Writing Pays Too

Updated: Jan 1 2006, 10:24am hrs
For most people, literature and books are synonymous. If fiction has been given shape by our imagination, it has much shaped it too, over millennia.

But for those in the publishing industry, the answers for more volumes, and therefore healthier profit margins are coming from outside fiction. Whether the industry has taken VS Naipauls statement that non-fiction is better suited to capturing the complexities of the modern world serioulsy or not may be debatable, lesser and lesser fiction is being published with each passing year. Despite huge advances, multi-media contracts, and an increasing number of wannabe writers, those agreeing that the death knell of literature is in the foreseeable future are on the rise.

Globally the publishing industry is facing a multi-pronged threat. Not only is media capturing potential audience attention, the threat of freely available books is forcing the industry into a major introspection. Innovative publicity and marketing, audio books, book clubs, even Oprah all are putting in their bit to keep the industry afloat.

And with increasing globalisation and saturated western markets, India is among the new target areas for global players, publishers or retailers, with new trends visible. Penguin India started publishing in Hindi last year, only the second language they are publishing in. And they plan to publish in more languages in 2006 like Marathi and Malayalam. National Book Trust, which has done a remarkable job in creating awareness for book reading in the hinterlands, plans to reach out as never before. Translations are becoming popular, and piracy is being tackled at various levels. But living off ones literary output is still a challenge. Possibly the only genre of book writers in India who live off their writing is textbooks writers! But in keeping with the trend started by Arundhati Roys record advance for her only fiction book, the level of monetary compensation has risen for many others too. The previous year had major launches in India, for both fiction and non-fiction writers Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, JK Rowling, Khushwant Singh and others.

This year too will see a return of big names, many after a substantial break. And with the biennial World Book Fair scheduled for January end, high profile releases are expected early in the year.

Upamanyu Chatterjee returns after seven years with his fourth novel, Weight Loss. In a similar vein to his earlier novels, this one too is replete with black humour and is a compelling portrait of a lost life.Kiran Desai (Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard) takes us to the north-eastern Himalayas where a rising insurgency challenges the old way of life. Desais second, long-awaited novel seeks to meet the grand promise established by her first.

Vikram Chandra too returns after a seven-year hiatus with Sacred Earth, which draws the reader deep into the lives of Mumbai detective Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde, the most wanted gangster in India.

William Dalrymple continues his tryst with Mughal India, this time with The Last Mughal.

Non-fiction too has big names slated for release in 2006. Joseph E Stiglitz, along with Andrew Charlton, puts forward a radical new solution to the problems of world trade. Prolific as ever, Khushwant Singh returns with The Illustrated History Of The Sikhs, yet another tracing of the history of the Sikhs.

And not to forget, P V Narasimha Rao will rise from the ashes with the second part of his novel, The Insider.

With India scheduled to be the guest of honour at the largest book fair globally in Frankfurt, Indian publishing is definitely looking to attract greater attention in 2006. Whether novelists can get proportionate attention as well remains to be seen.