PenToPublish, an ebook contest to be so simple, was introduced in Tamil last year for the first time to boost the ebooks and its sales in Tamil. The first prize, compared to the other usual competitions happening in the Tamil literary field, is really a huge amount, 5 Lakh, but Kindle self-publishing was not popular enough to attract a huge number of writers into the contest last year. Kindle platform was dominated, even now too, by female writers, of course not feminists, and so the participants for PenToPublish2018Tamil were mainly female writers last time. It was a big struggle last time to get the attraction to the contest. But when the winners were announced, Tamil ebook world came to know some foul play cleverly played by a Dravidian political party DMK.
The important part of this issue is, even the judges were not aware of this! The DMK cadres in social media shared the links of their supporters’ stories in their hidden group and campaigned successfully for getting likes and pre-loaded reviews. Even though its termed as a contest by Kindle, the entries that got high numbers of likes and reviews would go into the second selection list that was sent to the judges for selecting the final winners. In this way, DMK supporters easily hijacked the contest to make their supporters win the contest. This came to limelight only when the DMK supporters proudly shared this in social media.
This time this went to another step ahead, yes, the DMK supporters started their campaign openly! The very purpose of the contest is almost killed by the DMK supporters.
Partly Amazon also to be blamed for not letting know the rules clearly. Even now the clarity lacks. If the likes and reviews would simply elect the winners, what is the role of the judges? Last time there was some confusion till the end on the judges part too. Earlier it was announced, Mr. S. Ramakrishnan, a famous writer, would be the judge for Tamil entries, but later it was announced Mr. Era Murukan would be the judge. Era Murukan is one of the important serious literary writers of Tamil, but the winning entries did not exhibit any sense of seriousness in the content. This clearly shows the role of the judges is really restricted by the rules of Amazon.
We can understand very well, bringing the serious stories/essays to the Tamil literary world would not be the aim of Amazon. But if these likes and reviews would decide the winners, it makes the contest useless. Those who can write really serious fiction, like Lakshmi Saravanakumar who wrote a Tamil novel for 2019 contest, would not even be considered for the second round if he fails to generate enough likes and reviews. But Lakshmi Saravanakumar somehow managed to get enough likes and reviews, the only happiest moment of this contest I would say, amid this hijacking by DMK’s social media supporters.
This time the judges for Tamil are Mr. Pa. Raghavan, a famous writer and Mr. Saravana Karthikeyan (CSK), an emerging writer! This is yet another disappointing decision from Amazon to have selected CSK to be one of the juries, for he was too young, he has written just one novel and some short stories so far. Apart from his inexperience to be the judge, another important thing to be emphasized is, CSK, one of the juries of Tamil, is a hardcore DMK supporter! One can argue a DMK person could be unbiased when it comes to a contest, I agree, I am sure CSK will be unbiased in finalizing the winners, but we are not running out of judges in the Tamil writing world to select a very junior one to be one of the juries. It is really weird.
If you can see who all are getting high numbers of likes and reviews in PenToPublish Tamil entries, if you are active in Tamil social media, you can easily understand almost all of them are DMK supporters except very few. DMK supporters and judges are saying, this is open to all, and so the same thing could be tried by the opponents too to get more likes and reviews. If you really consider the serious atmosphere of the Tamil writing industry, its sad to see the writers themselves becoming a marketing person asking for likes and reviews. Indeed a pathetic one. However, we could at least digest this thinking a writer is promoting his own book. But when the same thing is done by an ideological driven political party, just imagine the outcome of the contest.
Last year the winning entries are very shallow. But the winner could achieve it as he has a very good network with the DMK supporters of social media. This time too the same thing could happen again. Off late, ex MLA of DMK is also participating in the contest it seems. If an entry could win the contest for its stuff, everybody would be fine with it. Even an MLA, of any party, sitting or ex, could write an excellent novel, I know I am sounding very weird here, but if it really happens, even if he is a DMK MLA, no doubt it’s a time for celebration. But if the winning is achieved just by marketing, only with the help of the network of a political party, let it be any political party, it’s not correct. That would kill the very purpose of the spirit of the contest. This is what is happening now to PenToPublishTamil. This would keep either all the important writers away from the contest or they would also try to get the support of political party cadres.
High time Amazon should understand this and change the pattern of the contest. It must rather be selection than election. Otherwise, its a total waste of time to read the entries and participate in the contest.
(Written on 5th Dec 2019)