Saturday, December 08, 2007

What's Wrong with Indian Fiction Publishing?

Hmm (am feeling a bit defensive here), a discussion on Caferati provoked me to make the following observations, and here it is for your reading pleasure:

The Indian book publishing industry has been stagnating because it is plagued by the following maladies (I am stating it rather bluntly because my novel hasn't yet been published, and, right now, am not very confident that it will be published, but that's another story):

1. Shortage of good book editors. I mean, not only to edit books, but also to commission books and mandate a writer to do their best. Sonny Mehta of Alfred A Knopf is famous for pursuing lazy authors to finish their works. It is rumoured that he moved in with Douglas Adams in order to make sure he finished his book "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish."

2. Need to improve quality of Indian books. Open an Indian novel in English and you will find the most atrocious typefaces, blurred text, cheap paper, cramped lines, unmatching start and end lines, even lines in the folio. All nightmarish when compared to the simple elegance of books printed abroad. Moreover, Indian readers have been used to quality Western books and find Indian books lacking.

3. Inability to develop good authors. While Monica Levinsky can write one sensational book, and Shahrukh Khan can write one sensational autobiography, India needs to find and encourage writers who can, at least, author one good book in a year and pay them well for doing that. Well, unfortunately, that has not been the case. Except, perhaps, Shobha De, there hasn't been a prolific author of the Barbara Cartland, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Jackie Collins and, for that matter, John Updike variety in India.
4. I know of an author friend who blasted her publisher and publicist for failing to organize a reading for her book before Yuletide, because that's the book-buying peak time. Here you would be lucky if the publisher decides to organize one reading each in the metros, and give some publicity.

Given some good editing, good publicity, and however small an advance, Indian writers can and will produce good books.

However, as Rajat says, stay away from anyone who asks for money, even to read your novel. (I am of the firm view that they should pay you to be entertained by your book. If they aren't, they don't love their jobs, and you will hardly trust a publisher or an agent who doesn't like his/her job.) Well, you have done the hard work and it's time they paid you and not the other way around. In fact, anyone asking for money is suspect. So also is anyone not offering to pay you anything for your efforts. They could entice you with promises of stardom and immortality, but then they don't know what literature or literary effort is all about.

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