Sreebala Menon on Seeking Quality Books in a Time of Fast Reads
In an age of social media promotions, and fast books, Sreebala K Menon talks about getting unheard authors to the forefront. The writer- filmmaker tells us more about Read Me Books, a venture she started in association with Kerala Book Store in Trivandrum.
Read Me Books launched its first book ‘Nammuku Parayam Kathakal’ on 12th February. The publishing aims in making Malayalam books easily accessible, especially to those living abroad and in remote villages in Kerala. It launched an app for audio books, Kelkkam, to make Malayalam books accessible to the visually impaired.
“Me and a few others take care of the creative, the editorial side of things while Kerala Book Store takes care of the publishing and marketing.” The film maker noticed a shift in the whole scenario of books and reading. The process of releasing a book was very different in an age without mobile phones, social media and blogs. “I felt as though books nowadays released on the basis of a controversy or as part of a marketing strategy. I found writers self-marketing their work. And amidst all this noise, I saw some genuine writers getting left behind- some of them who are good, but are introverts and stay away from social media. I wanted to bring writers like these to come to the forefront and that’s how Read Me Books began,” says the director of Love 24*7 and Sahitya Akademi winner.
Read Me Books aims in giving talented writers a platform to showcase their works. “The process works two ways- sometimes we approach writers by looking at their social media page or blog, or by following stories published in Malayalam magazines. Or then, we are sent manuscripts,” she explains.
As for trends in reading and writing are concerned, Sreebala feels that “Readers tend to buy a book only if they have the time to read it. And since nearly everyone is a writer on social media, they tend to prefer shorter descriptions and writing that’s to the point. Even among writers, I feel, brevity has gained prominence. Earlier, writers would go on for pages describing a particular scene or a setting. But we rarely see that nowadays. Again, this is the affect of blogs and social media on our lives. Ever since websites have been launched, short sentences are being preferred. Earlier, a writer would have a literary editor and another editor or proof reader to help him polish the book. But today, the writer himself or herself is the editor and proof reader who tends to cut short their own work.”
She blames invasion of mobile phones and various other distractions for this. “Earlier reading would be a leisurely pastime, but because of tablets and phones, there are many distractions in form of calls, notifications, messages etc. And so, our concentration or attention span has reduced, creating a demand for fast reads. “Earlier Malayalam publishing wouldn’t set word limits for an author but now they do and the writer has to match it,” she says.
However, one trend that remains true to the literary world according to her is that of an author’s debut book being partially biographical. “Authors tend to write stories from their childhood, teenage years, adolescence and when they become a mature person. It is their point of view of the world- the world as they see it, a reflection into their own problems and ways to handle them. It is when they grow as an author that they learn to see the world from another person’s perspective.
“Be original, don’t imitate or be repetitive,” she says to writers who wish to be published. “There is only one human being like you, so make that point of view unique. If you write trying to fit into the market trend, you may succeed at first, but you will be trapped, as similar writing will be expected from you, but you may not able to deliver it. Also, repetitive writing could make you stagnant as a writer and limit your shelf-life- so, be original and present the best version of yourself through what your write- stick to what you can do the best,” she says.
“Yes, it is true that sometimes publishers tend to look for a certain kind of a story or a particular genre, and it is great to be aware of these things. But, instead of following it completely, learn to present it in your own unique way- offer something new and interesting for the publisher to pick up,” she urges young writers.
Also, it isn’t entirely true that publishers tend to chase writers who are more popular on social media. “You may be really popular on social media, but your books may not even have been heard of. You may not be active on any social media platform, but bookstores might be demanding your books by the dozen!” she explains. In the end, quality matters.