Friday, December 3, 2010

Men’s Fiction Rules India

Indian men are reading, and writing for their brethren, and how! Already well-acclaimed across the globe in the genre of literary fiction, Indian men seem to have now taken a fancy for commercial fiction too. Authors like Tuhin Sinha, Ashwin Sanghi and Mukul Deva, have treated subjects like politics, war stories and historical fiction and are up there on the circuit. At the same time, fresh voices like Abhay Narayan Sapru, a Special Forces major with a novel on Kashmir Ops, and Hemant Kumar with his evocatively titled book, Prey by the Ganges, seem to be the names to watch out for.

Interestingly, the rest of the fiction world is largely a women’s market, especially, the UK and Europe. A notable exception is United States, but then the US is such a huge and evolved market that almost everything works there. An out and out women’s book like Eat, Pray, Love is as huge a hit as say, a new John Grisham novel.

Men, worldwide, seem to prefer non-fiction tomes and have a special affinity for biographies. It’s not as if Indian men don’t—the success of Gurcharan Das’s The Difficulty of Being Good or P V Rajgopal’s The British, The Bandits & The Bordermen has largely been possible because of the male readership. What makes Indian men different though, is a variety of factors, demography being an important one. A major chunk of Indian male readership is young and hence hasn’t graduated to the meatier non-fiction titles. Also, being culturally rooted and living in a country where everything is in a constant flux influence the reading preferences of the Indian male reader.

A sucker for good plots like his counterparts across the globe, one valid criticism that the Indian male reader of commercial fiction has to live with for now is his less than connoisseur taste in language. Equally to be blamed would be the Indian publishing industry which is only too happy to pander averagely written works to him, which he laps up, till as long as the plot is engaging enough. That’s where publishers, editors and the newly formed literary agents need to play a more active role. For, if the Indian male writers are to leave their mark on the international commercial fiction scenario, just like their more elitist literary fiction writing cousins did, they need to certainly spruce up their language skills. Who knows, with a more literary and lyrical style, they may also get the women readers hooked on to their suspense/mystery/political thrillers!

Shobit Arya is the publisher of Wisdom Tree and can be contacted at and Some of the books mentioned in the article are published by Wisdom Tree.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

India at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2010 - Report for IANS. Published in The Tribune and Other Media.

Frankfurt Book Fair will never be the same again. This is no doomsday call. Well, almost not, but any regular to the most important book fair of the world will tell you that the characteristic buzz of the fair is weaning away, and the change, this time, seems irreversible. Technology is taking over in a big way and 3-D book converters and interactive pen devices are catching the fancy of book publishers. ‘Apps’ seems to be the magic word and the book, as we know it, is ready to reinvent itself as a multi-dimensional experience. This, coupled with the international slow-down and currency wars has ensured Frankfurt was leaner, though thankfully, not necessarily meaner.

A little away and a little spaced out in time from the centre of all this, which happens to be the international hall, where a handful of Indian publishers like yours truly dwell for six days annually, is the Indian hall. The ambience there reflected the tendency of Indian publishers to resist change, though we did have publishers like DC Books who were showcasing Wink, their new e-book reader and Karadi Tales, who are planning digital downloads of their audio-books, trying to keep pace with technology. Under such circumstances, a session on the success of mythological fiction from India seemed awkward to me, but not to the Western world still smitten by the land of snake-charmers and chillums. As the Swiss agent who represents us said, ‘We, in Europe, want to read books which have the flavour and mystique of India.’ And I thought we were trying to break the stereotypes and showcase the new India to the world. Well, I guess, it is not just the Indian publishers who resist change.

The German Book Office (GBO), Delhi did a praise-worthy job in organizing events—from matchmaking sessions with publishers of the guest country Argentina and the art book publishers of Germany, to guided tour of the German children’s book publishers, to book launches with authors like Bulbul Sharma and Mita Kapur—it was quite an eclectic mix of business and pleasure. It also organized an India-special pull-out with Publishing Perspectives, a trade journal that has a show-daily edition. Akshay Pathak, the director of GBO, Delhi was upbeat on the Indian participation and the enthusiastic response to his endeavours.

More in keeping with the concept of ‘New India’, it was the STM publishers, known so, as they represent the fields of Science-Technology-Management which accounted for the largest representation from India this year. Eighteen such publishers, including the likes of Jaypee Brothers and NCBA Exports represented India in the special hall assigned for STM publishers from across the world. So from children’s book publishers like Navneet to specialized publishers on Islamic books like Goodword Books; from the legendary UBS Exports to printers like Gopsons and from education publishers like Vikas Publishing to the Central Reference Library of Kolkata, the Indian representation at the Frankfurt Book Fair seemed to be as diverse as the country itself. Quite unlike the un-diverse and cultish cuisine preference of Indian publishers—they flock the Indian restaurants all the time.

