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To write a great book, can you still get away with being merely a wonderful writer? Or do you have to mark your place on the totem pole in the book tribe? Can you fancy yourself as an artist in a garret who doesn't care about what people say, or does your real work begin after the book is out when you must babble endlessly in bookstores that also sell belts and movies? In rather unliterary terminology : do writers need to network?
The point was raised rather funnily by an outspoken author Manjula Padmanabhan who, in a recent review of Namita Gokhale's book, wrote that it is difficult to honestly write about the work of one of the directors of India's biggest literary festival, for fear of being forever sent into Jaipur Litfest exile. She then proceeded to like the book, so presumably the disclaimer was not a nifty way of getting around the problem.
Anyone who has been to that Mahakumbh of book festivals will vouch for the fact that it is the most incredible place for writers to meet other writers, connect with publishers, as well as increase their base of readers. As Penguin publisher Chiki Sarkar says, "I always use Jaipur as the place to promote my books. I've launched several authors there. "
If you're not one of the lucky few who has been inducted into that inner circle of the literary makersand-breakers of Jorbagh, Nizamuddin East, and India International Centre, then a litfest is the place where you can gently bump into star agent David Godwin as he lopes around, or get drunk with Martin Amis (if really really lucky) or get Rushdie to become your Facebook friend after you read out an excerpt from his beleaguered banned book.
"There is an increasing sense that as a writer you are moving more and more into the performance sphere, " says literary critic Nilanjana Roy. "Yet, there are two ways to look at networking - as a way of growing your market or your readership;and also a way of connecting with a tribe of like-minded people who will challenge you. "
Does networking really help you get your book published or read? Well, not really, say publishers, judging by the fact that most of the manuscripts they end up picking come from writers they've never met.
Does networking help you get a fabulous blurb quote or a favourable review? Perhaps, yes. In fact, there is a strong mutual backscratching society even in this world which fancies itself as being intellectually superior to Bollywood. Friends write favourable reviews of bewilderingly bad books and the louder you are, the more your book is likely to sell. The problem, dear reader, is human nature - and even beloved authors can't get away from that one!
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