As the teacher welcomed the audience and turned the mic to one of the panelists, the budding author simply shook her head. Perhaps because she had already put what she had to say into words and images.
It is perfectly permissible, and even cute, if you are only five or six years old and among a bunch of schoolchildren getting a first taste of writerly attention. The event was an informal launch for 19 students of Shiv Nadar School in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, who had come up with independently published or self-published books.
The pandemic and its forced isolation have inspired children to pick up reading and writing more seriously, as the youngsters of Shiv Nadar School would testify. From kindergarteners to teens, the 19 schoolchildren explored storytelling, poems, and illustrations, while delving into fairy-tale genres as well as fantasies and thrillers.
However, it is merely a stepping stone to the world of publishing where a select few make the cut.
Vatsala Kaul Banerjee, publisher, children’s and young adult books, Hachette India, says that they get a fair share of manuscripts from children — one in 25 submissions on an average. “They are sent in mostly by parents, but often the children themselves, who are above 12 years of age, write in. There was a small spike during Covid-19,” she adds.
Shelves in bookstores do not identify books authored by children separately, and age is not a deciding factor for publishers who cut a deal. “The subject, originality, and quality of writing are our main concerns. Our contracts with minor authors also factor in clauses about the child having done this under no duress and without any breach of child labour laws or any rules and regulations related to children,” says Banerjee.
At present, Hachette India has only one child author on its list — Zac Sangeeth from Bengaluru, who was 10 when he wrote World History in 3 Points that was published earlier this year. “We really liked the idea of a capsuled history book. He had been putting the book together for two years on his own while he had online school and there was a lot of time on hand during the worst months of the pandemic,” says Banerjee.
Sohini Mitra, publisher, children’s division at Penguin Random House India, agrees that there are a lot of submissions from children. “It is a heartening trend because it shows they are reading, there is renewed attention in schools, and even parents are conscious about keeping them off-screen. Kids who love literature eventually dabble in some writing.” However, she adds, there is not a lot of original work, which is what a publisher looks at.
More than a decade ago, post-Harry Potter, publishing houses began receiving a deluge of manuscripts on fantasy fiction as children were lapping up the genre. Despite a dip, publishers still get a lot of fantasy stories, says Mitra, who encourages parents to take the self-publishing route to motivate children to write more.
That said, last year Penguin published a book called The Great Big Lion, which was drawn and written by three-year-old Chryseis Knight from Canada.
Among Indians in recent years, it has published a handful of teenagers including author Ravi Subramanian’s daughter Anusha, the author of Never Gone (2016), and Zuni Chopra’s debut novel The House that Spoke (2017).
It had earlier published Arjun Vajpai, when he became the youngest Indian to climb Mount Everest (On Top of the World, 2010) at age 16. Last year, it also published a book called Unmasked: Stories from the Pandemic by Paro Anand, who writes books for children. It compiled 18 stories and left the space for the 19th blank for the reader to pen her own.
Kanishka Gupta, a literary agent and publishing commentator, recalls that a few promising young writers got published a decade ago purely on merit.
He cites the example of Shreya Mathur, who wrote But Ira Said (2012) during her pre-board study leave when she was 15. “At that point, HarperCollins was bullish on its young adult imprint. And it commissioned Shreya’s book based just on chapters,” he says, adding that most of the self-published books are vanity projects and tend to be spin-offs or inspired by other books. “So many who self-publish complain that the books aren’t available in bookstores or online. That’s because vanity presses have no distribution.”
Publishers also feel that aside from the solitary pursuit of writing, children are put under pressure to achieve.
Says Banerjee: “In one generation, it would have been laudatory to have an article published in the school magazine; now the boundaries of such achievements are being expanded. Children have résumés these days, and parents are quite keen to publish the work of even little kids.” Self-publishing, she adds, offers an easy space to publish. “Among older children, having a book published sometimes helps them in university admissions.”
Hachette India: Gets on an average one in 25 manuscript submissions from children. At present, has only one child author on its list — Zac Sangeeth from Bengaluru, who was 10 when he wrote World History in 3 Points published earlier this year
Penguin Random House India: Last year, published a book drawn and written by three-year-old Canada resident, Chryseis Knight. Among Indians, it has published a handful of teenagers in recent years. Earlier published Arjun Vajpai, when, at 16, he became the youngest Indian to climb the Everest in 2010
HarperCollins: Published But Ira Said, written by a 15-year-year-old during her pre-board study leave