Friday, January 17, 2014

The Art of Being a Published Author

 Reading this article by Tim Parks in
, I 
couldn't but make me hang my head, in contrition, and think. About myself, the novel I am writing and the effort it takes. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to put a book out in the market, or, to be euphemistic, on the bookshelves. I was at Landmark, Vashi, yesterday and saw that they had removed all the stools they had in the book aisles. Was this deliberate? Were people seriously browsing with intention of buying, as I was doing, or just passing time? The book section had shrunk to quarter the floor space and the shop was dominated by video games, cell phones, and knick-knacks. There were children, unruly ones, running around screaming loudly. One felt nostalgic about bookshops one knew: Strand Book Stall in Fort; Nalanda, at the Taj Mahal Hotel (one has to pass through security check now, so I don't bother), the old Chetna book shop at Kala Ghoda (closed down); Mani's book shop on Colaba Causeway (which is now Search Word, or something such); they were all about books and books alone.


Now I was meaning to write something about writers. When a writer gets published for the first time, the whole scenario changes. No longer is he the reviled loser, trying to cobble up a novel, trying very hard to appear decent (though it is difficult as he doesn't have a steady job), trying to mingle with the so-called literati, caferati, whatever. In whatever circumstances he/she is working there are the often assumed lines of distinction being drawn such: can write/can't write to save his/her life. This is the bane of all writers, copywriters and technical writers included. If a majority sees you one way then you are doomed to that way for life. That's the politics of writing.


However, a transformation occurs when one gets published. The whole slam-dunk has been achieved and one needs to pontificate, act the moralist, or, the rebel as the case may be, as one is a published writer. One is asked to literary events, to speak at literary festivals, one's opinion is sought by newspapers and magazines. This can kill the writer in you and make you into another charlatan; all those one book wonders can tell you. One no longer suffers fools (aspiring writers) gladly and put on an inscrutable expression at gathering and even being nasty is excusable. After all, one is a published writer. Ain't it? Hm.


Nothing is greater than the disdain of the published writer for the unpublished (I typed non-published, which is an Indianism I should try and avoid: non-Indian, non-Malayali, non-Bengali, non-Brahmin, non, etcetera.). The published writer is all about being a winner, being somebody greater than the other writer (who can't write to save his life), who can write the next big Indian, or, world novel that will shake the world and sell millions of copies. Success can go to one's head faster than Tequila shots, and when adulation isn't coming one can go to desperate extents to get them. The haste to produce the next best-seller is so urgent that publishers put down the condition of delivering three books in a tight deadline of three years, which often stifles creativity, in fact, kills it.


Of course, when one is being feted around the world, when one offers one's sound bites on television, one can't be bothered to talk or write to a hapless struggling writer offering critique that could save his (writing) life. Writers of yore had secretaries who were writers themselves. These secretaries answered letters and brought interesting talent to the attention of the writer. These days who wants secretaries when one can type an email oneself and tweet inanities when eating noodle.


And, while I am at it, one final advise to struggling starving writers. Don't go so much after post-publishing celebrity-dom and self publish your novel. That's a trap. You will neither be called a published author nor be called to chair a session at the festival with a suffix like that. You will be condemned to eternal damnation as a self-published author.


The views, of course, are personal and not intended to hurt anybody.

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