Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why Some Writers Have It So Good

The great Jeffrey Archer, in India to promote his new book:

“Now this all began, well, 34 years ago, when I stopped being an English member of parliament, couldn’t get a job, so I wrote my first book — “Not a Penny more, Not a Penny Less”. Now, I have to tell you, papers all across the world said it was an instant success. I want to tell you about that “instant success”. Sixteen publishers turned the book down. The Seventeenth paid me 3000 pounds. And they published 3000 copies. Only 200 came to India — Not much of an instant success. But when it went into paperback, they published 25,000 copies and they sold them in a month. I went back and said, “Please would you publish another 25,000 copies.” They said, “No no, Jeff, we’d like you to do another book”. “No,” I said, “I’d like you to publish another 25,000 copies.” “No, No!”, they said. “Yes, Yes”, I said. (I) Finally got them to publish 25,000 copies and they sold them in a month. So I went back and said, “I’d like another 25,000 copies.” They said “No”, I said “Yes” and I got another 25,000 copies.”

“Last month they published another 25,000 copies.”

Makes me wonder why it’s so easy for some people and hard for others to break into publishing. Yesterday I had another rejection from yet another publishing company that wanted to bring out a collection of my short stories. The editor said, “I am still enthusiastic about the project, but the economics of the business doesn’t work out,” or something to that effect.

Guess, I should have started out by being some kind of a celebrity, say a member of parliament, and then I would have made it to being an author. Khushwant Singh took the other route; he became a writer and then went to parliament (hmm, didn’t he?). Yes, a Google search proves that he was. I typed “Khushwant Singh, Member of Parliament and clicked, “I am feeling lucky.” I use the “I am feeling lucky” option very often and it works. Do try.

I digress, as I often do. So as poet CP Surendran once wrote, “It’s the age of standardisation, we don’t want to be the ones seen as the loners, the questioners and doubters who stand outside the pack.” We fall in line and say “no issues” so easily, or, our jobs are on the line.

That’s why when Kitab 2008 was organised all the writers who had enthusiastically attended the champagne parties (even fought to get admittance) in Kitab 2007, avoided it like the jaundice. Nobody wanted to be seen as the outcast as I was made to feel. I am so glad I had the company of greats like Indra Sinha who valiantly said, “Just because a friend is in trouble doesn’t mean he stops being a friend.”

Thank God, there are some sensible, humane people around. I am sure Jeffrey Archer would have approved.

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