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Some time ago I'd written a post on the growth of the Indian publishing industry. Until the 90s, it was almost non-existent. I know because I searched the net for Indian publishers and could hardly, and with great difficulty, find a few. The Indian Author's only option was to try to break into the western market. Many authors tried writing stories they felt would appeal to westerners - stories of poverty, degradation and people on the edge of society. Stories about the Indian middle class, the 'burgeoning' Indian middle class, did exist but were completely overshadowed.
Now the industry is blossoming - among the most successful today - and every genre is being explored. The target audience is the Indian reader. Other readers are a bonus.
Our publishers are doing well but what about Indian authors? A mere handful can eke out a comfortable living from their writing, but most have to hold on to that daytime job. Self-published authors are the worst off. When they market their books without a budget, through reviewers and on social media, they manage to sell, at best, a few hundred copies. How do they get more people to believe their books are worth reading? Marketing and distribution are issues of concern. Self -published books aren't on the shelves of bookshops for readers to pick up, browse through and buy on impulse. It is easy to understand why established publishers are still the preferred option. Unfortunately, they are spoilt for choice. One out of thousands of manuscripts makes it to their list. [When I read some of the books they publish I realise they don't always base their choices on the quality of the writing.]
Even if, without the marketing and distribution a self-published book catches the eye, nine times out of ten it is full of grammatical errors and typos. These are distracting. They detract from the pleasure of sinking right into the story. For whatever reason, Indian self-published authors do not believe in having their work edited. It is one thing to write grammatically incorrect posts on facebook. [More about that at the end of this post] Novels, though, are another matter. It is literature readers pay for. Who doesn't want to increase their readership? I've come across stories by well-known Indians in such atrocious English I'd hesitate to recommend them. A missed opportunity as word of mouth is the best endorsement.
As for self-published novels, the standard of English is downright poor. Substandard language, grammatical errors or typos diminish the reader's pleasure in the story. After having lived with their manuscript for so long, the writer should invite feedback from someone trustworthy, who looks at it with fresh eyes. To my mind sending the manuscript off to a professionally trained editor who charges a reasonable fee is worth every penny. On the other hand, here's another point of view - "Should You Pay Someone to Edit Your Work?" To my mind a line in the copyright section of the book letting readers know the name of the editor gives the self-published novel a lot more credibility. Whatever decision a self-published author makes - to pay or not to pay, getting trusted friends or professional editors to read the manuscript before it goes to print is worthy of consideration.
A blog post I read recently gives me hope that self-published authors are beginning to realise the importance of having their work shown to a trustworthy third party for feedback. The blogger, Sakshi Nanda, calls herself a Beta reader. She jests that she should be called an Alpha reader. You'll know why when you read her post titled, "On Meeting A Manuscript".
A personal observation about posts on facebook:
I am aware some of our 'Grammar Nazis' will disagree, but I don't find a comment or observation less worthy if communicated in faulty English on social media. Take Indians. We are all from diverse backgrounds and communicate at home in a multitude of languages - at least seventeen? And about five hundred or more dialects? Weighing the two, better communication (and therefore understanding) between such a variety of Indians wins out over the correct use of a language.
If I don't know words in any other language and care to ask, the response is mostly helpful. There isn't a wince or cringe in sight.The other day I was watching an interview in chaste Hindi. The topic and the refined flow of words caught my attention. I remember asking my husband to translate parts of the interview. The cringe component didn't enter the picture, either from me or him. I asked, and he obliged.
Fact is, he believes he is good at languages and often tries out his language prowess on poor unsuspecting people. But when he tries out his language-in-law, Parsi Gujarati, on me, I know he often gets it right but not always. It makes me smile. My point is, when he or I get words wrong in other languages, we don't feel the need to cringe. It is simply an excuse for shared laughter.
Then why, I reason, should I worry if someone contributes to the conversation in grammatically incorrect English? Why wince when someone makes errors in English? Why the impatience and the intolerance? Logic tells me that any language if spoken poorly, should evoke the same response. I feel a twinge of sadness it isn't so and make a conscious effort to ignore the grammar in social media posts. It makes me wonder if we equate the knowledge of English (and no other language) to being educated? I teach adults to read and write English. Some of my learners speak the language beautifully - they were born speaking it - but have problems with the written word. Besides, a major contributor to knowledge is experience and that is quite independent of the knowledge of a single language.
It is all food for thought but, as I said earlier, novels are another matter.