Eves in Tamil publishing!
In the ever-evolving publishing industry, the number of women as publishers for books in Tamil has been steadily growing. Janani Rajeswari. S met four such women publishers, who are working towards making voices heard. Excerpts.
More and more women have started working and becoming financially independent and publishing is also seeing a surge in women leaders. Here, we present four such women in Tamil publishing.
“We focus on women-centric themes”
Says Ival Bharathi, freelance journalist cum author, Nam Pathippagam, Chennai
The COVID period came as a blessing to Ival Bharathi. Initially, the idea of bringing out a friend’s poetry compilation gave her the idea to get into publishing. Nam Pathippagam’s first venture was a set of four books including two poetry books and one on child care.
“We focus on women-centric themes. But we also accept works by men, if the subject is indeed appealing,” explains Ival. Nam Pathippagam is around 80 books old. Ival also loves working with children through storytelling, kindling the reading habit in them and so on. A published author herself, she has 16 books to her credit including poetry, children’s stories and short stories.
“My connection with poetry goes back to a long time. So, we also encourage first generation women poets and writers,” says Ival. She also adds that the development of AI, if used wisely, could be of great help to publishers.
‘Nam Kids Pathippagam, a faction of the publishing house with a different imprint, has brought out around 20 books so far. “I believe that it’s important to bring changes in children to ensure a better future,” she adds. Ival points out that some of her poetry books and the children’s books have been illustrated by kids who are aged between five and 15 years, including her son and daughter.
“Our unique work is a bilingual book called ‘The Story of Six Friends’ penned by my daughter, Niveditha Venba. We roped in 50 children who have done illustrations for the book,” she adds.The book has been taken up by a Bangladeshi publication for translation. Ival adds that they are looking at bringing out more bilingual books for children. Nan Pathippagam is also looking at doing an event to demonstrate how to bring out a children’s book in 24 hours.
On women in publishing…
Ival also points that women into publishing have a very clear vision about their content. Also, it’s only apt if women express their feelings through writings. “Women are natural multitaskers. So, coming into the industry would bring in a lot of changes. Also, women are more connected with kids. Thus, the more women writers, the more children in the family will be motivated to read,” she opines.
However, she adds that women who are single-handedly into publishing in Tamil Nadu are just a handful. “They are examples of women writers who have turned publishers or couples who have opted to started publishing houses.” Only if there are equal number of women in the publishing field, the industry will change. But what stops them?
“Women entering the publishing field need to be multifaceted. Also, a basic understanding of the how the industry works, will make them self-sufficient and help troubleshooting,” she adds.
“There are practical difficulties involved in travelling to the farthest of places in Tamil Nadu hosting book fairs. The other reason includes the dependency on distributors to market the books. Also, a sound financial backing to bring out quality books. There is definitely a great scope to achieve more if we are financially support from the government,” she adds.
“The first edition of Chennai International Book Fair held in January was a great platform for women publishers to connect with publishers from other countries,” she says. Ival also has a number of translation books into Tamil from Iran, France and Turkey.
“We are breaking sterotypes”
Says Nivedita Louis, social feminist historian and author, Her Stories, Chennai
In the book ‘Vilangugalum paalinamum’, a female marine biologist talks about how sexuality works in the world of animals. So, Her Stories, registered as an NGO, looks at breaking stereotypes: women can’t write on serious themes.
“This is the general notion that women can only write poetry or short stories. However, Her Stories does not publish poetry work and has done only two region-centric short story collections. Our themes include travelogues, humour, biology, feminism, self-help and so on,” says Nivedita.
Three years ago, Her Stories started as a Facebook page during the COVID period with posts mainly related to women. So, why this name? Nivedita explains: “History has always been written by men about men. So, we are left wondering where exactly are the women?” It all began with posts about the lesser women from various walks of life across the globe. Seeing the response to these posts, Nivedita felt that they should create a platform for these women to express themselves.
Thus, they created a webpage for the readers to voice out. This brought together established and new women writers on board. One of Nivedita’s friends, Geetha Illangovan wrote the series ‘Geetha vin Pakkangal’. “Seeing the overwhelming response to the series, we wondered why not publish them as books,” adds Nivedita, who started the firm with two others.
In July 2022, Her Stories published a set of six books including Geetha Ilangovan’s series renamed as ‘Dupatta Podunga Thozhi’. In February, Her Stories launched 21 more books. Nivedita also points out that there were also meetings with mostly women online to discuss various aspects related to women.
Being a woman-led publishing house, Nivedita talks about challenges that came their way. “It was very difficult getting a stall during the recent book fair as we were very few books old,” she explains. But at the Chennai International Book Fair, they got in touch with publishers worldwide. “We brought out a catalogue for the first time for the International Book fair. Since there is no one to mentor you, we learnt the nuances of the business ourselves,” she adds.
“Also, at the Chennai Book fair, people were curious about our artwork which was in rainbow colours essentially highlighting our vision,” she adds. However, they received a great response in places like New Delhi Book Fair as a feminist publisher.
Nivedita explains how running the business has been through the trial-and-error method. “We are completely blank when we are new to the industry. So, we start with quick-fix solutions, in case of issues.” For instance, in case of the book ‘Dupatta Podunga Thozhi’, Nivedita is keen on the book reaching school and college goers too. So, it has been given to a distributor, who sells the book at a lower price as a ‘School edition’.
