Transition of Thoughts

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Rs 100 Indian novels – Cheap quality or birth of new “Chetan Bhagat’s”


Source: LiveMint

Recently I came across an article on Live Mint about how every Tom, Dick and Harry in India has become an author or is trying to become one.

http://www.livemint.com/2010/11/11184258/When-everyone8217s-an-autho.html

This made me analyse as to why everyone is trying to become an author. And also what is the implication of that for our country in terms of English speaking, writing and reading.

There is a so called proliferation of every author proclaiming himself to be the new “Chetan Bhagat“. Now isn’t that a bit unfair on him? Unfair because despite selling thousands of copies and being regarded as the most famous Indian authors in history in terms of copies sold, he has already copped a lot of criticism from critics and a large number of people alike for the absence of literary delight, simple language and lack of so called “style’ in his stories.

So what is really happening these days in the field of writing?

As pointed out by Karan Bajaj of “Keep of the Grass” and “Johnny Gone Down” fame in his recommendations for getting a book published in India has given a list of publishers one can use for publishing his / her book. HarperCollins, WestLand, Penguin, Rupa and Co are some of the big publishing houses in the country who have publish his books as well as Chetan Bhagat’s and some other famous ones.

And then there are some new publishing houses like Indialog and Shrishti Publications which publish many different kinds of novels from first – time authors (according to some they publish almost anything). Some of the books they have published include “LOVE: An Unusual Romance… and the Mumbai Rain”, “Nothing For You My Dear: Still i Love You….!”, “Patyala Down De Throat: A sweet melody from pegs to riches” etc.

I don’t have anything against any of the writers. But was really interested to study the differences between the first timers and the ones who are established. So what’s the different between the books published by the publishing houses handling famous authors compared to those handling first timers. Two of the biggest differences are in the grammar and the English usage. The books for the first timers are for a mass reader probably one who may / may not be that good in English and doesn’t give that much importance to grammar and things like that. And then the books by Harper, Penguin etc. are also for a much more mature audience and do make you think a bit more than say a “I will love you till I find someone better”. One more problem is the fact that most of the books published by first timers are similar stories as I have always said before having a ‘guy + girl + sex + flirting + college times‘ and nothing new to offer.

Apart from all this there is also another peculiar problem of every book being a bestseller in India. Now as pointed out by Karan Bajaj, in India today if a book sells more than 5000 copies it is regarded as a best seller. Though that is a pretty sad state of affairs it shows that the tagging of a book as a NATIONAL BESTSELLER is being used more as a marketing / advertising tool than anything else.

Two sides of the coin?

Yes I agree that the fact that everyone is writing books currently has degraded the profession of writing as well as English vocabulary and grammar to a great extent. Truth be told! More than 90% of Indian authors what youngsters read today is of the CRAP variety.

But then, if we analyze the reasons why so many Indian authors have come to the fore, the biggest reason is to be popular. In our country be it through Big Boss, KBC, Master Chef, Indian Idol, Cricket through anything everyone wants his / her share of fame and why not. If Chetan Bhagat can do it, why can’t I? And therefore people who know a smattering of English or can read and write a bit are moving to writing stories. And one can’t really fault them. Because such stories are read, more and more of them are published. Only God knows how many are sold. But for sure there is a market.

Final Verdict – Both books of first timers many of whom are grammatically incorrect and books that are much more mature and stylish in their narrative will always coexist. Though yes, the problem may come when people start thinking that good grammar and vocabulary aren’t very important for a novel!

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28 Comments

  1. Mini

    I agree with you. In the context of becoming popular and famous a lot of people are coming out with writing and publishing books. Some do make sense and some are totally crap . Its really difficult for an author to make it to the top unless his books have some different stuff in it. First timers find it more difficult and face more competition than well established authors.

