Friday, August 27, 2010

Six Questions for Rakesh Khanna, Editor, Blaft Publications

From the website:

"Blaft Publications is an independent publishing house based in Chennai, India. Our list includes bestselling Indian crime novels, experimental fiction, pulp art, and graphic novels." Learn more here.

SQF: According to a report by Foner Books (, “[g]rowth stagnated for booksellers in 2008, and overall book sales barely moved according to the government.” In addition, I’ve read a number of articles concerning the difficulty authors are having securing book deals. In your opinion, what is the current state of the print book market?

RK: We started Blaft in 2008, and none of us had any prior publishing experience. So we don't have much to compare with. We sell most of our books in India, a complicated market that few people really understand very well and which is probably off the radar of those Foner graphs. Because of population and language and economic trends, it seems safe to say that the market for English books in India is growing fairly rapidly.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

RK: We look for things that surprise us. Nothing is ever too surprising or too different or too strange.

But I should admit that we haven't ever actually accepted a submitted "manuscript."  About half our books are translations from Tamil and Hindi bestsellers, and each of those was recommended by our translators (Pritham Chakravarthy for Tamil and Sudarshan Purohit for Hindi), and we got a synopsis and secured rights and knew we were going to publish the book before any English manuscript existed.  Then there is Kuzhali Manickavel, who already had a big web presence with a bunch of short pieces published here and there in various litmags, and we ran across her stuff online and were totally blown away by it, and we contacted her and said hey we want to publish your book. Similar story with the graphic novelist Appupen: somebody pointed us to his website, which had a bunch of very awesome short pieces on it, and we talked to him and found out he'd been working on a graphic novel for three years and was close to finished.

And the rest of our titles are visual books. One of those--Vishwajyoti Ghosh's postcard book Times New Roman & Countrymen--is a bunch of crazy collages submitted to us as a book idea, so maybe that counts, though we already knew Vishwajyoti beforehand.

SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

RK: Sometimes there's a lot of ego in the cover letter --"Here is my book and now I will explain why it's groundbreaking and brilliant and will sell millions of copies" -- and you get scared, as an editor, that the person will be hard to work with, that they may be resistant to criticism and suggestions for changes.

Also, people seem to really like to brag about being "the first in India" to do something. "This is the first Indian horror novel," "This is the first Indian novel featuring a female action hero," that type of thing. Well, Indians have been writing for a few millennia now, and there is an awful lot of literature, so chances are that you're wrong. It might be the first in India in English, but that is an important qualification to mention. And anyway, it's not clear why a book's being the first of its kind means it should be published. You could write the first Indian novel written from the point of view of a chronically depressed snail, but I'm probably not going to want to read it. Well, actually, I might.

SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?

RK: Pretty much everybody has been published before, though maybe not in English, or maybe only short pieces on the web and in magazines. In The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction we have featured Rajesh Kumar, who is apparently the most published author in the world -- he's got nearly 1500 novels out. Inspiring, no?

SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

R: Not sure we have been in this long enough to be giving advice, but one thing occurs: Work hard to understand the internet. Many authors seem unaware of all the communities where they can workshop their stuff and get feedback, the online literary magazines where they can try to get short pieces and excerpts published, and the range of possibilities the internet offers for self-publishing. Of course, you can drown in it too, so be careful.

SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

RK: "What kind of translations are you interested in publishing, and how should a potential translator approach you?" I really wish we got more proposals and synopses from translators. There's such a wealth of amazing and famous material in Indian languages, Southeast Asian languages, and African languages that English readers can't access. How I would love to open up the submissions box and find an excerpt of some militant feminist writing in Amharic, a Cebuano pyscho-thriller, a 12th century Khmer math book! But this isn't the kind of stuff that comes easily, it seems. We have to go out and hunt for it.

Thank you, Rakesh. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: Six Questions for Dan Scannell, Editor, Thieves Jargon


  1. Very helpful interview. I have never thought about a cover letter being viewed that way.

  2. Excellent. What a great vision! I love to see that there are publishers out there who are interested in publishing translations from less dominant languages!