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Jaipur BookMark: First Book Club

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Speakers: Aditi Maheshwari Goyal,  Jacob Sandvad, Manasi Subramaniam, Mita Kapur, Preeti Gill, Urvashi Butalia, Vikas Gupta and Zac O’Yeah

Navigating the big world of publishing is always a fearful prospect for aspiring writers. That is why the Jaipur BookMark decided to make the process a bit easier by introducing the ‘First Book Club,’ wherein talented writers get the opportunity to interact with an expert panel of literary agents, mentors and publishers.

Already in its second edition, this invite-only session was created for the shortlisted writers of Jaipur Bookmark’s New Writers Mentorship Programme, and winners of  the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Writing Competition. It began with a panel discussion where professionals talked about the intricacies of the publishing and pitching process, and shared priceless advice with the aspiring writers.

The pitching process and submission protocols to follow when approaching publishers can appear confusing to some. Publishers and literary agents including Urvashi Butulia, Mita Kapur and Manasi Subramaniam helped dispel certain popular myths and provided useful tips. They advised writers to “do their homework” and research different publishing houses before sending in their manuscripts. Butalia highlighted the importance of sending one’s book proposal via email only, with a well-written cover letter and synopsis, instead of verbally pitching to agents and publishers at networking events, or emailing them with an idea that has not been fleshed out. Before pitching, writers should already have a concrete plan of the book in mind and have given some thought to the ideal readership they would like to target.

The panel agreed that the writing must be “honest” and add “value and importance to the reader.” Literary agent Preeti Gill commented that the “tonality of the writer’s voice must be true” and “they must not write about issues they are not completely engaged with.” Publisher Jakob Sandvad and writer Zac O’Yeah, who both run writing schools to help writers “hone their craft” before publishing, stressed the importance of joining a writing community to get constructive feedback from other writers and editors. O’Yeah cautioned that first-time writers should not “expect much help from publishers.”

Vikas Gupta, Managing Director of Wiley India, showcased a presentation Fiction in the Age of Digital Disruption, and suggested that alongside the traditional writing-publishing route, writers should also consider alternative publication platforms. On the Hindi publishing industry, Aditi Maheshwari Goyal, Managing Trustee at Vani Foundation, described how he has created a space for stories in Hindi that illustrate the “many voices from the interiors of the country.” She reminded Hindi-language writers not to sell themselves cheap, but learn to “pitch it fancy” and be available for marketing: “If you have a story, you will have a publisher.”

After the session, the writers were divided into small groups and paired with one panellist each, who answered their queries and guided them on the next stages of their work. The discussion and one-on-one interaction was successful not only in providing ways for writers to improve and evolve their skills, but also in demystifying the publishing process, so that their work can be shared and marketed with the right audience.