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Not going by the book

A growing number of cognoscenti are turning their backs on book parties and literary festivals, writes Advaita Kala.

books Updated: Jan 01, 2012 00:16 IST

This piece must be read as the musings of an accidental novelist; if it is read as anything beyond that I shall forever be labelled as the one who got it wrong for the year 2012.

But isn’t that what publishing is about? Getting it wrong? Not always, but all too often? In my brief career as a published novelist, who by all sensible accounts gatecrashed the party, not entirely belonging has aided my dispassionate assessment of the goings-on in the frenetic world of publishing.

What is it that I am called? Ah yes, a “blind submission”. But living in this city of publishers and writers, immunity is impossible. One best-selling but critically lampooned non-resident author admitted to me that he wouldn’t dare attend a book party. “Wahan toh sab mujhe nochne key liye baithe hain,” he said. I couldn’t bear telling him that he had nearly got it right! After all, we were riding back in his car after a daring display of bravado in which he had managed to spring vodka in a sprite bottle from under his publisher’s watchful gaze.

The book party enthusiast and regular invitee now scan the cards from the bottom up; first reading the italicised line, “Please join us for …” I always find it most invigorating to hang out with the marketing crew, who scan bookless hands much in the way bouncers at nightclubs do wristbands.

Why have a book party at all? The discreet say it’s a celebration of the book’s publication. The agitated admit that, very often, it’s the best shot they have at selling the book.

Some author friends refuse to partake in this, calling it pedestrian. I believe the book party has run its course and those who attend will continue to dwindle, unless publishers review their bar lists and, yes, timings.

But this piece is really about trends. So here we go. Once upon a time there were four big publishing houses; now there are…Who is counting any more? Once upon a time, there was one major literary festival; now there are…. Scratch that out.

I am getting nowhere, so I call a friend, a literary cognoscente. He is just back from one literature festival and is packing for another. Which one? There’s one there? Yes, he says resignedly, and the way they seem to be growing, it won’t be long before there is one in Saket, New Delhi. Make sure it’s close to the metro station, I almost suggest to him, whom I can’t name.

Some people will always embrace these festivals, but a growing number of sceptics are shunning them. The new cool is saying, “Don’t do festivals”, which is quite a turnaround from three years ago. Let the embracers be warned, though; I have it on good account that wily journalists are tracking those who actually write the books and those who attend the festivals.

As for me, this is the last you will hear from me about trends in publishing — the pressure to stay true to the trade and not get this right has been intense.

New Delhi-based Advaita Kala is the author of Almost Single.