Getting a traditional book contract is seen as a prize for great writing and a sure shot at becoming an household name. And for some cases in the past it was true. But when you see the capacity for traditional publishing versus the number of writers having something to say, there is a wide disparity between supply and demand. Does it mean those manuscripts passed on by these publishers are worthless and not worthy of being read? Most probably not.
World over books are published by various means, be it self publishing, vanity publishing, traditional and now partnered publishing and hybrid publishing. Does the method of publishing a book have a bearing on whether it’s good, not so good or bad? May or may not be. Remember, Deepak Chopra’s first book was self published and so was 50 Shades of Grey! And there are several cases in India too.
A book gets a home based on the times and what is accessible to the author, I feel. If you are confident of the story, know the readers’ pulse and can connect with them somehow, the book still stands a chance of being a success. There are umpteen cases to prove this point. Success of a book doesn’t depend on how it was published. It depends on how it is distributed, promoted and marketed. Today with the worldwide web and online distribution of books, the process is more democratic and markets are easily accessible. A book can be ordered from the remotest corner and there can be certainty that it will be delivered. The barrier to traditional publishing have been high, keeping out many an Indian tale. Have they expanded the market or connected with readers or supported libraries and engaged with the book eco-system in any way? The answer is clear to those who may care to see.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic of 2020-21 has seen more manuscripts floating around and fewer takers from the traditional houses in India. A CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) reports that 79 percent of the jobs in publishing were lost. Now we hear that Amazon Westland, has closed shop and I wonder if more such news will be heard. On the other hand some new jobs were created by new entrants or those who changed their business model to suit the current state, like it happens in a typical economic cycle.
The winds of change have been blowing for a while in the publishing world with new technology in medium and delivery of books, demographic realities, political compulsions and all the other options for us to spend time on. Sometimes it appears to me that more writers have emerged than readers! But then I see Chetan Bhagat and the millions that his books have sold and I’m assured that there are readers for a variety of writing and genres. We just need to find them and direct our message to them. Easier said than done, right? Maybe not.
Hence, you see publishers now asking writers for their digital footprint, their area of influence and how much time and money they are willing to pay to market their books. Expectation that publishers should pick up all the tabs is irrational when the risk weighs heavily against them. The support they provide in bringing out a book costs money and one can stretch the wallet only that much. To think that being asked to pay up for creating visibility for your own book is a sellout or immoral is not correct. Nothing succeeds like success and the red carpet can be rolled out only when your books have sold large numbers and created a wide reader base. Just like in acting, creative arts and other individual pursuits, one needs to plod along, do what is expected and wait for a lucky break while improving one’s creation.
Luckily, there is a solid ecosystem that is already in place in India and across the world. Amazon and other online book delivery platforms have made the marketplace more democratic and accessible. There are service providers to promote the book online and on social media (whether it translates into sales is still a moot point), book clubs, influencers and communities do entertain all kinds of writers and connect writers with readers.
All said and done a book is like any product that is created and needs to be marketed well and like toothpaste or face masks or luxury cars, they need to be promoted too. To think that being asked to work on your own product is some kind of con or come down or selling your soul is missing the point.
If you as a budding author are unwilling to support your own book and give it a chance for it to succeed why do you think anyone else should? Also the different means of publishing that has emerged which requires the author to participate equally is a win-win to have your dreams come true and give your story a chance to succeed. So whatever mode in which a book is published the changing trends provide an equal field for both parties to collaborate and share the risk. What is wrong with that?
Written by Lalitha Ravindran