Ripples of a Storyteller – interview with Prashant Karhade (23 November 2010)

prashantkIntroduction

About a month or so ago, one of my columnists, Suneetha, suggested I contact Prashant to ask if he’d be interested in an interview. I hopped over to his website and, in very simple terms, he’s extremely dynamic! To say more at this stage would be to give away too much. Therefore, without without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Prashanat Karhade …


Aneeta: Prashant, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Prashant: And thank you so much for interviewing me.

Aneeta: Let’s start with a little about you. Please tell me about yourself, your family, your background and your education and interests?

Prashant: I was born in Pune, it being my mom’s home town. But I grew up in Mumbai. I went to school at St. Johns High School in Goregaon. I went to D. G. Ruparel college (the best college at the time) for 11th and 12th. Then I did my engineering from IIT Powai. After that I went to the US, did my Masters, worked at Intel and other companies for about 6 years, and came back to India for good in 2003. After coming back, I worked for a small company called BitMapper and then worked at Wipro for more than 3.5 years. I quit my full-time job in Jan 2009 and since then I have been on my own. I manage APK Publishers and am also partner in a web development company called WebXcel. At WebXcel, we do website design and web marketing for our clients.

As far as my family is concerned, I come from middle-class Maharashtrian family which values education, knowledge, and living a clean and honest life more than anything else. My father is an Electrical Engineer and still works today as a consultant despite being past the retirement age. My mom was a secondary school teacher. She turned a writer a decade ago and has 2 Marathi books and 100+ articles in newspapers/magazines to her credit. My younger brother has a PhD in business and is a professor in Hong KongUniversity of Science & Technology.

As far as my interests are concerned, there is nothing in this world that doesn’t interest me. I play 4 different instruments myself: tabla, drums, rhythm guitar, and a little bit of bass guitar. You will find me listening Indian Classical, Western Classical, Jazz, and classic rock music most of the times, but I do listen to Bollywood music (I am a big fan of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) and any “good” music in general. I am a huge fan of sports and follow more than 10 different sports regularly. I am also interested in cooking international cuisines (dishes that I feel like eating but don’t get here in India), hiking, investing in stock markets.

Currently I live with my wife and two daughters in Pune.

Aneeta: So you seem to be a hardcore techie. How did you get into writing and publishing?

Prashant:Unlike most writers, I wasn’t a writer since childhood. And in fact, I wasn’t one of those book worms (one who perpetually reads books) either. But the writing bug bit me in 2003 after my elder daughter was born. It was almost as if my right brain came out of hibernation and started firing on all cylinders. I am convinced that my elder daughter’s birth – the most inspirational event in my life and equalled only by the birth of my younger daughter – was the cause of my metamorphosis. It was those moments of inspiration that gave me the idea of Memory Remains, my first novel, and a few more novels. Then came the ‘Haiku phase’, where more than a dozen Haikus ‘came to me’ in a span of 2-3 weeks. It was followed by the ‘paintings’ phase, where ideas for almost 30 paintings came to me; I will have to get them painted by a decent painter because I can’t even draw and paint a cat! J I even came up with a couple of movie scripts that I just might write some day. And getting them made into films seems a lot more possible now that I have so many connections in the film world. One of the contributing writers to Ripples, Irene, is a film editor. Her brother is Onir, screenwriter-director-producer. So it just might happen, and if it does, it would be just awesome!

And talking of films, I have also started co-writing a book on film-making with a guy named Vivekanand Ahuja. I know nothing about films; Vivek is going to handle that part of it. I am helping him as a writer and editor. We are going to interview the top Bollywood film producers for the book including Aamir Khan, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Aditya Chopra, Suraj Barjatya, Ronnie Screwala, among others. So it’s an exciting project and I am really forward to meeting these big-shots. And it gives me even more reason to believe that I just might get my ideas turned into real films one day.

