Is it getting easier to get published?

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“A good author is one who has a story waiting to be heard.” Books by debutant authors seem to be clamouring for attention like never before. What has prompted this sudden upheaval of authors or is it getting easier to get published nowadays, finds out Ritu Goyal Harish. To 14-year-old Aradhana, a trip to the bookstore is a nightmare. She scouts racks after racks of books, a host of them Indian authors, most unknown, many claiming to be ‘National Bestsellers’ and still cannot find anything suitable to read. She then walks over to the Biography or Classics section and is compelled to choose from the range available that also means that reading becomes a chore, an activity requiring effort and a dictionary in hand.

Her mother, 40 year old Swasti is in a similar quandary. “It seems as though everyone in this country is a writer and yet, I cannot buy their books because their stories are so similar, so uninspiring. We have grown up reading Salman Rushdie and the Classics, and all my daughter can pick from are chick-lits,” she laments. The publishing industry is going through a period of intensive transformation where readers like Swasti and her daughter (who thankfully has a reading habit) often find themselves at the short end of the stick.

The changing scenario…

The big publishing houses are trying to cut costs – case in point is the aftermath of the merger of Random House and Penguin which resulted in the conglomerate (touted to become the world’s largest books publisher with an estimated revenue of $4 billion) asking renowned Indian author Vikram Seth to return the $1.7 million given to him to write the sequel to ‘A Suitable Boy’ – “in a bid to cut cost and streamline operations” reported a leading Indian daily.

Small publishing houses that have mushroomed in every corner of many Indian cities are willing to take on any kind of work as long as they are not demanded a royalty or services such as editing, promotions and marketing. The publishing world has further been inundated by a generation of self-publishing. Anyone who publishes his or her work, understands a little bit of the industry and becomes a publisher, promoting more writing that, sometimes, cannot be termed good literature.

When we asked Dr Sen* (name changed on request) who recently published an anthology of short stories through a Pune-based publisher about his book, he candidly remarked that he loves to write and feels wonderful to share his book with friends and relatives.

Price war…

In a world that is governed by economics, paradoxically it is the economics of getting published that has made it easier for anyone to get published. Books by first-time or relatively unknown authors are being sold for as little as Rs 100 while known authors don’t retail below Rs 350 – 500. “This is tricky because small publishing houses won’t invest money in editing, re-writing or proof reading a book. They won’t hire an expert who comes at a premium to guide the author while the book is in writing, which may take 1-5 years. They will simply put your book out there!” says Urmila Dasgupta, from Purple Folio, a literary agency in India. She has worked for Penguin Books India, Pearson India and Oxford University Press as an editor for over a decade.

Quality comes at a price….

So while an established publishing house will be discerning about the book they wish to promote due to the costs involved in improvising and packaging the book as a product of some literary standing, smaller companies don’t care for ‘literature’, and are willing to cut costs just to give the author the pleasure of being ‘published.’ Authors with talent also get short-changed, because they are not given any royalty or support services (such as marketing) when they choose to publish their book through smaller companies.

This is where quality goes out of the window and the only criterion for getting published becomes the ability to write, anything. “Anyone who thinks has a story to tell is writing and every writer thinks they are the next award winning author,” Urmila laments.

Swasti hits the nail on the head when she says, “Books are getting cheaper to buy, but the quality of writing is getting worse.” In her own experience, Urmila says there is no market for literary fiction. Non-fiction, self help books, books on spirituality, etc. have an established market and even the big publishing houses lap up these subjects.

The biggest drawback of easy publishing is that the quality of writing is going down day by day. “The reader is in trouble because they’re spending their money buying books that are not written well (because publishing houses don’t spend money on the product).

Knowledge creation is not paramount anymore and readers are at the losing end due to this,” she says.

Urmila fears that the ‘get published easily’ boom is resulting in the death of good quality literature. “Good stories, good literature is losing out in this period of transition.” According to her, the only way out of this conundrum would be when authors get conscientious and realise that the editorial services offered by a company of repute are indispensible for a quality book, which would also mean that a lot of budding authors might not get published.

So while it is definitely getting easier to get published, the quality of the book should also be given equal, if not more, importance than the mere gratification of being known as a ‘published author.’

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