World Book Day 2021: Lockdown or not, these Indian authors blazed the publishing trail during the pandemic
Significance of World Book Day 2021: When the lockdown was announced, Saranya Umakanthan would not have guessed that her debut novel ‘One Day, Life will change’, would become a bestseller during the pandemic. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. At a time when book shops had to be closed and online operations came to a standstill for many, Saranya’s debut novel became a bestseller!
Saranya’s success is not a lone story. Several Indian authors have successfully published their books and witnessed an encouraging response in terms of decent book sales during the pandemic year.
For Anuradha Goyal, noted travel blogger and author of Lotus in the Stone, the pandemic became a productive phase as she published three books during the year.
“The pandemic is a good time to sit back and read all those big books that you are scared to pick at because you are not sure if you can finish them. I had a huge pile of books on a subject that needed my complete attention and I spent the last year reading them. Incidentally, I published 3-4 books during this time. The feedback on Lotus in the Stone is overwhelmingly emotional with so many readers finding glimpses of their journey in my journey. All their feedback is giving me ideas for more books and blog posts, ” Anuradha Goyal tells Financial Express Online.
Few writers like Saiswaroopa Iyer, an IITian and investment professional turned author, have not only published new titles during the pandemic but have consistently supported new and aspiring authors to publish and promote their books through online discussions spanning social media platforms. Saiswaroopa Iyer recently curated Unsung Valour: The Forgotten Warriors of the Kurukshetra War. Published by Bloomsbury India, the book is an attempt by ten writers to bring forth the forgotten warriors of the Mahabharata in dimensions that have remained unknown and unexplored. Her latest book ‘Rukmini: Krishna’s Wife’ has been recently published by Rupa Publications.
World Book Day 2021: Technology becomes a gamechanger for authors
While technology emerged as a game changer and a tour de force, the beginning of the pandemic was not easy for authors as uncertainties about book sales and distribution loomed large. However, these initial undercurrents were swept aside as more people turned to books for solace during the lockdown.
“When the lockdown began, I saw my dreams breaking right before me and I was powerless to do anything about it but my hurdles appeared tiny when I saw what people were going through during this dark period,” Saranya Umakanthan tells Financial Express Online.
Then what is the secret of her debut novel’s success?
In her view, “I am a strong believer of my book title – One Day, Life will change. With that belief, I gave it some time. Things changed for me and there was no looking back once online operations began. The positive title and story inspired many readers and it went on to become a bestseller.”
How Indian authors published more books during the pandemic
For Saiswaroopa Iyer, author of Draupadi: The Tale of an Empress and Rukmini, Krishna’s Wife, the first wave lockdown was a boon in disguise despite personal setbacks and challenges.
“But as a writer, I was suddenly exposed to the large virtual webinar audience as many lit fest platforms went online. Under Indic Academy banner, we also curated an anthology and it was a unique mix of experience, mentoring writers on one side and learning from another. This yes, I would focus on completing the four work-in-progress books that I have started in 2020. I think partly, the anxiety did not allow me to take anything to completion. I hope to beat that in 2021. My priority is a series of non fiction books aimed at aspiring writers,” Saiswaroopa Iyer tells Financial Express Online.
Even for well known authors who are familiar with the publishing ecosystem, the path is fraught with challenges even as the pandemic paved the way for the new normal.
Aditi Banerjee, author of The Curse of Gandhari, feels that the pandemic has made some things easier and some things harder. She cites how there is more time to write now.
However, there is a hidden challenge which she highlights, “What has become harder, though, is writing scenes in pre-pandemic times and trying to viscerally remember and recreate simple, everyday experiences like going to restaurants or walking through a grocery store or just milling about in crowds. But just as readers have found solace and refuge in books, writing has become an even more necessary practice for me – to let my imagination be free and to experience vicariously that which is restricted and constrained now.”
A notable trend has been that Indian authors found themselves switching to different genres, thereby breaching their own established comfort zones.
“The one thing that has not changed is my engagement with the art of writing. In fact, being at home all the time has increased the number of hours I have spent writing. 2020 saw the launch of my two anthologies – Out of The Blue and The Anatomy of Affection. In February 2021, my seventh book, a cozy mystery titled The Cursed Inheritance, was released. With this book, my writing has breached a new genre; the cozy mystery category and I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this book. As all this shows, 2020 and continuing till now has been a very fecund period as far as my writing goes. In times to come, I hope to diverge into many more genres,” Sutapa Basu, author of Padmavati: The Queen Tells Her Own Story, tells Financial Express Online.
