Have publishers failed authors?


I have often wondered if trade publishers are able to nurture career writers anymore and if it is singlehandedly their responsibility?

The past few weeks, I have been writing these blogs in a style unlike my usual. When I was a features journalist, I would always write the strap of any article before I actually began writing or even editing the article. The right way was to always arrive at the strap first and then figure out the story. For the uninitiated, a strap is a one-line summary usually seen below the headline.

So when I was writing my third blog without a title and strapline, it struck me that there was one chief thing that I was trying to say through all the blogs: that publishers have failed authors.

The drafts then became this series you are reading, ‘Have publishers failed authors?’ My aim became to talk about the idea that trade (English only) publishers in India have failed talent. I want to state and argue this in a traditional context where the aim of a publishing house is to find and mentor talent so they establish themselves as career writers. As a result, the publisher can not only sustain itself financially but are proud of their identity basis a distinguished front-list or a unique imprint.

The foremost reason for me in stating this is the recurring concerns and complaints I hear from established and debutant authors. Instead of boring you with the merits of each case, let me share the questions that bother me the most. Just so you know, each of these questions arises from a true story and merits a separate blog.

  • Why does a Dalit (or minority) writer have to go to a Dalit only (read minority only) publisher?

  • Why should a debut author get his book published by the press of his own agent?

  • Why should an aspiring and talented writer from the northeast warn writers that Delhi publishers stay unapproachable for writers from the said region?

  • Why do big publishers withhold information regarding receipt of royalty payments or even actual book presence?

  • Why should an author’s book languish with a reputed global publisher for almost a decade until a another kind publisher intervenes to find them a suitable publisher?

  • Why should a leading literary agency be dishonest about the fact that it charges a one-time fee?

  • Why should a young debut male writer believe he deserves a career manager when all he has is a book that is at best, weak?

It goes without saying that the overall experience of the writer was not satisfactory. Like most professionals in the industry, I concluded that management was solely responsible for the status quo in publishing, but that’s simplifying things. The onus remains on all stakeholders, including writers, agents, publishers and authors as well.

Without going in-depth, I would like to state that in the 21st century, publishers have failed talent simply because of their bureaucratic nature.

While I will use this space to continue to talk about the said status quo, I want to end it with a positive note using a tweet I came across.


PS: While this idea can be delved into at length and reported upon, I will restrict myself to an observational piece.

If you are interested in more such series, you can read:

What’s Editing Anyway?

Is Editing Cost Effective or Costly?


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