Reflections of a (charity-minded) former publisher
Blair Williams (BW), internationally known Anglo-Indian philanthropist and former publisher, talks about his life and books, and names his favourite Indian author, in an interview with freelance journalist and fiction writer Rudy Otter (RO).
RO: Blair, you moved into book publishing for a special reason. What were you doing previously?
BW: I was Director Materials Management for AT&T. When I retired in 2000 I looked around for something to do for the rest of my life! I asked myself a question: “How will the Anglo-Indian community be remembered by posterity?” The answer was not reassuring as the only information on the community was written by English or Indian authors who resorted to negative stereotypes. There was a dire need for a more balanced view and I decided to publish a series of books on Anglo-Indians to meet this need.
RO: How easy or difficult was it to set up publishing in the USA?
BW: Not too difficult. I bought ten ISBNs, established a printer and then decided on themes that would be the basis of the proposed books.
RO: How did you organise the business?
BW: After I selected a theme for a book, I set up some basic conditions such as length of article, subject matter and submission date. Using the internet I invited articles from Anglo-Indians who wanted to write on the theme. I also established an international panel of five judges for each book and an editor (one of the judges).
RO: What were your timescales?
BW: Typically I allowed a year for submission of articles. All submissions were emailed to me. I removed their identity, gave them a number and sent them to the judges. Only after the judges had agreed to a final selection did I reveal the authors’ identifications. This took about two months. The finalised list was sent to the editor for editing.
The manuscript was then put in a form acceptable to the printer, checked for errors and formatting and uploaded to the printer’s website. Proofs were checked, approved and the books printed. Editing and printing took about four months. So the whole process ran for 18 months.
RO: How were the books financed?
BW: I paid for all costs associated with the publishing and then donated the books to a charity I had formed to help needy Anglo-Indians in India called CTR (which stands for “Calcutta Tiljallah Relief”). This resulted in the gross proceeds of all books going directly to the charity funds.
RO: Was publishing your full-time occupation?
BW: No. I had started to teach in a University while engaged in publishing.
RO: Did you encounter any problems looking specifically for Anglo-Indian authors?
BW: Apart from my internet appeals I also had an extensive list of authors as I had attended several International Anglo-Indian reunions. I also had a website where anyone who was interested could submit an article.
RO: What terms did you offer to authors whose work you accepted for publication?
BW: For the initial books, I offered an honorarium of $35 US dollars to authors whose work was selected.
RO: How much editing was necessary?
BW: I had an editor for each book. The editing was at times difficult, but I made it clear that the editor had final say in the matter and if the author disagreed strongly they could withdraw their article. Thankfully this happened only twice.
RO: What percentage of submissions did you reject, and why?
BW: Typically we received around 100 submissions each time and selected around 40. The judges, all of whom had literary credentials, did the selection.
RO: You published eight books in total. How well did the books sell?
BW: Each book had a print run of 1,200 (one thousand, two hundred) copies. Two of the first four are sold out and the other two are steadily following suit. The last four are still selling.
RO: Why did you stop at eight books?
BW: I felt I had established a third and more balanced point of view on the Anglo-Indian Community. The eight books were published from 2000 to 2015.
RO: How will your departure from publishing affect your charity work for needy Anglo-Indians in India?
BW: Whilst the sale of the books help the CTR charity, it is not the principal means of fundraising. The charity has branches in Australia, the UK, Canada and East and West USA, all of whom raise funds for CTR. The charity is still continuing strongly.
RO: What advice would you give to people wishing to move into book publishing?
BW: Have a vision, pursue it with passion and do not get frustrated. It helps to have connections and financial resources. In my case financial return was not an issue, but I can see the need for profit in commercial publishing
RO: If you are familiar with the Indian publishing scene, how well do you think it is making its mark internationally?
BW: I think it is doing well and I get several books from Indian publishers.
RO: Did you ever think of linking up with a publisher in India to give your books a higher profile?
BW: Yes I am in touch with Harry Maclure of Anglos in the Wind (angloink.com) to reproduce those books that are going out of print.
RO: Who is your favourite Indian author, and why?
BW: Jhumpa Lahiri. Her heroes are ordinary persons and she imbues them with extraordinary virtues, capabilities and frailties. In this manner she honours us humans as extraordinary creatures who do not need exaggerated embellishments (as in most of fiction) to appreciate and acknowledge our uniqueness
RO: Where could people buy your books? And what are their titles?
BW: Books may be bought from the website http://www.blairrw.org/ctr and they are also sold on Amazon.
Here are the details of books published by CTR Books: Anglo-Indians Vanishing remnants of a bygone era – Blair BW; Haunting India – Margaret Deefholts; Voices on the Verandah – Anglo Indian Prose and Poetry – Deefholts and Staub; The Way We Were – Anglo-Indian chronicles – Deefholts and Deefholts; The Way We Are – An Anglo-Indian Mosaic – Lumb and Veldhuizen; Women of Anglo-India – Tales and Memoirs – Deefholts and Deefholts; More Voices on the Verandah – An Anglo-Indian Anthology – Lionel Lumb; Curtain Call – Anglo-Indian reflections– Kathleen Cassity and Rochelle Almeida; Unwanted – Esther Mary Lyons.
RO: Finally, Blair, What would you say is the impact that CTR Books will have on future generations?
BW: Publishing the books was a challenging and fulfilling experience. I believe these books will make a difference in how the community is perceived by posterity. All books are in the USA Library of Congress, each with a Library control and also in the DeRozio Anglo-Indian Research Centre at the Calcutta University Library in Kolkata. Present and future researchers will have a source of information, and they have already begun to use these resources.
(Rudy Otter’s interview with Blair Williams was previously published by an Anglo-Indian website as follows: http://international-journal-of-anglo-indian-studies.org)