Languages: Defining Indian Publishing Scenario

Indian language publishing is indeed very rich already, but there is no limit to the untapped talent pool of yet-to-emerge bestselling authors. India is gifted with a huge number of extremely talented writers & poets and regional language publishers are giving voice to this talent pool.

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V C Thomas, Publisher, V C Thomas Editions shares the status of regional language book publishing in India in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

V C Thomas (Photo Credit : Dr. P V Shihad)
V C Thomas (Photo Credit : Dr. P V Shihad)

AABP: Brief us about your publishing house?

VC: V C Thomas Editions is the culmination of my twenty-five years career in Malayalam book publishing. The house intention is to set best practices garnered from my exposure with national and international book publishing. At V C Thomas Editions, we publish Fiction, Non-Fiction and Children’s Literature. The major imprints are V C Books for Malayalam language and Recto&Verso for English titles. We are currently publishing circa 25 titles a year.

A curated translation program will be the near term focus of the publishing house whereby introducing lesser-known national and international writers with a distinct voice. Narrative non-fiction will be another focus celebrating the extraordinary life and life experiences of ordinary people. One such inspiration is the life story of Vijayan and Mohana, a couple who, by selling tea from a stall at Kochi, have travelled to six continents and over 25 countries. World Tours of Vijayan and Mohana – First edition of the book was sold out in four months. Presently discussions are progressing regarding English, Tamil and Konkani Editions.

We recently published the first part of a trilogy by Steve Anderson (translation by Kabani C.), noted Scottish writer (Madhyavenal Avadhikkalam), a trailblazer in translation publishing of popular mainstream fiction.

Upcoming books this summer include Malayalam translation of Ray Bradbury’s ever-relevant dystopian fiction “Fahrenheit 451”; the international bestseller – Silence by Erling Kagge (Norwegian ) and Malayalam translation of the Japanese classic fiction Kokoro by Natsume Soseki.

AABP: Being a regional language publisher, what are the opportunities and setbacks?

VC: In Kerala, we have an evolved reading culture contributed by various factors such as a high literacy rate, social reformation, rural library movement, to name a few. As in every Indian language markets, pricing the book to be as accessible as possible to all readers is a challenge. Also, gaining more young Malayalam readers is a herculean task.

AABP: What is the current state of Indian language publishing in India?

VC: Overall, Indian language publishing needs a facelift in all aspects, especially in production quality. There should be more transparency in the author-publisher interface. In most cases, the author is paid for the print rights only. In these fast-changing times, digital and audiobooks are gaining currency and publishers should be ready to part with a fair share of the income generated by these sales.

There is also the wider issue of infringement of copyright of the author by the publisher in the Malayalam market.

AABP: How can this be improved?

VC: Authors should be reinstated as crucial players to the entire book trade. Authors should be considered like the water used to grow the harvest. No water – No grain.

AABP: Are Indian language publishers taking rights trade seriously?

VC: Sadly no. Even Indian publishers with scores of authors with excellent works that can travel nationally and internationally are not keen to promote their authors in international and national level rights forums.

AABP: Do you think without a well translated and edited English text, there is no point in pitching regional books to other languages, including other Indian languages as translating from one language to another is not easy. Why/Why not?

VC: In Malayalam, we have direct translators with all the major Indian languages. Even then, a well-translated sample and well-written book pitch will help decision-makers for acquiring rights.

AABP: Now with the New Education Policy and a thrust on teaching in mother tongue in early school, what opportunities do you think have opened up for language publishers?

VC: Well written and well-produced children books are the need of the hour.

AABP: Language publishers are now getting noticed due to online sales and ebooks? How far has this been successful?

VC: Covid, of course, affected the retail market in Kerala as elsewhere. But Covid brought in a sea change in the Malayalam book market, one which will change entirely the face of book publishing. Over 70% of book sales went online, mainly thanks to efficient delivery systems of Amazon, Flipkart and a host of other online bookstores, including www.indulekha.in and www.vcbooks.in and WhatsApp / Telegram groups.

Till Covid, Malayalam was predominantly a market controlled by publisher owned bookstores. It started with SPCS –the authors cooperative establishing their own retail outlet chain National Book Stall, across the state of Kerala. Unlike in other territories, online stores are blessings to readers and especially authors. Bibliodivesrity will prevail. Eventually, the authors will be better positioned to gain better treatment from publishers, thus nurturing the entire trade.

Another interesting development connected with the Covid impact is how the door-to-door booksellers (constituting a significant force behind day-to-day book sales in cities and bus stations and in day trains in Kerala) adapted to the situation and evolved appropriately.

