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Eyeing English readers, best-selling foreign authors head to India

Thursday, October 21, 2010 10:43:34 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

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New Delhi: Indian readers of contemporary English fiction are reaping a rich harvest as top British and American authors head to India to promote their books. Best-selling names Ken Follet, Peter James and Wilbur Smith are the latest to chart out trips to the country.

India has one of the biggest English language readerships outside the non-English speaking world and at Rs.80 billion ($1.8 billion), the book publishing industry in India is also witnessing a boom unlike many Western countries which are still battling a downturn.

Over the last two years at least a dozen top writers from the West have visited India to touch base with readers to boost sale.

Britain's best-selling author Follet will visit India in December on a three-city tour of Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai to promote his new book, "Fall of Giants". He follows in the footsteps of best-selling writer Jeffrey Archer, who came to India in 2009 to promote his book "Path of Glory".

Next will be a visit in February by James, a best-selling British author and movie producer, to promote his book, "Dead Man's Footsteps".

On the cards are promotional visits by cult novelists Wilbur Smith, who is of South African origin, known for mega epics like "When the Lion Feeds" and "The Eye of the Tiger"; and David Baldacci, the author of "Absolute Power" and "Last Man Standing".

"This is the first time Ken Follet is visiting India," Aditi Soni, spokesperson for Pan Macmillan, the Indian publisher of the book, told IANS. Pan Macmillan manages the popular fiction imprint Picador-India.

"One of the reasons that encouraged him to promote his book in India was the growing size of the market. The initial Indian print run of 35,000 for the book was sold. All the copies were pre-ordered before Sep 28, the day the book arrived at bookstores in India," the Pan Macmillan spokesperson said.

The writer is known for adventure titles like the "Eye of the Needle", "The Man From St Petersburg" and "Triple". "Fall of Giants" is the first of The Century trilogy by the writer.

"Follet's books have sold 116.4 million copies so far. Peter James will visit the country in February," Soni said.

Jeffrey Archer, who has been visiting India since 2008, says India has a great appetite for reading good literature.

"Indians are story lovers - just like the Irish. They like stories where it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. If possible, it should have a twist too," he said. The writer's new anthology of short stories, "And Thereby Hangs a Tale", has an Indian story about an inter-caste wedding.

Publisher Urvashi Butalia, who manages publishing house Zubaan, says the "exploding Indian middle class - 300 million plus" is drawing best-selling fiction authors from the West to "explore the Indian market".

"They see the country as a big market little knowing that Indian society is divided by income disparity, language and regionalism," Butalia told IANS.

"Their books are being imported by Indian publishers at 60-70 percent discounts. But they will continue to come to the country lured by the 'reading' middle class," she said. Zubaan publishes books by "several East European, Egyptian and Turkish writers", Butalia said.

Penguin-India has brought to India works by almost all the best-selling British novelists to India, including the winner of the Booker Prize, "The Finkler Question", by Howard Jacobson.

In an interview with IANS last week, Jacobson said though "he has not read much of new English literature from India, he was keen to know the country and wanted to be read extensively".

Independent writer-editor Nilanjana S. Roy told IANS: "I attribute this sudden interest in India personally to the growth in the size of the market and the change in the demography of the reading public.

"The first generation English readers in India want intelligent entertainment in literature. It takes at least two generations for readers to appreciate literary writing," she said.

"The publicity helps. When one writer visits India on a promotional tour, his accounts of the market and readership excites fellow publishers in the UK and the US. And more best-selling foreign writers troop in to India," Roy said.

The international literature festivals - over the last two years - have also been a catalyst in bringing popular writers from the West to their readers and the media in India.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at







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