Lit-erary conversations


Publisher and co-founder of Speaking Tiger Books, Ravi Singh was recently in Goa to conduct an informal interaction for aspiring authors at the International Centre Goa, Dona Paula. NT KURIOCITY catches up with the author


Having begun his career as a journalist at a Delhi based magazine, it was by fluke that Ravi Singh joined the world of publishing as an editorial assistant at Penguin India. “In India at that time publishing was small and so was Penguin India. Anybody who entered was thrown in at the deep end,” recalls Singh, adding that there was no difference between an editorial assistant and a senior editor. Singh went on to become editor-in chief and stayed with the company till 2011. After starting Aleph Book Company which unfortunately did not work out, later on along with Manas Saikia, he co-founded Speaking Tiger Books, an independent publishing company based in Delhi.

Singh, who was recently in Goa to conduct an informal interaction for aspiring authors at the International Centre Goa, Dona Paula, states that they are ‘trade publishers’ who publish books for general readers found at book stores and online shopping sites. He adds that there are certain types of books that the publishing house won’t bring out. “What we will never publish is hate literature and a serving politician,” says Singh. Although at the moment they do not publish MES market books, they hope to move into that in the near future.

Singh adds that the company’s main aim is to not only publish books with good writing but also bring out talented and unknown authors. “What we want to do is move away from the star system which privileges only a few big names. Vast amount of money and time is invested there and because of that many voices which need to be published, heard and read don’t get published,” says Singh.

He adds that the company also tries to publish a lot of new and original voices, not only from India but from across the globe as well. “We have this series called Speaking Tiger International Fiction which hopefully we will be able to extend to non-fiction also where we publish really good literature by authors outside South Asia who are amazing,” says Singh. “There are other voices which are really good and are well known internationally but somehow haven’t been brought to India so we also try to do that.”

Being a small publishing house comprising of four members, Speaking Tiger Books receives nearly five to ten manuscripts in a day along with a number of manuscripts sent online by aspiring authors. “We get a lot of unsolicited manuscripts submission as any other publisher. We don’t read all immediately but when we have the time we start to read. We read the first page and we know whether we want to read this or if the manuscript can wait,” says Singh.

Singh states that nearly 75 per cent of the books published by Speaking Tiger Books are commissioned. The submission of unsolicited work that ultimately gets pick up and published is not more than 20 per cent.

However, Singh says that readers in this country are in a minority and as a publisher he hopes that more people will read books. “There are lots of people across age groups who don’t read enough, they don’t buy books,” says Singh, adding that the number and variety of books published in Hindi is more than in English.

“The only thing that we keep hoping is that the size of the minority will grow. It’s a bit dispiriting because people somehow expect books to be if not free, then prized very low. People don’t realise that a printed book requires paper, editing, designing, printing, binding, you have to pay the author a royalty and you have to run an establishment however small to produce books well,” he adds. Singh further describes the business of publishing as “bizarre” owing to the fact that the resources required in publishing are substantial and the investments have no guarantee. “Despite all of that I’m not pessimistic. I think there are a good number of people who are reading and you have to make a variety of books available and not be stuck with the same thing people are doing,” he says.

The challenge that a publisher in India faces though, he says is the distribution of books. “There are whole sellers who sell it to the retailers that becomes bottleneck because they don’t pick out a fair number of books and you will have to hunt for a book because the shelves are stacked with best sellers so the system is lazy. Everything is in favour of best sellers,” says Singh.

However, he says in spite of these challenges there are people who aspire to write and Speaking Tiger Books encourages the authors by providing them with a platform, says Singh. “We don’t make publishing books a hugely expensive enterprise. We take risks and therefore enable different voices to be published. Then again there’s only so much we can do,” says Singh.

He further states that in order to get recognised aspiring authors can also publish their books on self publishing units. “We shouldn’t really speak disparagingly of them because they also provide an avenue and sometimes publishers are risk averse because you have to put in so much money which might fail,” states Singh adding that self publishing is a good option. “Authors have to pay a reasonable fee and get their work published and sometimes that’s the first step to being noticed,” he says.