Social media versus conventional media - well I can go on and on about it but I will leave the broader topic for the experts and only talk about my own experience.
I have been interested in history from ever since I can remember. In early nineties I dropped out of medical college and suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I discovered to my surprise that after reading one book on 'Mutiny' of 1857 I suddenly got hooked on to the topic. I read almost forty books on the subject over the next few years. I then read almost everything there was to read on the internet. Then I moved on to actual historical papers in archives the ones the professional researchers should be reading but often do not.
I had hoped to write a book on the subject but not being able to control myself I churned a number of articles as a start, forgetting about the book for sometime. It was a different time altogether for traditional media, being yet free from clutches of revenue driven bosses. The editor still decided the content of newspapers. But the winds of change were already knocking at the doors of traditional media. Gradually, and I think it was precisely when traditional media, the newspapers really, turned colourful shedding the black and white past which had lasted nearly a century and a half. Suddenly the media content was in the hands of an unknown force and not the editor. They no longer wanted articles on history and I stopped trying to push my stuff.
It was suddenly 2008 and it dawned on the lazy me that this was the 150th anniversary year of 1857! I wanted to make it memorable for myself and for everybody interested in the event. Surprisingly not everyone, even in UP, the very epicentre of The Great Uprising of 1857, was interested ! I had hoped that a lot of books would be released but there were few very few.
Three to four months before the 150th anniversary year was due to end I suddenly decided to have my own book released. I had a nearly half finished novel, a historical novel, based on the events of 1857 and decided to complete it. It was hard very hard and the anxiety of finding a publisher always troubled me. Somehow I completed the novel though I amazed myself with the energy that I suddenly discovered while writing Recalcitrance, as I would later call the novel. My brother who works for a multinational company and is more than busy was kind enough to edit it. He did a very good job but he neither had time nor is a professional editor but somehow we were ready with a printable book. Less than a month was left for the 150th anniversary to end. I made a very wise decision then. I approached the only known printer publisher of some repute in Lucknow and told him to print the book. I was always very short of funds being a man of many unnecessary expenditures and small income but I was panicky and spent almost all my savings.
This was not the hardest part as one might imagine, it was still to come.
At this point I am tempted to criticize UP my state and its academics but maybe I would be making very broad generalizations so I must restrain myself.
I am a very unsocial being, not proud of it, but that is a fact. Most of my life has been spent in libraries. I did not have the courage to go to every editor in Lucknow and talk about my novel which incidentally was the only novel to be released in 150th anniversary year of 1857. I imagined that the editors would be thrilled beyond words and would invite me for a chat. I cannot say that it did not happen. A couple of papers did publish my interview but that was it!
I can say with some confidence that not even a single copy of the book was sold due to exposure by the aforementioned newspapers. They somehow were not the papers the book buying people in Lucknow read. The book buying paper in Lucknow never responded to my repeated letters to the editor. Perhaps they did not find my book good enough, was what I thought back then but now I know for sure that the editor I wrote to had virtually no control on the content of the supplement I was hoping would carry my interview. That control was with revenue driven bosses.
Then I suddenly discovered the world of blogs! I wrote a detailed blog about my novel. Soon after I was introduced to twitter and then to facebook. It was almost as if I had crash landed into a new world. A lot of people started connecting with me when they came to know about my novel. It helped that there was only one novel in whole of India at that time connected with the 'Mutiny'.
Major book chains like, you know the big guys refused to stock my novel; only a few old book stores in Lucknow were kind enough to stock it. I was very fortunate that the biggest book store in UP - Universal Booksellers in Hazratganj were rather enthusiastic in selling my novel.
But almost all my sales even local ones had their origins on either twitter or facebook.
On twitter I met some wonderful people who very kindly reviewed my novel on their blogs. I knew for sure that none of the professional reviewers in India would touch my novel with a barge pole. Perhaps they have good reasons for doing that perhaps they would have reviewed it after all but I never knew how to approach them back then.
Recently I came across an article in which Guy Kawasaki describes his experiences regarding self publishing and without knowing him I was doing something very similar to what he did. He criticizes mainstream publishers, I want to criticize them too but I know it is not going to help. They will do things exactly as they have been doing it and maybe will eventually have to close shop as Guy Kawasaki predicts who knows?
Meanwhile the very same people who helped me sell my first novel Recalcitrance by their combined efforts have forced me to write its sequel Remembrance and I am spending major part of the nights these days surfing the internet for finding ways to inform its potential readers that what they were looking for has suddenly started to exist but it is a long and hard journey and I know only social media can help me connect...