"Publishers don’t nurse you; they buy and sell you."

— PD James

What is every wannabe writer’s recurring wet dream? The one he has even before so much as getting his first line or his first Nehru vest?

Which logo will adorn the spine of my book?

Yes, I’m talking of those five big names, each the literary equivalent of standing next to a Rolls-Royce, smoking a Cohiba and posing for a selfie with Katrina Kaif.

Because all the fringe benefits of writing – litfest appearances, reviews, awards, the underage mistress – would be impossible without this entry pass, you see. Your street cred in lithood comes from sporting this logo. It is only after being spurned – mostly by inference – by these logo-dispensers, one by one, that any self-respecting writer considers the “ignominy” of the second/third-level publishers or, worse still, the Patala of self publishing.

But this piece isn’t about the tragedy of rejection. It is about a far bigger one: the tragedy of acceptance.

So you’ve got your logo. Next?

Oh my god. Oh my god. Remember the first time a girl or boy in your school, college or assisted-living quarters decided to permit you to see or touch something you’d never seen, touched or even knew existed? Remember the eternal gratitude you felt? Take that, multiply it by ten, give it some Red Bull, turn on Yo Yo Honey Singh’s latest hit and put it on Arnab Goswami’s panel.

Then, depending on your pain threshold, in a month or six you realise the honeymoon, like all honeymoons, is over. And this is how the writer identifies it: the grand promise of big logo on your book notwithstanding, you have sold a total of three copies of your book (of which two went for the price of one), no one has invited you to judge a dance show, there is no sign of even one teenage groupie, and the munificent folk from the publishing house look at you like Aamir Khan in Ghajini.

That is when, after having gone through the five stages of grief, namely, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medication and Acceptance, sooner or later you ask yourself this question:

“Was the logo worth it?”

Because, honestly, it’s that damn logo and the irrationally inflated value you put on it that’s got you where you are today, right? Had you self-published or gone with Jhanak-Jhanak Publications of Ludhiana, you would have remained just as anonymous. But having started off with low expectations, would you be looking like you do now: a cross between R K Pachauri and Lalita Pawar – dishevelled, texting random people inappropriately, with one eye twitching 78 beats per minute?

Hark, disappointed writers sporting big logos on the spines of their books (and there are truckloads of us), for what I’m about to tell you can change your life. But most probably won’t.

Firstly, that elusive logo you loved, attained and thought you lost, unbelievable though it may sound, still belongs more to you than anyone who had the power to “bestow” it on you.

Here’s why.

When you estimate a publisher’s net worth, what do you take into account?

Is it the staff of the organisation? Because they do appear to possess great power. The power to flaunt the logo like sorority bracelets, use it like a limitless credit card on Delhi’s cocktail circuit, and “award” it to whoever they wish among the kneeling throngs. (Before moving on to a rival publishing house or Gemini Circus as a knife-thrower, depending on the mood.)

Or is the valuation of a publishing house based on the sum total of all the books it has published, what is known as the publishing list? That is, that corpus of work produced entirely by writers, big, small and inconsequential, including you?


So, while in real terms the logo belongs to whoever owns the company, most probably some white dudes, in another sense (the moral one, if anyone cares), it is you, the writer, sporting that logo like an indelible tattoo of an unfaithful lover’s initials on the nape of your neck, far more than anyone taking a salary from the publishing house, who can lay claim to “owning” the logo, even if infinitesimally.

Because, whether they pulp your book, burn it, sell it by weight, return it to you or use it as toilet paper, there will always be a copy out there somewhere with your name, the name of your work and that logo – linking you with the publishing house in a way that no salary slip or attendance register can.

Secondly, don’t forget, you are a writer. By definition, a writer/artist/composer is the creator and owner of intellectual property. Considering some of the books that are coming out today, though “intellectual” may be a bit of a stretch, the “property” part is incontrovertible. Your book, painting, composition or laundry list, ladies and gentleman, is property. Property you own.

Page 4 of your book is proof. It says ©You. Meaning, you are the landlord of your book. Meaning, you have rights. To ask questions, to expect your property to be treated with respect, to demand timely rent and to end the lease if you think your property is being ill-maintained, misrepresented or abused. Think about that for a minute.

So what does it make the publisher? Much as I would like to say “tenant”, let us go with “lessee”. Why then, pardon my pun, do publishers behave like the “more” while the writer ends up behaving like the “lessee”?

Because you are perfectly okay being treated like a vendor/supplier as opposed to a landlord.

How come?

Because you have begun your writerly life under the assumption that the publishing house is doing you a giant favour by publishing you.

Because you want them to continue “supporting” your book.

Because, sadly, you think you don’t amount to much without the validation of that glittery logo on your cover.

Because you are a sucker for punishment.

Because you want your next book published by them, pretty please.

All of which, ironically, means you are willing to do anything to be in their good books when it should be the other way round.

Hence my earlier disclaimer about what I’m about to say being something that can change your life but won’t.

Things will change when writers stop being wuss-boys and begin looking at things a little differently (yeah, right).

Writers have to stop seeing themselves as the guys who get second billing to the logo on the cover of their own book. They should think that their creation is benevolently permitting the publisher’s logo to bask in its brilliance. Think about it, if the former were true, wouldn’t the publisher’s logo be bigger than the title of the book or your name?

Several industry greats are likely to disagree with this chuntu-outsider-Madrasi-humour writer, but I think writers can exist without publishers. Because writers without publishers could still self-publish, distribute photocopies of their work at street corners, post their stories on Facebook, text them to friends, read them out to bewildered passers-by or tattoo them on their bodies and stand shirtless in the middle of the road.

Yeah, sure, they’d make no money. Neither do 95% of writers published by the biggies. But they’d still be writers.

But what would publishers be without writers? Printers and sellers of blank books? You wouldn’t call them publishers then, would you? You’d call them stationers.

"The writer is the most important person in Hollywood, but we must never tell the sons-of-bitches."

— Irving Thalberg

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is the author of How To Be A Literary Sensation: A Quick Guide to Exploiting Friends, Family & Facebook for Financial Gain. He is an intellectual property rights activist getting his next book tattooed on his back as we speak.