Publishing: winds of change

Lalitha Ravindran of First Forays Literary Agency shares her views on the changing face of the publishing industry, specially when it comes to author-publisher relationship.

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After working in Insurance and Information Technology for over three decades and surviving the corporate rigmarole in India and overseas, Lalitha Ravindran made her foray into the literary world as a Literary Agent for fiction and non-fiction books, promoting debut and young authors find a publisher. She founded First Forays Literary Agency in late 2017 which started with a couple of overseas authors who were published in India. First Forays has grown organically over the last couple of years and boasts of over a dozen authors writing in English. The Agency based in Pune, India also handles sale of cinematography rights and translations into Indian languages.

Getting a traditional book contract is seen as a prize for great writing and a sure shot at becoming a household name. And for some cases it is true. But when you see the capacity for traditional publishing versus the number of writers having something to say, there is a wide disparity between supply and demand. Does it mean those manuscripts passed on by these publishers are worthless and not worthy of being read? Most probably not.

What’s important is getting published…

World over, books are published by various other means, be it self-publishing, vanity publishing and now partnered and hybrid. Does how the book is published have a bearing on whether it’s good, not so good or bad? May or may not be. Remember, Deepak Chopra’s first book was self-published and so was 50 Shades of Grey! And there are several cases in India too.

Marketing of book is very important…

A book gets a home based on the times and what is accessible to the author, I feel. If you are confident of the story, know the readers’ pulse and can connect with them somehow, the book still stands a chance of being a success. There are umpteen cases to prove this point. Success of a book doesn’t depend on how it was published. It depends on how it is distributed, promoted and marketed. Today with the worldwide web and online distribution of books, the process is more democratic and markets are easily accessible. A book can be ordered from the remotest corner and there can be certainty that it will be delivered.

The winds of change…

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic of 2020/21 has seen more manuscripts floating around and fewer takers from the traditional houses in India. A CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) reports that 79 percent of the jobs in publishing were lost. Perhaps, some new jobs were created by new entrants or those who changed their business model to suit the current state, like a typical economic cycle.

The winds of change have been blowing for a while in the publishing world with new technology in medium and delivery of books, demographic realities, political compulsions and all the other options for us to spend time on. Sometimes it appears to me that more writers have emerged than readers! But then I see Chetan Bhagat and the millions that his books have sold and so much of the new crop and I’m assured that there are readers for a variety of writing and genres. We just need to find them and direct our message to him. Easier said than done, right?

Publishers and authors need to work hand in hand…

Hence, you see publishers asking writers for their digital footprint, their area of influence, how much time and money they are willing to pay to market their books. Expectation that publishers should pick up all the tabs is irrational when the risk weighs heavily on them. The support they provide in bringing out a book costs money and one can stretch the wallet only that much. To think that being asked to pay up for creating visibility for your own book is a sellout or immoral is not correct. Nothing succeeds like success and the red carpet can be rolled out only when books have sold large numbers and created a wide reader base. Just like in acting, creative arts and other individual pursuits, one needs to plod along, do what is expected and wait for a lucky break while improving one’s creation.

Sales & promotions…

Luckily, now there is a solid ecosystem that is already in place in India and across the world. Amazon and other online book delivery system has made the marketplace more democratic and accessible. There are service providers to promote the book online and on social media (whether it translates into sales is still a moot point), book clubs and communities do entertain all kinds of writers and connect writers with readers and of course YouTube and book influencers have a platform to use.

All said and done, a book is like any product that is created and needs a market. Like toothpaste or face masks or luxury cars, they need promotions. If you as a budding author are unwilling to support your book in having a chance for it to succeed, why do you think anyone else should? Also the different means of publishing that has emerged which requires the author to participate equally is a win-win to have your dreams come true and give your story a chance to succeed. So whether hybrid or partnered provides an equal field for both parties to collaborate and share the risk. What is wrong with that?

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