New authors aim for bestsellers despite 95% rejections

Bengaluru-based literary agent, Jayapriya Vasudevan (centre) is flanked by two of her client authors, Krishna Udaysankar (left) and Samhita Arni at a bookstore in Bengaluru on April 14, 2019. Vasudevan's literary agency represents 60 authors worldwide, including 10 authors from Bengaluru.

Inspired by the meteoric success of established Indian writers, legions of new authors are trying to make it big in the face of rejection rates of 95% and little monetary gain.

Samhita Arni, a New York Times-bestselling author known for adapting Indian epic poems into modern narratives, and who also teaches a creative writing class at a university in the city, revealed that the royalties from her bestselling books can barely cover half of the rental costs on her apartment here. Her rent is Rs 20,000.

“We have so many young students in our creative writing programme that I wonder how they will make it in this country where it is difficult to be a full-time writer,” Samhita said, adding that Indian authors have little access to grants and other financial support that authors in the West enjoy.

According to data provided by Penguin Books, Random House and Simon & Schuster Publishing, the number of books being published in India is growing at a rate of 15%. Simon & Schuster, which often fields 15 books a month, aspires to sell at least 4,000 copies every month. The average book in India sells only 50 copies.

“In India, the minimum sale number required for a book to be classified as a bestseller is 2,000 copies,” said Madhukar Raj, who wrote Hack the Job (2018), a guide which aspires to offer advice on staying relevant in the age of automation.

Raj, who said he quit his job as a software engineer to become an author, took almost two years to write the book, during which he expended his life savings within a year and was forced to rely on funding from relatives to continue. “The book was eventually published, but I could not think of becoming a full-time writer in order to support myself because the royalties would never allow me to make a proper living. Now, I am looking to get back into software.” 

According to figures released by the publishing industry, 82,000 books are released every year in India.

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New authors aim for bestsellers despite 95% rejections

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