Being at the receiving end of the publishing boom, one would have thought we'd seen it all: the endless stream of brown-paper parcels carrying the latest aspirants to literary fame—some 15-20 new books on a slow day; the ceaseless phone calls pleading for reviews and, of course, the string-pullers and name-droppers and publicist-hirers, not to speak of the author who makes his private secretary call unwary books editors with the chilling introduction: "The vigilance commissioner would like to speak to you." But the author who takes the prize for novel marketing strategy must easily be Dr L. Prakash, proud creator of 50 books of various genres, including a "comedy thriller", short stories, novels and self-help, all of them unpublished, with this original line: "You will be the first to review a book that hasn't yet found a publisher." The secret of his indefatigable writing, the 48-year-old orthopaedic confesses, is being locked up in the Chennai central prison for the last four years on charges of internet pornography. With time aplenty, he's been churning out a book a month.
Most Indian publishers would've balked at the advance Penguin India paid for Vikram Seth's Two Lives: Rs 1 million. But with his band-baaja five-metro tour barely concluding, it is Penguin who is doing the smirking: the first print run of 25,000 copies is already sold out. There goes yet another publishing wisdom: there are no takers—or not enough—for pricey, literary hardbacks.
Publishers—and wise authors—have known this for ages, but here is fresh confirmation from a judge of the Commonwealth Writer's Prize: a winning title makes a winning book. Talking of Rupa Bajwa's The Sari Shop, which has just won the CWP in the Eurasia Region for the Best First Book, the chairperson observed: "One of the co-judges remarked that the title was brilliant, if it had been titled 'Ramchand' then perhaps this judge would not have picked up the book with as much curiosity."