---Interviewed by Sunil Sharma
The CEO of the leading Authorspress India, Sudarsh Kcherry (SK) is a reticent professional who believes in doing silent work than seeking publicity in these crazy times of unabashed self-promotion. Recent years, he has published many writers and literary collections from his publishing house that have received good critical attention. The first one to recognize overseas writers through his pioneering the Overseas Awards for Excellence last year, he has thus set a high benchmark for the industry that is notorious for ignoring authors. Last year, SK honoured living legend Les Murray; accomplished writer Rob Harle and poet-critic Louis Kastakin from Australia and UK respectively.
Here, SK, in his first reluctant interview, talks freely on a wide range of issues and gives the perspective of an established publisher with global footprints on writing and publishing. Excerpts:
Q: How do you rate current fiction in Indian English?
A: Fiction in Indian English is currently in an exciting space over the past couple of decades, Indian English Writing has gained prominence at an international stage, especially from the diasporic community with such authors as Jhampa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie et al. and home- grown authors like Arundhati Roy too have attracted attention through “literary” writing in the canonical sense of the term but I feel it still needs to emerge as a stronger entity. The likes of Chetan Bhagat and young authors providing quick reads set in college campuses have set a resurgence of sorts for reading amongst the general public, though their contribution to standard literary tastes is highly debatable. Having said that, there is considerable new work getting noticed for not just beautiful language, but themes which speak for modern Indian audiences dealing with a plethora of issues, especially pertaining to the urban context.
Q: What about poetry?
A: Poetry is currently going through a quiet revolution of sorts and as a publisher, I think, it is an even more exciting space than fiction to explore. Unlike Indian English Fiction, themes in poetry currently are deeply rooted in their Indian milieu, and don’t attempt to emulate the works of American or British contemporaries. Poetry may not have as many takers as fiction, but there is a lot of material which speaks for the realities of millions of Indians with their numerous concerns.
Q: What are the themes that appeal most to a publisher?
A: Universal themes of alienation, loneliness, love, existential crises, familial strife, political conflict, etc., always make for great literature, and they continue to be so.
Q: What are the novels that are liked by Indian readers in English?
A: As I had mentioned earlier, the quick reads provided by Chetan Bhagat and others of his ink have really struck a chord with the Indian audience. However more literary works also find a resonance, especially if they manage to garner international awards and prestige.
Q: Your advice to writers?
A: The universal advice to writers everywhere, “Know What You Write Best”, when writers try too hard to imitate their idols or write only to impress others the effort shows through as a contrived piece of art, which does not appeal to anybody.
Q: What is the status of Indian publishing?
A: Indian publishing is at a kind of crossroads where it needs to decide the course that it is going to take. Should it go ahead with profitable selling and stick to fool-proof books, or take risks and bring forth new, exciting titles to the marketplace? The recent recession, coupled with the arrival of eBooks, has made many publishers cautious, especially niche publishers like me. However, these are challenges one must weather and get through if we need to take Indian publishing to the next level.
Q: What is the role of an agent in such a market like India where people do not read or buy books?
A: The agent is often the most critical link, as it is he/she who takes the initiative in bringing forth new voices into the literary field, for instance The Butterfly and the Bees started by Sumit Seghal. As such, it is a highly responsible post, and one can thank/curse agents for a lot of writers thriving today!
Q: Do you think Writing in Indian English really sells?
A: Of course it does! The question to ask ourselves however is the kind of books we as publishers are willing to invest in.
Q: How is vanity-publishing viewed by senior publishers like you?
A: Vanity publishing might enable the author to get his work see the light of the day, but the credibility of the publisher is tarnished. Personally, we don’t do vanity publishing, maintaining the reputation of the company is far more important. For smaller presses which don’t have the money or the bandwidth to pay for royalties or recoup money from the market, vanity publishing might be a boon, but we have always aimed at carving a niche for ourselves in the academic publishing market, while maintaining profitability. This is why we have always been selective about the kind of books we publish.
Q: Should not some co-operative ventures exist between a publisher and a writer?
A: Co-operative ventures which give the author more control over his/her work, whilst giving them the resources of a major publishing house at a fraction of the cost, are a reality in the U.S. and Europe, where technology is at an evolved stage, and where almost everyone has access to new forms of media. In India, independent publishing and small writers are still striving to create their own mark and gain recognition, so it is not a huge priority- legitimization of their work is far more important. Of course as writers and publishers seek to break free of the dominance of major publishing houses and seek to find audiences for their work on their own, especially using social media, this may become a reality. But as of now, the entire focus of the business is somewhere else.
Q: Why there are no professional edit agencies here in India? Call them consultants or agents but they are not there. Why this lack of professionalism?
A: In India, professionalism is in every sphere, but especially in professions involving the creative arts, it takes time to get established. Professional edit agencies are slowly but surely making their presence felt, leading to better work in the market, and I agree that they are a crucial need of the hour. But the recession, and desperate efforts to cut back costs, especially on the part of small publishers finding it difficult to survive, have made that process slow. This will take time, but then we are getting there.
Q: Why does everybody want to be a writer and win a Booker? Writing is serious business. It is not to be trifled with.
A: Yes, writing is serious business, and though a solitary activity is not meant for sole consumption/pleasure of the author-a book is meant to be read by the public at large. Also, unlike a lot of other professions/arts which involve public recognition, writing still retains the aura of greater intellectualism and seriousness of thought-in effect, greater status. A Booker or any other prestigious award cements one’s standing in the profession, though I agree that it should not be the sole driving force for one to write. Like any other art, laurels and brickbats should be taken as a consequence of one’s work, and not the motivation. Unfortunately, the lure of fame and money is too high for some, even when they clearly don’t have the talent for decent writing, which has led to a deluge of substandard work in Indian publishing.
Q: Your take on a best-seller?
A: Best-sellers help in boosting sales, but the question every publisher needs to ask himself is whether the book they are selling adds to elevating literary tastes.
Q: Your views on the politics of awards and reviews in top dailies?
A: The credibility and reputation of a publishing house can be made or marred on the strength of a review from a top daily, and awards only serve to strengthen our sales and profitability. As far as politics goes, especially when it comes to awards, bigger publishing houses have a larger stake in the process, as they have to consolidate their marketing accordingly. For independent publishers like us, a great review in, say, The Hindu Literary Review has a far bigger impact on the sales and reputation.
Q: Any platform that you want to provide to new writers?
A: Authorspress has always been welcoming of new writers, especially those who provide a fresh perspective on things. It has always encouraged and published those who want to make a mark for themselves, especially in the rather cut-throat world that is Indian English Writing. Publishing their works is the biggest platform in itself that we can provide them, as it paves the way for them to move onto bigger things.
Q: Thanks a lot.