Sunday, June 05, 2011

Kafka and Orwell on China: My first ebook of essays available online now

Last month, announced that for the first time in history, the sales of ebooks have surpassed the sales of printed copies of books at the world's largest online retail store. I knew this was going to happen but it would happen so soon, the scales would tip in favour of ebooks so soon, that was a surprise. And what a pleasant surprise it was. Because, like in most other areas, the web has changed the game and has pushed the gatekeepers to the margins. This does not mean the end of mainstream publishers and agents. The structure of market-oriented publisher-agent complex (like the military-industrial complex) would not die anytime soon. As long as there is media, there will be celebrity makers and spin doctors. Editors are always important in this process but they are mostly faceless.

In this new scenario, the opportunity for writers like me (in terms of expressing myself, and not dreaming of minting millions) is immense: I can publish any book at any time, and share it with those who would be interested in reading it. I can publish long essays as ebooks and make them available to readers (Who the hell wants to read you? Good question. Answer is, I don't care. When Friedrich Nietzsche self-published Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he published only 40 copies and had difficulty selling them). I don't have to wait for the approval of the Grantas and New Yorkers of the world. Of course, they will keep publishing prestigious writers, but in an age when education is democratic and everyone is a writer and filmmaker, the game isn't the same anymore. As of commercial writers, many are already going down the ebooks route and doing very well.

Beyond the issue of accessibility is the other factor of class. I don't have the Oxbridge or Ivy League background nor any support from a network of movers and shakers of the publishing world. So, I am on my own. The kind of work I am doing and I want to do will not appeal to most publishers (unless they are enlightened enough). I don't see myself as a commercial writer. I write because I see injustice in the world and I see people being pushed in the path of disaster. I write because I can't sleep if I don't. Money has nothing to do with it (That's why I have a day job).

While my novel is still looking for a home (thanks to my hardworking agent), I thought I would collect my long pieces and essays as ebooks and make them available online (no one publishes long pieces of journalism in Asia, right?). I am happy to share with you that the first of my ebooks is available online now. It's titled
Kafka and Orwell on China: Essays on India and China. Since this was my first try, there might be some formatting issues but so far my readers have not complained. The ebook sells for US$1.99 (If you really want to buy it, try this code AN62L to avail of a 30 per cent discount until June 10). If you want to read it for free, write to me. I plan to put out more ebooks at Smashwords in the coming months.

Here is the description of my ebook:

This book contains four well-researched original essays that deal with India and China. In the opening essay, "The unmaking of the East—India and China in the age of globalisation", journalist Zafar Anjum examines the high-octane economic growth of India and China in the light of the wisdom of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. "The West would have us believe that post-globalisation, India and China are on a collision course in their race to develop themselves," writes Zafar. "Who should it bet on—that is the West’s dilemma. But the question for the East is this: whose race is it to lose?" In this essay, Zafar Anjum argues that the debate itself is wrongly framed and with some help from Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose 150th birth anniversary falls this year, argues that the race is deeper than it appears.

The second essay is about George Orwell’s reflections on the attitudes and interactions between the West and China over the centuries.

In the third essay, Zafar discusses Czech fabulist Franz Kafka who never set his foot in China, yet he wrote a masterpiece, The Great Wall of China. John Updike counts this story belonging at the summit of Kafka’s oeuvre. Zafar Anjum tries to examine what motivated the European genius and one of the most influential of 20th century writers to write a short story set in an unseen land.

In the fourth essay, Zafar wonders why India and China, two of the world’s oldest civilizations, are so near, yet so far from each other. Can Bollywood and other cinemas of India, ambassadors of India’s culture and emblems of our soft power, take India to the Chinese?

Richard Crasta

An interesting writer to explore at Smashwords is Richard Crasta (remember his famous novel, The Revised Kamasutra?). Please do look up both "Massage No Boom Boom" and "I Will Not Go The F**k to Sleep" on Smashwords. They seem to be absolutely fun, daring, original, and worth the money.

Crasta has been at Smashwords for a while now. He has some good advise to share with writers who want to try this route. "With both Smashwords and Amazon, you have to do your own publicity," he says. "Amazon is bigger and better organized, but Smashwords is much faster (uploads)."

Talking about your book is important too. "It is not enough if you just upload a book, it just sits there," he says. "A lot depends on such things as tags, reviews, keywords, and so on, and also on right book descriptions and categories, and also doing a lot of networking on the Net."

If you are a writer and you are planning such a move, let me know what you think. Any advice? If you are just a reader, tell me if you are going to read the sample chapters from ebooks or even buy them. Will be grateful. Thanks.