World Book Day: Even in this digital age, the power of books remains
According to Aditi Banerjee,”The mission behind World Book Day is a noble one – one of putting a book into the hands of every child. Being homebound during the pandemic has made books even more necessary and valuable. Through reading, we can still journey into different worlds and vicariously live through fascinating characters. Books leave terrific scope for imagination, and especially during the pandemic, many of us need to revitalize our imaginations so we can hold onto hope for brighter days ahead. As readers, the pandemic has only underscored and enhanced the value of books as a medium for storytelling.”
Notably, the demand for books on spirituality soared during the pandemic.
Pranay, author of ‘Vivekananda: Spirituality for Leadership & Success’ tells Financial Express Online, “Swami Vivekananda used to say, ‘It all begins with a book!’ In other words, all of mankind’s highest pursuits – in spirituality, in science or any other subject – are based upon the power of books. And ineed, even in this digital age of ours, this holds true: the forms of reading may have changed a little, but reading may have changed a little but fundamentally, books and the written word are at the very heart of civilization.”
In 2019, Pranay conceptualised a 20 book series called “Spirituality for Tough Times” encompassing lessons from different paths on how to deal with difficult situations, crisis moments and tough times in life. What was uncanny was that by the time the series had been finalised by FingerPrint Publishing, the entire COVID crisis had unfolded for the world, creating tough times for all.
“Suddenly, our series started seeming even more timely and significant. My personal belief in the primacy of disseminating ideas through the written word, especially key issues that affect human beings was re-enforced,” Pranay tells Financial Express Online.
Another author’s approach involves rejigging one’s regular activities to shut out the world’s external noise and log in to one’s inner creative reserves.
“As an author, the lockdowns can be a blessing in disguise. We are free of some of our regular activities and get more time to work on our next book. When the noise from the outside world is lessened, it becomes easier to be in touch with our inner, higher Self, the source of our inspiration and creativity. If you have something valuable, do share it with the world through your writings. It shows you care for the rest of us,” observes Ranjit Chaudhri, author of The Shiva Sutras.
While new and published authors are stepping up and finding unique ways of conceptualising their books in print, Saiswaroopa Iyer pitches strongly for self-publishing using robust platforms such as Amazon Kindle: “I advocate that every writer should self publish a couple of books while working on others with traditional publishers. Self publishing, especially on a platform like Amazon Kindle gives us that end to end ground view of publishing, which is also helpful when each writer goes traditional. In the last year, more readers went on to devices and it is easier to reach readers through social media nowadays. So yes, do self publish and test the waters!”
World Book Day 2021: Are debut authors faring better in book sales?
Notably, Jane Friedman had recently posted on her blog about how The Bookseller had reported in January 2021 that debut novelists performed better during the pandemic year than in 2019 by a whopping 151 per cent. Inevitably, there are cost and distribution pressures in the publishing industry that need to be factored in as well.
Aditi Banerjee shares her insights with Financial Express Online, “The publishing ecosystem has immense challenges and yet also promising opportunities for debut writers. Traditional publishing, faced with cost pressures and distribution challenges, has become even harder to break into. However, there are growing opportunities in the non-traditional publishing space through self-publishing and serialized fiction sites, including a new one being launched by Amazon. The competition for a reader’s time and mind-space is intense – social media, online streaming, gaming, etc. But even with these new media, the thirst for good storytelling, which has been hardwired into us neurologically from ancient times, remains strong. Writing is the primal medium for storytelling and thus the role of writers is indispensable. So, for example, serials and films based on books often tend to do better. In short, emerging authors should understand the challenges of the current publishing ecosystem but also know that writing good stories will always be in demand.”
Keerthi Yella, author of Ten Things Your Skinny Friends Don’t Tell You, observes that while her debut book has been doing well, the overall sales had been impacted by the pandemic. Still the satisfaction of encouraging review and support of readers have made it worthwhile for the debut author.
“As an author, I feel happy that my first book was well received. I am surprised that not only women but also men are loving the book. I had a feeling that men would squirm and rant to read a book with the word ‘skinny’ in its title. This year, I am excited about the release of the e-book and the physical copies of the book stocked in bookstores,” Keerthi Yella tells Financial Express Online.
