The lockdown has certainly defined what the new normal has become. No longer is it about hanging around in a coffee shop and ideating in a co-working space. Life is now about adjusting, making choices – some difficult ones, and trying to reinvent yourself.
Entrepreneurs Ishmeet Nagpal and Nirav Mehta, who run Ratio Auream Publishers LLP, a publishing house based out of Mumbai, realized the need for people who loved books to come together during the lockdown. “Poetry events, workshops – everything stood cancelled indefinitely and we felt that writers were stranded without connection during this difficult time. So, we organized India’s first virtual open mic in March 2020, and then decided to foster this community of poets in a Facebook group,” said Mehta, while speaking to Free Press Journal.
Nagpal said that she and Mehta also started a National Poetry Writing Month in April 2020, where prompts were given every day – similar to the Inktober Challenge that takes place in October every year. “People posted their poems for feedback and critique by their peers. The theme was “the times we live in” because we wanted to not only support each other but also help each other process these unusual circumstances. The anthology – the publishing house’s first book Isolocation – was born out of the best poems that emerged,” she said.
The themes that the poets focused on included anxiety, love, feminism, family, revolution, and catharsis linked the poets and their poems to each other. “We were all thinking and feeling the same things in our own different ways and that was coming through even when we put a group of complete strangers together,” added Nagpal.
Mehta and Nagpal then shortlisted the poems and created an anthology that will be sold on various e-commerce platforms. “Around 25 poets diligently wrote poems for every prompt, edited and modified their pieces according to feedback received on the Facebook group, and emailed us the week’s poems every Sunday to officially be considered for inclusion in the anthology. These were thoroughly vetted by the editors and then shortlisted after rigorous plagiarism checks. The approach was to identify the best poems rather than pick poets. We never pre-decided the number of poets or the number of poems we would choose, the process was very organic and open. Once all poems were shortlisted, we gave the book to our Advisory Board for their views and comments and the title of the book emerged from discussions with them. The selected poets were then contacted, and the editing process progressed with individual (virtual) sittings Ishmeet had with each of them to refine and fine-tune their poems. She put together the order once that was done, finding that many of the poems were intuitively linked despite coming from different poets,” said Mehta in an email to Free Press Journal.
Interestingly, their love for books is what drew Mehta and Nagpal into the publishing industry. While Nagpal is a trained dentist and now a freelance writer, Mehta is a marketing consultant for a software company. “I had a coffee with a few friends in Chennai and realized the need for an independent publishing house. I explained my vision to Ishmeet two hours after I decided to get into publishing, and she was immediately on board,” says Mehta.
Both Nagpal and Mehta are aware of the competition that can get ugly in the industry. “Publishing is something very daunting and possibly discouraging for a lot of new writers. We wanted Ratio Auream Publishers LLP to be accessible, friendly, and open to writing that breaks the rules of genre and convention. With our first book, I think this is the biggest thing we have achieved – a publishing process that is full of empathy, support, and encouragement for the writers,” said Nagpal.
Both Nagpal and Mehta acknowledge that India is full of talent, but also see the funny side of it. “I am still getting used to completely random people inundating me with requests to give ‘feedback’ on their writing. I don’t even know them, and the requests and demands for free labor keep pouring in from complete strangers!” quips Mehta, while Nagpal says that writers tend to undervalue their work too much. “No one has ever told them how great they truly are, so they relegate their writing to their diaries and never even consider publishing. Conversely, the ones that are the most confident are indisputably mediocre. In the age of social media, where the number of followers one has is considered to be the measure of your talent, great writers are just languishing in their own world, waiting to be discovered. I wish more people took to publishing their work, to at least trying, or else we will miss out on an entire generation of talent,” she says.
You can preview the book here.