Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A New Publisher's Angst

(Published in 'Book Link' November 2010 issue.)

You could be a literary mosquito buzzing around annoyingly in their ears. Who knows you aren’t one? Who cares? Who are you anyway?

Of course, you had always heard about the difficulty of penetrating the literary circles. What you hadn’t anticipated was its impossibility. No matter how wildly you flail your limbs, you’re still the Invisible Woman.

Mission Impossible II: the distributors – the so-very-polite, so-very-cordial gentlemen towering over you. You realise when you meet them in person, that ‘towering over you’ isn’t simply a figure of speech.

Either they don’t register your presence at all, or, if they do, they tell you they cannot help you. Very nice books, ma’am. Great show. Houseful. Thank you for visiting.

Never in your life will you get a better bug’s eye view, or be caught in a truly Kafkaesque situation, right to the ‘e’. That’s the moment of epiphany, when you fully comprehend the meaning of a hitherto confounding word.

Eventually, you do manage to get some of the formidable gentlemen to accept your books.

Respite at last?

Of course not.

These Laputa inhabitants constantly need their attendant flappers! It’s impossible to function without. Did you ever guess that Swift was actually thinking about the Indian book distribution system when he produced his magnum opus? Quite a farsighted gentleman.

The horrors of seeking book reviews in the mainstream media are pretty familiar. Ah, the media. Beg, borrow, steal their attention somehow. The question is – how? How do you finally stop being a beetle and go back to being human again?

You’ve faced a million and twenty humiliations from every quarter already. You have waited on book shop assistants, been lectured on what kind of books to publish by people who can barely spell their name, eaten at the CPWD canteen while waiting for your papers to be processed on the second floor, stood in long queues, swallowed your pride and waited in offices where the person is question never bothered to offer you a chair.

And while you’re still trying to wipe away your tears, huddled in some corner, there’s good news. Media attention – finally! You happily grab the paper and read the article – and then re-read it not so happily again. You’ve been listed as a new budding publisher of young adult fiction books.

Amazing, really, considering you’re yet to publish one. So far, you’ve only been thinking of venturing into that genre.

And one fine day, somebody with all the right management skills, insists on advising you about publishing.

‘Have you ever heard of crowd sourcing ma’am?’

‘Afraid not, sir.’

‘Groups of people online, you know. Why don’t you upload your novels over there and ask for their suggestions?’

‘I’m sorry?’

The omniscient gentleman nods, smiling.

‘Turn it around to their tastes. They should buy.’


Are you listening, trade publishers?

Erm… excuse me, Mr Seth, I’d like Lata Mehra to marry Amit Chatterjee, please!

Ah well … a bizarre industry you say?

You can say that again.