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Everyone's Writing, No One's Reading

06/09/2016 11:27 AM IST | Updated 18/09/2016 9:57 AM IST
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You've obviously heard of engineers opting to spend a couple of years in an IIM or some lesser institute for an MBA and then settling down to sell soaps or thrust limp shares down the throats of gullible investors. Others become armchair advisors, or as the industry calls them, business consultants. There are a couple of newer streams that the MBA think-tanks all over need to seriously consider... after all, isn't diversification the surest way to remain in the news? It is a lot easier to discover trends these days too. For instance, you don't need to hire Nielson and spend lakhs on presentations made at 5-star hotels to know that writing is big business.

Many have decided to exercise their right to write because they think they already know how to market and sell.

Yes, writing is indeed big business. But selling writing is bigger business simply because our publishers are no longer doing it effectively. Let us first investigate the link between MBA and the art of writing. If you are able to think of just Chetan Bhagat, I'm afraid you really need a refresher course. Rashmi Bansal, Amish Tripathi, Yashodhara Lal, Ramachandra Guha, Mallika Sarabhai, Harsha Bhogle, Prasoon Joshi...these are just a few examples. There are many others too who have decided to exercise their right to write because they think they already know how to market and sell. The tens of names that I have not listed (because come on, dammit, this isn't a sponsored list and I'm not getting paid) can anyway be found bobbing in that sea called the social media. Surf the waves of Facebook and you'll soon find them on rafts selling their novels – usually thrillers littered with banking terminology thrown in to signify intellectual heft.

This isn't bad at all... after all, we've all had enough of authors who made writing needlessly complex with their references to the classics and thesaurus, and who hobnobbed in intellectual circles muttering something sounding uncannily like what Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha once wrote, "The audacity of my sagacity is instrumentality to my successity." Enough of this! We needed writers whose writing imitates the simplicity that life is and not those who come up with the mumbo-jumbo that's only understood by the superior caste known as "author".

The world is fast turning into one amorphous lump of authors.

The emerging breed of writers today have promptly dumped everything traditionally associated with literature – right from complex meanderings of mundane thoughts in overdone sentence formations to, well, grammar. This was unavoidable as the editorial teams of publishers were anyway busy with trying to write their own novels and didn't have time to actually deal with corrections and suggestions. It is far easier to reject manuscripts that pour in endlessly, pick up some smart plot and begin realigning its genetic code to make it escape the attention of Dr Plagiarist Catcher. The marketing teams of publishing houses are no less... look at them pretending to understand how things happen on Facebook and suavely call themselves influencers. The only problem here is that they reserve all their talent for their own book. Thus the author despite his degrees in engineering and business management, is sent a carton full of his unsold books with a terse note, "We told you it wouldn't sell. Now use the skills you learned at the B-school and see if you can make a living." Such writers soon discover that they cannot really muster up the courage to re-read their own work... and so it is simpler to invade Facebook groups with message updates of "buy this today – discounts don't last forever – and remember to review it on Amazon."

No, I'm not digressing from the topic... the last paragraph was written simply to tell you that the time for the idea of linking business acumen with writing is here and now. This is what is obvious on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even Instagram. A large percentage of authors (and I don't mean just Indians writing in English) fall in the "shamelessly ask for sales" or "shamelessly promote your book every time, all the time" categories. I guess this is because, as I said earlier, the marketing teams in publishing houses are busy doing everything other than what they are paid for... and this means that some of them are authors as well. Editors dream of peddling their own book on social media... and so the books that authors send across are hardly ever edited and reach the reader with all kinds of howlers intact. Everyone, it appears to me, is writing a book. The world is fast turning into one amorphous lump of authors. And so, just as everyone is forever selling on Quikr and OLX with not many actually buying, we have tumbled into an era where everyone is writing and not many are reading.

Just as everyone is forever selling on Quikr and OLX with not many actually buying, we are in an era where everyone is writing and not many are reading.

Look at the other phenomenon happening on social media... everyone who thinks they can write but cannot sell, is selling the art of creative writing. More than a score of my friends on Facebook are successfully making a living selling one-day creative writing workshops. The better-off among them graduate to selling their own property in the hills and touting them as "havens for writers and poets" and add value to the deal by throwing in some one-book wonder as the teacher of creative writing. I thought only the engineering colleges and B-schools were churning out novelists, but they are being thrown into the system by even these workshop-experts on social media. So obviously, I don't suggest B-schools to design a writing or creativity curriculum for future writers... they just need to have a specialization in selling your own book through the social media. B-schools need to wake up before the social media workshop consultants get a whiff of this idea. If they do, we'll soon be having our Facebook timelines swamped by updates flogging, "One-day workshops in the art of selling the book that you wrote after attending our workshop on how to write your first novel!"

Does this disgust me? No. I have lived my life in times where everyone is anyway selling something or the other. I wish, though, that someone thought of selling the art of reading. What the world desperately needs is a dedicated set of readers... and now please don't tell me we already have the masterful Kindle, the humble Kobo, and a line of others including the bumbling Juggernaut reader. I mean the other sort of reader. Readers who step out of cars to pee or those who make rude gestures when they're angry. You've got the drift by now, I suppose. We need readers.

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