It was pretty much six full months ago that my buddy Ashok asked me if I would consider turning his personal website, Epic India, into an online magazine, and just about three months since we opened the doors. I think, in spite of my great admiration and respect for my old friend, if I had known what it was going to be like I might have mentioned some fairly unmentionable ideas to him and hoped the next time I talked to him his head wouldn't be filled with such foolishness.
Okay, that's not true, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into just from observing what the editors at Blogcritics and Desicritics have to go through on a regular basis. On top of that I'd also be doing a lot of the page and site design (although Banwari La did all the real work and still continues to this day to be the man we all run crying to when we can't get the toys to do what we want them to do).
There was also all the administrative work involved setting things in motion as well, and you'd be amazed how many little things you didn't think of crop up – where do the contributors sign in for the first time, for instance. That might sound silly, but we had never had to sign into the live site, because we were always working on the test site. When it came time to send out permissions to people, I could only pray that the system would automatically send them a link to somewhere they could sign in.
All things considered, it went pretty smoothly with only minimal bugs and nothing too serious. We've even been able to solve our spam problem and turn our comments back on after having to close them for a couple of weeks because of a spam deluge. But we ran into a problem that I guess has sort of taken me by surprise and left me feeling blindsided.
The contributors didn't want to contribute. On opening day we had about twenty people registered as contributors. I thought that wasn't so bad because if everyone chipped in an article a week, plus me on a daily basis, it worked out to three new posts a day. A bit thin, but we were a new site with zero budget to advertise and no one with the time to do much about publicity.
But you know the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink? While it seems to apply to a lot of writers out there, too. Not only couldn't I get a number of my original writers to contribute at all, I'd get people writing all excited and asking me please could they be a writer at Epic India, and then nothing, not a word — nada.
After a month of this I sent out a letter en masse with words of encouragement. After two months I sent out a letter saying those who had not published at all and didn't within two days would have their permissions yanked.
At least that time people made the effort to respond to my email and postings increased sporadically, and the number of writers decreased by the number who had never contributed. Even Ashok sponsorship of a contest for the best stories about Indian culture did nothing to increase contributions.
Then last week one of those things you dream of happening when you run an arts and culture site happened. Vinod Joseph, author of the novel Hitchhiker, wrote me out of the blue and asked if I would consider publishing his new series of ten short stories for him at the site.
Let me see… would I consider publishing the work of an author whose name I could at least trumpet up and down the breadth of India, if not to the Indian population abroad as well, as being a contributor at the site? Oh heck, why not, I was sure we could squeeze him in somewhere once a week for ten weeks.
With Vinod's help I've been able to, hopefully, generate more interest in the site over the past week than in our previous three months. Not only did he offer his work, he gave me a huge list of email addresses for online and print press to properly publicize his participation.
Of course it also means we will be coming under a bit of a microscope for the next little while so I'm going to have be extra careful with my proofreading and editing skills. (Stop laughing out there, I'm getting better.) I also hope that this will encourage some of my more reticent contributors to start writing more frequently, mainly because I know they can all do good work and they have a great opportunity now for a larger audience to take notice of them.
Of course I'm hopeful of a spin-off effect from this and that we will attract more writers to the site who want to either contribute short stories or non-fiction articles of their own on a regular basis. But I'm also realistic enough to know that it will still take more then just one very special event to stabilize us. But it's a start and I can't ask for more than that.
Starting Saturday, July 7, 2007, Vinod Joseph, author of the novel Hitchhiker will be serializing his new collection of short fiction, A Taste Of Kerala – Stories From Simhapara at Epic India.com on a weekly basis for ten weeks.
Set in the fictional village of Simhapara, the stories are slices of life far removed from the hustle and bustle of the big centres of Delhi and Mumbai. A Taste Of Kerala will offer readers a view of life that is a few steps removed from the sacred "Economic Miracle" so beloved of the press and political leaders.
In his novel Hitchhiker Vinod Joseph proved he had the ability to depict the lives of people in rural communities without sentimentalizing or belittling them. Once more he will offer readers an opportunity to see a different view of India than often offered — ordinary people getting on with the business of living their lives as best they can in a world that is changing faster then they might be able to handle.
Join Epic India as we welcome Vinod Joseph and his latest work A Taste Of Kerala – Stories From Simhapara to our pages. You won't be disappointed.