  2. Aseem this is surprisingly a very confused post by you. Knowing you, I feel that you need to take a convincing stand in writing (stories or your blog) and so also in your life. With all due respect to everyone mentioned above, please note the following –
    1) These cheap novels address a very different market – different age/ income groups. The market has aspirations to climb the social ladder and see themselves as rich and successful. They are published by ‘printers’ masquerading as publishers. The author pays to see their work in print. There is no effort in editing, proof – reading and they have a weak production quality;
    2) A lot of so called bestselling authors today have accomplished what they have through PR/ Marketing glib, very few have sold the numbers they quote and a lot of them accomplish the ‘bestseller’ tag by buying their own copies in big numbers. Some have even had their work being heavily edited or even had sections ghost written, this is a fact;
    3) I think for us we need to rise above mediocrity and stop hooraying half-baked writing effort in response the aggressive marketing/ sales push behind these books. Is their an emotional depth in a lot of this work? Its time to see these for what they are and question why they have been written;
    4) A lot of what gets printed these days is opposite of reality in the market. Certain ‘bestsellers’ have been returned in huge numbers by bookstores and distributors, who describe these of having caused a ‘bloodbath’ for them given the over-hype. Some of these go back to bookstores at even higher discounts to get rid of them. In the civilized world we call this dumping; and
    5) Reflect on what Charles Dickens, Hemmingway, Oscar Wilde or back home – Premchand, Sankar or RK Narayan would have done if they were around today. Think and read about the passion behind their body of work and about why they wrote. Today a lot people write because they want to be successful like ‘x’ or ‘y’ with neither the talent nor the passion for the written word. There lies the difference; today more time is being spent on tweeting and making people ‘follow’ you than improving the quality of your writing. I don’t disrespect the value of social media, but atleast for a writer there has to be some sort of balance.
    This isn’t aimed at you Aseem, its for your readers. Anyone reading this please think of these as my own humble views and frustrations of what I see around myself. Think and do something different. We need more Rikin Khamars, Paritosh Uttams, Omair Ahmeds, Mridula Koshys….are you up for the challenge? Do you love to write? Or do you want to churn out and peddle cheap books for a living? What is your motivation behind doing what you do? There lies the dilemma.

    • aseemrastogi2

      Nice to see a comment from you for this post. First things first I would like to clarify certain facts / points out here.

      1. I have never meant or said anything against any of the authors be it Chetan Bhagat or any of the ones with poor English and vocabulary.

      2. My post does come out with a final verdict on the issue. I didn’t want to take one side of the view from the beginning itself. Instead I have analyzed the way a Karan Bajaj, Chetan Bhagat writes when compared to the ones with a poor command of basic grammar, vocabulary and general English.

      3. I have never supported the kind of crap work being dished out nowadays. And I respect the fact that you are from the industry and am sure you would know about the reality way better than me. But whether they are ghost written, printed and not really edited and published properly, marketed by using the National Bestseller phrase or not, the point is that Srishti Publications and others who publish stuff like this must be making some money however it may be through this that makes them really publish this kinda stuff.

      4. As an avid reader of different kinds of books, I stand by my point of a number of writers writing books for reasons ranging from fast popularity to making some kinda name in the market. Its a sad but true fact that very very few writers today, at least the young Indian ones are bringing out good stuff to read.

      5. I always feel that such books don’t have any emotions and story at all. But then when I was talking to one of my friends who has written “I will love you till I find someone better” (which I personally didn’t like), the person was like they didn’t bother about the story. They just fell like writing stuff which they had seen happening around them in the language which people understand rather than make a literary work. One of their main reasons was to get famous. And both the writers are well educated studied in good schools / universities having good command over English.

      6. My analysis of the pros and cons of the whole situation shouldn’t be judged as my approval / disapproval of any kind of writers.

      I personally believe be it in any creative field like movies, music, literature, in a country like India there will always be space for all kinds of people – ones who dish out nonsense stuff as well as those who do amazingly. At the end of the day if a person is good, his books will definitely sell.

      Your last paragraph says it all. A lot of people today write just for the heck of it, probably to earn a living or to get some easy money or to just get their name around in some newspapers.

      As for me, I have always tried to be convincing in all the stuff I have written be it on my blog or professionally or the novel I am currently working on. Even recently I finally realised that I needed to bring the right kind of maturity / stylishness in my novel and I have started working on that.

      PS – In case I have hurt you by any of the statements in the post, I am really sorry for that and it was really unintentional. My views are based from a reader’s and aspiring writer’s perspective!

  3. Aseem you’re getting me wrong, I’ve not written in to defend any writer or put down another. None of the above is targeted at you. Given that this is a topical issue, I’ve tried to spell things out the way they are.
    From where I stand there should be a certain minimum quality standard for books published in English. I hear people pick up and read these to improve their own command over the language. How can they when these are so badly written with so many mistakes? Also, if pretty much everyone is writing to get to where someone else is, then who is left to write books which open minds, broaden perspectives and create a whole new world, one that was never imagined before. Like you said everybody is in a rush to write half – baked stories where ‘gurls’ meet ‘boyz’ and fall in love. None of this is either intellectually stimulating and lacks depth leave alone the lack of substance.
    Think of it as a writer, this badly drawled effort gets published because one pays to get it printed. Then it gets into stores at deep discounts and sells because it’s cheap. What happens to work that has taken commitment and tremendous effort? Should it be cheapened and sold at Rs 100/ copy, because it seems like this is the price that pretty much everyone expects? Should we stop investing editorial effort in books that are published? We’ve faced challenging times and have had to hold our ground on pricing and to maintain our production values.
    For someone who is an aspiring writer and a capable blogger you should be asking tough questions and possibly giving a little more attention to ‘gold standard’ writing in the country. There is enough of that and it needs more attention than these fly by night quasi – printers who have no love for books or writing. They don’t even read what they publish and are in this to make a quick buck. Again these are just my views. I hope this whole thing is a fad and dies a natural death.

