Kochi: The likes of Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi might be making waves in the literary scene of the country, but in Kerala too, young writes and first-timers are not far behind. With a plethora of small scale publishing houses and ‘little magazines’ cropping up across the state and an increase in the income levels of the burgeoning Malayali middle class, many a first time author now finds himself with more opportunity than ever before to hit the literary stands.
22-year-old Riya Joy from Perumbavoor published her first poetry collection, 'Nizhalthadangal ' at the age of 17, for which she bagged the ‘Madhavikutty Special Jury Award’. She remains the youngest person to win the award and now has two more books to her credit. This is apart from all her poems and works in several literary magazines. Riya is thrilled about the literary opportunities on offer these days. “Earlier there were very few quality magazines and they too would mostly look at established writers. But today there are a number of little magazines. ‘Pacchamashi’, ‘Mugharekha’, ‘Mithamithram’ are all looking at encouraging young writers. The readership may be less but these magazines offer an opportunity for beginners”, she says.
But contributing articles for a magazine is not the same as actually publishing a book, which can still be a daunting task for a first-timer. “In the case of first-timers there is always skepticism. But the scene changes after a couple of works get published.” While Riya’s first book was published by a private publisher, Pen Books, her later works were published by National Book Stall under the government of Kerala. “Once the NBS Committee approves our poems, they will take care of publishing and distribution without any expenditure on our side. We get the royalty too,” she says.
Still, it's not all rosy, she warns. “Today the scene is such that any one who writes can get his work published. But in most cases the writers themselves have to pay for the publishing. This may also entail exploitation of the writers,” says writer and publisher Aju Narayanan. “I know of a number of little publishing houses who ask aspiring writers to pay an amount to publish their works. People have money to spare, so they play along.? But many a times publishers cheat them. For example, they will print fewer copies than the number agreed upon or make poor quality photocopy prints and so on,” he says.
Another negative aspect of this trend is that many of these regional small scale publishing houses are restricted to their towns, hence even good writers published under them have limited readership. “In such cases, you won't get the book unless you visit the place where it is printed from. Many do not have good distribution facilities. This is a heavy loss to good writers. If these small scale publishing houses start making tie-ups among themselves, the books can be successfully marketed across the state. This will also put an end to the monopoly of large publishing houses,” says Aju Narayanan.
But even as these problem continue to prevail, several newer and younger publishers have also joined the fray, adding certain welcome innovations to the industry. Padashala Publishers headed by writer-turned-publisher Manoj Mulavukkad is one example. The publishers looks exclusively at publishing the works of young writers at economical costs. “Many of these publishing house charge as much as Rs 30,000 for a book when you can actually publish a book for one-third that amount. When we publish we ask the writer for around half of the funding, the rest we bear. Once the publishing is done we look at the distribution of half the copies, the rest the author takes care. We then publish further according to the requirement. It is a combined effort.”
Apart from this marketing techniques, Padashala has several new plans when it comes to the printing also. Manoj for instance, has published a stamp sized book. “The size itself invokes some curiosity.” Another creation is a book which can be read from both sides. They also have alternative distribution mechanisms. One such is SMS magazines. “Small poems are sent via SMS among friends or literary circles. If they are good, we try to publish them.” Manoj says.