Shobha Viswanath is my publisher at Karadi Tales in India. She is also my senior editor and a writer herself. Shobha is also Farmer Falgu’s big fan.
As a writer it is a great thing if your publisher loves your character as much as you do. She is the main reason why Farmer Falgu has packed his bags and prepared his bullock cart and is now off to Japan and France to meet the children there.
I met Shobha 2-3 years ago when I visited Chennai before Farmer Falgu when came out. Then I met her again when we were preparing for the launch of Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip. She is everything you’d want your editor and publisher to be – funny, encouraging, determined and absolutely positive. I’m proud and ever so grateful that Farmer Falgu and I found a great home at Karadi Tales, which is an independent publisher in India, making forays into the world market.
Karadi Tales is primarily a picture-book and audio-book publisher – I love their songs and readings – my nephew has a stack of them and we listen to some so often that we know the words by-heart. Having said that, KT has just published a Middle-grade book too.
Shobha is passionate about contemporary books for children, that are not just traditional tales and also stories for the pleasure of reading – not just textbooks, assessment books and books with morals – which does confuse many parents in India. Read one of her candid interviews with the national daily in India.
As the final instalment of the discussion on children’s book for this week’s twitter chat, I asked Shobha the same questions I asked Sayoni Basu. And this is what she said.
1) What are the major challenges for an Indian children’s book publisher on the world stage and within India?
– India lacks crossover books – books that can travel. Most of the books that are published by Indian publishers are too contextual to India. If the books have to travel, they have to have a universal appeal.
For example, Farmer Falgu may be a farmer from India but the central crux of each story in the series reveals his resourcefulness which in turn is universal.
The language too is quite important. Colloquial words and phrases may limit potential readership.
– Indian publishers lag behind the international publishers in terms of sourcing high-quality and diverse illustrators who have a repertoire of varied styles.
– Distribution in the foreign markets has been a challenge. Several things are required of a publisher, including a strong backlist of books.
2) When you go to Bologna, what are your impressions of the market compared to Indian books?
The books that are produced abroad are higher in quality – production and illustrations.
Do we have more variety?
– No. India does not have that kind of variety.
Are Indian books lacking in any aspect?
– Indian books lack in several aspects. The Indian market is heterogeneous – books are produced to cater to people from all walks of life. In terms of quality, unfortunately, it leaves us neither here nor there.
Until about 15 years ago, folktales and mythology based stories were regurgitated, but things are turning around now.
3) What is your experience in selling rights to world markets? Does the west want to buy very traditional content? Do they want to fit inside the multicultural box or are they willing to look at contemporary stuff too?
If a book is well produced, well illustrated and the story is well told then there are takers for the book in the market. They do not want to buy only traditional content. They are willing to look at contemporary stuff as well.
4) Do you get support from international and Indian bodies to help with the costs of attending world book fairs? Is your presence imperative?
Yes, we do. Bologna supports publishers and helps them attend the fair, as does Frankfurt through their fellowships and invitational programmes. However, this support is not meant to be continuous – it is only meant to give the publisher a platform. In India, Capexil provides the publisher with the necessary support.
If the goal of a publisher is to make the book travel then their presence is imperative. Agents may not know the books as thoroughly as the publisher does.
5) Should India carve its own space in the book market and not worry about whether US and UK buy rights? What other markets are more welcoming to Indian books?
Of course, we should carve our own space in the market and not worry about the UK or the US – as long as we do not compromise on the quality of the story, illustrations or production standards.
6) Can you recommend three Indian books that any child in any part of the world should read?
Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip / Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market | Written by Chitra Soundar and Illustrated by Kanika Nair
Thank you Shobha – for recommending my book and also giving candid answers to my questions. It is clear that we have a long way to go to bring Indian books to world stage but it is not hard as we think it is.
We are chatting about Indian books and their place in the world stage at 6 pm GMT today, 24th April 2015, with hashtag #storiesfromindia – Don’t miss it!!!!