Anyway, I am digressing. So yes, writing is definitely an accident, although it is one of the best things to have happened to me. I wrote my debut fiction novel Memory Remains in 2006. Writing Memory Remains was a very cathartic and liberating experience. The thrill of finishing your first novel is out of this world. However, trying to get it published wasn’t all that thrilling. I have to admit that. I contacted the big publishers some of whom didn’t respond. The ones who did asked huge amounts of money to get my book published which I wasn’t very keen on giving. I finally found a small publisher in Mumbai but they did such a horrible job with the production that I was 100% sure that I would do 100 times better than them even if I did it while I was drunk or half-asleep. So that’s when I decided to start APK Publishers and that’s how I got into publishing. One of the biggest virtues that a writer needs to have is patience and I have very little of it. When I want something, I want it right now!

Aneeta: So how many books have you published so far?

Prashant: Memory Remains was the first book published by APK Publishers. After that I wrote and published a non-fiction book on entrepreneurship titled Making It On My Own (MIOMO). I wanted to try my hand at non-fiction. That was one of the reasons why I wrote MIOMO. But I was almost sure at that point that the time to quit my full-time job at Wipro and be on my own had come. So MIOMO was also an effort to understand the nuances of entrepreneurship and I learnt a lot talking to 10 real-life entrepreneurs, most of whom were first-generation entrepreneurs. And it was also an exercise in networking as much as the above two reasons. So in that sense, the book was a big success on all three counts, and I sold quite a bit of copies of it as well.

So the first two books of APK Publishers were written by me. But I didn’t start APK Publishers just to publish my own books. I was very much open to publish books by other writers as well; in fact, I wanted to do that. So I first published Salmons of Narmada, the English translation of a Marathi book titled Swadesh, which contains real-life stories of 27 NRIs who stayed outside India for extended periods of time but then decided to come back. Then I published In Their Shoes by Dipen Ambalia, a first-time writer. We The Bachelors by Satyajit Deshmukh and USA Visitor’s Guide by Dr. Sundeep Dronawat followed after that.

Then I published a 4-book series of children’s story books for kids aged 3-7 years. They were based on stories that I made for my own daughters but then decided to turn into real books. The illustrations are done by Milind Deshpande, a Pune based artist and he has done a fabulous job of it.

And Ripples is the latest book.

Aneeta: Tell us a little bit more about Ripples. It has been in the news lately and is being talked about quite a bit.

ripplescoverPrashant: Ripples is an anthology of short fiction stories compiled by me. It has 48 stories from 26 different and exceptionally talented Indian women writers. It has turned out very well and in fact exceeded all my expectations. It was launched in October. We launched it in 4 cities: 15th October in Mumbai, 16th October in Pune, 23rd October in Bangalore, and 24th October in Chennai. We were to launch in Delhi on 29th October but I fell sick. I guess the stress of the previous 2-3 weeks, the running around like crazy, and the hectic travel schedule took their toll on me.

All the launches were great successes! I had already befriended 26 terrific fiction writers and that is important because what good is a publishing house without good/great writers? And as part of the launches, I met and befriended many other celebrities and writers as well: screenwriter-director-producer Onir, screenwriter-photogapher Sooni Taraporevala, actor-producer Sanjay Suri, fantasy writer Sonja Chandrachud who is dubbed as the ‘desi J. K. Rowling’, writer-editor Usha K. R., writer Shinie Antony, actress-director Revathy, and RJ-singer-writer Suchitra Karthik Kumar who is popularly called Suchi. That’s quite a list and it will do me only good in my future endeavours.

So in that sense, Ripples is a big step in the right direction. And since all the contributing writers to Ripples were active bloggers on Sulekha, wordpress.com, and other websites, word about Ripples and APK Publishers has spread far and wide. I have been contacted by almost 100 writers and received proposals for 15 books since the launch of Ripples! That’s just terrific!

So expect APK Publishers to launch many books in 2011. Follow-up to Ripples with different themes, individual books by the writers featured in Ripples, and books based on many “creative” ideas that I have and which I will get written by all my writer friends. I am in love with the idea of writing a book ‘collectively’ like we did for Ripples, and will use it in my future books as well.

