On the last day of Amar Ekushey Boi Mela, my good friend Shakoor Majid shared a piece of information on social media about the mela. He quoted Bangla Academy, saying that more than Tk70 crore worth of books were sold during the month-long book fair.
This is indeed a great piece of information. If we look at the trend of books being sold in the last three years, it is only increasing.
He, however, posed a question while putting up this information. If the authors’ 15% royalty is computed, then they should be getting more than Tk10cr of this 70.
Now, my question is: Will this ever happen?
Will any author get his or her share after the sale of their books by the publishers? I know a great many writers of Bangladesh. Apart from a few, I have never heard that their publishers had paid them for their authorship.
I had also quoted Shakoor Majid on social media disseminating the same message that the publishers of Bangladesh never pay the authors; rather, they receive money in order to publish the books.
One of my friends had tried to convince me about the positive side of so many authors having their books published. He commented: “Please don’t look at the money side; it is a great thing that at least the books are being published.”
I don’t disagree with my friend’s belief. However, I think the number of quality publishers is too low. Most publishers don’t have the knowledge and required skills for the publishing industry. These days, anybody and everybody has become a publisher.
I’m not opposed to the idea of new publishers emerging in Bangladesh; all publishers, I believe, must cater to the quality of the works they are publishing.
I have read many books this February. Unfortunately, many books lacked quality, and they were poorly edited publications. One of the striking features of publishing books is a strong editing community in the publishing industry.
Bangladesh has not been able to create good editors. Editing is being done by the proof-readers who actually work in daily newspapers. These people make quite a lot of mistakes, which is unpardonably annoying. My own book that was published this February was also poorly edited.
The production quality of the books is also shamefully poor. I’ll not compare our books with those of the West, but we may have a look at our neighbouring publishing hub. The Kolkata-based publishers don’t put up the price tag of the books more than we do, but their production of the books is way better than ours. One needs to feel good when one holds a book in his or her hand.
I have read many books this February. Unfortunately, many books lacked quality and they were poorly edited publications
What makes a good book?
Now, if we really care for the sustainability of the publishing business, we must be professional about it and have a good business model before opting to start this business. I think publishers need to be quite choosy about selecting manuscripts.
They must stop publishing works of whichever author pays them. I know it’s quite difficult for a publisher to refrain from receiving money, even from someone who isn’t writing a quality book.
Now, what is a quality book? Please don’t rebuke me, but I must now look back in time. If we considered the stalwarts of our literature, we would know. If I named a few authors of the past decades, we would know.
The first condition of a quality book is whether the readers feel interested to buy it and are engaged in it. If you look at the push-sale that goes around in our Boi Mela, it is quite disturbing. Why would the authors sell the books? It’s the responsibility of the publishers to market and sell their books.
The second thought about quality that comes to mind is: Will my work be able to stand the test of time? 50 years from now, will my work be available in the market?
Would any reader still feel interested to purchase my work? Well, you may ask: Why should every author be remembered? Yes, you may be right, but to my mind, I want my work to be read even after a hundred years.
If I’m writing a short story or a piece of fiction, will my work be taught in the literature departments of universities? You may term me as “too ambitious.” But yes, when I talk about quality, this is what I mean. I request all of you to share your thoughts about the quality of books.
Then again, I must look at the interests of the readers; they are the final judges of quality. They will shape the future of a piece of work -- all works by all authors.
I guess till then, we may need to keep publishing books and keep the imagination of willing authors flowing.
All my best wishes to those who are currently writing, and those who are dreaming of becoming authors.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.