While literature is a widely a talked about subject, hardly anybody looks beyond the final product. For authors starting out though, the business of getting their work published could turn out to be a nasty experience. In today’s publishing industry, there are two offshoots -- mainstream publishing houses and niche publishing houses. While the former is open to fiction, non-fiction and experimental texts, the latter is specific in its purview. Explaining that this opens up opportunities for mainstream publishers, Karthika VK, publisher and chief editor at Harper Collins, India, said, “We end up catering to the reader in two ways where we publish a book knowing that this is what the reader wants and attempting to shape that taste. To that end, we publish a literary novel and back it up at a literary festival. Knowing that we make sure people get to read good writing is satisfying.”
Speaking at the panel discussion on Publish or/and Perish, Karthika represented one half of the argument while Urvashi Butalia, director of Zubaan, a feminist publishing house represented the other half as Festival Director, Prof Vijay Kumar of Osmania University moderated the argument at the fourth edition of the Hyderabad Literary Festival (HLF).
As much as mainstream crosses the paths of niche publishers, both women clarified that they were both two sides of the same coin. Pointing out that there is a growing sense of community, Karthika added that publsihers in fact share manuscripts that don’t get picked up for publishing. Agreeing, Urvashi said, “You feel unadulterated joy when a book that you can’t publish gets published by someone else without feeling jealous. Especially, when it comes feminist writing, the ultimate thing is that it should see the light of the day.”
However, common problems faced by both are the rise of the self publisher, a lack of solidarity and recognition from the government of publishing houses as an industry.
Pointing out the lack of solidarity in Indian publishers which would strengthen them as a body, Urvashi Butalia cited an example of how when the newsprint price was going up, news editors and people got together as a body and fought with the government to put controls on the price of newsprint. “For publishers, the cost of papers has now gone up from 30 to 50 per cent. We have still not been able to get together strongly enough to persuade the government to put controls on the price of paper.”
Revealing how publishers have been fighting for recognition as an industry for years, she added “If we are recognised, we become eligible to take bank loans. Right now we can’t get bank loans as publishers. It is an unusual business which you are trying to run without finances. It is very difficult to operate and authors really need to understand the inner workings of how publishing works.”
The effect of self-publishing on publishing houses is also starting to get debilitating. Nevrtheless, Karthika agreed that self-publishing done the right way can work for an author who doesn’t want to go through the rigmarole of a publishing house, but stressed on the importance of an editor.
“Like the West, there may be new community coming up where freelance editors who are very competent and good at their work will start backing the self-publishing industry. If you market the book well online, then it’s going to be noticed and people will spread the word.”