Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Dilemma: To Be or Not to Be a Vanity Author

This is me reading my poem "Welcome to Kala Ghoda" at the Kala Ghoda Festival. A journalist covering the festival, rather ingenuously named me "Middle-aged poet in a Nehru Jacket." (Photo: Gangadharan Menon)

The Kala Ghoda Festival is in full swing and there are discussions galore and not enough time to attend all of them, as most of them are going on continuously, co-terminously (pardon the use of this official word, but I like to sound serious.). So, I am confused as to what to listen to and participate, and what to leave aside.

My significant moments at the festival were spent in the company of writers, poets, friends, caferatii, and many familiar faces spring to life and offer a peek into their lives, their art, their views, even their politics.

In a discussion about "Literature and the Media" Vijay Nambisan asked if we have any right to expect the media to write about literature. True, the number of book reviews have been dwindling, there isn't coverage of literary events, and if at all there is some coverage, it arose from some controversy or the other.

Anil Wanvari of was vocal in that writers don't need the mainstream media but can get themselves published through online media. Of course, I know there exists online publishers who would publish your book for $ 200 for 10 copies, then you can sell them, make a profit or loss and go back for $ 200 worth of books, depending on whether you are making a profit or loss. But where would this lead the writer? How will he feed himself assuming he doesn't have a rich uncle who has given him millions of dollars to pour into such ventures. Will it bring him name? Will it bring him money? Will it bring the bitch goddess success to his doorsteps?

This is, sort of, misguiding young authors, I must say. Let's say they pay to get themselves published. What after that? Do they get any publicity? How do such novices market their books? How do they get into the mainstream media, considering that all the pundits would be sneering at them for being a vanity author (I have coined this phrase to mean all authors who pay for being published.). Authors in a hurry can become vanity authors but their books will be poorly edited, if at all and those friends who bought the books because "Mr. Vanity Author" is a friend won't read the book. Result: zilch!

So Anil Wanvari's rather revolutionary idea doesn't hold. Sorry, sir, but the idea of being read by fifty readers is not the idea that every writer has in mind. It's fifty million and not just fifty they have in mind, and the royalty should run into millions too. Is any writing effort worth it if not for the dream of millions and adulation from the society in general?

I found Vijay Nambisan's ideas more concrete. He said that literature should hold a mirror to society. I have firmly believed it should. A truthful mirror should reflect society as it is or at least should be a parody of it. Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels created wonderful characters who reflect sterotypes of society and weren't totally in the phantasmal realm.

Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre took a pro-establishment stance when she said that media did subsidise advertising for plays in their columns and that the government also took pains to promote arts. But is that enough? How many Indian authors can claim to live from writing alone, and not from moonlighting as writers? How many authors receive a grant like Yann Martel did to write a novel from the Canadian government?


Anil said...

John thank you for reacting to my comments. if you give me your email. I will send you and email response to your doubts to your self publishing. thanks. Anil Wanvari

John said...


My email address is

I am rather skeptical about online publishers because they ask for money upfront and they, mostly, don't have any distribution network.

Let me know if you have any new ideas/contacts/leads that could help struggling writers, such as yours truly.