They are everywhere. In bookstores, friends' bookshelves, traffic signals, footpaths, bus stops, railway platforms, metros, online, small cities, metropolis... They have names such as Immortals of Meluha, I Too Had a Love Story, Someone Like You. And behind them are a new crop of writers who are churning out a torrent of books on romance, relationships, love, betrayal, self-help, and anything else that one can think of.
What makes them click? They speak 'our' language, talking about something ordinary, in a conversational fashion, even using words from different dialects.
India stands third, just behind the US and UK, as a market for English writers. English has established itself as a language of the Indian middle classes and the biggest surge is seen in the commercial fiction section. But it's early to compare the reading habits of the average reader here and in the West, feels Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, publishing consultant and columnist. "These writers are making spaces visible, addressing silences in the publishing world."
Ever since Chetan Bhagat came out with his first novel, 'me-too' books have poured in from stables of IIM and IIT alumni. Bhagat, a banker-turned-writer, paved the way for a market earlier unknown to Indian writers. Few years later, another banker Amish Tripathi, tried his hand. He gave a twist to Indian mythologies and readers lapped up his Shiva trilogy. It's now the likes of Ravinder Singh and Durjoy Datta, best selling authors in commercial fiction, to take it forward.
Opinions vary. "The space is getting crowded, with even publishers of non-fiction and serious fiction trying their hand at romance and young adult fiction," says Kanishka Gupta, CEO, Writer's Side, a literary agency.
While the Indian benchmark for a bestseller is a mere 5,000 copies, these writers have become instant bestsellers. Publishing houses such as Srishti Publishers are tapping in. Run by a retired employee of Rupa publications, the company has promoted first time writers who later became bestsellers - four of them selling more than two lakh copies.
Major publishing houses like Penguin followed suit, under their commercial imprint Metro Reads, to cater to this growing audience. "In Metro Reads, we have published more than 15 new authors in the past 3 years. Today these authors are the readers 'go to' guides for relationships," says Vaishali Mathur, senior commissioning editor, Penguin. While critical reception has been tepid, the writers defend their books. "We are not writing for the so-called intellectuals, we write for regular guys like us," says Datta.
More the merrier, say some critics. "It's the Harry Potter generation which has grown up on fantasy," says Rose. "We haven't seen such voracious reading appetite, these books are helping us read."