Potato Chips, which arrives in book stores this month, is a story of a young boy’s adjustment in a new, big school. But what makes the book special is its author, Anshuman Mohan, who is only 14.
Tweens and teens are increasingly making their mark as authors. Mohan is one of the many young wordsmiths whose stories will hit stores this year. If Mohan has written about what he knows, 18-year-old Trisha Ray has created a girl-next-door who gets caught in a violent situation.
Ray is quite excited about the November launch of her book, tentatively titled The Girls Behind the Gunfire. “I started to write it when I was in class XI. I was 16 and chick lit bored me to death. So I started writing something that I’d like to read myself—a story about a very imperfect kid who doesn’t get a makeover but does get a life,” says the Kolkata-based author.
Fantasy is the choice of most children who want to write. “We mostly get full-length works and mythical magical stories,” says Nandita Bhardwaj, managing editor, Roli Books. But most tend to get rejected by publishers since the stories are too close to the young adult fiction category that has been a huge success globally. The ones who manage to come up with original storylines make the first cut.
Early start: Asmita Goyanka, author of The Mystic Temple. Priyanka Parashar / Mint
Delhi-based Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd and Scholastic India Pvt. Ltd have signed on young writers. Scholastic India has a short story-writing competition for children and the best ones are published in a volume called For Kids, By Kids, an annual publication.
Most of these publishers are serious about promoting their authors. Take Sterling, which launched 18-year-old Anirudh Vasdev with the collection of short stories, Of Ghosts, Wizards and Other Fantasies (in May last year). Vasdev got a launch at the London Book Fair. Says S.K. Ghai, chairman and managing director of Sterling Publishers, “The best way to encourage a young author is to publish him.” Roli’s launch last year of The Mystic Temple, written by Asmita Goyanka, a 14-year-old, Delhi-based author, involved a reading and an interaction with kids at a café and a children’s book store. “We’ll also try and do as much Web promotion as we can, because a large percentage of youngsters are very engaged with online activities. We’ll use Facebook, Twitter,” says Pradipta Sarkar of HarperCollins. Mohan has his own groups on Facebook.
Publishers are keen to find bloggers who would be interested in doing previews or reviews because much of the target audience is a more avid reader of blogs than of print reviews.
In some cases, it was the Internet that hurried young authors into completing their work. Ray brings up NovelRace, a concept started by science fiction fantasy author Samit Basu on his Twitter account. Basu called for a word-count race every weekend—first on Twitter and, later, Facebook. Soon NovelRace had its own website, motivating everyone to sit down and finish that draft they’d been working on for years.
The number of young, aspiring writers is increasing every year. HarperCollins, in the past one-and-a-half years, has had nine or 10 young authors writing in with publishing requests. Sterling had two.
Goyanka would qualify as one of the veterans. “Initially, I had no idea that I was writing a story. I was just doing my homework one day four years ago, when this idea flashed in my head and I casually started to type it. By the time I was 12, my book was complete, and Roli Books wanted to publish it,” she says.
Singapore-based Shaiyra Devi was another who started thinking about writing when she was 10. “I always knew I wanted to be a published author, and it was when I was around 10 that I decided to put my plan into action. I must have thought of at least a thousand ideas between the ages of 10 and 12. When I was around 12, I finally found a plot that stuck, and a year later I had finished my first book, Diamonds & Daggers,” she says.
Shaiyra Devi, now 17, has a second book—a collection of illustrated poems titled Coloured Rain. Devi, who has lived in various countries including India, is also an accomplished photographer. The poetry in her book is interspersed by some stunning photographs shot by her.
Anshuman Mohan, author of Potato Chips. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
Getting your work published when you are 12 or 13 is an achievement, but does it translate into monetary gain? Sarkar of HarperCollins feels that the advances are “fair”. HarperCollins plans to print 5,000 copies of Potato Chips in May as the first print run— which is a fair number for a first-time young writer. Goyanka’s publisher Roli says the returns from The Mystic Temple were encouraging. The author herself is happy that she got royalties.
None of these authors have agents. “Anshuman handles most of the things himself. We did look into the contract and signed it on his behalf as he is a minor, but it is totally his baby,” says Sheetal Bagaria, Mohan’s mother. For them, the fact that the publisher agreed to take up the book is rewarding enough.
But not every author is lucky. Shaiyra Devi and her family had to wait a long time before her book got a publisher. “Publishers charge a high percentage of the cost, distributors charge a fee. Publishers in India had no interest in supporting a young, unknown author, especially if the work was in the poetry and photography genre. It was much easier to interest distributors in Singapore,” says Priti Devi, Shaiyra Devi’s mother.
Despite the early publishing success, not all young authors think this is their chosen career path. Except for Ray, the others aren’t excited about the prospect of spending a lifetime churning out books. “I am not sure that I want to be full-time author. I know that I will always write, but I will probably write part-time. I worry that the magic and allure of it will disappear if it becomes a means of income rather than a creative outlet and passion,” Shaiyra Devi says.
And you thought teenagers were confused?
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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