As a publisher in Tamil and targeting a niche is indeed a challenge. So, selling at least 1000 copies is an achievement. She adds that some NGOs started taking their books to tribal children. “It’s a means of spread awareness among women through women writings,” she says.
“More women should come into children publishing as they are more sensitive to the needs of the children” Says Nivethitha Jeethaman Krishna, author, Emmozhi Publishers, Coimbatore
“If you are publisher, it’s assumed that you are a man based out of Chennai,” says Nivethitha who hails from a small village called Dasarapatti near Udumalpet. After marriage she moved to a village called Rajapayyanchavadi near Mannargudi. It was a mother’s quest for ideal board books with basics in Tamil for pre-schoolers that motivated Niveditha to become a publisher in 2020. Emmozhi has around five books to its credit.
“So, without any touch of the city, I started Emmozhi. The pandemic period did not allow me to physically sell my books. But I could do it online through Instagram and people started noticing my books. It was also the time when parenting groups on social media were becoming quite active,” she explains.
The next challenge came in the form of finding printers who could design board books in Tamil. She adds that till then people were depending on board books from North India or the Chinese market. “Till date it’s challenge to make the printers understand what I want the books to look like online,” she says.
“Also, I started the publishing firm when my son was barely a year old. Even today, I haven’t been able to take it up as full-time activity owing to family commitments,” Nivethitha says. She recently moved to Coimbatore and sees more opportunities.
Nivethitha started out with basic books in Tamil for pre-schoolers. She feels that it’s important to create an interest for reading in Tamil language at a very young age. However, her mother tongue is not Tamil.
Now, they have books on shlokas with audio books and three-letter word-based puzzles in Tamil. Emmozhi has come out with a unique collection of stories based ‘Aathichoodi’ called ‘PaapaKadhai Kelu’.
“The most popular one is by the Tamil poetess Avvaiyar. But we opted to do it on the Aathichoodi by the poet Subramaniaya Bharathiar because I feel that his thoughts match today’s social structure. We have picked ten songs and created stories around them,” she explains. Marketing through social media has drawn a lot of parents owing to the uniqueness of the board books in Tamil.
Nivethitha recently turned an author with ‘Thottachinungi Ilavarasi’, which is the firstpaperback picture book for the age group of 5-10 years, whose main character is a fictional Princess called Kundavai.
Nivethitha feels that more women should come into the publishing field as they are more sensitive to the needs of the children below 10 years. “I do see the advent of many women getting into the publishing industry after I started my venture over the last two years. I have also been approached by many women for guidance to start this venture,” she adds. This would ensure the publishing of more quality of books.
“I want to make learning fun for kids”
Says Bharathi Velusamy, Navir Publications, Kovilpatti
Little Sara started her journey through the book ‘Gramathu Payanam’ by Navir Publications from Kovilpatti, a small district in Southern Tamil Nadu. Bharathi, a HR professional-turned publisher’s brain child, the publishing house is just two years old.
“The love for the language made me look for activity and books while homeschooling my kids. Also, some of the books weren’t affordable to everyone,” explains Bharathi, who has taken up unique topics and making reading accessible to everyone. So, she started with activity book.
Her book ‘Gramathu Payanam’ is the story of a little girl, Sara (inspired by Bharathi’s late mother’s name), who visits her native village during her school holidays.
“Generally, the idea is to making learning fun for the kids through the adventures of Sara. Sara picks vegetables, Sara buys fruits at the local market, Sara returns home (Names of vehicles) and so on. The idea of the books is to include different themes and vocabulary associated with them through a single book,” says Bharathi. The character Sara has now become part of a series owing to the growing popularity. Her next book was ‘Mani Yenge’, a one-of-its-kind flap book in Tamil, which revolves around little Sara’s pet going missing.
Bharathi gets her printing work done in Sivakasi. However, the printers were not aware of the techniques to create a flap book. So, she personally sat with them to explain what she wanted. “So, I kept the books with me to check if the quality was good enough and we changed the technique to ensure longer life of the books,” she adds. Interestingly, women illustrators have done the work for the books.
“Our next book was called ‘Uravugal’ which is about helping the children get to know how to address their extended family members. They are not merely aunty or uncle,” Bharathi says. This also included talking about various trees, flowers, jewellery etc, depending on the setting of the story.
She has also done puzzles and flash cards in Tamil using the paper used for creating board books. While attempting board books for basics in Tamil, she has included a rhyme to help the kids learn in a fun way by scanning a barcode with the audio link.
“Actually, the whole experience has been extremely enriching. With zero background in printing, I have been learning with every product that has been launched. Also, each process of printing is done at different places in Sivakasi,” she explains.
Publishing from a small town has its own share of challenges and limitations. For instance, initially it was indeed a task finding sources for marketing. “Social media pages and word of mouth have definitely help spread the word and we sell through them,” says Bharathi. Now, books are available across the globe.
“I have a lot of content, but it’s difficult to bring them out owing to many factors,” she adds. A constant source of motivation is the feedback received from the kids. “This makes me think about creating more content,” signs off Bharathi.