What matters more: Writer or manuscript?
Keen observers of contemporary Indian literature would agree that most recent books have depended heavily on promotions and marketing. But if publicity rules the roost, does the manuscript get its due?
 
It is no surprise that a handful of successful authors have come to dominate the literary scene in India, but there has been no serious analysis of their dominant presence.
 
For instance: If one were to look at the overall sales of novels and non-fiction titles by Indian publishers in 2016 and so far this year, some 50 known faces account for about 80% of output. All the self-published authors, along with many debutants and unsuccessful authors, share a meagre 20 per cent market share while their aggregate number may range in the tens of thousands.
 
The privileged class of writers include the likes of Amish Tripathi, Anuja Chauhan, Ashwin Sanghi, Shashi Tharoor, Ramachandra Guha, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh -- as also the popular fiction writers like Chetan Bhagat, Ravinder Singh and Durjoy Dutta. On the other hand, there are writers you have never heard of and are unlikely to hear about in the future.
 
The reason? The Indian publishing industry is a highly manipulated area of popular culture where social media trends and following have come to decide the number of copies a book sells.
 
This ultimate fate of the book -- it's market value -- is also the deciding factor for many publishers to select the subjects and authors of their non-fiction titles and their final verdict on a manuscript. What the publishers gleefully call "Selling Points" is responsible for the cauldron of mediocrity that contemporary Indian literature finds itself in.
 
And it is certainly not that there is a lack of quality writing. A significant number of good books are ignored by headline publishers and never see the light of day. Not to forget, it is these "homes of bestsellers" who had even rejected Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi, whose gross sales are now in crores of rupees.
 
They like to play safe, refrain from experimentation, count on authors with successful past records and many-a-times ignore potential creative talent due to what they call "market pressure". But is there actually a compelling market pressure? Or, are the readers being merely fed the books that, according to the publishers, have strong "Selling Points"?
 
While it may again be a case of "What came first: The chicken or the egg?", one thing that holds ground is the exorbitant marketing that headline authors use. With marketing budgets of these "privileged authors" running often into lakhs of rupees, the reach and visibility of first-time or less popular authors is consequently marginalised.
 
But what matters more: The author's profile or the manuscript?
 
Poulomi Chatterjee, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Hachette India, said that it largely depends on situations, adding that when it comes to non-fiction, the profile of the author is very important because you can't do an economics book by a politician if he or she is not really an expert at it.
 
"If I am doing a book on e-commerce, I would have to have someone who is able to study the business or is an insider. But he has to be an expert, I cannot have an historian do it. There, the better known the name, the better is our selling point. The author's profile is very important when it comes to non-fiction," Chatterjee told IANS.
 
In fiction, she said, the profile doesn't matter that much. It's not like men cannot write about women. What matters is the story, the style and the craft of the writer. Chatterjee also said that if there is a successful published author, it is always a plus point and that increases the prospective sales of the book.
 
"But if you are a true reader, you would also be experimental in your reading and look out for debut authors. You would be interested to know whether what is being said in the blurb is really true. I am a book buyer, I am a reader and I want to read a new voice. So I don't think it matters all that much," she maintained.
 
Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee, former Director of the National Book Trust (NBT) and former editor of "Indian Literature", Sahitya Akademi's bi-monthly journal, shared a more honest view.
 
He said that the manuscript, for him, is paramount and no matter how popular the profile of the author is, an ideal publisher should never compromise with the quality of writing and the potential of the manuscript.
 
"But I am afraid that happens quite frequently these days. Sometimes we tend to have books by popular figures which could have actually been written much better by somebody else, who is not as popular but is an expert in the subject," Bhattacharjee, who is now spearheading the editorial operations of Niyogi Publications, told IANS.
 
He also maintained that there is a lot of ignored writing talent in the country. The only reason they are not being able to surface -- and readers are not getting an opportunity to read much finer writing -- is because there is an "over-emphasis" on the profile of the author.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    COMMENTS

    Ramesh Poapt

    3 years ago

    right!!

    We prudes feel assailed, but we'll win in the end (The Funny Side)
    These days people are willing to stand up for every subset of sexual identities -- except for one group.
     
    What about prudes? Our rights are trampled on every day.
     
    Several times a week, something shocking comes on TV and my children shout "Not suitable for Dad!" and I have to race out of the room before kissing, pillow talk or worse appears on screen.
     
    I was at a school drama once at which two performers on stage fell on each other passionately, causing everyone below the age of 12 in the audience, plus this columnist, to make a disgusted "Eewwwwww" sound. Children have taste. They know that some things are great in public, others aren't.
     
    Prudish adults exist too. This writer took his family to a poetry slam once which opened with a poem so pornographically detailed that half the adults in the audience boo-ed out loud -- although I have to admit the teens present grinned and took notes.
     
    Prudes get a bad rap because we only make the news when one of us says something stupid. In Japan recently, a professor named Shigeaki Iijima explained why women could never be allowed to join the country's army: "In actual combat, if they are under attack from artillery shells or bombs, there is a chance their clothes could be blown off."
     
    Clearly Mr Shigeaki does not understand the physics of bombs. But in his defence, weapons which seem to do nothing except damage female clothing pop up regularly in video games and anime cartoons, not to mention every action film ever made.
     
    One of my colleagues claimed that someone had once actually developed a bomb that blew off clothes, leaving humans naked, but Google revealed he was remembering a 1980 Maxwell Smart comedy movie called The Nude Bomb.
     
