Friday, September 10, 2010

How Pancham Yadav Got Published

(Pancham Yadav, 11, A shy, imaginative boy who wrote his first story in kindergarten, Pancham likes to draw as well as write. He created his own comic strip called Phoenix Man when he was 7. Pancham also plays the guitar, drums and keyboard. He is the youngest member of his school’s editorial team and helps edit the school magazine and newsletter. His fifth-grade English teacher first suggested that he try to get published.)

The Booker wannabes are getting younger and younger. Now a whole battalion of child novelists have hit the market, says NERGISH SUNAVALA

IF YOU consider yourself a good writer but weren’t published between 6 and 16, blame your mom. Child authors are being churned out at a furious pace and leading the charge is an army of doting, determined mothers who have an unwavering faith in their child’s ability. Occasionally, you might come across a bewildered father, a lone straggler at the back of the battalion.

Fifteen-year-old Anshuman Mohan’s book Potato Chips was published by HarperCollins in May this year. He says his mother, Sheetal Bagaria, is like his personal PR agent. She would go to bookstores while Anshuman was in school, and compile a list of publishing houses, then come home, Google their websites, read their submission guidelines and start sending out copies of the manuscript. When Anshuman got bored or distracted, as 13-year-olds tend to, she would find ways to keep him motivated. “He had so many other things to do that he would slack sometimes. That was when I had to a be a really good cook and make meals he liked and put it in front of the computer and say, please Anshuman, write for five more minutes.”

Bagaria is bowled over by her son’s peppy, occasionally humorous, often cheesy, Chetan Bhagat-style of writing. When Anshuman missed class to promote the book, Bagaria would tell him, what is the use of learning about Einstein, when you can be Einstein? “I believe in starting from the top instead of climbing up the stairs,” says Bagaria. “I told him, you don’t need to participate in essay competitions, start from the top by writing a book.”

Neena Yadav has a lot in common with Bagaria. She preserves everything her 11- year-old son Pancham Yadav writes, even the ‘make-a-sentence exercise’ that Pancham gets assigned in school. The door of his room is covered with mundane paraphernalia, but each seemingly insignificant object holds a special significance. The printer cartridge stuck on his door is the first cartridge he changed, the bottle cap is from the first bottle he opened and the whitener ink is — you get the drift.

Pancham’s book, The School Ghost, will be published by Leadstart Publishing later this year. His book is a Secret Seven sort of adventure story set in the West. When people suggest that he focus on India, he replies, “If Danny Boyle can make Slumdog Millionaire, why can’t Pancham Yadav write about kids in the West?”

Pancham’s writing may be good for his age but he cannot hold his own against adults who write for a living. He believes that publishing houses and readers should make allowances for children and not expect a “perfect copy”.

Sayoni Basu from Scholastic Books has read many manuscripts penned by child authors. They receive around eight manuscripts written by children every month, up from one every two months, four years ago. “There are parents who really feel their children’s work is the best in the world. I feel like telling parents ‘read some more books,” says Basu. She believes the mad dash to get published at an obscenely young age — a six-year-old in the UK just got a contract for 23 stories — is a growing trend. “I suspect that sooner or later, some publisher is going to realise it is profitable to publish children’s manuscripts whether or not they are good,” she says.

That day is already here. Vanity publisher has published three books by child authors. Rabindranath Nambi chose to get his 13- year-old daughter’s first book self-published because she worked on the book for two years and he wanted to reward her persistence. He let her design the cover and then surprised her with a copy on her 12th birthday. He even bought personalised copies for all her friends. Nandhika Nambi screamed in delight when she opened her last present and saw her name on the cover.

The initial cost of publishing the book was somewhere between Rs. 15,000 and Rs.20,000, more copies can be printed at an additional cost of Rs.150 per copy. Nambi wanted to hire a literary agent to get the book reviewed by a mainstream publishing house but he says they asked for Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,000 just to read the book.

Nandhika became a mini-celebrity in school after her book was published, but her father sensibly explained that the book was rejected by mainstream publishing houses and he had to pay to get it published. “There is no point hiding these things,” he says. “One day, the child will realise the truth.”

When Nandhika’s second book was also rejected, she was terribly upset. “I told my dad not to self-publish the second book but he convinced me not to let it go waste,” she says. Her dad says he might help her publish two more books but after that she is on her own.

While Nandhika struggles to get published by a mainstream publishing house, Samhita Arni, 26, wonders if she peaked too early. Arni’s first book, Mahabharata: A Child’s View, was published by Tara Books when she was 12. “Even today, I’m trying to live up to the expectations that writing a book at 12 created,” she says. Arni is less unidimensional than other child authors — unlike the rest, she has experienced failure. She describes the horror of promoting the book abroad where she was lumped on the same panel as Shashi Tharoor, simply because she was also an Indian author. The book shaped Arni’s life but she is painfully honest — “I lost friends, suffered heartaches and grew up too fast,” she says.

Geeta Wolf at Tara Books remembers Arni writing and drawing on the back of envelopes and on loose sheets. Arni’s mom had to make sure that no scrap of paper ever got lost. A stark contrast to Tishaa Khosla — today’s teenage author who writes for a target audience and launches her website in tandem with her book so fans can get in touch immediately.

The Guptara twins, now 21, based in Switzerland, co-authored their first novel when they were 17. Suresh and Jyoti had an online presence even before they were published and now they have their own literary agent. They were so confident their book would create a buzz that the fanfare didn’t catch them off guard. “We thought it was about time,” says Jyoti.

Anshuman also has a website with zooming graphics and jazzy music, which costs around Rs. 30,000 to develop and was unveiled at a party. His friends brought their laptops and they all opened the website at the same time to celebrate the launch.

Asked if he can be followed on Twitter or Facebook, Anshuman ponders the question and then quips, “It’s a good idea to have a (page) where (fans) can follow me.”

-- Tehelka