By Adhirath Sethi May. 22, 2019
When your book pops out, you are full of hope. After nine months writing it, you start fervently posting pictures of it on social media the moment it’s ready. It seems flawless. And the only person who seems to agree with you, is your mother.
Having kids in the 21st century is a decision fraught with paralysing questions. Will global warming end the planet before your future children graduate school, thus sparing you the embarrassment of reading their report cards? Will they decide overnight that you’re uncool once they reach their teens, dooming you to a lifetime of having your WhatsApp messages left on “read”? Will an entire generation abandon Facebook because you logged in?
However, the one benefit to having more than one child in this day and age is that you get to avoid mistakes with the second one. None of that dropping-it-on-its-head nonsense again. Or watching the Teletubbies, thinking it was entertaining your little one, when all it was really doing was filling you with hatred for yourself and your fellow humans. Or spending all your money on cricket coaching only to realise a Nike jersey does not a Sachin Tendulkar make. Rather, the second kid is streamlined, tantrums are dismissed, and their wants and needs are curated to ensure you still sleep late on weekends and watch Game of Thrones the same day a new episode comes out.
In much the same way, I had hoped that writing a second book would mean the errors of my first such sojourn would be neatly avoided.
Comparing a book to a child may seem strange, even insensitive to some, but any author would tell you that once their book is finished, they look upon the finished pages as they would their own flesh and blood. After all, you spend a good few months trying to conceive an idea, another nine months writing it, and then start fervently posting pictures of it on social media the moment it’s ready. You’re also deeply invested in it emotionally and can only hope that the world of critics and internet trolls won’t bully it too badly. Not that different from being a parent, right?
So, when the first book pops out, you’re full of hope. True, there are about seven authors in the history of the world that have gained instant fame and recognition from their first book, and you’re going to be number eight. Why not? Look at your book. It’s flawless! If even five people read it that aren’t your mother, they’re going to be reviewing it so hard online that the internet is going to forget who the Kardashians are. From there on you will just have to sit back and watch the accolades pour in. Soon, you’ll be dining with Arundhati Roy and the likes, the PM will be inviting you to click a selfie with him, while the Jimmys (Kimmel and Fallon, of course) engage in ugly spats on Twitter as they haggle over who gets you first. Your publisher will now start calling, saying they need to run re-prints, while begging you to get started on your next book and send new headshots so they can expand your female fan base even further.
When a few days pass and no one calls, you start getting anxious. Maybe someone famous died and the internet was a little distracted.
Safe in the knowledge that all you need to do is spread the word a little, you spend all your money on a fancy book launch and start writing letters to your two friends in the press. Some reviews start coming in. They’re not bad, but no one’s comparing you to Dickens and Wodehouse either. Never mind. Once the public reads it, that’s when things will take off.
When a few days pass and no one calls, you start getting anxious. Maybe someone famous died and the internet was a little distracted. I bet it was one of those Kardashians; always stealing my internet thunder, they are!
A week later, reality begins to set in and along with this, a mild, not unfounded sense of panic. You call your publisher and have to repeat your name a couple of times so they can place you.
“How many books have I sold?” you ask, the heat enveloping you in anticipation of bad news.
“About fifty in total,” they tell you.
This isn’t the worst, you think. But it’s still early stages and fifty is enough critical mass to move things forward, you convince yourself. You sit back and muse over your fifty precious readers, leafing through the words you poured in front of them, thinking great things about you and itching to go post reviews online.
The phone rings. It’s your mother-in-law.
“I just bought fifty of your books,” she announces cheerfully, “I’m giving them as gifts to my friends.”
Not only is this news heart-breaking in and of itself, but none of her friends are on social media! These are not the readers you had in mind! Things are looking rather bleak, you surmise. It’s time for a good, old-fashioned marketing push.
You call back your publisher and reintroduce yourself.
“What is our marketing budget?” you ask, your tone all business-like because authors can be businessmen too, you know.
Once the laughter subsides, you sit in an awkward silence for twenty seconds before realising the game of “phone chicken” is not that much fun when your girlfriend isn’t on the other end.
However, the one benefit to having more than one child in this day and age is that you get to avoid mistakes with the second one.
By the time your second book releases, you’re a lot less naïve. You realise spending all that money on the launch was silly and decide to go down the social media route. Of course, with all the social media game of a Kalahari bushman, you aren’t exactly well poised to exploit this wonderful tool of the modern age. Serves you right for spending the last two years reading newspapers and books rather than more actively liking other people’s photos of food.
Social media is a minefield. Everything has rules, and while no one really explains them, you can be sure that breaking them will draw the ire of a population that will ignore your pleas for a retweet but bring everyone they know to the party lest you tread afoul of their unwritten beliefs.
And so, like most parents realise with a second child, the rules don’t quite stay the same with each round. And that your child is not going to be the next Sachin, and you are not going to be the next Harper Lee.
Adhirath Sethi is a novelist based in Bangalore. When he is not writing satire, he dabbles in darkness. His latest book, Where the Hills Hide their Secrets, is a product of such dabbles..