Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Re-whew! The Inside Story (Published in All About Book Publishing, Apr/May 2010)

A publisher’s ear instantly perks up at the mention of a book review, especially if it happens to be a new, independent one, devoid of deep pockets or deeper clout, trying her best to wrestle her way into the brisk and, er, rather brusque industry.

With no pretty face to hold the cover page up and say pretty things about the book on a TV screen, and no merry jingles accompanying the brand name echoing on FM bands, book publishing can be challenging proposition.
One would think the battle was half won once the books were done — after months of insomnia and last-minute hiccups; after restless wanderings and pleadings with distributors, when you eventually managed to get the books into the stores; and you accidently heard a stray reader or two fawning over the production quality, oblivious to your presence or the guitar strings stirring in your soul.

Alas, not so. The mammoth task begins now. How do you get people to buy the books? How do you promote them without further erosion of your already shallow pockets? (After all, you got into the business for the love of books alone. Who ever thought about ‘finances’?) How do you get people to look at your books amongst a thousand, if they don’t happen to be your aunties, uncles, cousins, or bosom pals?

Book reviews, of course. Book reviews in well-known papers and magazines would do the trick. The discerning readers scan the book review columns diligently and make their choices.

Thus begin the countless bristly interviews, and attempts to reach and entice the journos to look at your product. Some are uncomplicated; they do not deign to register your existence! Others nod and grin effusively… and then the body disappears mysteriously, leaving behind that Cheshire Cat grin still staring you in the face, in your dreams and waking hours, making you wonder what happened.

‘We’d love to do them, but there’s a huge backlog you know…’
‘You can send the books to us. Then let’s see…’
‘When did you send them? […] Oh, did we say that… ?’
‘Yes, yes, the review was supposed to be carried last week, but we didn’t carry the books page at all… No book section this week either… Perhaps it’ll be included next week …’

You’re going round in circles, calculating your mounting expenditure on courier services — sending out gratis copies to potential reviewers, panicking at the absent review every time.
Well, if there’s such a backlog, and so many books, why don’t the papers simply carry reviews twice or thrice a week instead of once? Or, perhaps make it an everyday feature?
There’s no money in it. The big ones take the lion’s share of the space anyway.
And what about us? The small independents?
A shrug. There’s no money in it, I say. It’s not sport, is it?
So what? It’s a beleaguered area, alright. Perhaps more in need of attention than Indian Hockey. Who will do it if not the industry-wallahs? Book review space, as good journalism, is shrinking in the newspapers like Pushkar waters. It’s suicidal!
A shrug again. That’s the way it is.
Ah, of course. That’s the way it is because that’s the way it is. That’s the way the industry wants it; and nobody’s interested. Right?
I hope not.


  1. Divya, the only option for Indian publishers is to encourage book review blogs, as in the west. We will also have to think of sending PDFs for review, instead of schlepping books via couriers and post.

  2. Hi Devaki,

    That would be more convenient. I did try it. Sadly though, unless it's a blog by some well-known personality, nobody takes it seriously. It comes to the same thing.

  3. I am planning a website for a book sellers and suppliers where e will publish book news