Preparing For Takeoff

The launch dates for my first novel, My Friend Sancho, have been finalized, and I’m pleased to share them with you now. I had earlier mentioned that the book would be out by the middle of April, but we had to delay that just a bit, and it will now be in bookstores across India in the first week of May. The launch dates:

Mumbai: May 9, Crossword, Kemp’s Corner.
Delhi: May 13, Agni, The Park
Kolkata: May 14 or 15, Oxford Book Store
Bangalore: May 16, Crossword
Chennai: May 18, Landmark

I’ll confirm all these details closer to the dates. Barring Delhi, all the other events are open, and India Uncut readers are invited to come and throw tomatoes. I’ll be in conversation with Sonia Faleiro at the Mumbai event, and with Nilanjana S Roy in Delhi. We haven’t yet finalized the details of the other events, so watch this space.

My Friend Sancho Finds A Cover

I’m delighted to announce the result of the cover design competition for my first novel, My Friend Sancho. We received so many fabulous designs that it took us a while just to look at them all carefully, process them, and make a shortlist after considering all the parameters. Hachette India, my publishers, were awed by the range of designs we had to choose from—and I am deeply grateful that so many people chose to take part.

After much debate, we have a winner. Prem Kishore of Hungry & Foolish Creative Products walks away with Rs. 15,000 worth of Hachette India books. Here is his design (click on the image below for a larger image):


There will be minor tweaks, of course, and the text and photograph at the back are dummy, just for the purposes of designing. But here it is.

Of all the other designers, I’d also like to mention Manish Sahu, a designer from Nagpur who also writes a pretty neat blog. Manish entered designs like Virender Sehwag hits boundaries, and more than half the shortlisted designs were by this one dude. My publishers and I felt awful that after all that work, he didn’t win, so we will send him a special Hachette hamper—and I’m certain he’s going to design many covers for many lucky writers. A couple of his designs, and other special mentions, below the fold:

The Results Of The Sancho Cover Contest…

… aren’t yet ready, and will be announced later. Many outstanding entries poured in after we announced the contest, and while I promised to announce the results earlier this week, we simply haven’t managed to pick one of them yet. The delay is not Hachette’s, but mine—I haven’t been able to make up my mind on this, and I apologize to all the contestants for keeping them waiting. This is my first novel, and its cover is a big, big deal for me, and I want to be absolutely sure before we pick one. So we’re still tweaking the entries in small ways, printing them out, seeing them from a distance, holding them up close—all of that stuff. To all the contestants—thank you for entering, and thank you for your patience.

Also, Hachette would like to send each of the entrants a token of appreciation, but hasn’t been able to get in touch with all of them—mails bouncing back etc. If you sent in a design, please write to [email protected] with your postal address. Thank you.

As to when the results will be announced, well, the book’s out in April and the cover has to be finalized by early February. So that’s the absolute latest we’ll take to decide—though we’ll try our best not to leave it so late.

Sancho’s Got Clothes

Choosing what to wear is not such an easy matter, though.

The contest to design the cover for my first novel, “My Friend, Sancho”, is now over. To all those who entered, from me and Hachette India, Thank You!

We’ve been overwhelmed by the designs—not just the number of entries that came in, but the quality. As my editor at Hachette remarked, “Never has any book had so many great covers to choose from.” We’re trying to make a shortlist right now, and expect to announce a winner on Monday, January 19.

That said, announcing a winner will be heartbreaking, because so many of the covers are so good in different ways. Many factors go into choosing a cover: the subjective tastes of the people involved; inputs from production on how something that looks good on the screen will look as a book; the scope for effects such as, in my publisher’s words, “embossing, holographic stuff, texture, foiling, UV, etc”; inputs from sales on what will actually work in the marketplace. There are trade-offs involved: one cover may look beautiful and have just the right feel, but may have nothing to do with the book conceptually; another may be bang on in terms of suiting the book, and may not be the kind of cover that stands out from a distance in a book shop. It’s all very complicated.

For this reason, Hachette has decided that while it can choose just one cover and award just one prize, every single entrant will get a token of appreciation. If you entered a design, expect to hear from Hachette soon.

Meanwhile, I’m off to my ‘cover designs’ folder to get bewildered and overwhelmed. Thanks again!

My Friend Sancho Is Looking For Clothes

A reminder to my readers: the contest to design the cover for my first novel, My Friend, Sancho, is on until January 12. That leaves five days for you to enter. So do send in your designs if you’d like to participate—and tell your designer friends about it, in case they’re interested.

Some excellent designs have already come in, and I’ll showcase a whole bunch of covers that I liked on this blog when the contest is over. Sadly, we can only pick one winner—maybe that’s the one inside your head? Send it in!

