A session after my heart begins in the chilly afternoon at the SBI Auditorium in the Kolkata Book Fair: V. Karthika of HarperCollins India, Vaishali Mathur of Penguin Random House India and Bikash Niyogi of Niyogi Books debate the challenges of publishing in today’s India, moderated by Esha Chatterjee, CEO of BEE Books.
“Publishing is a thankless job,” says Ms Chatterjee jokingly. “Writers write and blame us for rejection. We get all the blame!” So why go into the line, then?
V. Karthika mentions the “doers”. “We like making things happen. We work with some of the brightest minds in the country. A book stays with you. It isn’t an image you see for a while and move on, you inhabit a space for sometime. It can change you. To be part of that process is a privilege, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. And if you can make it work commercially as well, you’re golden!”
How, then, does a publisher realise the potential of a novel before it is published?
Vaishali Mathur responds, “I rely largely on instinct. I look at the X-factor in a story: something that is different, something that is interesting.” Do market surveys influence one? “Not me. I look at it as a reader- what would a reader find exciting?”
Is it more difficult to be a printer, or a publisher? “Printing and publishing is related,” says Mr Niyogi. “It is easy for me, inhabiting both worlds. For us, book is a lifeline. The electronic publishing presents a challenge to the publishing industry. There is a war there, there is a threat,” says Mr Niyogi.
Do authors understand publishers, and the publishers understand them?
How does this love-hate relationship work?
“The important thing is that the writer and the publisher must be on the same page about what the book must be like,” says V. Karthika. “If you are the right editor for the book, you’ll know what is best left alone. Ask the author, if you’re very sure and clear on the changes. It works as suggestion and counter-suggestion.”
“I wouldn’t disagree with Upamanyu Chatterjee at all- he’s so good-looking, I’d agree with everything he said!” quips Ms Mathur. On a more serious note, she says, “Convince me, or get convinced. It’s as simple as that.” A lot depends on the relationship between the two.
How have the challenges of publishing in India changed?
“How many books are coming up?” asks Mr Niyogi. “Houses may close down because they are sellers. Ultimately, they have to cater to the buyers. If you cannot browse books in stores that are failing, you are automatically missing out on latest trends, which sets you further back.”
“The entire process is fraught with trouble,” says Ms Karthika. “A lot of time and energy is spent on basics. The money, once passed through retailers and distributors, takes about 5 months to reach us. Cash-flow problems are a major issue. We’re not considered to be a full industry, which is ridiculous.”
But there is hope. The panelists believe that as the numbers go up, things will change. The sale of e-books are going down, because they simply are not as good and as fun to read.
How does a reader get to know about a book?
With the coming of e-retailers, if people are not going to book stores, how do my readers become aware of new books? “The World Book Fair was an enormous success. It was an open-air library where people came and looked through books in their thousands.” says Ms Mathur.
Are there good writers out there?
“There are great writers out there,” says Ms Karthika. “If you can pay them enough to keep producing the great work they’re producing, there is no dearth of material.” Ms Mathur turns to self-publishing. “I’m the kind of person who believes that everything should happen, so self-publishing is a very viable option.”
“We talk about ‘good writing’ very glibly,” says Ms Karthika. “It changes with genres and times. Each one has a place within different segments.”
“The readership of Indian authors is a serious concern,” says Ms Mathur, “My own children read more foreign authors than Indian ones. There is a dearth of certain segments, such as young adult fiction.
How important is social media for marketing nowadays?
“It is a very big part of what we do- without it, it is impossible to be heard,” says Ms Karthika. “Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all have their own niches. People will not even be aware of you if you are not there.”
Do publishers need to be there?
“I personally spend one hour on social media a day pretending I’m not selling books, but that’s all I’m doing,” says Ms Karthika!
“We are not people who like to put ourselves out there,” says Ms Mathur, “But I’ll be damned if people don’t hear of my book. If I believe in it, I will sell it!”
Censorship And Publishing
“We do breach boundaries,” says Ms Mathur. “If they do not break any laws, we publish those that ‘cross the line.”
The session that many an aspiring author was waiting for comes to an end on that note.
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