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     Volume 9 Issue 12| March 19, 2010|

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Creating new best-sellers

Ekram Kabir

It is often said, "all Bengalis are poets". It is also often said that there are an equal number of crows as there are poets in Bengal. Everyone can sort of write something in this country. People around you however, colleagues, friends, etc will laugh at anyone writing poems or a novel. Despite the fact that they are being laughed at, inspired poets and novelists keep burning the midnight oil on poems and fiction. They also try their best to get their works published, especially in February at the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela.

Writing may be the easier part, but getting the work published could be an embarrassing as well as herculean task. When you approach a publisher, you're most likely to be rejected. When you press harder, you'll be asked to finance your own work to get it published.

When you agree, being a new writer, the publisher would publish only five hundred copies of your book. And for that to happen, he'll charge you, say, seventy-five thousand taka. There you go! It may not cost the publisher seventy-five thousand taka to print five hundred copies of your book. He can get it done at a much less. Then he'll ask to buy two hundred copies from those five hundred, saying that he'll sell the remaining three hundred. Those two hundred copies, that you'd buy, will perhaps be the only printed copies of your work. The publisher will never print the remaining three hundred. This is what I learnt from a few insiders in the publishing business.

Obviously, a publisher in a market such a Bangladesh would never want to incur any loss over any new book or writer. This is why publishing houses go crazy with celebrated writers like Syed Shamsul Haq and Humayun Ahmed when Ekushey Boi Mela arrives. They don't have any time to invest in new writers.

I spoke to several visitors at the Bangla Academy book fair and they opined that they couldn't find ten books - out of a thousand - worthy of purchasing. Recent press reports also say that there are too many publications and visitors, but too few buyers at the mela. What they actually mean is that several books are being published, but you may not want to read most of them as, they say, the quality of writing, plot, theme and production do not impress the readers.

What does it imply? It means new writers are not being created? But, shouldn't the publishers who play the most significant role in promoting a country's literature make an effort to discover and promote new, talented writers? Publishers such as Muktodhara and Puthighar have shown how a publisher can create writers and poets; how publishers can bring in new books and still do good business.

Contrary to this, publishers over the last two decades have been busy running after solely best-selling authors. But they have hardly been able to generate new authors whose works might become best-sellers as well. They have never tried to do the job that book agents or literary agents do in the markets like London, New York, Delhi or even Kolkata.

Now, what do literary agents do and why do they do it? They act as middlemen for the publishing world. They sift through the slush to offer the best and brightest to the the publishers. They work on a commission like the majority of salespersons on earth. They don't make money unless they sell books. Which essentially means, they must work in the writer's and publisher's best interests, or they won't be paid. Smart literary agents create new writers more than the publishers themselves do.

Besides spending their time talking to new and established writers and publishers, they also spend time talking to editors at the major (and sometimes minor) publishing houses to maintain contact and develop a good working relationship with the people responsible for buying your book. A good agent is also familiar with all the legal issues concerning your contract. They know the ins and outs of the business and how best to sell the rights to your story. They know which rights should remain with the author, and which ones should be with the publisher.

Many will argue that "literary agents" will not work in Bangladesh as the market here is too small. But has anyone ever tried it in Bangladesh? Publishers themselves should have played the role of agents in this country. But they never did that; they have never given any drive to find out new writers and make them best-sellers.

Creating new writers, however, is not the end of everything; the publishers have to know how to market the books. The readers should know about the book much before it is published. A publisher has to have a plan on how to promote that book. Otherwise, how do readers find out about a book? Most don't just pick it up off a shelf in a bookstore. They read a review, see an ad, or even watch an author on TV. Publishers have marketing staff who send out review copies, create promotional items, and book authors on tours. The publishers may not need promotional work for a work of Humayun Ahmed or Imdadul Haq Milon, but if they want to promote new writers, they must.

All this is not being suggested just to enrich Bangladesh's literary arena. This will ultimately create markets for publishers and multiply profits. Literary agents could be a new opening in Bangladesh's literary and publishing arena. The publishers would do them as well as the country's culture a great service if they themselves act as agents to create new best sellers.



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