Did you say resistance to change? I didn’t!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Nothing is personal, everything is personal

"The author-publisher relationship is more like a patient-doctor relationship—for one it means everything while the other is just trying to do his job", i found myself blurting out to a very nice, wise-with-age lady, who apparently had a terrible experience with her first publisher (and frankly not so great experience with us either till now, but i am determined to change that.) Just like a school-kid, my tongue was in the process of sneaking out from between the teeth, realising i may have crossed the line, when i saw her nodding and gently acknowledging, "yes, you are so right." With great relief, i let the tongue roll back into its place.

Now, my family doctor is a great guy and we get along like good friends. Come to think of it, we actually do consider each other a friend. It doesn't mean though that I don't have to be a part of the queue to see him or he doesn't charge me money, or i take tele-prescriptions from him at the drop of a hat, but it does mean that i almost always get the right advice and when i do call him at an unearthly hour, he is there for me. Most importantly, when i go to consult him, i get his undivided attention, which all his patients get too. The catch-word here is mutual respect, i don't cross my limit of expectations and he continuously tries to empathise with my situation.

I must confess it is easier to be a good patient than to be a good publisher. Expectations on the other side, more often than not, are high. You are constantly being judged and a fine line divides a friend-for-life and an enemy-for-life. Okay, okay, i exaggerated for effect but you get what i mean, don't you? My solution— remain true to yourself and empathise—usually everything falls in place when the intention is sincere and the thought process clear. And if you feel there is a difference between what you can deliver and the other side expects, recommend him to a super-specialist. At least my family doctor does that, and it works !

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Knowledge without Arrogance

Arrogance is just about tolerated with resentment even when there is a great master sharing eternal wisdom in its guise. It's worse when there is a genius on the other side throwing it at us, at times willfully because he knows he can get away with it, and at other, unconsciously because of the eccentricity which is usually married to exceptional brilliance. Now imagine, arrogance with roots in mediocrity. You can't have a better recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, unaware of the presence of one or both in us, we continue to cause hardships to ourselves and the people around. Even if we were to discount the concept of being a humble life-long learner, we must at least do a reality check on our competence and skills. People in Indian publishing have been living in a sort of an island, not really ready to change and sharpen their skills, even when faced with an opportunity, or worse still, a dire need to do so. As is the case with most of the ills, ego has a major role to play here too. We, in Indian publishing — writers, publishers, editors, sales and marketing people et al, seem to have inherited ahankaar from certain characters of Indian mythology, not ready to learn from the examples of as great a character as Ravana, who despite being full of knowledge succumbed to arrogance.

So before it's too late, let's drop the ego and remain faithful disciples of life and till we reach that stage, let's take it on, let our ego-crashes catapult us out of our mediocrity. No fun in being an empty utensil and making a lot of noise.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Remaindered books killing Indian publishing!

Remaindered books killing Indian publishing!

Tue, Jan 5 12:23 PM

At some point or the other, you may have bought books from one of those 'UPTO 200% OFF!' (forgive the exaggeration) sales at your neighbourhood bookstore. You saw a colourful, glossy imported book at Rs.300, the cover price of which was $20, and gave in to the temptation, only to find later that it was high on effect and low on substance. If given a second chance, you may not even want to spend 100 bucks on it.

Here is the behind-the-scene story of how that book reached the bookstore. Warehousing and distribution facilities in developed countries like the US and UK are outsourced. Once a book has outlived its relevance - a children's encyclopaedia published a couple of years back or a coffee-table book done a few autumns before - local sales become negligible and it begins costing the publisher a considerable amount of money to keep such a book in stock. What he does then is remainder the book, which essentially means that he invites glorified 'kabadiwalas' (scrap-buyers) from countries like India and offers them such stock at throwaway prices.

So a book with a cover price of say $15 is offered at something like a 50 cents. There is a mad rush of people who gleefully participate at the Remainder Book Fairs across the globe and bring back container loads of such books.

But did anyone ever give a thought at what cost? Firstly, such cheap imports are a setback to the local publishing industry and thus, to the indigenous writers, illustrators and photographers. They snatch away opportunities from local talent which are richly deserved. Not to mention, the loss to the national economy, as the book hasn't used Indian paper, printers or binders. Since book imports don't attract any excise or customs duty, it's a loss-loss situation for the country.

Also, not knowing exactly what is happening, sincere on-the-fringes readers get put off by reading such books and actually lower their book buying. The worst part is that this whole circus breeds corruption. Having got excessive margins, some suppliers bribe librarians and book purchasers, causing rot to a system which ought to be a pure facilitator of knowledge.

The solutions are simple. At the policy side, the government should apply anti-dumping laws on book imports - any book which hasn't been published or reprinted in the same year as it is being imported shouldn't be allowed to enter Indian shores. Also, just as we can't export a book for less than 40 percent of its listed value, similarly, a book shouldn't be allowed to be imported for less than 40 percent of its cover price.

Till all that is achieved, we can fall back on our wonderfully discerning and patriotic reader to never buy such 'cheap' books!

(Shobit Arya is the publisher of Wisdom Tree, an independent Indian publishing organisation. He can be contacted at

Shobit Arya