Over the last year, more and more young writers in Kashmir are taking to self-publishing their books. While enough books may not be selling, publishing houses are doing well and a debate is raging within the society, reports Mir Suneem
When you come across a ‘breaking news’ on social media or a newspaper about a young boy or a girl becoming a young author, skip the story. This is the new in-thing in Kashmir’s neo-elite that their wards become ‘authors’ early in their lives. These are basically self-published things, which may or may never become books if the ‘authors’ follow the routine in the publishing sector.
Most of these ‘books’ are published by a number of publishing houses that specialise in self-publishing against a proper payment by the author. It is said to be a booming sector, right now.
Self-publishing has remained an old way out for a section of the writers to bypass the traditional publishing mill. In certain cases, they would feel it suffocating to negotiate with the publishers. Off late, however, it emerged as an innovative avenue for young “writers” to become overnight authors by paying a substantial sum to the publishers who do the entire exercise on their own. This trend exists worldwide, however.
An Author Speaks
“Most of the self-published books in Kashmir that we see in the market lack in standard,” said Shabir Ahmad Mir, whose novel The Plague Upon Us was published after many years of efforts. “These books have tons of grammatical and structural errors.” Devoid of a proper system for quality control, self-published books usually do not go through an editorial process or screening that eventually results in a substandard outcome.
Mir highlights the problem of the “instant gratification” in Kashmir society that leads to such hasty decisions by the young people and their parents. “They should rather focus on their craft and improve their writing instead of making haste to publish their works,” Mir said. “Organising a mega book launch event at a grand venue and getting the media attention may attract some hype for a few days but in the end, it serves no purpose unless your book is worthwhile.”
“Writing a book is a huge commitment and demands extreme passion and devotion but it is absurd to see kids these days publishing their books in a few months,” said Mir. “Some young people have exceptional talent in writing but it is important for them to hone their skills instead of rushing to get validation.”
In Kashmir, hundreds of books are self-published in a year. Against the self-published books, less than 10 books were published on Kashmir by reputed publishing houses this year so far.
“Being a young and inexperienced writer, taking the traditional route was never an option for me, so I self-published my book to put my work out in the public domain”, said Junaid Altaf, a 21-year-old student, whose book The Fib of A Dreamer was published recently.
With his bookselling just a few copies, Junaid regrets his decision now. “If I had not made haste and taken more time to improve the content of my book, it might have been different. That way, I would have explored other options as well.”
Since self-publishing skips the long process of formal publishing, the level of writing and quality of the content is always questionable. Most self-published books do not sell more than a few copies except in some rare cases.
Some of them are literally reluctant authors.
In January 2020, ZabrainWandroo, a Srinagar girl published her book, when she was only 16. Her book highlights the mental health issues and trauma faced by the young generation. “I may not have published my book if it wasn’t for the deteriorating mental health conditions of Kashmir’s youth resulting in growing suicide cases,” said Zabrain.
Zabrain is a student and to suit her budget and requirements, the only way out was to get the assistance of a self-publishing house to put her book out into the public domain. “My book may not be perfect but I felt the need to publish it to help people going through a psychological problem,” she said.
A Short Cut
The traditional publishing environment is painfully lengthy. A book takes years to complete. From the conception of an idea, drafting a proposal, getting accepted, submitting a manuscript and going through screening, quality check and responding to queries of the text, writing a book is a painfully long journey.
The young writers being published in Kashmir complete their book within a few months and self-publishing allows them to skip this “long and exhausting” process and directly sell their books to the public. They take the manuscript, print it and hand over the consignment. In certain cases, they even manage formal launches as well.
On the contrary, another author, Farah Bashir whose book Rumours of the Spring was recently published by Harper Collins sees nothing wrong in the idea of self-publishing.
She believes society must be open to alternatives to traditional publishing if they give space and voice to people who go unheard. “If the book holds weight and is of high calibre, then it doesn’t matter how it is published, all that matters is the quality and content of the book,” Farah said.
Many self published authors motivated by their passion and a strong will to be read worldwide hire freelance editors or approach companies to assist them in cover designing, marketing and copyediting to make their work more robust and readable. Even if the books are the best, they still face a distribution crisis, an option that online is managing now.
The New Publishers
In Kashmir, new publishers have thrived in the last few years with a focus on self-publishing. Srinagar’s Lieper Publication has published more than a hundred books since its inception in 2018 and claims to be Kashmir’s first and fast-growing self-publishing house.
It was founded by Faheem Bhat, 22, who dropped out of engineering to write his book Wandering for Love. Sensing the absence of local publishers in Kashmir, he came up with his own publishing house with the tagline: ‘We turn writers into authors’.
Bhat said his company prefers quality over quantity and their team works extensively to provide the best services and packages to clients.
“In the beginning, we may have made a few mistakes due to lack of experience but we are growing and learning with time, and giving space to more standard content,” said Bhat.
Bhat is also looking for more regional and relevant content to stand out among other publishers. “Our aim is to give a fair chance to the deserving talent who are often overlooked by the mainstream publishers and create a local avenue for them to publish their work.”
Bhat’s company offer multiple packages to the writers to publish, distribute and promote their books. In addition, it conducts various activities including a book launch, social media marketing, open-mics, etc to engage more audience.
In March 2020, Wular Publishing House came into existence. It claims to make publishing ‘easier, affordable and effective.” It was started by two friends – Abid Shaheen of Sopore and Shahid Malik of Kulgam, and is based in South Kashmir.
They claim to have published more than 50 books of all genres and attracted many clients through their social media marketing.
“It often gets difficult to be considered by a reputed publishing house and to overcome that struggle for writers, we offer them an alternative,” said Abid, a 21-year media student.
Refuting the notion of substandard quality usually associated with self-published books, Abid assures that the submitted manuscript goes through screening before being considered for publishing. “It takes around a month for us to get a book ready to be published,” Abid said.
The Flip Side
The stigma attached to self-publishing according to most people is based on the quality of self-published books available in the market.
“If I am purchasing a book, I am not only investing my money but my time, energy and efforts to read it,” said Ifra, a student and an avid reader. “And if the book doesn’t fall in line with the basic standard, it is disappointing.”
According to Tawseef Ahmad Parray, a PhD scholar, everything has two perspectives. “While the decision lies with a writer if he wants to self publish his book or not, it is important for him to consider the standard and impact of that book, especially when it comes to academic books,” Parray said. “Often, people holding doctorate and having expertise in a particular subject are unable to write and produce a book of a decent standard.”
Tawseef has authored six books related to Islamic studies and not once did he consider self-publishing as he didn’t want to risk the quality of his books. “In the self-publishing model, nobody is ready to work on your manuscript to improve it.”
However, some people reject such claims and believe that if a person has a good hold on the craft and is confident about it, then age and experience can be overlooked. “It is great to have a platform that provides an opportunity to channelize your work and assists you to fulfil your goals,” believes Arshie Khan, a management student at the University of Kashmir whose self-published book Sunshine Through Icicles, a collection of stories, poems and quotes came out in 2019, when she was 22. “It is nearly impossible for a young and amateur writer to be considered by a reputed publishing house, so having a local publisher to guide you can be a ray of hope for many.”
She acknowledges the need for a writer to polish her skills but at the same time, she believes that a writer has to start from somewhere to reach the heights of excellence.
“Currently, I am the author of a book and this makes me feel more confident. Three years back, I may not have been aware of a lot of things that I know now and it puts me in a position to consider more and better options if, for instance, I have to publish another book,” she said.
As per Arshie, she never intended to publish her work in the first place. It was when she won an open mic at a café that led to a series of events and finally writing of a book by her.