Come February, almost all the publishers of Bangladesh remain busy inside the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela at the Bangla Academy and Suhrawardy Uddyan premises.
Prior to February, our ubiquitous book market Banglabazaar gets busy from November. The writers, proof-readers, editors, publishers, and printers burn their midnight oil in order to publish books, keeping the mela in mind.
The Boi Mela these days has become one of the most observable intellectual celebrations of our nation. It has now become a symbol of, perhaps, our nationalism, as the mela reminds us of the origin of our independence, back in 1952.
Every year, sales of books and journals are increasing, and that is a fantastic aspect in a nation’s development process.
Despite the intoxicating smell of books and the lustre of the people who flock to the mela, some publishers and writers don’t seem happy about their output. Take Shahadat Hossain, the publisher of Annesha Prokashon, for example. He has just commented while talking to a reporter that they (the publishers) don’t receive “quality manuscripts.”
This is certainly a point to ponder on, and eventually find a possible solution to. In fact, it’s a dire message for the entire society. When a big publisher comments that they aren’t getting good manuscripts, it may indicate our intellectual poverty.
Now, what are quality manuscripts? Those that sell more? The ones that the readers would remember for a long time? Those which would be included as classroom texts?
There are many parameters for a book to be good. In the end, the readers have to find jacket-to-jacket interest in a book.
Bangladeshi publishers have always enjoyed a natural flow of manuscripts. They (the publishers) didn’t have to work very hard to search for writers; the writers came to them with their manuscripts and the publishers published according to the merit of the books.
However, the publishers, in their own volition, had never tried to create writers in an organized way. There’s a lack of pro-active attitude on behalf of the publishers in order to create writers.
The search for every writer
Last year, a report in Bangla Tribune said that 90% of the books that are displayed in the Boi Mela are self-published, meaning that the writers have paid the publishers for publishing their books. This is grossly unfortunate.
This shows that the publishers take the easy route to sustain their business. So, by destroying what you call “quality” at the outset, you cannot expect quality manuscripts, can you?
The publishers also are not seen to promote their writers. If a writer’s first book sells well, they don’t even encourage him to write more.
The writer keeps on living an unpatronized writing life, feeling unimportant to his or her publisher. The publishers don’t allow writers to become bestsellers overnight; they tend to say that one has to take a long time to become a renowned author.
That is an utterly unacceptable attitude. I remember reading a book -- The Outsider -- by an American author named Collin Wilson, who became a best-selling author during the 1950s at the age of 25, with this piece of work. Then on, he remained a best-selling author all his life.
There are thousands of such examples worldwide. The publishers in more mature societies create best-sellers out of nothing, out of nobodies. They (the publishers abroad) organize literary festivals, arrange sessions by book clubs, talk to the readers about their interests for stories, and search for hidden talents who never had the courage to come up to them with their manuscripts.
I think the publishers are the right agents for keeping the flame burning in the minds of the writers. The publishers need to love their writers
Our publishers could do at least some of those campaigns. They could at least arrange more writing competitions across the country. We see a few business houses which are in practice of arranging such competitions. Competitions are an easy tool for finding new writers.
I’ve just read an interview of a publisher who said that out of all published writers, 10% are new writers. Now, what would happen to them after publishing just one book? Writing is an urge, and the urge doesn’t always keep burning in a writer’s self; it needs re-fuelling and encouragement.
And I think the publishers are the right agents for keeping the flame burning in the minds of the writers. The publishers need to love their writers, not just as passers-by who happened to have written some books for them.
However, all hope has not withered.
These days, some publishers are now coming up with the promise to develop the country’s publishing industry as well as our literary culture.
We’re observing that a few confident and creative publishers have been investing in publishing business. Big book cafes such as Batighor, Bengal Boi, and Panjery have been receiving great enthusiasm from writers and readers.
They seem to have revived the hope for the future of the publishing industry. Given our history of language and culture, we should aim to become a nation of writers and publishers.
I wholeheartedly wish that we become so -- a nation of language and literature.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.