Home >Mint-lounge >Features >Jaipur-bound

In 1974, J.D. Salinger told New York Times reporter Lacey Fosburgh, “There is a marvellous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write for myself and my own pleasure."

What prompted this interview, his first in many years, was his rage at the unauthorized publication of his short stories in The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J.D. Salinger. It had been more than a decade since Salinger had last published officially, and while he spoke in this interview of writing feverishly (both his girlfriend and daughter have said at different times that he had several finished manuscripts filed away) and hinted that he may publish soon even though he was not contractually bound to do so, he never did again.

There aren’t very many such writers. Not just those who are reclusive, but those who do not give a damn if their stories are read. In India we don’t have hermit writers of the ilk of Salinger or Thomas Pynchon (speculation was even rife at one point that he was actually Salinger) or Cormac McCarthy. And for all of Amitav Ghosh’s supposed disengagement with the tamashas (spectacles) called lit fests (though he has been known to attend some) and his perplexity that Salman Rushdie might actually like performing in these, one thing is certain: He certainly does want his books to be read.

For the past year or so, Ghosh has been more or less stationed at his home in a north Goa village, completing the last of his Ibis trilogy, which will be published by Penguin later this year. He doesn’t lead a secluded life here; from all accounts, he is a rather friendly neighbour who likes his game of badminton.

While the media loves to term him a recluse (a handy title for anyone difficult to catch hold of for sundry quotes), Ghosh does have several lines of communication open with the larger world. As with any writer, the first and most important, of course, is his book. He’s also an efficient blogger and corresponds willingly with those who leave comments to his posts. And at the publication of every new book, Ghosh obliges the press by participating in events and interviews.

As the author of another trilogy, Amish (who goes by just one name), would have it, he is a thorough professional who wants his books to sell.

Amish, people may recall, had changed the way publishers and authors here think about marketing their books. From booklets carrying extracts of his novels placed in book stores, to trailers at movie theatres, Amish tried to think of newer ways to draw attention to novels that many publishers had initially rejected; several of these same publishers have since begun to imitate his marketing tactics.

Amish is a fortunate writer; the mass success of his Shiva trilogy has meant that his royalty cheque soon outgrew his salary as a banker, allowing him to give up his day job. His publisher, Westland, will be using the platform provided by the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), starting 21 January, to hold a press conference to announce his next series, which will be published later in the year, and perhaps even to reveal the next line of attack in his marketing strategy.

If an established mass-market hit writer like Amish is wary of being publicity-shy, what are the chances of others being able to secure themselves from this “damned interruption" to their art, as Salinger would say? And this includes doing the rounds of more than several dozen literary festivals.

There are many writers who say they find attending festivals fun, stimulating. They say it gives them a sense of community and makes their job less lonely—“one of the great pleasures of meeting other writers is good old-fashioned delicious gossip," says Arshia Sattar, writer, translator and co-founder of the Bengaluru-based writer’s residency Sangam House. Equally often, however, writers have expressed a desire to be left alone.

The act of writing itself is a very lonely experience. While an Alexander McCall Smith finds no difficulty in churning out his daily quota of 2,000 words or more from any hotel room he happens to be occupying at that moment, most professional writers, equally disciplined creatures, say they need to be left alone for a specific number of hours, day after day; during this time, they wake up, sleep and live in worlds of their own making. If there are some whose work is fuelled by their being in this world, who thrive on social interactions, others like Haruki Murakami thrive on this profound and beautiful loneliness.

The second part of the writer’s work starts once he or she has given birth to the book, so to say. Given that it’s one among the thousands spawned every year, the writer has to take on the responsibility of ensuring that it reaches readers. As Alexandra Pringle, group editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury Publishing in the UK, puts it: “It is said that you have to hear about a book five times before you buy it. That takes a lot of publicity!" Not only are you competing with other authors, you are also competing with different forms of entertainment.

The pressure to sell is enormous and if a writer finds it hard to talk publicly, says Pringle, publishers offer media training, even help to “get to grips with social media", an increasingly powerful tool in book promotions. This pressure to sell books has also come to mean “showing people your face and letting them hear your voice", says Sattar. A writer’s relevance, it seems, needs to be reinforced constantly.

So while Upamanyu Chatterjee manages to steer clear of events at other times, he made an appearance at the ongoing Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival with his new book, Fairy Tales At Fifty. And while Vikram Seth is usually not known to be allergic to literary festivals, there is no real reason for him to participate in the JLF; his sequel to A Suitable Boy is, after all, scheduled to be published only in 2016. And while V.S. Naipaul no longer needs any help to sell his books, the organizers of the JLF still feel the need to give some relevance to his presence at the festival this year. They will celebrate 50 years of his seminal work of fiction, A House for Mr Biswas—four years after it crossed this landmark.

There will be over 250 writers competing for attention at the JLF this year. Their résumés will no doubt be the biggest draws. The Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Orange Prize, Man Booker Prize, PEN/Hemingway Award, National Book Award, Samuel Johnson Prize, Costa (Whitbread) Prize, SAARC Literature Award, Pushcart Prize, Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, Sahitya Akademi Award, Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction, DSC Prize for South Asian Writers, Commonwealth Writers Prize, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Goldsmiths Prize. Take your pick.

As a writer, if your résumé doesn’t include these, or if you are not fortunate enough to be your publisher’s “author of the month", being pushed into a panel discussion, or if your book is not being launched at the festival itself, you can still draw attention to yourself by moderating a panel discussion. If you don’t fall into any of these categories, hard luck.

Visibility is now key to this particular desk job. Not everyone, after all, can afford to be like J.M. Coetzee, who works hard at the opposite: to keep a distance from his public image.

Subscribe to newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Click here to read the Mint ePaperLivemint.com is now on Telegram. Join Livemint channel in your Telegram and stay updated

Close
×
My Reads Redeem a Gift Card Logout