Raghvi Jain“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” – Maya Angelou

In today’s socially progressing and technologically transforming world, the readership in India, sadly, is declining. With the advent of digital media and online publishing, the literary scenario has undergone drastic changes. On one hand, the poor quality of writing that can be easily published on the internet is killing the writers and the publishing industry, on the other, the shift from literary to popular fiction lays focus on entertainment over meaning. As a result, though diluted, the mainstream fiction has become easier to read and is accessible to more readers.

The ease of publishing online has removed the editor from the frame, which was necessary for selecting works that merited publication and helped them refine through the slush pile. For indie authors, the market is wide open for experimenting with different techniques that no longer treat the book as a work of art. It diminishes the gap between the so-called highbrow and genre fiction. As self-published authors, they have access to tools, distribution and best practice knowledge to publish books faster, smarter and less expensively than large publishers. The world of e-books has made it favourable for indie authors to earn 60-80% of the list price by employing witty marketing strategies contrary to the 12-17% list price earned by traditionally published e-book authors.

Accompanying with the popularity of blogs and wikis, more and more young writers have been able to reach out to the community or even the whole world and integrate audiences with common interests. However, such cyberspace writing allows users to express their views about a topic that they don’t know very well and transform the friendly technology into a threatening task. Since it is a less formal type of writing, at times it results in less focused expression of thoughts. For example, personal blogs may be biased or contain inaccurate information. Due to lack of cyber ethics, writers indulge in plagiarism, causing confidentiality and copyright issues. Therefore, the publishers need to be especially careful in making sure that all the postings are original and quotations from others are acknowledged. Public publication of writings can also result in vandalism or easy spam targets if not managed properly.

All the postings on blogs can be read by the public unless the site owner limits the access. Thus, technicalities such as uploading new posts, multiple posting or riddling with advertisements, show that it’s time consuming and involves a lot of efforts to maintain the site quality and keep it updated. Young writers who are not sincere about blogging and write only to please people around them are not able to effectively make use of this cyberspace allotted to them. It is distressing for them if nobody posts a comment on their blog, knowing the size of the potential audience. Moreover, viewers don’t know how to provide honest feedback or how to question for deeper thinking. They end up expressing the same idea on all blogs, not actually responding honestly but trying to be nice and hence, unaware.

Such interactions in the online reading and writing community make the situation worse for beginners who are unsure about expressing their work to the public. They not only lack self-confidence due to fear of dishonest criticism and unintended motivation, but are also timid about commenting on fellow writers’ blogs. As there is no filter for good or bad writing, everybody is dragged in the vicious circle, thereby losing out on genuinely talented writers and potentially aware readers on its way.

The readers are always in the dilemma whether to read or look for the plethora of entertainment options like cinema, internet, computer games, due to being bombarded by poor quality writing. Though blogging and e-books have encouraged reading, the so-called ‘good writing’ isn’t good anymore. While there is freedom of expression, the writers need to know that with freedom comes responsibility. They need to be honest, ethical, develop range, accept criticism and perfect their craft by writing more. By publishing for the right reasons, they have the power to emotionally satisfy extremes of the society and leave the reader with an incredible experience. The literary magazines, creative writing courses, workshops at schools and colleges and literary festivals, all means of promoting literature are doing their best to boost the spirit of young writers. More competitions like the JLF blogger’s contest and prizes for literature sponsored by ‘The Hindu’ and Open Road Review can nourish good writing.

With the right kind of mentoring and honest criticism from conscious readers, the writers in India have the potential to produce literature that can easily blur lines between popular and canonized ‘L’iterature. From the writer being lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress and the angry reader being forced into reading poor quality stuff, we can easily move toward becoming an intelligent and peaceful nation by re-kindling within us the spirit of reading and writing, as Margaret Fuller has rightly said- “Today a reader and tomorrow a leader”.

Raghvi Jain is an editorial intern at Open Road Review.