Many readers have been writing to me, asking certain things they have been curious to know about the publishing business in India, and also about books in general — and where we are headed towards. As I had said earlier, readers’ mails are what I really look forward to and cherish every time my column appears in this paper.
I try to answer some of their questions and, ah yes, I really like the effort they take to write to me. So here they go:
1) The number of books especially novels that are published in
A: ‘Aren’t very good’ is an understatement; most of the books published here are not even worth the stationary they are written upon.
2) Have the criteria for getting books published changed over the last one decade?
A: Without doubt. These days every scum you can imagine sells; mediocrity is the catchword. Also, thanks to lack of serious reading, the mindset of the urban youth is not programmed to read anything heavy; a reason why Paulo Coelho or Arindam Chaudhary sells well. Since there is a clientele, mediocre writers churn out stuff to cater to that segment. And publishers are not complaining as at the end of the day they do not want empty coffers.
3) But is it not a passing phase?
A: For bad of course, the change is happening. In the last one decade numerous national and international publishing houses have set up shop here and since there is an acute lack of good writing, and since these publishers want to tap the local market, they have to publish and promote run-of-the mill-work, which is in abundance, thank you.
4) Is the profile of the author and the target audience more important than the story?
A: Yes. Sometime back, I read about an invitation by a publishing house which said, only men and women who are good-looking need to submit their manuscripts. Also, if you are a celebrity or someone who walks the ramp or is a starlet or is the daughter of son of a celebrity chances are that not only do you get published but you are on Page 3; and, yes, sell voluminously, too. And quality? What is that?
5) Has language taken a backseat, by becoming more simple and easy to understand? Are we catering to the SMS and email-addicted public?
A: Language has not become simple and easy, but it has deteriorated to the nadir that it is a tease to whatever intelligence we are left with. You can blame so many things: fast life, gadgets, television, nuclear families, lack of enthusiasm to appreciate quality literature…
6) What are the main criteria these days that publishing houses apply when choosing manuscripts?
A: Saleability. Cookery, self-help, children’s colouring books, beauty and fitness guides… these are money-spinners. And the no-nos are quality books penned by I Allan Sealy or Mukul Kesavan.
7) Any new writer who has shown promise of becoming
A: Rushdie? Why should anyone try to imitate him? Leave him alone. Develop your own style. To answer this query, there are many who are promising, but, then, who is interested? Sad it may sound, but that is, guys, the truth.
Talking about Salman Rushdie, here is what one of my friends had to say: “This ‘genius’ has not published anything readable since Moor’s Last Sigh. What he has been painstakingly churning ever since is either verbal vomit or constipated prose. The way things are going he may not need fatwas from the Iranians, but some good lover of literature might do the honours.” Well, I hope this would not happen, but what Rushdie can do is to take a break and write something other than his nubile wives, divorces and libel issues.Sunil K Poolani
-- The Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle