Like other sectors of life, the literary publishing industry has also suffered a severe blow during the two years of the Covid pandemic. With infections dwindling, all sectors of the economy are struggling to recover, and the publishing industry is no exception.
Kalpana Dhakal is the managing director of Kitab Publishers, a publishing house based in Kathmandu. Despite the pandemic, the company established in 2019 has published 10 books so far, including Sati, Mokshabhumi, Kara and Pararashtraka Patra which have created a buzz among critics and general readers.
Recently, Onlinekhabar caught up with Dhakal for an interview. In the conversation, she talked about her inspiration behind starting a book business, the challenges of the publishing industry, the trend of books in Nepal and many other things related to the industry. .
Let’s start with something personal. Previously, you were a journalist working with some of the best media houses in the country. But, you suddenly move into the publishing industry. What prompted you to do it?
Yes, at the time, I was a journalist. As my career was going smoothly, I had to stop it abruptly due to health issues with my mother. Later, as time passed, I felt like doing something again.
My family and friends loved all the books. Almost every day we were talking about books in some way. As everyone around me was avid reader, talking about books has always fascinated me. This is why the idea of creating a publishing house triggered me.
Can you also tell me something about the first book of your publication?
Our first book was ‘Biman Bidroha’ by Durga Subedi. The book did really well in the market. The coverage we’ve had from the mainstream media has been overwhelming. Over 4,000 copies were sold in one week. The response from readers and booksellers has been beyond expectations. I was very happy and anxious at the same time. The identity given by the first book since my adventure in the publishing industry is very special to me.
What has your experience in the publishing industry been like since?
As I was a journalist before, it helped me a lot in running the business. All of my writers and others involved in my book business are well known to me. It helped me gain their trust.
With that, working as a book editor has been very productive for me. I had the opportunity to meet many brilliant minds while running the company. I believe the book industry is a very healthy industry because reading books never creates loss for anyone.
For me, every book is exclusive and publishing a book is like giving birth to new life.
Like other industries, the publishing industry can also have challenges. In all these years of experience, what challenges have you encountered in the book industry?
Mainly, there are two challenges in the publishing industry. Firstly, it is about discovering the quality book and secondly, the fluctuations of the book market. Once the book market was at its peak when books like China Harayeko Manchhe, Palpasa Cafe and Rukmangad Katwal were published. But, after that, the book market collapsed enormously. Even 2,000 copies barely sell.
After Covid, because of inflation, the prices of everything rose excessively. In this situation, books might not be the priority for many people.
Likewise, we also need to increase the number of female writers and that is also one of the challenges. There are a lot of potential female writers and I want to work with them. But, probably due to their heavy involvement in family and professional life, they couldn’t have written the books. I kept arranging meetings with these potential writers. They answer me well. I hope that very soon the Nepalese publishing industry will see a good number of women writers.
With this, Covid has also posed a challenge to the book industry. We were forced to close our office for a long time. The loss we suffer has not yet been recovered.
So what’s the latest book trend in Nepal?
It is found that most people are interested in non-fiction, history and politics. Non-fiction works have a relatively high demand. At the same time, some fiction works have also done a remarkable job in the market.
We in the publishing industry never know which book will be a hit or a flop. But, we get suggestions from many people about what topic we should publish the book on.
But, it is said that the readership of Nepalese books is decreasing. What do you think? What could be the reasons?
Clearly, the readership of Nepalese books has dropped considerably. But, I think there is no research or investigation that shows why. Some of the reasons could be post-Covid market inflation, a lack of quality books, and high social media engagement.
People were expected to read more books during the shutdowns. Online booksellers were very happy with it. But I don’t think things went as planned. I have also heard that many people cannot concentrate on the books due to the anxiety posed by the virus.
Booksellers say there is a lack of quality books. Similarly, they also say that young people only want to read books in English. Therefore, I think the publishing industry is struggling to increase the number of readers of Nepali books. I have a plan to do something but I don’t want to reveal it now.
Translation could be one of the ways to promote the reading culture and the publishing industry. Have you thought about translating the books in the near future?
I have already tried to do translations but, unfortunately, I withdrew from the project. I didn’t see any durability in the translation. There are many books that should be translated. But, currently, I am not able to work in translation because it requires additional financial and human resources.
We have very limited human resources for translation. But later, if everything goes well, we will definitely work on it.
Kitab Publishers recently launched a book, Paradeshko Pasina. What is the book about?
Paradeshko Pasina is a collaborative work of seven writers. Each of the authors has written on various areas of overseas employment. The book is edited by Yangesh, a renowned journalist in Nepal. Topics covered in the books are related to government policy, remittances, changes created by overseas employment, and others.
This book is based on the most recent facts and data.
As the book has just been launched, we have not received many responses, but people appreciate its cover page.
They say “don’t judge a book by its cover”. However, since you have already talked about it, could you tell us about the process of designing a book cover in the Nepalese publishing industry?
First, we hand over the manuscript to the designers. They read them and design the cover. We discuss designs, and they are improvised several times.
Most of our cover pages are designed by Sachin Yogal Shrestha. Almost all the time, Sachin and I are working. Sometimes it takes a long time to finalize the book cover. However, we don’t find it stressful, but we love it.