Aneeta: Of all the works you’ve published (both yours and others), can you name three works that are special to you and why?

Prashant: Memory Remains will always be special to me because that is what got all this started. It is my debut fiction novel and very close to my heart. It is loosely based on events from my own life, and I am thrilled to bits that my elder daughter, who is only 7 years old, has already started reading it! J It is far more gratifying than words can express.

I am also very proud of my children’s story books. They are based on stories that I made for my own daughters and over time they became quite good, which is when I decided to turn them into real books. I am especially proud of them because I was quite bad at making stories for kids. And so to have written and published 4 children’s story books is quite an achievement. And getting them illustrated was also a terrific experience. Milind has done a fabulous job of it. We have sold many sets already and still continue to do so to this very day.

And the third book is Ripples. It is truly a world-class book in my opinion, both in terms of its content and production quality. I am really proud of it. It was also a big success in many other ways.

Aneeta: So you would like budding writers to contact you if they want their books published right?

Prashant: Yes, of course! I am here to publish good books by budding writers. In fact, that is one of our missions: to help first-time and budding writers. And our tagline – By Writers, For Writers – says just that. I am looking primarily for fiction books. But in general, I will publish any book that I feel is good and deserves to be published.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that I will finance the cost of production of every book that I publish. Publishing books takes money and it takes a lot of time to recover the money because this is such a slow-moving industry. So I definitely have my constraints. But if I ask the writers to finance the cost of production of the book, then they take most of the profit as well. So it is quite fair.

Aneeta: What do you think is the USP of APK Publishers?

Prashant: I think our USP is in the way we treat writers. Although I have become a publisher now, I am a writer at heart and will always be that way. So I don’t look at writers as objects to be pawned for profit. I treat them with respect because I genuinely appreciate and respect what they do.

And I try to do everything in my power to make the experience fun and memorable for them. I remember the feeling that I got when an article of mine first got published in a book titled Life Is; Death Is Not alongside eminent writers like Khushwant Singh and Amrita Pritam. I had written the article and read it many times before sending it to the editor of that book, but it felt so much different, not to mention better, reading it in print from a real book! I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for two full days! J I try not to forget that and give that same feeling to other writers. And it is very gratifying every time I do it.

And I do all that because my experience publishing my debut novel was horrible, frustrating, and totally forgettable. Towards the end, I just wanted to get it over with. That is definitely not how it should be. And therefore, whatever I am doing is my small way of making life better for other first-time and budding writers. I also try to make the book publishing a collaborative experience as opposed to me just dictating all the terms. That makes it an enriching experience for me as well as the writers, because when you do anything from start to finish you are bound to get that feeling. All the writers who have worked with APK Publishers have expressed these things explicitly to me, and I am extremely proud of that.

Aneeta: What are you plans for the immediate and the distant future?

Prashant: I launched Ripples just about a month back. So there is a lot of hard work to be done to sell it and ensure that it reaches its full potential. So that is my first priority. We have another novel that will be published in a month. And 3-4 other exciting projects are in the pipeline already. And then there are books that I talked about earlier.

One thing that I decided was to bring a focus to the subjects on which I publish books. Select a particular genre and go after it because it helps create a consistent reader base which is crucial to success, especially for new publishing houses. I have decided to focus on English fiction. Short stories are also something I might focus on as I feel that it is “right” for today’s age of busy people. There will be sequels of Ripples with different themes are definitely in the offing, say two per year or maybe even more, which gives voice to new writers and thus retains that quality of freshness.

About 3 months back, I also realized that in order to survive as a publishing house, I had no choice but to publish truly world class books, which can hold their own against any book by say Penguin or Harper. So, while I haven’t gone away from my original aim of helping first-time writers, my aim now is to publish world-class books. That is what Ripples and all future books of APK Publishers will be I hope.

