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How publishers in India tap underage writers to book profits

S. N. M. Abdi

Published: Updated:

Wealthy Indians are spending a small fortune to get their 9-16 year olds’ books published to give them a head start in life. The new parental obsession has come as a boon for paid publishing - firms which charge wannabe authors a fat fee for making their books see the light of day instead of paying them royalties.

Mainline publishers are aghast at what they call crass commercialization of the noble profession of publishing. Paid publishing is, in any case, called ‘vanity’ publishing in America which goes hand in hand with ghost writing. But pulling in youngsters into what many call a “full-fledged racket” is raising a lot of eyebrows in the country.

Today countless books by youngsters whose parents have deep pockets are selling in stores and online. For instance, Neeha Gupta’s 50,000-word novel called “Different” about an alien who lands on earth. And 10-year-old Akshat Gupta is the author of as many as six titles like Zulebi, Tram of Trims and Good Things in Small Packs!

His mother, Shubha Gupta, admitted to The Times of India newspaper spending Rupees 50,000-100,000 per book. The proud parent also disclosed that the investment is already paying off as the books are in demand but the “proceeds go to charity”.

The Write Place

Premier bookstore chain, Crossword, launched its paid publishing firm, The Write Place, two-and-a-half years ago. The new wing is headed by Anup Jerajani, who has been with Crossword for 13 long years - and sees a bright future for books penned by pre-teens or teenagers.

Speaking to Al Arabiya, Jerajani, 43, said that The Write Place, has already launched 11 books in that genre penned by 12-18 year olds.

“We charge a fee according to the work that we have to put in to make the book publishable. But we take up only books we can lend our name to. So we are choosy to an extent. We charge around Rupees 150,000 for a 2000 copies print run. We sell it in book shops and online - and promote it on our very popular website”, he explained.

The first book written by a youngster Jerajani published is The Stormbringer - a fantasy fiction about an imaginary world – in 2017. Its author, Archita Mishra, was only 15 then. Jerajani said that the book did very well, even winning a Crossword Book Award in the popular category where readers, instead of a jury, decide who gets the prize.

Reading time

“We are very happy to know that there are children and teenagers who spend more time reading and writing than on their smartphones. Crossword is in the forefront of a campaign to promote the reading habit. Now we are determined to promote writing by youngsters. Thankfully, some schools are encouraging children to build a career in writing. And a book really boosts the self-confidence of youngsters.”

Late last year, The Write Place, launched a “I want to be an author” contest. Participants had to write a short story of 800-1200 words. And the best 25 stories will make it to an anthology which will be launched this year and sold in 30 Crossword stores in 30 Indian cities.

According to Jerajani, the response has been overwhelming. “We have received 3200 entries which are our team is evaluating. Who knows there might come a day when there will be as many youngsters writing books as grown-ups!”