Monday, July 14, 2008

Scratch thy back, get noticed

By Sunil K Poolani

A disconcerting although dominant lobby is functioning overtime in the (figuratively speaking) surreptitious and serpentine corridors of publishing in India. Disquieting, yes, but it seems this trend — the dividing line between publishing and journalism getting almost imperceptible — is here to stay.

There is hardly anything erroneous when these two streams of creativity (ahem) getting together to enrich each other’s causes, but that is not the case, if some recent incidents or trends are anything to go by.

In the last few years, publishing has grown magnanimously, and there was, and is, a crying need to find good people to run the show. Journalists, disgruntled or not by seeing the apathetic profession they are in, filled that need, to some extent. And this ilk now dictates what should get published and what should not; akin to choosing your favourite columnists or contributors for newspapers.

That is still understandable. What becomes an eyesore is that these writers, who do moonlight for newspapers as reviewers or consultant editors, dictate which book should be promoted and which authors should get interviewed. It’s a clique, nebulous at that. They, today, make or unmake new authors; they decide, whatever the quality of the book in question may be, whether to denigrate or promote it. And their brethren in other publications too follow suit, lest they will fall off the radars.

To quote one, there is this one group in Mumbai (like in Delhi and Kolkata) comprising mostly journalists, who churn out books like they write 600-word pieces for newspapers. The team endorses each other’s work, provided you scratch their back and, in turn, you can be happy to see your name and picture in print.

What happens when one ‘reneges’? Oh, hell, you would be branded a misfit, untouchable… and this ilk will ensure your book and the ones published by the authors friendly to you get denounced or, worse, ignored.

This, if you are a writer. Well, if one is a publisher, who is an ex-journalist, writer of sorts and a reviewer of books, then you had it. Ask me. Some time back I reviewed a book of a journalist-writer’s novel. I did a judicious job, but the writer was quite upset that I did not praise him to the skies, so he shot off letters to the editors in the paper, shouting, I should be, from then on, debarred from writing for the paper in question. The novel sank without a trace, but the simmering feeling, inside the ambitious novelist, still exists.

Now, this would seem to be a complete debacle of the cultural zeitgeist. Since I had a journalist background every friend of mine in that profession has, I have just realised, a book in her or him. So, can I ever say no to them when they suggest that I should read their magnum opus and publish it? No. But what if the work is bad and it will burn my pocket deficiently? (Of course, they will never part-compensate if the book would bomb.)

Then you go on and say no. Then you had it. The coterie will ensure that there wouldn’t be any interviews with the authors of the books that you would eventually publish and they will, in their wisest capacity, try to stop any reviews of the probable books of others.

Now I know what an incestuous world means and journalism is literature in hurry.


A friend of mine in publishing told me this story. His company has been publishing an astrologer’s book for something like twenty years. A new editor took charge and she wanted to scrap the soothsayer’s books everlastingly as his popularity was on the decline. So she shot off a letter to the astrologer: “Dear Sir, as you would have, of course, anticipated, hereafter we would not require any new books from you. Have a nice day!”

-- Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle


Anonymous said...

Dear Sunil K.Poolani
Your essay on our present day writers shows a deep understanding of their psychology and attitude
towards society.Whatever they write should be an instant hit and it seems they have a well organized
racket to push their work to the market which you must be well aware of.On top of this there is also
plagiarism to which many writers are addicted with and thereby maintaining an image that it is their
own work.But why specifically blame these poor writers when it is the same every where right from
small offices to big companies.This is a competitive world and people want to be recognized in their immediate surroundings.Whether it is a street locality,an office or a big company people maintain a circle of friends and want to be favourites vying each other among their respective groups.The real reason behind their actions or motives is to get recognizition somehow or the other and money,etcetera will follow in line.Anyway your essay is very enriching and gives a clear picture on our present day writers.
An unknown friend,
Gopi Krishna

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