    Life as a prude is hard enough in Asia, but it would be intolerable in pro-pornography places such as Japan, North America or Europe, my colleague said.
     
    Earlier this month the Canadian government praised pornography as it "allowed young people to learn about the different spectrum of sexual expression". This colleague, who is a Japanophile, said this implied that lucky Canadian children will be able to learn about things such as "tentacle sex" (do NOT write and tell me what that is).
     
    Will prudishness die out completely? "No," said one of my science correspondents. "Porn-loving societies see an increase in erectile dysfunction, a loss of interest in sex, and negative birthrates. In contrast, prudish communities grow."
     
    He showed me evidence. "Sex is going out of fashion" was the headline of a US report summarising an academic study in August last year. A huge survey by The Lancet said that people in the UK were having steadily less sex, and Swedish researchers found the same in their country.
     
    He also had figures indicating that people in conservative, prudish, family-minded regions (Africa, South Asia) have a positive birth rate. This is somewhat ironic, since prudes are assumed to hate sex. In fact, we don't dislike it. We just would rather it was more hygienic, less visible and completely silent.
     
    In fact, we don't even like talking about it, so I'll shut up here. Frankly, the whole subject makes me go ewwwwww.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    India may become 2-4 degrees C warmer, but heat deaths are preventable
    Scientists who studied India's 2015 heatwave that claimed 2,500 lives (over 1,700 in Andhra Pradesh alone) concluded that the region was likely to see intense heatwaves once in every 10 years, instead of once in every 100 years.
     
    The next year turned out to be India's hottest ever, since record-keeping began in 1901. And earlier in 2017, summer got off to an unprecedented intense start, as heatwaves in late March swept through nine states.
     
    With 13 of India's 15 hottest years on record occurring since 2002, intense heat appears to be the new normal. US President Donald Trump dismisses global warming as a hoax, a money-making industry, and a concept created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive and has now pulled his country out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
     
    But India simply cannot afford to ignore the new health and livelihood challenges global warming will present to "people who are no strangers to warm weather but who will now face more severe heatwaves intensified by climate change", as Dileep Mavalankar, 59, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health, India's first public health university in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, told IndiaSpend in an interview.
     
    If heatwaves are perceived as a disaster-like situation with the potential to kill thousands, heat deaths are preventable.
     
    In 2014, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation pioneered South Asia's first Heat Action Plan, as IndiaSpend reported on May 31, 2017.
     
    "Combining public education, extreme heat warnings and efforts to safeguard the most vulnerable populations is proving to be a good template for other cities and states to follow," said Mavalankar of the Heat Action Plan that his colleagues and the Natural Resources Defence Council are supporting. Excerpts from the interview:
     
    Q: How reliable are heatstroke mortality figures in the media, and why do these fluctuate so much from year to year?
     
    A: Heatwave fatalities are not at all well documented in India. The fatality numbers that the civil administration releases to the media are well below the actual number of people who succumb to excessive heat. One reason for this is death recording in our country is far from perfect. People who have not been directly exposed to the sun but have been exposed to high ambient temperature can also suffer heatstroke.
     
    In Ahmedabad, where we have studied the number and cause of fatalities in detail, we know that about 100 people die of all causes on any given day in summer. During the heatwave of 2010, the city's five municipal hospitals attributed 65 fatalities to heatstroke during the week. But we estimated that the heat caused 800 additional deaths in that week.
     
    Q: The initiative of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, which you are supporting and guiding, combines measures to prevent heatstroke and strengthen public-health responses to heatstroke victims. However, of what use is it to tell poor people to take shelter, when they may be living on the road with no resources to protect themselves?
     
    A: We are aware that the urban poor are extremely vulnerable to heatstroke. In Ahmedabad, we proposed that municipal gardens be kept open between 11 am and 5 pm, a time when they usually remain closed to the public, with the idea that homeless people and working class people with jobs in their vicinity would find shade and a place to rest under trees. For the same reason, we requested the administration to keep the city's 45 night shelters open during the day.
     
    Over 900 water facilities were also created. An initiative driven by the mayor was asking paint companies to donate white paint to coat the roof of poor people's houses. White-painted roofs reflect more sunlight, which helps keep interiors cool.
     
    The municipality has not accepted some of our suggestions, such as our request to supply extra water during heatwaves. A lot of municipalities across India supply extra water during religious festivals, and we believe it is even more important to supply extra water at a time when people need it to protect their health.
     
    We also proposed that the municipality should not issue major work contracts after April. Also, labour contractors should be asked to employ workers in split shifts, such as from 6 am to 11 am and from 5 pm to 8 pm. We were told this is impractical to implement.
     
    Q: Densely populated areas are said to be generally hotter than rural areas. What temperature difference have you recorded between rural areas and urban areas?
     
    A: In summer, we have found that Ahmedabad records temperatures that are usually 2-3 degrees Centigrade higher, even up to 4 degrees higher than the surrounding areas because of the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon whereby concrete buildings and traffic enclose the heat in a limited space. Rural areas around the city with more vegetation and water bodies see lower temperatures.
     
    However, the majority of residents of urban areas spend less time outdoors and have more resources and utilities (such as water, cooling devices, hospitals) to rely on for their wellbeing. Heat fatalities can happen in both urban and rural areas. Recently, we have also started pilot testing a heat action plan for rural blocks of Rajasthan with the help of Unicef.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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