Sunday, February 10, 2008

Making an advance

I recently read this article in the Outlook magazine that enthusiastically talks about The Big Fat Indian Advance (Words worth millions).

Sheela Reddy mentions all the hefty advances Indian publishers are doling out to writers like Nandan Nilekani, Dev Anand and Amitav Ghosh these days:

Something funny is going on in the famously tight-fisted circle of Indian publishers. For the past few months, they have been punting dizzily on manuscripts by untried Indian authors, coughing up millions of rupees in advance royalties. The buzz about the boom in Indian advances has spread so fast that publishers and literary agents heading West with Indian manuscripts are swerving right back home, demanding five and six-figure dollar advances that rival those in the UK or Europe.

Here's a list of authors and their chunky advances (Thanks Saja).

Palash Mehrotra - The Butterfly Generation - $20,000 (Rs 8 lakh)
Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger - $35,000 (Rs 14 lakh)
Tarun Tejpal - The Story Of My Assassins - Rs 22 lakh
Dev Anand - Romancing With Life - Rs 15 lakh
Nandan Nilekani - Imagining India - $35,000 (Rs 14 lakh)
Amitav Ghosh - Sea Of Poppies Trilogy - $110,000 (Rs 44 lakh)
Tony D’Souza - The Konkans - Four to Five thousand pounds (Rs 3-4 lakh)
Shrabani Basu - Victoria & Abdul - $16,000 (Rs 6.3 lakh)

Interestingly, as SAJA has noted, Tarun Tejpal's Indian advance was larger than what he reportedly was offered by an Italian publisher. And for literary fiction, $20,000 to $30,000 for a first time author, even in the U.S., is nothing to sneeze at.

Apparently, the increased advances are generating great buzz. For example, a bidding war broke out over rights to Aravind Adiga's (photo, above) White Tiger. Harper Collins finally won. I am not surprised. Arvinda is a high profile guy: he was (?) a book reviewer for the Time magazine. And a good writer.

The episode on the competition for rights to Amitav Ghosh's trilogy is also very interesting: "Ghosh's agent, Barney Karpfinger, asked the six major rival houses here to not only read the manuscript of the first in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies, but demanded a presentation from each of them: on editing, marketing and positioning on their lists. After that, the bids. It was perhaps the most fiercely fought bidding war on Indian soil for an Indian book, soaring to new and unprecedented heights. It closed—or rather, was brought artificially to a close—somewhere in the region of 1,10,000 dollars (Rs 44 lakh). For the first time, the winning bid was slightly lower than the losing one. After a point, as the winning publisher, Ravi Singh of Penguin, puts it, "It's not only about money, but what you bring to the table in terms of editing and marketing."

Reasons cited for this leap in advances are the changing market conditions brought on by a middle class readership of some 300 million people, along with higher prices for some books. Though I am not sure about this middle class surge thing (as a research paper by two MIT economists, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, cited in The Economist, has shown how even a shopkeeper with a few bars of soap and some other basic stuff on the racks qualifies to be a part of this so called Indian middle class), I think it was time the advances caught up with India's working class's salary rises and inflation. Ten years ago, people who were earning Rs 10,000 are now earning 5 to ten times more in the metros. This change needed to be reflected in the book industry. Moreover, as a young aspiring India gets better educated (a large chunk of the Indian population is under 25 and getting literate), demand for books will grow (with growing disposable income). That's why foreign firms have set up businesses in India. Good for Indian writers.


Read on rising advances for homegrown talent in "The Dollar-Rupee Conversion:"

In theory, the growth of bookchains and at least seven major publishers in the trade should mean fierce auctions for new books by authors based here. But, in practice, it's mostly diaspora writers who are rushing in to fill the gap. For instance, Singapore-based writer Preeta Samarasan's novel, Evening is the Whole Day, got publishers here into a bidding war. HarperCollins finally bagged the manuscript at around Rs 3 lakh.


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Zafar Anjum said...

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