PS: Also, if you enjoy reading India Uncut, do remember to vote for it in the Best Asian Blog category of the 2008 Weblog Awards? Readers are allowed to vote once every 24 hours, and the competition is tough. Voting is easy, and just requires a single click—so head on over!

Would You Like To Design A Book Cover?

As you know, my first novel “My Friend, Sancho” will be published by Hachette India in April 2009, and we’re getting it all together right now in terms of a final edit and production details. One of the areas I’m keen to get right is cover design. My publishers and I both felt that we needed a design that was different from the kind we see in our bookstores these days, and we thought of opening it up to a much larger pool of people than a publisher would usually have access to. And so, with the imagined sound of trumpets and applause in the background, Hachette India and India Uncut bring you:

The “My Friend, Sancho” Cover Design Competition

This is how it works: in the next few paragraphs, I shall share a synopsis of the book, and link to an excerpt that gives you a sense of the voice of the main character in the book. I shall also attach Hachette’s official design brief for the book. Based on that, you are invited to send in a cover design, or many if you want, for the book. If we choose to use one of them, you get Rs. 15,000 worth of Hachette books and cover credit.

(You may not have heard of Hachette before, but you would certainly have heard of many of the imprints it owns, such as Hodder, Orion, Octopus, Hamlyn, Little, Brown & Company, and Orbit. It’s the largest general books publisher in the UK, the second largest publisher in the world, and had more books in the New York Times bestseller list last year than any other publisher—so there’ll be much to choose from. Hachette has just launched in India, and “MFS” will be the first release of their local list. So if you win the prize, you will be bewildered by the choice of books available in their catalogues here.)

In case Hachette is unable to use any of the covers submitted, the first prize will not be awarded—but we will pick the design we like the most and award the designer Rs. 5000 worth of Hachette books, plus empanelment on Hachette’s roster of preferred designers. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, and some kickass designs come in. Needless to say, I will carry all the designs I like on India Uncut, and link to the designer’s homepage wherever relevant.

And now, about the book: “My Friend, Sancho” is a love story set in Mumbai. Abir Ganguly, the protagonist, is a 23-year-old, cynical, wise-cracking journalist on the crime beat of a newspaper. He is asked by his editor to do a feature story on Mohammad Iqbal, a man killed in a police encounter. As research for the story, he meets Iqbal’s daughter, Muneeza. An unlikely friendship forms between them, but before it can become anything more, certain matters need closure.

The first chapter of the book is here (pdf link). It will give you a sense of the tone of the book, and the voice of the character. But the book develops into a love story, not the gritty thriller you might expect from that chapter.

My own brief: The cover I’m looking for should be one that reflects the playful, young tone of the book. It should attract attention from a distance without being loud or gaudy. It should be classy, so when you hold it, you feel like taking it home with you. It should be minimal—I hate clutter, and there shouldn’t be too many elements in there.

What images from the book can you use? Well, Abir and Muneeza have black coffee and iced tea together a couple of times, and those are possible images. They meet at the food court of a mall a few times—but I don’t fancy either of them being represented on the cover. There is also a talking lizard in the book, and he could make an appearance somewhere, perhaps curling onto the spine. Feel free to use something abstract—for now, I’m more interested in the feel being right than the image being representative.

Important point: This might be the first of a series of books, so you could begin with a design template that can be extended onto future books. One example in Indian bookstores is the series of Penguin hardbacks of Amitav Ghosh’s books—they’re clearly part of a series, they’re minimal, with just one strong visual for each cover, and they’re powerful. Of course, they’re grim and convey gravitas, where the covers for the Abir Ganguly books need to convey youth and playfulness, but they work well as a series.

The publisher’s design brief is below, under the fold. It is entirely written by the dudes at Hachette, which I find important to point out, because I would never have the audacity to praise my own book. (Also, the blurbs are obviously a temporary filler.)

India Uncut Turns Four

There will be no birthday celebrations, but India Uncut turned four today. The first post of this blog was written on December 1, 2004, and since then I’ve written more than 6000 posts on this blog alone. Most of my blogging has been filter-and-comment, where I link to interesting or newsworthy pieces and comment on them, but I’ve also done a little reportage when I’ve been travelling on journalistic assignments, as well as op-ed kind of posts.

India Uncut has changed my life in many ways. I got much journalistic work because of this blog, including the weekly column with Mint that won me the Bastiat Prize last year. It helped me polish my writing skills, making my posts crisper, and less self-conscious and self-indulgent. I learnt more about the world while blogging, because writing a post on most things involves a certain amount of background research. I fell into many traps, and in the process became aware of them—such as the need to have an opinion on everything, or to have narratives that explain every event, and so on. (I will elaborate on this some other time.)