Here is an instance of winning over the limitation: Shukkur Pedeyangode, from a remote village in Kannur, a poet and novelist who used to sell books door to door. He also used to run a tea shop and a monthly book discussion forum called varantha chayappedika charcha, where he invited well-known authors for book discussions. Covid made him jobless and deprived of facilitating these book discussions. Banking on his contacts and social media presence started ‘Shukkur Book Club’ – where he recommends one book a week. From this he gathers orders and dispatches books direct to the doorsteps of customers.

AABP: What about audiobooks? How have they helped language publishers?

VC: Audiobooks are still at a nascent stage. Very few authors are being benefited as most digital rights are already owned and controlled by publishers.

AABP: What according to you is the scope of language publishing?

VC: Malayalam is a growing market. Bibliodiversity will definitely boost the scope of Malayalam publishing. We have wonderful authors, but they need better treatment from the publishers’ side.

AABP: What future do you foresee?

VC: As more and more publishers discover the value in Malayalam, including Eka Westland and Manjul Publishing House, the future is bright. Both houses have already built an impressive list. And with even more major media houses taking Malayalam publishing seriously, this trend will continue to gather pace.

AABP: Anything else you would like to add…

VC: Latest developments in the purchasing habits of book lovers has made publishing more challenging and exciting per se. Social media is influencing consumer decision making and hence warrants for more consideration on the part of publishers.


Mehta Publishing House

Mehta Publishing House is one of the largest publishers of Marathi books – original & translated in India.

Titles published by Mehta Publishing House: Approximately 150+ every year, with 3000 backlist titles.

Famous published authors: V.S. Khandekar, Ranjit Desai, Anand Yadav, Vishwas Patil, Shivaji Sawant, V.P. Kale, Shankar Patil, D.M. Mirasdar, Vyankatesh Madgulkar, Shanta Shelke, V.S. Walimbe.

Marathi translations of famous foreign authors: Robin Cook, Michel Crichton, Mario Puzo, Alister Mclean, John Grisham, Irving Wallace, Dan Brown, Jeffry Archer, Fredrick Forsyth, Lee Child, Earl Stanley Gardner, Brad Thor etc.

Countries from which rights are bought: Mainly from UK & USA.

Popular genre: Fiction

Bestsellers:

  • Yayati by V.S.Khandekar : (4,00,000 copies)
  • Swami by Ranjit Desai : (3,00,000 copies)
  • Vapurza by V.P.Kale : (5,00,000 copies)
  • Sambhaji by Vishwas Patil : (1,00,000 copies)
  • ZombI by Anad Yadav : (75,000 copies)

Popular books translated into Marathi: Wise & Otherwise by Sudha Murty (1,00,000 copies); Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mehmoody (50,000 copies); Lajja by Taslima Nasrin (25,000 copies); The Magic Of Thinking Big by Dr. David J. Schwartz (25,000 copies); Parv by S.L. Bhairappa (15000 copies).


Kalachuvadu Publications Pvt Ltd

Titles published by Kalachuvadu Publications every year: 70 approx, with 973 backlist titles.

Languages published: Tamil.

Countries from which rights are bought: France, Welsh, Spain, Paraguay, Turkey, Taiwan, Israel, Iceland. Finland, Flanders, Australia, U.K., U.S.A., Ireland, Sri Lanka, Norway, Portuguese, Argentina, Canada, Island, Russia and Latvia.

Translation rights sold to: English (U.S.A. and U.K.), German, Galician, French, Korean, Czech, Polish, Hebrew, Chinese, Turkey and Italian.

Popular genre: Fiction

Bestsellers:

  • Oru Puliya marathin Kathai by Sundara Ramasway (1,25,000 copies)
  • Mathorupagan by Perumalmurugan (25,000 copies)
  • Amma Vanthal by Thi. Janakiraman (25,000 copies)
  • Vekkai by Poomani (20,000 copies)
  • Vadivasal by Si.Su. Chellappa (50,000 copies)

Popular books of which rights were bought: One Hundred Years of Solitude (Thanimaiyin Nooru Aandukal) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, My Name is Red (En Peyar Sivappu) by Orhan Pamuk, The Old Man and the Sea (Kizhavanum Kadalum) by Ernest Hemingway.


DC Books

The landscape of Malayalam Publishing: 3000 titles published in Malayalam every year

Titles published by DC Books: 1500 including re-prints every year

Countries from which rights are bought: Spain, France, UK, Germany, Russia, Latvia, Netherlands, USA etc.

Translation rights sold to: English, French, German, Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada.

Popular genres: Literature, including fiction, autobiography, memoirs.

Bestsellers:

  • Dhaivathinte Chaaranmar-(53,000 copies)
  • Karthavinte Naamathil (25,000 copies)
  • Attupokatha Ormakal (12,000 copies)
  • Prathi Poovankozhi (10,000 copies)
  • Kapalam (6,000 copies)

Number of books translated from French to Malayalam: 40+, including The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir; Anyan (Outsider) by Albert Camus and Vaakkukal (Words) by Jean Paul Sartre

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