I have many, many writers on my roster of Facebook friends. Among them, award-winning ones and bestselling ones, too. The twain, it would appear, meet at this magical place, my page. And here’s the twist: almost every one of them has sent me a friend request. Not the other way round.
Nearly a decade ago, I began my reluctant journey on social media as a nobody writer who had just had his first novel out because I was told by my all-knowing editor that I would remain a nobody if I wasn’t on it.
In the following years, as I made the imperceptible yet arduous journey from jobless nobody who wasn’t on social media to active, buzzing, ever-occupied nobody who was on social media, I was overwhelmed by the number of writers and publishing types who sought my virtual friendship despite ignoring me at lit fests and real-world encounters.
Maybe I had arrived and I wasn’t aware of it, I thought in the beginning. Maybe they were intimidated by my movie-star good looks. Maybe I had BO. Maybe they had BO.
Cut to present.
Yesterday, I received a terse FB message in Telugu from a so-called publisher of a women’s magazine (she has 4k followers). I had accepted her friend request a while ago. And in the period that followed she had never once interacted with me in any manner. Nor commented or reacted to my posts. Her message to me: I run a Telugu magazine for women called XYZ. Send me money.
That was it. No salutation. No introduction. No reasons. No conclusion. No please. No nothing.
It took her message to finally get me out of my lethargy and write this piece, one that has been in the making for the last decade. About a baffling trend among writers and publishing types.
Just like this woman, save a couple of writers and publishing types who have become real-life friends, every one of those famous writers and high-powered publishing types who chose to befriend me over the years, I realised, weren’t doing it to follow me, read my delectable prose, witness my dazzling journey into the lowest echelons of the literary firmament or write a moving letter to the Nobel committee persuading them to FedEx my prize to me ASAP.
They were doing it hoping I would become their fan. Buy a copy of their latest book. Like their page. Write a piece for free. Land up at their book do and applaud wildly. Teach my idiot ideas at their workshops gratis. Or share my meagre literary resources and my even more meagre financial ones with them at lightning speed. And have made this clear to me, at different times, via messages and requests similar in tone and length to the missive sent by the publisher of the Telugu women’s magazine.
Buy my new book, it’s out. Do you know anyone who can moderate my session in Chennai (not you, heavens! no)? How much advance royalties did you get for your second book? Can you look at a suspicious mole I have? What is your PIN?
Okay, I exaggerate a bit. But you get the drift.
I can understand if these messages were from a scrap-iron dealer (which one of the literary agents I know ought to be) or a lower-rung operative of a political party (which, come to think of it, one or two writers I know are). But from writers? And publishing types?
No salutation. No introduction. No foreplay. No cigarette afterwards. No cuddling. Nothing.
Writers not employing their supposed best weapons – words – the good ones, kind ones, polite ones, even manipulative and disingenuous ones, to get their point across, however self-serving the point may be, and getting the desired result? Am I the only one who finds it baffling?
Imagine a gunslinger. He has a pearl-handled Colt in his holster. The sun is advantageously positioned behind him. And across the dusty road, about twenty paces away, is his target. What does the gunslinger do? He draws his penknife instead and throws it at his target.
My dear editor friends are no better. These supposed caretakers of wordsmiths, the ones whose very job is fine-tuning and polishing the word-revolvers of these literary sharpshooters, respond, if ever, to long letters written in blood with all-purpose monosyllabic grunts that Koko the gorilla would laugh at were she alive.
In my last ten years as a writer – in which I have written five books and more than a hundred articles – I haven’t received one letter from any of the editors that I have worked with. Not one, no exaggeration, to tell me that they liked something I’d written that had proved somewhat popular or a book of mine that had got good reviews. And that includes the gent who may or may not publish this piece.
Unfortunately for me, I have something to compare this with. I reproduce here a letter written by Narla Venkateswara Rao to my father, a young cartoonist then, embarking on his first-ever political cartoon in a Telugu daily. Which he eventually did for ten years, motivated, I’m certain, in no small way by the constant written encouragement of his editor. The funny thing (or is it sad?) is that he has bundles of similar letters from writers, fellow cartoonists and editors. And bundles more that were written to my grandfather during his seven-decade long career.
I can hear the clamour of the literalists. It’s the internet and social media era. And I’m naive to expect letters written in long hand.
All I can say to them is I’ll stop expecting decently written communication from people in general, and those in the lit/pub field in particular, when we have books that are filled from end to end with emojis and nothing else.
My point finally, Dear Writers: why pretend to be a writer when it’s a role you play only at specific times of the day for one or two specific purposes? Why be a writer when you aren’t even aware the most powerful thing you’ll ever own are your words? Why be a writer if you can’t employ these at every given opportunity – to galvanise, enlighten, comfort, correct or requisition? Why be a writer when you don’t know all literature is ultimately communication?
And why be a publisher, editor, lit agent, or proof-reader, for that matter, if you are stingy with your words and ungenerous with the folk who make words?
Krishna Shastri Devulapalli has written five books and many articles. His new book Six Handy Letter-Writing Tricks For Editors & Writers will be available shortly as a free download.