The sorry story of Harvard undergrad and latest chicklit sensation Kaavya Viswanathan's indiscriminate "internalising" from her favourite novelist's works holds a lesson both for writers and publishers. For writers, the moral is chillingly clear: it does not pay to be in a hurry and skip the process of drafting and redrafting your manuscript until you are dead sure the voice you hear is your own. But what about the publisher's role in all this? Desperate hunting for ever younger stars, they are rushing barely-completed MS to the printers, setting impossible deadlines and offering irresistible advances in their greed to hit the stores with the next bestseller.
Viswanathan was only 17 when she signed her contract for How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Ruskin Bond wasn't much older when he wrote his first novel, The Room on the Roof, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. And yet how different their stories! Bond had to do three drafts before a publisher would even look at it. The advance he got was 50 pounds, as against Viswanathan's $500,000. Bond says he worked harder on this novel than anything else he has since written.
Allan Sealy doesn't like Delhi, especially for book readings. He's decided to skip the city for the book-promoting tour for his new novel Red and head straight for the Crossword in Mumbai. Why? The last time when his publisher Picador persuaded him to the capital to launch The Brainfever Bird, only two people came for his reading at the British Council. One was his aunt, and the other a photographer. "I enjoyed reading to my aunt," Sealy recalls.