May 12, 2022

A litany of literary loss

It’s a devastating day for readers, authors, publishers, translators and others in India,’ Sharanya Manivannan said as she received updates on Amazon’s choice to shut down publishing house Westland Books . Given the flood of condolences on social media since then, the rest of the country seems to agree.

The homegrown brand’s reputation for promoting eclectic fiction and pushing the boundaries of groundbreaking non-fiction had resonated in many quarters for its loss to occur silently overnight. Even as loyalists scramble to buy the last of its stocks in every available market, Westlands staff itself and its writers have had to pick up the pieces.

Calculation of a loss
Sharanya, for her part, mourns the fate of her Ila duology – Moonlit Mermaids and Incantation on Water; the latter is barely two months old. She, like many of her fellow authors, learned about the development through a news article. Interior confirmation came later. But she is not blind to the fate of the Westland team itself. “I can imagine the shock and horror the Westland team themselves were in, and don’t blame them. They are a great team and the dissolution of their company will have repercussions for the whole industry as well as creativity and culture in general,” she says.

Amrita Mahale managed to speak to Karthika VK after learning of the shutdown. But it took him a while to realize what this could mean for his books under the label. “My first thought was that this wonderful team – the ones who took my chance on my book and fed me for three years – are out of work. The real shock came the next day when I received an email saying that the book would not be available for sale or in circulation beyond February 28. I did not expect the delay to be so short,” she notes.

Krupa Ge, who discovered it herself on social media, also expresses concern for the team that has supported her and offered so much for a fledgling author. “They’re probably the best team you could ask for, especially for a rookie writer. The kind of publicity blitz they organized for my books and the kind of editorial care I received from Ajitha GS; Arunima, one of the publicists, is perhaps the best in the industry. I know a lot of friends who have been published by other publishers and they haven’t gotten much attention. This is what is very sad because these people excelled in what they did. The fact that there was a trend on Twitter and so many people were sticking with it means they were doing something right,” she points out.

Amrita Mahale

many adventures
The sentiment is widely shared among Westland authors. While the publishing house has brought together many successful authors, including Chetan Bhagat and Devdutt Pattanaik, under its banner, its publishers – Context, Eka, Red Panda, Tranquebar and Westland Non-fiction – have published many award-winning books on politics , poetry, society and art. And this was not done without risking authors from all walks of life.

Krupa remembers that it was Ajitha who came up with the title of her book What We Know About Her. Amrita found a warm reception with Westland after being turned down by many publishers. “Karthika was the first person to read the manuscript and say, ‘Oh, it’s a Bombay novel.’ That’s the identity the book has taken on now; she was such an astute reader. Her contributions and edits have been invaluable. And the kind of marketing support I’ve received from Westland, I’m not sure other publishers give for a first author. A lot of first novels start getting the buzz when awards season starts. Otherwise, they just go under the radar. But the Westland team connected me with booksstagramers, on podcasts, got me interviews,” she says.

Perumal Murugan recalls how they helped publish his book Poonachi when he returned from the Madhorubaagan controversy. “Poonachi was auctioned among publishers; a first for a Tamil book. Westland offered good compensation for this. This is the book I wrote first after Madhorubagan. They pulled the book out beautifully, consulting me every step of the way,” he says. He has another novel (Estuary) and a non-fiction book (Amma) under the banner and he couldn’t be happier with how the team handled all of this work. That they have translated the books into other Indian languages ​​and not just English is also a source of immense satisfaction for the author.

Josy-Joseph

Such effort is reflected in the kind of non-fiction work that came out of Westland. From Aakar Patel’s The Price of the Modi Years to Arvind Narain’s India’s Undeclared Emergency. Among them are also Josy Joseph’s The Silent Coup: The History of India’s Deep State; a book that presented a critical view of our security forces and the nationalism and corruption within them.

The path to follow
With what feels like the end of an era after five short years under the Amazon umbrella, Westland titles will no longer be available in circulation after this month. Still, booksellers have been proactive in placing orders for the latest stock. “I received a message from Westland indicating that they were not recalling the books which were already on the market on February 28,” reassures Krupa.

Yet beyond that, the authors have little clarity on how they will sustain their books. Amrita says Westland is trying to find other publishers for her book. If that doesn’t work, the rights would be returned to him by the end of March. She could simply wait until she was ready with the manuscript for her second book before approaching other takers.

Perumal will discuss its possibilities with its Tamil publishers. But does this lead authors to consider self-publishing options? “Digital self-publishing is an option for some books – prose books. But many writers, even prose writers, require or want their books to be physical, for reasons such as library availability, ease of reading, the reading experience itself, etc.

This presents cost and storage challenges. Some other books simply cannot be digitized without seriously compromising the reading experience. These include poetry books where layout is important, visual works like picture books and coffee table books and more. My two with Westland are color illustrated books. I can’t afford to publish them myself as physical objects, nor can I publish them digitally,” Sharanya explains.

It comes with crazy challenges, says Krupa. “Rivers Remember is used in some universities in Canada. I have to make it available to them. I had trouble finding a publisher in Canada. I thought about self-publishing for this option. That way it can give you some freedom and Amazon becomes the middleman,” she notes. As for e-book publications, even Kindle Direct Publishing works, they are much more common in the US and UK, where we still have a long way to go, says Amrita.

Whichever way forward, the answers will come in the next few months. Meanwhile, there is still a legacy left from a loss. It will remain immortalized in the sentiment expressed by Karthika on Twitter. ‘You know the beauty of everything that’s happened over the past few days at @WestlandBooks? Almost every author my colleagues and I called responded instantly with, “How about you? ” Are you OK? We’ll talk about books later. And that’s why publishing is home and hope.

A wide range
While Westland has brought together many best-selling authors, its imprints – Context, Eka, Red Panda, Tranquebar and Westland Non-fiction – have published many award-winning works in politics, poetry, society and art.