A Manifesto For Readers & Writers

10 February 2013

At the Delhi Literature Festival yesterday, I was on a panel with Jai Arjun Singh, Anna Vetticad and Arunava Sinha talking about new media and writing. And during the course of this panel, I argued that readers were being pandered to too much, they have a lot of power now, and while this got me some laughs, it made me think of a larger manifesto to bring back writing as an ART, and not so much about your Amazon/Flipkart reviews or Twitter followers.  The following are a list of points I would implement if I were Queen of the World, to make writing a bit more rigid and less all-over-the-place, less emphasis on interacting with your readers and more on actually writing a good book.

1) All manuscripts to be handled by more than one editor. A centralised panel at each publishing house involving writers and editors of various genres. This is because a good book is a good book no matter what the content--look at the success of the "cancer book" The Emperor of Maladies as well as the success of someone lighter, like say, Helen Fielding or Sue Townsend. Unless the book passes through at least four of the six appointed readers, it shouldn't be published.

2) Books which are self-published should have a very clear demarcation online and offline. You should be able to go into a bookshop and see a shelf marked self-published, which means they haven't gone through the above mentioned panel.

3) Anyone choosing to write a book should have to take a mandatory leave of absence from all social networks while they are putting together their manuscript.

4) Required reading lists to be provided as soon as someone learns how to read and should be a government appointed thing, updated every year, arriving in your mail. You must prove that you've read your list by attending either one of several government allotted book clubs, or in the absence of one near you, by filing reviews and your thoughts of the list in the mail much like your tax returns. If necessary, a Review Official can be hired to help you with the process.

5) Twice a year, all authors will be available to chat about their processes and what it takes to write a book. The rest of the time, they will be forbidden by law to talk/sell/appear in any literature festivals. This may sound harsh, but it will mean standarisation of promotional activities by publishers: all books are created equal and are judged good by the panel.

6) Anyone wanting to be a writer will have to provide a resume proving that they are suited for the book they want to write. Creative writing classes etc will be provided in schools, colleges and in adult learning centres.

7) To cater to various tastes, once you've gotten through your school reading list, you can opt for a specialised genre in your later years, where only books that an extensive test proves you'll enjoy will be recommended to you. You can also choose to keep receiving the standard list of good books.

What are your thoughts? Is social media the best thing that's happened to writers or the worst? Is it awesome that readers can interact directly with authors, or is this killing the Mystique of the Artist? Let me know in the comments! *

*I get the irony. I'm like Alanis, except with shorter hair. 

 


17 confessing back:

  1. If all of this would be followed to the letter methinks it would take most of the joy and probably all of the spontaneity out of the art of writing. Writing a book is an ambitious task, and from the effort it takes to produce the little-bits-of-nothing that I write, I imagine its a painful task as well. What you suggest makes sense from a readers point of view (believe me I've purchased - and attempted to read - my share of truly awful literature) but it's a big deterrent to those of us who want to (at some point in the distant future) produce a manuscript. At the very least, it makes the whole process artificial, and scary, and if I were the writer here it would cause paralysis.

    Just saying :)

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  2. I agree with Xeb. You'd be hurling the whole book writing art into a dark age. Who's to say that the government won't find a way to put a rigid censorship into place through these reading lists, restricting the freedom of expression even more than right now?

    That being said, I thought point number 4 was hilarious.
    Keep writing!

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  3. Social media or what they call new media has given budding writers like us a new platform like the blog to make ourselves heard. However, I would still go with the hard copy of book since e-book not my thing and I feel it's slowly killing the joy of writing.
    Love no. 5 5) Twice a year, all authors will be available to chat about their processes and what it takes to write a book. The rest of the time, they will be forbidden by law to talk/sell/appear in any literature festivals. This may sound harsh, but it will mean standarisation of promotional activities by publishers: all books are created equal and are judged good by the panel.
    However, disagree with no.5 since it will prompt govt to curb freedom of expression. If I write a book on sex, they will tell me I'm unqualified.
    Plz do check my blogs
    vishalbheeroo.wordpress.com
    vishal-newkidontheblock.blogspot.com

    much love
    Vishal

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  4. I am thinking about a book. So just in case you do become the Queen of the world and my book crosses your desk, please please please approve it, just saying ;) lol lol :D

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  5. As a reader, I would benefit amply if your manifesto sees the light of day.

    However, as a free citizen, it cramps my style to the extent of making me paralysed. Writing is an art, and no individual should be subjected to any censorship to practise the same.

    As for social media hijacking the literary world, I do agree that today being perceived as a 'good' writer is more about the marketing and less about the writing. However, at the end of the day, it should be left to the readers to decide what they want, rather than some institutioanlized mechanism deciding for them.

