Dismayed authors

Neebiir Kamaal  finds out the different roadblocks that young writers might face in the Bangladeshi literary scene before making it to the press, especially for the first time

Photos by SONY RAMANY

001Imagine living, creating, observing and analyzing a story for years, then writing it for months that might turn into a few more years. And when the manuscript is finally ready to go, a publisher, or an editor at a big publishing house takes a week or a day, may be even an hour to say those dreaded words after a read: ‘Not good enough!’
There is however no need of portraying publishers and editors as antagonists in this context. They too have a job to do, a very important one, for which they are hardly ever given the due credit in the literary world. The job is finding something extraordinary. But what if a publisher or an editor got it wrong? There were 15 publishers who didn’t think The Diary of Anne Frank was worth reading. George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm also faced harsh rejections, and one of them coming from TS Eliot, who was also editor of Faber & Faber at the time. This shows that if a publisher or an editor is not spot on, the whole society might be deprived of great literature. Some publishers and editors are nothing short of heroes in the literary world, Upendranath Gongopadhyay, being an example. Without him, the shy and introverted Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay might never have been discovered.
New Age Youth talked to a number of young aspiring writers to find out how challenging it is to get published in Bangladesh. The young authors have elaborated many obstacles that are existent in the industry.
Ahsan Sajid, a young poet whose first collection of poems A Fireside Chat with Lucifer came out in the Ekushey Book Fair in 2015, conveys New Age Youth that it took him six years to get published. ‘It took me a total of six years to find a publisher. I persistently looked to get published for three years and there were times when I was too dispirited to even try getting published. What was really unfair in the whole process is that I never heard back from most of the publishing houses,’ says Ahsan. Finally, Dibya Prakash published Ahsan’s first book.
Shazed Ul Hoq Aabir, author of Ayaz Alir Dana, his latest book that came out in the Ekushey Book Fair this year shares, ‘Two big publishing houses did not even accept my manuscript. I had requested them to keep the manuscript and read them whenever they found the time, but to no avail at all. Moreover, one of these publishing houses did not even extend the courtesy of offering me a seat so that we could just sit down for a proper conversation.’
002The notion that many publishing houses are short in supply when it comes to proficient literary editors was also seconded by Gopa Biswas Caesar, a faculty member of the Humanities Department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). Gopa has been working on publishing a collection of short stories. ‘When I approached publishing houses, they asked me to find a good English literature editor myself and request him or her to write an introduction for the book,’ she conveys. ‘After approaching a number of “big” editors, I finally found one who agreed to work with me. But now the new problem is that he is hardly ever available,’ Gopa adds.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, publisher and managing director of The University Press Limited conveys that most publishing houses in Bangladesh do not have competent literary editors. ‘Most publishing houses in Dhaka either have part time editors or outsource editing jobs to individuals they think have good editorial skills,’ Mohiuddin says.
Abdul Karim, production manager of Bengal Lights also affirms that many publishing houses do not have literary editors, which might explain why these publishing houses are reluctant to even accept manuscripts from young authors who have not been published before. Karim however assures that every manuscript that is submitted to Bengal Lights is thoroughly read. ‘We only decide whether to publish a book or not after we have read every single word of the script. Sometimes an author could turn a book around even in the last sentence that he writes, so we read the whole thing even if we didn’t like the beginning or the middle of the story,’ Karim says.
However, Karim states that Bengal Lights do not scout for young writers. They only evaluate works of authors who contact them or submit their manuscripts.
003Mohiuddin, on the other hand, points out that the lack of literary agents in Bangladesh who can represent young authors to established publishing houses, is a significant stumbling block for aspiring writers.
‘A major drawback for our young writers is that a system of literary agencies have not been established in Bangladesh yet. India has only recently started the use of the PR work that literary agents can offer. In the Western countries, scouting for good books by the publishers is made easy by the work of the literary agents. A good literary agent is said to be able to get a young author published by an established publisher,’ Mohiuddin elaborates.
Another allegation that is put forward by a number of young authors who were interviewed is that many publishing houses publish works of first time authors depending on whether they can pay the publisher or not, rather than the quality of their work. ‘One major publishing house inquired if I can pay them, even before reading my work. These days, young writers often have to pay around 30,000 takas to get published,’ claims Aabir. ‘Often even after the author pays the money upfront, the publisher publishes lesser number of copies than what was agreed upon,’ Aabir alleges.
Ahsan Sajid also shares with New Age Youth that he had similar issues as many publishing houses ask newcomers to bear the cost of publication. ‘It’s almost like self-publishing, which many young authors might not be able to afford, hence not find a publisher,’ Ahsan adds.
Sarker Muhammed Jarif, a Bangla major from Jahangirnagar University, who is a winner at Muse Masters, a performance poetry contest organised by British Council, says, ‘We live in a time when you will get published if you have money. What worsens conditions further for new writers who seek to get published for the first time is an elitism that seems to be functional in the industry. Publishers look to publish established authors more often than not and a newcomer is often overlooked. Another obstacle is that a recommendation from an already established writer is quite often a prerequisite to get published.’
Sadaat Mahmood, who works as a sub-editor for literary magazine Monsoon Letters also rues favoritism and elitism in the literary scene of Bangladesh. ‘We must stop replicating the power structure that is present in the Bangladeshi literary scene. Established authors often do not want to give any room to young authors in the industry. What young authors should do is take full advantage of the Internet and publish their work on different online literary platforms that are emerging,’ Sadaat asserts.

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