The new breed of writers seems to define success by the number of fans or followers they have on social networking sites. A look at some of them who have reaped the Net benefit irrespective of the quality of work
Have you read Never Let Me Go? No, not the one by Booker-prize winning Kazuo Ishiguro that was made into a film three years ago. This one is by Sachin Garg, the author who makes up one half of the duo that founded Grapevine India Publishers (which published Never Let Me Go). The other half of Grapevine, it is safe to say, is somewhat of a publishing phenomenon in the country. We say ‘somewhat’, because the author, Durjoy Datta, all of 25 years, represents that breed of writers in India, who are not waiting for the industry to give them a chance. They are, instead, finding ways to reach their target audience, even if it means self-publishing or going to a smaller publisher and then taking it to the social media and reaching out to people directly.
A lot of people attribute this increasing interest in writing among youngsters to Chetan Bhagat. This fresh crop of writers seems to think that racy content and romance is all it takes to sell. That explains the two million odd copies Durjoy has sold with books titled, She broke up, I didn’t... I just kissed someone else!, You were my crush! Till you said you love me!, Ohh yes, I am single! And so is my girlfriend! Or Sachin Garg’s First love! Just like the last one!, Nikita Singh’s Love @ Facebook and Accidentally in love or the posterboy of this publishing movement, Ravinder Singh’s I Too had a Love Story and Can Love Happen Twice?
Krishna Kumar of Chennai-based publishing house Westland and Tranquebar Press, says, “Ever since Indian writing caught on in a big way, there have been many who started looking at writing as a profession as opposed to what it was earlier, an art form or a craft.” At the heart of this movement is a small publishing house called Srishti. Srishti’s latest book When Strangers Meet, by 24-year-old K. Hari Kumar, is now on its way to a second impression, according to the author. “They have taken on several writers who may not usually find a break with the big publishers. Once published, the authors push their work through social media and marketing directly. They know their target audience, and they connect with them in a big way through Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis,” Krishna Kumar adds. Sample this, Ravinder Singh’s I Too Had A Love Story has 2,87,000 fans on Facebook. Durjoy has 1,85,000 followers on the social media site with hysteric announcements of love for not just his books but even his ‘awesome dimples’ and great looks.
With a lot of small-time publishers there is also a self-publishing package where the writer pays the publisher to bring the book out. That could also explain why many of the books in this genre aren’t proofread and have woeful grammar and poorly constructed sentences. In this context, Penguin India has launched its own self-publishing wing, Partridge, in partnership with Author Solutions. Commenting on this phenomenon, writer Nirupama Subramanian, who thinks that there are many diverse voices that have a right to be heard, says, “It is great that many people are writing now and Indian writing in English is no longer the preserve of a few. In such a situation, there will be a dilution of what we call quality. As long as there are readers who will pick up books even if they are poorly written, authors will write and publishers will put them out. It becomes like any other product. When there are a great many ‘products’ out there, they need to be marketed and differentiated well and this is where social media comes in. But I do believe that no matter how much you market a book and how many endorsements you get, you can’t sustain a very bad book for a long time.”
Writer Gouri Dange calls this “a confusing and interesting phenomenon. I don’t consider myself high-brow or purist, and yet I also quail at some of the stuff that has a huge readership! But it’s become exactly like the situation in Indian music, isn’t it?” she asks and adds, “Everyone co-exists, everyone has their audience or buyers, and the ‘aam-janta appeal’ stuff has huge sales and followings. It’s when the purists sneer or snort at the popular lit or the popular sorts dismiss high-brow stuff as boring that there’s a problem. It’s the old classes versus masses stuff. All of it made more piquant by the marketing and hyping abilities of some and the inability to do that by others. But no one ‘has’ to like anything. One can keep writing or reading in whatever bandwidth one is happy in.”
First-time writer Atulya Mahajan, whose Amreekandesi — Masters of America is now out, comes from the other end of the social media spectrum. Even before he launched his book, Atulya had a huge following, across social media. “I think social media certainly helps in reaching out to a large number of people quickly. I get plenty of messages from my readers. I remember when we were younger, we couldn’t dream of talking to our favourite writers,” he says, “A lot more professionals are trying to dabble in the creative fields these days, which is leading to people like me writing books. Clearly they won’t write as well as someone with formal training and many years of experience, but the ones who have good stories to tell, end up doing well. Then the success stories of writers like Chetan, Amish, Ravi and others make writing seem very lucrative (even though it really isn’t, for the vast majority of writers),” he signs off.