    Having said that, point 2 is easily implementable and should be implemented...

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  6. I'm quite disappointed. You claim to encourage debate by asking people to give their opinions, but you police comments that don't pander, even if they're polite and non-inflammatory. I've seen it happen before. Please don't kid yourself into thinking you're providing a space for discussion.

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    Replies
    1. ???
      did you post a comment i didn't approve? i posted all responses to this post.

      Delete
    2. I agree to jaya, you do police comments.

      Delete
  7. I so want to say something but I am not quite sure I follow. Nevertheless, I am gonna try. From whatever little that I understood (scatterbrain that I am) I am inclined to believe that this may the first post where I'd be disagreeing with u (on not all but most of your propositions). May be it is cause I am still aspiring to be one and you have already proven your mettle as a writer. You know if not for social media- nobody would have even aware of my existence- so may be it is a rather selfish take on my part but as of now I only see social media as a necessary evil and not just plain 'evil'.
    But yes, I do feel that the fact that people can directly interact with me after I write a blogpost - stops me from writing a lot many things- that probably I won't shy away from writing in my novel.

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  8. How about free software to check spelling for aspiring and established writers? That way we won't have to cringe each time someone spells "absence" with an "S" instead of a "C".

    Just saying ;-)

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    Replies
    1. ahh.. dammit. i *thought* i remembered to spell check. laziness. if my manifesto is passed, there will be no more spell check and we will all learn how to spell things properly, old school.

      Delete
  9. While I agree with your general premise that there is far too much pandering to the readers'(Especially beginners' underdeveloped) tastes if you were the queen of the world, I'm afraid I'd stop reading just to rebel against the system.

    How exactly would anyone prove their expertise to write something like Palahniuk's Fight club or Stephen King novels or Catcher in the rye?! Your system would mean no Hitchhiker's guide to the universe or Dr. Seuess o_O

    And all books are definitely not created equal. A lot of the interviews and talks shows happen coz people want to hear about that book. Or in certain cases because people need to hear about these books. How can you deny them that information.

    And so why the bias against self published books? they all fight it out in the same market and it's the survival of the fittest and that alone is a good enough reward or punishment for the book!

    No to mention you would totally start an underground movement against your laws. What about about books which are far ahead of it's times? How will you judge them? usually it's posterity which proves them right, so your panel of editor judges might fail.

    Agreed marketing does cloud our judgement for a while, but a good book will shine though irrespective. Sometimes just not in time for the author to earn something out of it, but that's such a selfish thought!!

    Social media though is tricky one. But then again, feedback has always been a tricky thing, whether it comes from your twitter follower or from you best friend or your editor. It's part of the writer's job to handle it best as he/she can.

    While I see where you are coming from, I still feel a twinge of disappointment about this post!

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  10. If this was meant to be parody, it is damn good.

    if you were being serious, it is troubling. So much control! Government approved reading? Reading Official? So instead of a market telling you what is good, some official somewhere is going to decide?

    And where is the publishing house in all of this? As a writer, I'd expect less naivety.

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  11. This is what i feel...
    In Online media/ new generation writing every 2nd person who types on the blog automatically becomes writers, For them the interaction with readers would be a joy. But it would be upon the writer, whether they choose to understand the readers perspective or take their comments into consideration while writing. I am not much of a writer, even if i were one i don't mind to understand what the readers thought about it, But that wont change what i would write about.

    And about your manifesto, You make it sound like one of those jobs which some one is forcing you to do , but you do not love to do it. Any artist becomes one when he has a free a mind and loves what he is doing.While i read the manifesto all the while i felt everything in so much Control..Its like in olden days, where there were writers who write poems and stories to praise the king. They sound like people who consider this manifesto:).Just not good enough for a free mind.

    "Provide a resume to prove"??-To prove whom? the queen?You don't have to prove any one else other than you.For that i don't think you need a resume to start writing.

    "you can opt for a specialized genre in your later years, where only books that an extensive test proves you'll enjoy will be recommended to you"-I hope you are just talking about restriction on recommendation. Or does that mean you are not allowed to read anything other than what is recommended. That is completely wrong.Open mind, ready to read anything, but only choosing to take away what is good is what i believe a good writer would be. Or else how will u know what you really like and you don't? Some other extensive test is going to decide that? Don't u feel that as joke?Its like some one is setting a syllabus for you to read (This is not studying... you should enjoy what you do)..

    Now back to interactive media topic, Hence readers like me get a platform to pin down my opinion after reading these posts, which otherwise only walls of my room get to hear.
    I feel writers should try to understand, but not necessarily always consider in your writing.Trying to understand each new reader would be like trying to explore a new world every time.

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  12. I can't figure out if this post is supposed to be satirical or not.

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