Big-ticket book deal will encourage non-fiction writers: Ramachandra Guha (Lead)

March 28th, 2009 - 9:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 28 (IANS) Author Ramachandra Guha, who has clinched a Rs.9.7 million (Rs.97 lakh) deal with Penguin India for seven books, feels it would encourage young authors to take to writing non-fiction.
“It (the deal) is a welcome acknowledgement of the imbalance between fiction and non-fiction. Fictional genres like poetry, prose and novels always had a great place in literature, but non-fiction is also important. This would encourage young authors to write non-fiction,” Guha told IANS from Bangalore.

The author, who is working on “Makers of Modern India” and “The Past and Future of Indian Democracy”, described the deal as a part of his writing process.

“It is a part of my writing process. Like any other professional, my job is to write. It is a part of the mechanics of life - of making a living and ensuring my own safety and security,” the commentator-author said.

“For instance, at this moment I am sitting in front of my computer writing a column for a leading national daily. So, I may sound a little brusque,” he laughed.

Under the deal with Penguin India, Guha will write seven books, including a two-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi, spread over 2010-15.

Penguin India’s Ravi Singh said the proposed books were about most significant and fascinating aspects of national life. “It doesn’t get any bigger and more important than this in contemporary non-fiction,” Singh said.

The book publishing and the market in India, according to industry surveys, is pegged at approximately Rs.100 billion (Rs.10,000 crore) and is growing at a rate of nearly 10 percent.

And, despite a marginal slowdown because of the economic slowdown, advances to authors are becoming heftier, thanks to competitive bidding by the surfeit of publishers in the Indian market.

Guha’s book deal is an example. Three high-profile bidders were in the fray for the deal and Random House reportedly offered him Rs.10 million (Rs.1 crore).

HarperCollins India had also bid, with an offer matching the Penguin bid, HarperCollins CEO P.N. Sukumar told IANS.

But Guha and his agent Gill Coleridge opted for Penguin.

Penguin had paid Rs.5.5 million (Rs.55 lakh) for Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Ibis trilogy’ - of which “Sea of Poppies” was the first book. Nandan Nilekani fetched Rs.2.5 millon (Rs.25 lakh) for “Imagining India” and Arvind Adiga raked in Rs.1.3 million (Rs.13 lakh) for the Man Booker winner “White Tiger”, according to reports.

“Hefty advances, especially for fiction, have been a trend for the last two years. It can be attributed to the growing number of publishers in India that is making for cut-throat competition and pushing up advances,” Sukumar said.

“Publishing houses are eying long-term markets. The trend is here to stay because the publishing houses will stay. Advances will continue to be hefty for bigger books,” he added.

Author Advaita Kala, whose debut novel “Almost Single” has sold 40,000 copies in India since its release in 2007, says book auctions involving multiple bidders help novelists get the right price and publisher for their works.

“I have gone through the process myself. Random House won the bid for my book in New York in June 2008. Between the first and the last bid, the price of my book went up four-fold,” Kala told IANS.

The young novelist felt this was a great time for popular commercial fiction writers, “though non-fictions in India was picking up like in the West”.

Literary agents say the average advance for first-time authors and relatively new novelists in India was in the region of Rs.25,000-50,000, though it could sometimes be as low as Rs.10,000-Rs.20,000 depending on the writer and the publisher.

Sukumar said the quality of writing has improved over the years, along with the market, because of the high literacy level and higher incomes paving the way for bigger advances.

“And the difference between advances paid to established authors in India and abroad is not much any longer,” he said.

Author Omair Ahmad, whose book “The Storyteller’s Tale” was published by Penguin India this month, said the trend could see more stories about India being told.

However, publishing industry veteran Yogesh Sharma, formerly with HarperCollins, sounded a note of caution. “The hype could result in a highly inflated market,” Sharma told IANS.

New authors do not get high advances till some high-profile agent builds up the hype, he said.

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