World Book Day 2021 significance for readers
“For people like you and me, every day is a Book Day, isn’t it! But like most awareness days, there will be programs organized around this day which, let’s hope, will make more people, especially youngsters, discover the magic of books. Book lovers are always on the lookout for the next great book to read; these events will bring new books to their attention,” shares Jeena R Papaadi, author of Shadows of the Past and other Stories.
However, the grim reality of the second wave has hit hard even as writers
find themselves more productive during the year of the pandemic than earlier. More states are announcing lockdowns and there is an element of uncertainty that has bounced back after almost a year of grappling with the pandemic. For Indian authors who are settled outside India, their writings are a unique journey unto itself, often amplifying their longing for their roots back home.
“My latest book is a contemporary novel about the immigrant experience told through an Indian-American girl’s voice. It is a story about home and family, about the old worlds we leave behind as immigrants and the new worlds we try to make our own. It is ultimately about love and belonging. Being apart from my family during the pandemic made the writing of this story even more poignant for me, as I’ve poured my love and longing for them into the pages,”Aditi Banerjee tells Financial Express Online.
World Book Day 2021: No better time to write
According to Sudeepa Nair, author of The Serpents of Kanakapuram, “COVID-19, I am horrified to say, offers myriad opportunities for the writing community. There is no better time to write. You are at home, free to structure your time as you wish. However, as an individual, I need time to process what is happening around the world. Imagine that humanity is facing a common and immediate enemy, a first in our lifetime for most of us. That in itself is a lot to digest. I wouldn’t want to write a book about it just now. I did write a few short stories on my blog but these were cathartic pieces to absorb some of the shock and grief I felt as I heard stories about acquaintances.”
Notably, Indian authors are closely observing the real life scenarios emerging from the pandemic.
“My first instinct, seeing the terrifying covid statistics across our country and the globe, is to say that I would take all the online conveniences back and be content with the pre-Covid era of offline activities if this virus would just leave us alone. Having said that, the Pandemic hitting at a time when the Internet is so extensively present is a positive thing – especially for those of us privileged to have easy access to it. I am not forgetting the thousands who cannot attend online classes or events because they do not have a good enough smartphone or Internet access. Nor the thousands who lost their jobs during this time,” Jeena R. Papaadi adds.
The author of Shadows of the Past and other Stories shares how technology has been a game changer for her. She cites how she attended a friend’s book launch in another city via Facebook Live and also participated as a panelist when The Book Bakers had arranged an Online Literary Festival, which may not have happened in pre-covid days.
Importance of World Book Day
For Neelam Kumar, noted author and a cancer survivor who has written ten best sellers, books have been her precious treasures since childhood. Inspired by her father’s words “If you empty your purse into your head, the investment will continue multiplying throughout your life,” Neelam’s latest book covers thirteen real life personalities who beat the odds and emerged triumphant while tackling tough situations.
“FingerPrint Publishing helped me complete and release a book during the pandemic. The book celebrates the limitless power of the human spirit by showcasing the lives of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things and the book worked well during the pandemic because people are looking for real life heroes who can inspire and bring hope,” observes Neelam Kumar, author of I am Invincible: Thirteen Tales of Courage, Grit and Survival.
“The pandemic and lockdown have given us ample time to dive into books and dig out their treasures. I hope we utilize this as a blessing in disguise and encourage the next generation to open their minds like parachutes and fly high in imagination with books as their compass,” she adds.
Significance of World Book Day 2021: Will humanity remain unchanged?
“The World Book Day reminds us about the importance of books in our lives, especially at a time like this when our freedom of movement is restricted, our livelihoods are threatened and our lives are at risk. Books bring us peace, they teach us, entertain us, help us improve our skills, inspire us and even help liberate us. Some of the most valuable lessons we learn in life are through our experiences and after that, through books,” Ranjit Chaudhri, author of The Shiva Sutras, tells Financial Express Online.
With uncertainty looming large and the surge in cases during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Sudeepa Nair sums up with a thought provoking question, “I think it would be interesting to imagine where we go from here. Will humanity remain unchanged post COVID? Not just economically but politically, socially and even in terms of personal convictions.”