    • aseemrastogi2

      Yeah I too agree that there should be a certain minimum quality standard about the quality of books which should be written. But then the question comes to “Who decides the standard and what can be the standard of writing?” But yeah the issues about the pricing and depth of the work you mentioned here are somethings I guess you must be understanding much better as you are in the industry. And as from what you say, this sounds really bad for capable writers who really want to write first and make money later.

      As far as my writing goes, I have tried to ask serious questions with respect to a lot of topics. But yeah in this one I did take a more balanced / diplomatic approach rather than a particularly sided one. Will try to keep improving on that and keep you words in mind.

  4. mihir

    Mr. faiyaz it is shit what you people are doing and writing here. i guess you, are yourself a writer whose book was published by sanbun publishers for the very first time. you gave your hard work to sanbun because you did not get any good or so called big or even medium publisher for your work. your book which you declare as a popular bestseller, i dont know such terms is a big fiasco. you were once new any how you managed to get yourself printed now you are coming with new book second chance which also is not a masterpiece as neither rupa nor penguin or harper is publishing you.
    it is the hard work of a writer which when get recognized even by small publishers it just make you upset and you people start writing craps.
    it just shows your arrogance and mind one more thing you write whatever you want but people will decide whether these writers are worth or not. dont be God and agents of big publishers.

  5. Mihir,

    Thanks for all the wonderful things you’ve posted. I don’t believe you’ve understood any of what I’ve said and frankly it doesn’t matter, I stand by my views and surely everyone has a right to their opinion, including your kind self. The audience is the best judge. Do they want to read badly written unedited copy or books where editorial effort has been invested to publish a good quality book? The choice is theirs and we respect such a choice.

    At Grey Oak we are a small publisher who invests that effort where we see fit. We aren’t lobbyists for big publishers and nor are we their agents. It’s something we’ll never be. Good wishes to all the young writers out there, my question is for their self – introspection. Why do we write? What kind of books do we want our name published under?
    Like you’ve pointed I did get published by a small publisher but terminated my agreement soon after and took over the rights myself. I couldn’t stand for the poor quality of production and lack of understanding or effort on the editorial front. Its not a matter of right or wrong, its a matter of choice.

  6. Taha Siddiqui

    Hi all,
    it was good to read the article and even more interesting were the comments that followed.
    i have been doing a research on some indian publishing houses , that publish books, especially those that sell the so called ‘pulp fiction’, the boy and girl stuff, Love affairs in college, BPOs, IITs etc. These days, in Delhi, and else where, you would come across many such books and surprisingly they are best sellers! personally i dont like these novels and i wonder how come so many copies are sold, and on what basis they choose to publish these books, what do they see or look for, are they encouraging the amateur writers? is the readership of such books actually increasing or it is again all a game. what do you think about this. Please reply back.. looking forward to more discussion..

  7. Suyash Balyan

    My kid brother writes better than CB.

  8. Kishna

    Readingblog past many times now I would like to make it into your notice that it gives me immense pleasure to give you a novel name from my state Jammu and Kahmir.
    I had some heartiest feeling with this novel coz I always see people from across country talk about us only regarding- on Human Rights and Terrorism and never appreciate any work that is something appreciable by youth. If such a thing goes un-noticed then how our youth with match with all people apund us.
    Please, try to write something for this novel, it is under Srishti Publications and its name is “my love never faked… trust me I still love you” by Nikhil Mahajan.Hope to see some words from your side.
    Thank You,
    Kishna.

    • aseemrastogi2

      Hey nice to hear from you Kishna..Will surely check out the book you mentioned 🙂

  9. Listen Mr. arrogant Publisher, those who are established, they too started from first timer tagged…and stop demotivating the talent.
    this post seems biased one to me. and talking about english, they wrote in much smarter way then you did here.
    stop complaining the things, rather praise that India has got so much diversity.

