In 2018, after she finished writing the manuscript of her first poetry collection, On Days Like This, Shaira Afrida Oyshee was fortunate enough to meet writer and critic Syed Manzoorul Islam. Two weeks later, he said he "found it worthwhile". Soon on, her collection was published by Journeyman Books. The success of her debut collection still fresh, her second poetry collection – All the Quiet Places – was published by Anyaprokash in 2019.
"I understood that I was surrounded by literature and publishing people and that if I wasn't I would still be where I am, but it would take me at least two more years of dedicatedly searching for a publisher or getting accepted," she says, acknowledging her upbringing in a family active in the literary scene.
About the practical challenges of getting published, Shaira says, "You can drop in your manuscript or email it to the publication houses mentioned above but it takes months to go through the manuscripts that they receive and I have seen books of exceptionally good new writers being published like that. I still felt there could be a better way to find good poets and give the gift of their poetry to the readers to appreciate." She is the CEO of Dots Publications, an independent publishing house which is slated to bring out its first anthology (LAMP) in February 2021. Because of its "Most Promising Poet Award" scheme, the anthology, she says, is an effective tool of finding and rewarding poets with publishing deals.
For Syed Rafid Kabir, author of The Little Sounds of Time, publishing his debut novel "felt like a breeze" in comparison to the trials and tribulations of writing the novel, which took him four years. Aside from the actual hard work that goes into writing a novella, one of the biggest challenges he faced was having to type out the entire manuscript (more than 30,000 words) from his notebook in a Word document. The Little Sounds of Time, a book about the bizarre nature of time, was published by Worthy Publications in late 2019.
"Publishing a book in Bangladesh is straightforward: if you write a good story, you can be a good author. It's the same for many countries. But selling the book can often be challenging. And that is one of the last struggles I'm dealing with," he says. "I have many other projects on the way; they include reality-bending twists, deserts, deep space, the afterlife, bizarreness of time and so much more!"
Not everyone's road to publishing is smooth, though.
After finishing the first draft of his novel, Mystika: Might by Steel, which he started writing in 2017 as "an exercise of passion", Saam Hasan started approaching multiple agents and publishers.
"The biggest issue brought about by the rejections is the uncertainty. Because all you get is a form rejection letter, with no specifics as to where you were lacking. This meant I had no idea if I was getting any closer to catching a break or if my work was so far off the mark that I had no hope," he says, recounting the rejections his novel faced.
In the face of disappointing replies, he had "abandoned" his novel for a temporary period to focus on other projects. But after mid-2018, as he stumbled across Worthy Publications for one of those projects, the people engaged with the publishing house opened his eyes to a new way of publishing Mystika: "a self-publishing plan".
"I was introduced properly to the world of self-publishing. In particular, I understood the idea of on-demand publishing services where you don't have to pay for a certain number of initial copies to be printed. In these schemes, all that an author must pay for are accessory costs such as purchasing an ISBN, the cover design, any editing services, any marketing plans, etc. The cost of printing a book is simply deducted from the price of the book that the author sets, once a customer places an order. In other words, it is possible to get published without significant investment," he says about the experience.
In August 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, Mystika: Might by Steel was self-published. It is now available on Amazon.
Aside from poetry, novels, and novellas, comics are not unfortunately considered "a serious form of literature" by mainstream publishers, as per Fahim Anzoom Rumman, illustrator and author of Nidranogor.
"Getting publishers is the first problem I faced," he says, "In general, there's a dearth of English language publishers compared to Bangla, and you can see how I immediately fell into an uneasy corner as I had to find a publisher who would publish in English and also be interested in publishing comics."
Another problem he faced was the sheer amount of time he had to give to a certain publishing house. He says he had to see Nidranogor get published a year after completion because that publishing house, which he didn't go ahead with, chose to reply so late.
Moreover, he is also having to deal with payment issues because he is entitled to only a tenth of the total revenue. "It boils down to really little money," he says.
For Saleh Fuad, a writer and translator, the challenge of publishing rested more on the potential areas of controversy regarding censorship than on the trials and tribulations of finding a publishing house. His first book – Salman Rushdie O Michhiler Rajneeti, published in 2017 – is the translation of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's original text. One of the world's "500 most influential Muslims", Khan is a controversial figure in countries like Bangladesh due to his opposing and liberal views on many aspects.
"I was lucky that Chaitanya Prokashoni chose to give my book the green signal," he says. "Even though the atmosphere was loaded with censorship-related anxiety, I was surprised to see how quickly it sold out at the fair."
He reveals that as a newcomer and a young writer in undergraduate years, it was intimidating for him to attract the unwanted, discomforting attention from certain religious circles owing to the book's contents.
"Other than these, I didn't face more problems, thankfully."
Even though the terrain of publishing remains very uneasy and the experiences vary from one individual to the next, as the founder of a publishing house, Shaira thinks that devoting oneself to the art is one of the most important ways of navigating the industry.
She says, "Perfecting your craft by learning from every resource available then forming your own style is the first task in hand. Then comes finding a publisher, but if you do the first task perfectly, speaking from experience, publishers may find you themselves."
Shah Tazrian Ashrafi is a writer and studies International Relations.