and blessings. In the times when Kings and Queens ruled the world, they would often shower artesian with gold, pearls, palaces, princesses and what not. On the other hand, all I am asking for is your time, your patronage. Too much to ask for?

 That's it!

Over to you guys! Oh, this IS the first piece that I want your feedback on.

And, as Steve Jobs would've said... one more thing... Who all do you think I can seek help from on writing? Can you please connect me with them so that I can include them in this list? I promise that I would not send more than one email a week.

On that note, if you choose to not receive these emails, PLEASE tell me and I would remove you from the list.

Thanks so much! Please do tell me how to improve this.

Regards,
Saurabh

P.S.: Once upon a time, I read this quote and I just cant get it out of my head. It goes... "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." I have used it so often that I think I am bordering on getting obnoxious. But I love it so much that I cant stop using it. And I will continue to use it. So, dear giants, please help me see further.

Departmet of Silent Audence (DOSA)

Goodreads. As on 06 Dec 2014.
When I was at MDI, there was this bunch of guys - all of them were really intelligent and good to talk to and everything - who never spoke in the classroom sessions. Even though MDI placed a lot of rigor on class participation and speaking up in lectures, these guys will never ever speak up. Even when the professors pointed at them and asked them questions, they'd stay shut at the cost of getting ridiculed and docking grades. Of course they knew the answers and they could speak eloquently outside the class. But in the room, they'd not utter a word - no one knows why. And they called themselves DOSA - Department of Silent Audience. They were there to seep in everything and not speak up. Like sponges. They were there to stay shut. They were like silent lambs. Actually I could've titled this post the Silence of the Lambs.

Anyhow, it's funny that I am reminded of it them almost 10 years after I first encountered them. Why? Because in the last few days, the feedback, the reviews, opinions and other things on The Nidhi Kapoor Story have started to dry down. I dont know how the sales figures are moving for the book. But I do know that a lot of friends and family have bought the book. And I know for sure that I have not heard from most of them. Not strangers, not the common man. But family and friends.

The first few days were fun. I am not exaggerating but I would get some input, some feedback, some other comment almost every hour. It was probably my 15 seconds of fame. Only if each second, I wish, could last a lifetime!

Once the first set of people were done with their response, the frequency dropped drastically, the way a ball plunges down a tall tower perched on a high hill.

Next lot of people to write in were strangers, casual readers who had picked the book after they were exposed to all the noise that I made on the Internet. Remained absent was feedback from friends and family.

Now, almost 15 days after the book became available to the world, the feedback I get is now few and far between. And all of it is from people that I did not know of before I wrote the book. Thankfully a disproportionately large proportion talks about the book in good light. There are a few things that I've been told to work on. And I am working on those as I work on my next book. More on it later.

So, if you are reading this, I urge you, implore you, beg you, on my feet and with folded hands to please share your feedback with me. Postive, negative, ugly, good, excellent, pathetic. You may choose any word to express your opinion on the book. I promise I will neither fly away to the cloud 9 (or cloud 7 or whatever) nor hurl myself into the abyss of depression. Your feedback would only help me get better.

Please. If you have read The Nidhi Kapoor Story, please do share what you think of it. Like these 20 people who have taken the pains of letting the world know what they think of #tnks. Apart from these 20, there have been people who think that that book is a piece of shit and they've stopped talking to me! That's ok. I loved the fact that it could provoke such strong reactions.

As long as there is a reaction, all's well. But a reaction guys. Please. Life doesn't work like that. We are after all social animals and we ought to communicate. We response to stimuli. Remember Biology 101? Hope this is a sharp enough bite in the arm to wake up from your slumber and make you share your feedback with me.

Oh, and the guys at DOSA, I am not sure what happened to them, its after all been ten odd years since I've seen them. Get the point?

No? Damn!

The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Did you like this post? May be you want to read my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story.

Check it out on Amazon or Flipkart?