When Arundhati Roy snagged pride of place in the coveted list of Man Booker prizewinners for her debut novel, The God of Small Things, in 1997, the ripples of her achievement were felt in the Indian publishing industry. Her success emboldened aspiring writers and publishing houses were inundated with manuscripts.
But will author Aravind Adiga’s win at the Booker, for his debut novel The White Tiger, warrant a second such wave? “Adiga’s book was a completely daring, individual perspective of India, so it might encourage people to be exploratory and work on new ideas, rather than books that impress publishers, Indian or western,” Krishen Chopra, publishing chief editor, Harper Collins, suggested.
Chopra conjectured that Adiga’s victory would possibly lead to a temporary surge in the flow of manuscripts. “Indian authors are selling well and debutante authors like Advaita Kala and Anuja Chauhan are selling 20,000 copies, which is excellent for fiction.”
Author Tarun Tejpal believes that Kiran Desai’s win for The Inheritance of Loss, occasioned a surge in people wanting to write.
“Indian books are selling well and getting short listed for several awards. There are many publishing houses today, though there may not necessarily be too many great books, but every book finds its own level and reader. Besides, world over, mediocrity sustains excellence,” said Tejpal.
The surge however doesn’t necessarily indicate better prospects for debutant authors. Chiki Sarkar, editor-in-chief of Random House suggests that it is rare for an unsolicited manuscript to be picked up.
“They go into the slush pile and are read by our new recruits and if something is considered as having potential it is passed on. The better writers always have an agent, or come through a friend, or have a journalistic background,” Sarkar said, adding that 99 per cent of the manuscripts in the slush pile never get published.
Most publishers consider the sudden hype over the quill a natural process. “When Abhinav Bindra won the Gold all newspapers spoke about shooting becoming popular. Similarly such an award is great for Indian publishing, especially on the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair where a lot of business is done,” said Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, editorial manager, Routledge Taylor and Francis.