Many of my old posts make me cringe, either in terms of how poorly they were written, and how shallow the thinking behind them was. But they’re milestones on a journey I’m still on, and I’m thankful for that. Perhaps four years from now, the posts I write these days will also appall me. In fact, I hope they do—that will at least mean that I’m getting better, and there’s still a point to it.

The biggest thing I have gained from India Uncut is the readership this blog has. It baffles me sometimes—why would so many people want to read me? And I’m also deeply grateful for it. The biggest blessing a writer can have is a sense that people are reading him and engaging with his writing. I never had this sense when I wrote my column for Mint, or wrote pieces for WSJ, the Guardian or even a high-traffic website like Cricinfo. With India Uncut, I do—and feel immensely fortunate.

This blog has changed over the last few years—there are fewer posts per day, and since the time I stopped writing columns and op-eds to focus on being a novelist, less detailed commentary on economics or politics. Many of you have written in complaining about this—but I must confess that I never felt at home being that sort of a pundit. It wasn’t my natural ground; and though I’m quite pleased with many of the columns I wrote, and was getting better at the form as the years went by, I always felt that it was a compromise, and not what I would most like to do.

From the time I learned to read, I have wanted to be a writer of fiction, telling stories. Over the years, I have procrastinated, and eventually something had to give. It did this year, and I finally sat my ass down and wrote a book. Obviously I can’t say how good it is—maybe I’ll look at it a few books down the line and cringe, the way I do with some old IU posts. But I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and felt at home. That’s all I want to do from now on, and I’m reconciled to the relative poverty that implies.

That said, this blog was a happy accident. Once I got used to the medium, I began to enjoy it throughly, and I shall continue to blog for as long as I can. (Or as long as my broadband connection allows me to.) It’s immense fun—and with so much WTFness in the world, maybe it’s even necessary. (For me, not for the world, which won’t change because of a few puny blog posts.) The nature of the blog has changed a bit over the years, but I hope you won’t mind the trade-off once my books start coming out.

On that note, I must inform you that blogging will remain slow for another week. The deadline I mentioned here, for handing in the final manuscript of “My Friend, Sancho”, has been extended by my kind publishers by a week. And I’m still at work. I’ll put up a post tomorrow with some more thoughts on the aftermath of the attacks, and then take it easy. We go back a long way, I think you’d agree, and a few days don’t matter. No?

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Blogging for the rest of this week is going to be slow. I need to deliver the final manuscript of “My Friend, Sancho” to my publishers by November 30, and am rewriting a portion of it that I wasn’t quite satisfied with. So I shall go easy on the surfing and blogging for the next four days, though I won’t lay off entirely. Stay tuned—and subscribe to my RSS feed if you haven’t already.

And if the empty hours get too unbearable, make a list of five things you would do today if you were going to die tomorrow. And then go out and get started on one of them. (You can call this Paanchvidaniya.) Have fun!

Sancho Finds A Home

Right—I’ve finalized a publisher. I’m pleased to announce that my first novel, My Friend, Sancho, will be published by Hachette India in April 2009.

Hachette India is part of Hachette Livre, the world’s second-largest publisher, who had more books than any other publisher last year in the New York Times bestseller list. While they’re giants worldwide, they’ve just set up shop in India. They launched officially in a function in New Delhi last evening; my book will be the first release in their local list.

So all of you complaining about how I no longer write five posts a day will soon, I hope, see that it’s been worth it.

Meanwhile, the broadband connection of the friends I’m staying with in Delhi is down—I’ve cunningly managed to log on to a neighbour’s wi-fi just to make this important announcement—so blogging will be slow for a couple of days. But your patience will be rewarded.

Congratulations, Miguel Syjuco…

… for winning the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize!


After Miguel’s book Ilustrado was shortlisted, he had told the Guardian that making it to the shortlist was “like someone coming into my dark room and throwing open the curtains.” That seemed like a perfect simile to me—writing is a solitary act, with insecurity and self-doubt our closest companions, and the room does seem terribly dark sometimes. This prize ensures that the curtains will always remain open on Miguel’s work, and I’m delighted for him.

Miguel and I had exchanged emails after we got longlisted for the prize, and we promised to send each other signed and inscribed copies of our books. Now I can’t wait!


And when will My Friend, Sancho be on the shelves? I’m going to Delhi this Sunday to meet all the publishers who have made me offers, and finalize a deal. Whoever I sign with, the release date is likely to be around the end of April 2009. I’ll announce it here within a week.