It is scary if you think that your competitors are Penguin and Harper, but I don’t think like that. I just focus on my job, which is to publish world-class books. If I am able to deliver on my promises, then I will be successful because people do give a chance to new writers and publishers. There’s always room in everybody’s bookshelf for a good new book. That’s what I am counting on. And there are many avenues today to reach passionate readers and I am planning to exploit all of them. Social networking is one of them. APK Publishers and Ripples have a Facebook page, which actively engages its readers.

Ripples by APK Publishers Facebook page URL:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ripples-by-APK-Publishers/105591689505110

Aneeta: Clearly, a lot of your work involves storytelling. Which element of storytelling, then, do you think is the most important and why?

Prashant: The main aim of storytelling is to entertain, and that is the most important element I feel. Most people in this world are living routine, uninteresting, and boring lives. I think the charm of fiction books is that it takes them to a different, distant, and (hopefully) a far more interesting world at least while they are reading a fiction book. No fiction writer should forget that.

Aneeta: What advice would you give those who would like to venture into storytelling?

Prashant: I don’t think I am big and important enough to give advice to first-time and budding writers. But I will share my thoughts, things that I have realized in the last 4-5 years, in the spirit of a friend sharing his experiences rather than giving advice.

The most important thing I think is to think big. Try to make your canvas as big as possible. But you can’t do that unless you live life to the fullest, and breadth and depth in your own life experiences, and depth of thought. So trying to write books that have a big canvas has many pleasant side-effects in itself.

One very important to understand as a first-time writer is that people don’t give a damn about you. It is really true! People are terribly busy in their own worlds and don’t give a damn about first-time writers or anything that isn’t core to their existence. It is a completely different matter that once you become famous, people will want to know what colour underwear you wear. J But it is a very hard thing getting to that point, and most people can’t achieve it. I haven’t been able to achieve it either, but I hope that one day it will happen. So you have to do something out of the ordinary to get people’s attention. And in fact, that’s what the game is.

And all you have is the title of your book, the cover page, and the text on the back (synopsis) to do it! That is what will make or break your book. So you have to do a really good job of it. But in order for the title, cover page, and the synopsis of your book to be catchy, attractive, intriguing, inviting, interesting, the crux of the book should be all those things and should be captured aptly in the title, cover, and synopsis. And that is why the plot of the book is very important. Study the title, cover, and synopsis of the books that are doing well today. It will be a good exercise for you.

Once you have succeeded in making the reader the pick your book, you have to grab their attention in the first few pages. I would recommend giving yourself only 1 page to catch their attention. Yes. 1 page is all you have got! And the way to do it open your book with a sequence that will catch the reader’s attention and hook them right away or by picking out the most interesting part of your novel and make it the prologue of your book. That way the readers know that the story is going to get there at some point in time, and then they will be more willing to go along with a slower pace if your book indeed proceeds at a slower pace in the beginning. But if general, your book should be as quick-paced as possible. Why bore the readers when you can keep them interested and entertain them?

Chetan Bhagat started a trend of sorts and a spate of books that aren’t really fiction. You can call them pseudo-fiction at best, and Memory Remains very much falls in that category. They are based on real events that happened in the lives of the writers. While there is nothing wrong in that, I think it has been overdone of late. Almost every Tom, Dick, and Harry believes that he has a story to tell. Sadly, that’s not true. Most of these books are shoddy. And it’s definitely overdone. I hardly take a look at such books myself, let alone buying and reading them. I think it’s time to get back to ‘real fiction’, and as the Founder & CEO of APK Publishers, I definitely encourage that in every way I can.

Aneeta: Prashant, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Prashant: I think I have said enough. But one last thing that I would like to say is that APK Publishers is going places and you are welcome to join the joyride if you like! And if you work with us, it will be a fun and memorable experience, one that you will remember for the rest of your life. I can definitely guarantee you that!

Aneeta: Prashant, thank you.

Prashant: Aneeta thank you so much for interviewing me. It was great talking to you, and I hope to do it in the future as well. And good luck with your website which is a great initiative I might add. Kudos to you and keep doing what you are doing!


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