A clutch of fiction writers are finding publishers & readers, but are they able to make a living out of their stories?
The India Book Market Report valued the overall market in India at $261 billion in 2013-14. This positions India among the largest English-language book markets in the world.
No surprise really that the session was a huge crowd-puller, especially for young starry-eyed fans of both the writer and the Bollywood diva. But despite his large number of fans and autograph seekers Sanghi, whose first book, a thriller The Rozabal Line, was published in 2006, is sceptical about the possibility of Indian fiction writers being able to make a living out of their stories.
“Overall, India produces 84,000 titles every year whereas an average bookstore has shelf space of only 2,000 to 3,000. Also English fiction is a niche category and new writers have to overcome many hurdles to achieve commercial success,” says Sanghi who prefers to hedge his risks between writing and running his family business.
Commercial success for an author writing English fiction in India, reckons Sanghi, involves crossing a print run of 50,000 with the first edition. “With small print runs, first novels tend to fizzle out with publishers not keen on a second run,” he adds. That, he feels, explains why a majority of India’s wannabe storytellers have day jobs as editors, journalists and speech writers.
If the writer is circumspect, his publisher clearly isn’t. Says Gautam Padmanabhan, chief executive, Westland, which published Sanghi’s latest novel 'The Sialkot Saga': “While many bestselling authors have emerged, the true potential of the market is yet to be tapped due to the lack of distribution. As new initiatives take off in both the physical and digital space we will only see growth.”Data from AC Nielsen, the research company that has been tracking book sales in India since 2011, indicates a percentage swing of 11% in favour of Indian authorship and Indian publications in the past four years. “As a publishing house our focus is on commercial writing across all the popular genres. In future we would like to specifically target the young adult segment,” adds Padmanabhan.
Full of Beans — and Books
Indeed, much of the publishing community is full of beans. “Mass-market fiction seems to have grown considerably in the past few years, and continues to do so. Crime, thrillers and romance are other genres that are on the rise,” says Diya Kar Hazra, publisher, Pan Macmillan India, 40% of whose titles are fiction. “We’re looking to building these lists. We’re hunting for new, unusual voices to publish alongside our favourite, established authors; genre no bar,” Kar Hazra adds.
Likewise, publishing giant Penguin Random House too is focussed on fiction in India in a big way. “In the fiction segment we continue to look for and publish some of the finest writers in the region, and grow their sales,” says Caroline Newbury, vice-president, marketing, Random House India. Writers such as Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Datta and Sudeep Nagarkar, translations from KR Meera and Perumal Murugan as well as new talents such as Sakshama Puri Dhariwal (The Wedding Photographer) are some names her firm is backing.
Arup Bose, publisher, Srishti Publishers & Distributors, a publisher of English fiction in India, points out that India has one of the largest populations of youth in the world who are English literate. “This generation aspires to read and be conversant in English. For them it is easy to access the world of fiction by picking up a book by an Indian author. The stories are more familiar, language easy to understand and price affordable.”Roli Books, a publisher focussed on nonfiction and illustrated books, is now looking at increasing its presence in the fiction segment, with its IndiaInk imprint. “This segment is of course going to get bigger and bigger with the Indian reader, for the first time, getting an opportunity to read stories written by people they can get a chance to meet, idolise and then dream of becoming like them,” says Neelam Narula, managing editor of Roli Books.
She adds that young Indians writing fiction in English is a segment that is growing because of the surge in the number of readers, number of publishing houses offering opportunities, imprints that focus on feelgood fiction for young readers, number of literary festivals India has, and most importantly, the opportunities this genre has generated for the young writers.
According to Nielsen BookScan, which uses data from a defined retailers’ panel, adult fiction in India, which primarily includes English language books, has contributed 24% by volume and 19% by value in 2015 in the total consumer publishing market. The most popular sub-genres in adult fiction category are general & literary fiction, crime, thriller & adventure followed by romance & sagas.
The India Book Market Report released by Nielsen at Frankfurt Book Fair last year valued the overall market in India, including book imports, at $261 billion in 2013-14. This positions India among the largest Englishlanguage book markets in the world.
While writers such as Sanghi may feel the need to back up the writing career with a more sustainable occupation, there are those who see bright prospects in fiction — and fiction publishing. Ravinder Singh, one of the top Indian writers of English fiction, quit a job at Microsoft to set up his own publishing house Black Ink to partner and mentor young Indian writers. “What I’m looking for is a refreshing story and telling style.
Not long back, I was myself a debut writer with a great story and did not know any big publishers. I’m now doing my bit for first-time writers,” says Singh who had debuted in 2008 with I Too had a Love Story.For Singh, a bestselling author of fiction in India is one whose books priced in the Rs 100-175 bracket have a first impression of at least 2,000 copies. The bestselling number of around 2,50,000, according to Singh, has been achieved in India by only three or four English fiction writers, of whom he is one. In terms of signing amounts, he feels successful writers in India could be offered as much as between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 1 crore per book.
Fiction these days is being fuelled in a large part by the ‘writing-by-chance’ phenomenon. Anuja Chauhan’s first novel The Zoya Factor in the rom-com genre happened in 2008 when she was in the middle of very successful advertising career at JWT India.
“I don’t really think of a target audience when I write. In fact, my mantra as a writer is that everyone deserves a bit of romance in the battle against the growing culture of cynicism all around us,” says Chauhan who resigned from her ad agency job in 2010 to take up a full-time career in writing.
Komal Ahuja, who debuted with Love, No Matter What!, likes to see herself juggling a number of roles — teacher in the morning, an entrepreneur and corporate trainer during the day and a writer by the night. And everything except the writing part was as per script. “I didn’t plan to write in my wildest dreams.
But the story just came and gripped my soul. I imagined it in my head and started writing just like that,” says Ahuja, who doesn’t see herself becoming a full-time writer since running the family business is her bread and butter for her.
Amisha Sethi, author of It Doesn’t Hurt to be Nice, which was released in 2015, says the story came to her in a moment of self-realisation. “I started writing impulsively — not a self-help book but I wanted to connect with young people,” says Sethi who works as a brand adviser for startups and is a motivational speaker and writer rolled in one.
Aroon Raman, an entrepreneur-turned-fiction-writer, started writing his first book, The Shadow Throne, after he sold his first company in 2011.
“My books are aimed at teens from the age of say 16 or 17 all the way to elder adults. I think this is true of all major markets for thriller and adventure fiction. Of course, the pull of these books tends to be particularly strong till the age of 50 or so. Teens, students and busy executives all like the escapist literature,” he says.
“But I do believe that my ideal reader is upper middle class, convent educated, left of centre and has her head up in the clouds,” says Chowdhury, who believes that he can make a living as a fiction writer in India one day.