By Kirtida Gautam (Author of #iAm16iCan)
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
What is an Advance Review Copy?
An Advance Review Copy (ARC) is a free copy of a new book given by a publisher to booksellers, journalists, peers, reviewers, and book bloggers before the book is printed for mass distribution.It is one of the most tried and tested method for getting initial feedback on the book & of course the best part is , if it is done well, can genuinely create discussion around the book. Positive or Negative? Well that is what I actually mean by the science behind understanding the market for your books.
In May 2015, I distributed the ARCs of my debut novel #iAm16iCan. It is a novel that questions Juvenile Justice System of India and raises opinion AGAINST rape culture.
I planned to open a Pandora’s Box and therefore it was important to know beforehand how the readers will react to it. But there was one more reason why I distributed more than 250 ARCs of the novel with urgency.
The juvenile who was arrested in 2012 Delhi rape case was about to get released from the rehabilitation center on 21 st December 2015. I needed to start the debate at the right time.
6 Lessons I Learnt Distributing the Advance Review Copy
1- Bleed on Page
Every writer writes with an intention of telling a story to the best of his/her ability. But, that is NOT enough. It’s a great exercise in journal writing therapy, but if you want to write a novel that holds the attention of readers, you must have to ask the following ;
- What is universal in the story I am writing?
- Why should reader care about my characters?
- How does my story affect their lives?
It can be a personal story, but in that case, the depth needs to touch the mind of the reader in an intimate and universal way. Good writing is NOT easy. It requires years of training and persistence of an athlete. No person who plays the cricket (or football) in street ever thinks— I can join the national team without formal training. Same- ditto- copy paste— goes for writing.
Scribbling on paper or typing on keyboard is NOT writing.
Bleeding on page is!
And review on the ARC lets the writer know if s/he has bleed on page or not.
2- What’s in the name? — Everything.
The initial title of my book was #IAm16ICanRape. I postulated that readers will understand that the title raises question AGAINST growing rape culture with the # and number 16 in the title. I was wrong! Many readers outside India were not in the context of Delhi Rape Case 2012, and found the title offensive. I changed it to #IAm16ICanRape: The War Against Rape Culture.
2 concerns popped —
1- The word culture was offensive to Indian readers.
They said, it gives a connotation that rape is an acceptable part of Indian society (sadly the lethargy Indian society shows towards sexual violence is questionable, but that is not the point here.)
2- It sounds a non-fiction book.
I changed the title to #iAm16iCan I would not have understood the reaction the title elicits in the reader without distributing
3- 80/20 Principle
The bloggers, readers, or reviewers you chose to be the voice amplifier of your Author’s Platform are extremely important. Every blogger or reader is not going to be as vocal about his/her opinion of your work.Passive bloggers are not going to be of much help. Chose the people who shout from the rooftop when they like something. There are 20% bloggers who create 80% noise in social media. Make sure that these 20% are the part of your team.
4- Art of War for Writers
From: 1001 Ways to Market Your Book by John Kremer Debut writers have HUGELY unrealistic expectation of success in creative field. They look at a J.K Rowling, Stephen King and think— Oh, all I got to do is to write a damn good book. And then wait for the millions of readers to swarm around it, snatching their copies from the bookstores. (Now, inside the mind of a writer, they think they HAVE written a damn good book.) They brew the coffee and arrange the armchair to sit and wait for the overnight success. Be careful of what you are asking. If you will take a closer look at the struggle these writers went through to learn their craft, you WON’T want to swap the fortunate with them. The stick has two ends. With the good fortunate, you are also picking up the other side of the stick, their days of hardship. Without exception, every writer learns his craft the hard way. Even more bad news— there is NO EASY WAY! There is no spoon!
5- Knock, knock— who is this? I am your reader.
I proudly announced my novel as an Upmarket Psychological Thriller. Just like the narrator in Gone Girl, I have an unreliable protagonist— Aarush Kashyap— who confuses the readers and keep them asking— what, why, where, when, how— at the right moments. I was sure my book is a psychological thriller. But wait!
As I started gathering reviews, I saw a pattern. Most of the readers who LOVED the book and became the champions in creating the buzz were Young Adults. In India, few schools give formal Sex Education. The teenagers are left on their own to learn about this important aspect of human experience. They don’t understand the anguish they are bound to experience during their growing up years. The book touched a raw nerve with Young Adults because they sympathized with the agony of Aarush. He is a bad person— yes. Very bad— yes. But he is an outlier who is not understood by his near and dear ones— this is something teenagers identified with and how! State is NOT doing juveniles a favor by giving them a protective umbrella to commit crimes— it is ruining THEIR lives. Teenagers hooted for the book.
6- Editing is a craft best learnt when cold
The initial word count of my novel was 205K. In the literary circle, we joked that it’s modern day Mahabharata— a long epic poem. I studied the feedback on the ARCs over a period of 8 months. I sat with the novel to edit it again. Without removing any important detail from the novel, the word count dropped to160K. There were 35K words in the novel, which were not adding much to the story. They were backstories of minor characters, or RUE— Resist Urge to Explain— kind of mistakes on my part as a debut author.
The parts that didn’t get mention in ANY reviews were simply OUT of the novel.
Career of a novelist is not an easy career— this is the MOST valuable lesson I learnt from distributing and gathering reviews on the Advance Review Copy of my debut novel iAm16iCan.
— By Kirtida Gautam
Postgraduate in Clinical Psychology. She also holds a Diploma of Performing Arts in Dramatics. Later she joined the FTII, Pune for screenplay writing course. Moved by the #Nirbhaya case in 2012, she wrote #IAm16ICanRape as her first fiction novel.