The Wordsmiths – And the labyrinthine world of publishing.
There is a writer inside all of us. It is more than mere skill, but the need to express which compels many to put pen to paper. If statistics are anything to go by, India has geared up to cater to this urge. With an annual output of 90,000 books being brought out by 19,000 publishers, the country has been ranked as the sixth-largest publishing industry in world.
Despite the suffusion of Indian literature over the past few decades, getting published, for most authors, still remains an uphill task. Countless manuscripts languish in obscurity, unread. Most never progress to the next transition towards publication.
“The basic aim of every author is to be read,” says Rishabh Chaturvedi, Chartered Accountant by day and writer by night. He himself wondered whether his story ideas, that passed by, were mere clouds or had water in them. Together, he and his brother Apurva founded the Mumbai Storyboard Writer’s Group. It was a meeting ground for amateur writers to share and objectively review each other’s work. They began their Litizen blog a year ago, which served as a platform for other aspiring writers. At present, the blog has over 200 writers contributing short stories with thousands of followers reading and critiquing their work.
With the tremendous response the blog generated, the brothers decided to embark on a far greater initiative – that of publishing a book of short stories. Titled Labyrinth – Short Stories, the book is a collection of 15 short stories contributed by authors from different walks of life. Litizen members selected the stories by voting. The highest rated stories were compiled in the book. On Wednesday, the 11th of July, 2012, Labyrinth – Short Stories was launched amidst much fanfare at Crosswords, Kemps Corner.
The chief guests were author/columnist Shobhaa Dé and K. K. Maheshwari (MD, Grasim Industries, Aditya Birla Group). My attendance was mandated by the publishers (“Freeze your Wednesday,” said Rishabh), because a stray dabbling I had emailed them found its way into the book.
I arrived a half hour before the designated time, more as an observer than a co-author. The Labyrinth books were neatly stacked on a shelf, visually greeting any browser/invitee who sauntered in. Large standee posters of the book graced the venue. Shutterbugs hovered, searching for the best placements. The authors of the stories were huddled in a muted congregation before filing out to join the chief guests as soon as they made an entry.
While Mr. Maheshwari wished the writers the best of luck with their future endeavours, it was Ms. Dé who advised the authors to maintain the resilience of character in today’s publishing world. “Writing is a high risk job. If you wanted to play it safe, you became a Chartered Accountant,” she joked, giving an obvious nod to our publishers’s area of specialisation.
She was more optimistic about the future of Indian writers, while emphasising the need to utilise the social media for promotional purposes. “You have Twitter, Facebook, E-books. A lot of authors are self-publishing too,” she said. “When I first started out, I was told that there was no market for women’s books.”
From some other aspiring authors present, I learnt how difficult it is to get one’s work published. If publishers are approached directly, the manuscripts fade away in oblivion. There are no time frames. The recent advent of literary agents in India, a breed inescapable in the Western world, have their large fee to extract. This comes euphemised as “reading fee”, “doctoring fee”, “editing fee”, yet with no guarantee of publication. At best, it only imparts presentability at the work for the publisher’s perusal. Fortunately, my work had not yet traversed that circuitous route – which would aptly be described as a ‘labyrinth.’
As I passed my copy of Labyrinth around for signing, a tiny sentence scrawled above Rishabh’s signature gave me a sense of reassurance – We’ll create many more. The statement was brief and sincere in its expression. There would be more books. Ventures more ambitious than this one. “We’re compiling a second book,” said Apurva. “Get people to contribute.”
After hastily jotting down their ID for submission (firstname.lastname@example.org), I left the venue, exhilarated. Litizen would lead my example. Indie writers would be encouraged. I am just humbled by the opportunity to represent Sophia on stage with the other authors and grateful that our maiden attempt lead to a memorable night.
“I’ll be sending you your copies soon,” said Apurva. “Until then, keep writing!”
I smiled, leaving the venue with a polite nod. It was a good beginning for the older authors. A great start for me. Truly, one man’s occasion is another’s event. And God willing, there would be many more.
SOPHIA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN