Friday, August 31, 2007

Rant of an Unpublished Writer

I am in the mood to grouch, ouch! One question that was asked of a publisher during the “Kitab” festival in Bombay was whether the “looks” of an author is important in publishing him/her. And the answer was rather telling on the publishing successes that have made it to the top of the slush pile and failures that dot the publishing world like carrion in a war. Looks does matter. People look at the artistically modeled photograph on the blurb for the “celebrity factor” before buying a book, or, so it seems. The acid test to pass to be published seems to be: be a celebrity already, or, be good looking.

I refer to a recent conversation with a published author, and she said she received positive feedback for her book within three months and her book was published in six months. Now this author is attractive, has a nice smile and is young. What if an author isn’t any of these and still manages to write well?

What part does looks play in being published? Face it, ours is a very looks oriented culture, where looks (here I also mean the color of the skin, the arch of the eyebrows, the curve of the nose, and the shape of the lips) are everything. And a person who has looks takes on the conceit of good-looking people and develops a sort of aura around themselves.

It is this personal aura that the movie, publishing, sports and television world is trying to propagate, to bring viewers, and readers in. Let’s face it, it’s a characteristic that the managers, the book packagers are looking for, and actively promoting. But, can looks be equated to the success of a book? Isn’t the intellectual content and depth what makes a novel stand out? Or is it the way the author reclines and the way light kisses his/her hair in profile? I don’t know; I am confused.

Gone are the days when a writer had to prove his/her talents at the primary level by writing book reviews, short stories and poems and then graduate to bigger things like writing novels. The shape of the nose, lips, eyebrows, etc. was not that important so far as the writer could do what he ought to do, i.e., write well. Nowadays if raw talent is spotted then the minders take over and groom them for their day of reckoning. And then what happens? The writer becomes conceited and fails the real test of a writer: to keep at one’s art as a carpenter does with his carpentry and a mason does with his masonry, i.e., to write even when one is lost and uninspired.

To be published or not to be published doesn’t matter now, sadly, after so many rejections. The only down side is that I have lost faith in the process and the maxim, “Great nations and civilizations produce great books and produce and nurture authors to greatness.” The playing field isn’t level anymore, to use a cliché, and today not many novels that have been put through the get-famous-first-and-then-publish books would merit a second look. I have abandoned such books after the first few pages. They are unreadable. No wonder their authors don’t have the guts to attempt a second book, and resign to the tag of “one book wonders.”

As for “writers aspiring to greatness” I would counter, “Are there any writer in this category in the modern world?”

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