    • aseemrastogi2

      Personally speaking I am sorry if I was perceived as arrogant. If I myself am striving to be an author, why would I be arrogant? I personally feel that Indian authors should be encouraged. Just that the language of certain books doesnt seem upto the mark. I am saying this from having read many Indian authors. And interestingly many people have worse comments than me when it is concerned with people like Chetan Bhagat leave alone other Indian authors. Though I personally have respect for authors of any kind because only when you write do you realise the difficulties one can face in such a situation.

      • sorry for my harsh words, i really didnt meant that, but u totally tried to negate the work of those who are trying to do something.
        anyways, I always support the enthusiasm and things shouldn’t be limited to few peoples only like in case of novels, its good na if smaller kids are challenging the professionals and creating their own fan following and many have got success too.

        • aseemrastogi2

          Yeah! I completely agree with you on that. I personally wouldn’t wanna negate anyone’s work and am really sorry if you felt that way,

  10. sunny

    Only four authors till date Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Aravind Adiga, Kiran desai got The Man Booker Prize for their work. All else are shit head like chetan bhagat with no sense, no mind. just writing ,whatever you come across, wont make you writer. There are lot of ram gopal verma’s in indian english literature.

    • aseemrastogi2

      So do you mean to say that authors who haven’t got the Booker Prize aren’t good authors? I think you are being really unfair with that comment. Yes there are a lot of crappy Indian writers today in the market with poor knowledge of English and pathetic grammar and shoddy and cliche storylines. But then there is still a lot of bubbling talent which may not have got the Booker Prize.

  11. to aseemrastogi2: i do agree partly with you; however, in usa( I live in France) thre are so many trash books sold by barnes and noble; i am really suprised to note that there are some peole who read this as someone wrote about men+women+sex+drug; chetan is slighly different; but during my reent trip a mont ago, in delhi, i found so many so called cheaps books on the roadside written by indian, but i am sure they wont go a long way; incidentaaly, my first novel(i am 71 y old!) was rejected by many indian publishers and finally i got it published in UK- the subject is really original, will be ahppy to hear your comments_ name: dreams and realities; auhtor suryanarayanan : http://www.amazon.com/Dreams-Realities-R-Suryanarayanan/dp/1449003575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301330796&sr=1-1
    u can reply to me at sury39@gmail.com if u like; rgds to all

    • aseemrastogi2

      Oh I didn’t know that such books are available in the US too. Would surely like to read your book..

  12. suryanarayanan

    thks somuch mr aseemrastogi; pl do send me ur comments; the errrata page is missing in my book, if u send me ur e malid, i will send the errata page to youthks somuch for ur kind reply, sury39@gmail.com

  13. Avigya

    How does a book become a national bestseller. Is is done by some institution or is it just that any publisher prints the tag “A National Bestseller”for promotion and marketing. Is there any legal rule governing it??????

    • aseemrastogi2

      i am not sure about any legal rule or authority deciding whether a book is a national bestseller but today i feel a lot of young indian authors are using it as a promotional tool. it is very saddening.

  14. avigya

    If there are really no rules governing the title “National Bestseller” then we are really in a pathetic condition. The protagonist would surely come true when one day we would find on the cover page of each and every novel “A national Bestseller” even if they are just a crap. 🙁 🙁

    • aseemrastogi2

      that is actually what is happening. looks like we are reaching that stage slowly. 🙁

  15. sarah

    dude your post made my day! i agree with you you cant even use these books as toilet paper they are an insult on literature …people might wanna say ” oh but they actaully got the youth reading and stuff” but thats just a hoax….Indian people who love to read have been reading since ages …its just that once upon a time my mother read classics of ernest hemingway in the 70’s and 80’s and now i am reading ” of course i love you till i find someone better

    • aseemrastogi2

      Completely agree with you Sarah. Sadly our youth is reading crappier stuff by the day. You should actually check out my latest post on young and contemporary Indian publishers. Looks like if the publishers are so pathetic why wont the writers be. You know I recently had a conversation with an author and she was wondering if the current contemporary writers even know about Rohinton Mistry, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai etc.

  16. sarah

    actually*

  17. Navjivan

    Really a good post. I feel that grammar or language is not a matter of concern as long as the reader understands the story. Even in social networks a girl’s photo gets more like. So the authors r thinking that love is the primary interest of the readers and making that as the central theme. Lets wait. Time will answer who the bestseller is ?
    Congratz for the first time authors,, U really have a grt career ahead… Al the best…

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