Not fiction, but biographies and memoirs were the good reads of 2018

Preeja AravindUpdated: Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 03:48 AM IST
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While fiction overall saw a slump in 2018, thrillers sawthemselves on bestselling lists; but surprisingly biographies and memoirs werea runaway success, discovers PREEJA ARAVIND

“For last year’s wordsbelong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice.”

— TS Eliot, FourQuartets

What Eliot said all those years ago rings true every time ayear comes to an end. Language is best presented in words put together betweencovers of books. And 2018 saw a lot of them being published. From first-timeauthors to veteran ones, there was a lot to read.

With the Indian book market being the sixth largest in theworld, and an average of 1.8 million titles being published every year inmember countries of International Publishers Association, it comes as nosurprise that books are not fading out of popularity. However, some trendsdeveloped, and rearranged this past year. Some titles worked, some flopped —but one thing that publishers agreed was that the readers are much morediscerning of the content.

“Fiction has seen a slump, but biographies andautobiographies, and current affairs books saw an overall increase,” saidKapeesh Mehra, managing director of Rupa Publications. Another rising trend seenhas been the upswing of period dramas, mythological fiction, as well asalternate history (historical fiction) books.

Red River Press, a new venture dedicated to publishingpoetry, had a great 2018. Dibyajyoti Sarma, founder of Red River said 2018 wassurprisingly eventful for him and his publishing house. “It (2018) was oursecond year and by and large it was good. The word in the market is that poetrydoesn’t sell. So, we started small, bringing out limited number of copies. Toour surprise, we ended up selling more copies than we expected. Lesson learnt:In poetry business, the key is personal engagement, the poet connecting withthe readers.”

According to author Richa Lakhera, 2018 also saw a rise inbooks on feminism and women power finding a lot of traction. Lakhera’s HungryGods, which was published early this year, also won her a film deal. It was ayear of debuts with almost every month a new author or poet being published —either by a known publishing house, or independent publication. “Red Riverpublished several new poets this year. Among them, Amit Ranjan’s Find MeLeonard Cohen, I’m Almost Thirty and Jhilmil Breckenridge’s Reclamation Songdid very well,” informed Sarma.

Vinaya Bhagat, who made her debut with her thrillerTrickster in February, said: “It has been an exciting journey being a debutauthor. It’s heartening to receive continued appreciation from readers andreviewers across multiple platforms about Trickster being a refreshinglyoriginal and layered thriller with a gripping plot.”

Lakhera had a slightly different take on that. “The authorand writer in me are at loggerheads. Playing the author with all its glitterglam lit fests attendance is all dress up. It’s make-believe, completelyopposite to being a writer. Being a writer, unfortunately, doesn’t involve anyglitter. It’s a long, lonely, exhausting process—lot of it being cranky moping,incredible amount of balancing the beast called time (especially, if you have aday job as a journalist in a news channel). It has been a very exhausting year;but I like it. Satisfying, too, in terms of reviews, feedback and of course thefilm deal.”

Neel Mullick, who is getting himself an end-of-year giftwith his Dark Blossoms being published by Rupa Publications, said: “Now that myfirst novel is out at the end of the year, all I can do is look back withimmense gratification at the publication process. And from that perspective,it’s been the best year ever.”

While the authors and publishers are happy, the numbers makeit an even happier occasion. Publishing industry insiders estimate that theannual sales in this year was anywhere in the Rs 2,000 – 2,500 crore range.Even though readership is dwindling, steadily, sales of existing titles areincreasing, making it a balancing act. “The market is in a churn and there area lot of contradictions. The publishers are seeing double-digit growth, but theeducational and text books are seeing better sales,” said a publisher from aleading Delhi-based publishing house.

According to Mehra, Rupa had a ‘rewarding’ year. And by theextension, content really was king. “Our key titles — Newsman by RajdeepSardesai, Shades of Truth by Kapil Sibal and Rural Manifesto by Varun Gandhi—showed us that that our content selection at Rupa was accepted and thereforeappreciated by the market,” Mehra explained.

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