Last week, a well respected editor of a national daily pointed out to a friend, who wants to be a fiction writer, that she's not good looking enough to fit the bill. When this conversation was played back to me, I was perplexed.
How can this be true? I decided to investigate this further as though a sleuth in a mystery novel. It became my mission to unravel whether publishers care about how their women writer looks or not.
As I probed further, I had no idea what evidence to gather to support or disprove the editor's theory. And then like all good detectives depend on their intuition and deductions to give them a break, I had a brainwave. Where would I find the largest cross-section of writers to examine for clues? Bingo. Literary festivals. Where else?
I went to the website of a popular Indian literature festival and checked out the women writers on their list of panel discussions. Fourteen out of the 20 new rising stars on the literary horizon are really good looking women. Could the editor actually be right? A good mystery always has a surprise ending.
On the surface of it, it appears the publishing world has nothing to do with looks, but that is not the case.
My husband mentioned, while I was discussing this with him, that this is a stupid argument because it holds true in every field. Good-looking people just get more opportunities. Elementary, dear Watson.
Now, I just needed to establish the reason, like one needs to find the cause of murder. Why does a writer need to be good looking when it has nothing to do with the work at hand? A pretty face serves no purpose in this trade, which has more to do with sitting at your desk for long hours struggling with thoughts, language and constant heartaches. Does a pretty face help? Maybe it does.
Of course it does. A pretty face helps with everything. A good looking author writes better sentences and creates better characters. Of course, everybody being wined and dined by men gives them a deep understanding of the pathos of life. After all, it was Helen of Troy's face that started a war and launched a thousand ships. What is selling a few thousands of books in comparison to launching a thousand ships?
A writer has to be seen, has to attend book releases, attend literary festivals and appear on TV. Everyone likes to look at good-looking people. And why shouldn't the same rules that apply to everything else (soap, cement, chocolate, mango juice) apply to books? Yes, I did write cement. Beauty can sell cement. I have seen an advertisement that had a woman coming out of the sea, Ursula Andress style, and the visual cut to the name of a cement company! I am sure this one is the country's best selling cement. If that can work then why not only have good-looking women writers selling their books?
I say put them in bikinis and their books will sell like cronuts - the new trend apparently, which is a hybrid between a donut and a croissant. I haven't had one, but people seem to love them. At a time when the publishing industry is supposed to be dying, maybe things will drastically turn around. Imagine how many people would attend a book event that had women looking like Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone? To further strengthen the case, I present another piece of evidence. At a recent literary festival in Mumbai, the queue to listen to Varun Dhawan was the longest. Mystery solved.
And if you're a woman writer, please don't bother to go to a publisher unless you are worthy of belonging on the centre spread of Playboy magazine. Please don't waste your time writing. Meanwhile, I think I will go schedule my plastic surgery. Someday I hope to write something substantial.