Red River is an independent poetry publishing venture with very limited ambition; publish a few good poetry collections, especially of new poets.
Red River started as a dare, an experiment in ‘noble failure’. There was no planning. There was no expectation. It was not even Red River then.
A few years later, everything changed. It was time to step up.
It was time to think business.
Here’s the catch. I don’t know business. I don’t know how to know business.
So, here we are.
Red River aspires to remain an independent not-for-profit setup, committed to print (mostly) poetry. The aspiration is to make our books rare artefacts, creatively nurtured.
The keyword in the market is that poetry doesn’t sell. So we don’t want to go there, selling poetry. Instead, we want to create art — beautiful poetry within the covers of a beautiful book.
Red River is run by Dibyajyoti Sarma.
I’m from Assam. This is why the venture is called Red River, a moniker for the river Brahmaputra, our old Luit.
I was born and raised in lower Assam.
I came to Pune in 1997 to pursue my Masters in English Literature. Until then, I had studied in Assamese medium. I learned to speak and write in English at the Department of English, University of Pune (before the name was changed!). I stayed in the campus for 10 years until my PhD, and went through a series of jobs — teacher of English at various colleges, including Ahmednagar College, Symbiosis College, and the University Department; copy editor for a KPO; website developer and so on, before venturing into journalism, first at Sakal Times and then at The Times of India for eight years.
While at The Times of India, I took a transfer from Pune to Delhi. A year later, I resigned as I wanted be a part of the publishing world. After many misadventures, when it became clear that no self-respecting publishing house would hire me, I took up a job in a b2b magazine, the name of which I perhaps shouldn’t mention, but it’s thanks to my editor at the magazine, and my colleagues that I’ve been able to continue Red River.
So, this was the dare: If I wanted to be publisher I must do it myself.
My first book of poems, Glimpses of a Person History, was published in 2004 from Writers Workshop, Kolkata. The book was a necessity. I had to do it; to prove it to myself. I distributed the book free, among my friends and acquaintances and I was happy to do it.
By 2014, I was ready with my second book, Pages from an Unfinished Autobiography. In the interim, I edited a semi-academic book with my guide Dr R Raj Rao, for Sage India, Whistling in the Dark: 21 Queer Interviews (2009).
I was certain no one would publish my book. No one knew me, I had hardly published in journals. So, one day I decided I will publish the book myself.
So I went to the ISBN office and applied for ISBN number under the name iwriteimprint, simply because I run a blog called iwriteriot. But I did not know anything about publishing. So I sought the help of my friend Mahesh Leelapandit in Mumbai who was in the process of setting up his own publishing venture, Paar Prakashan. Mahesh designed the book, got it printed, a massive 500 copies, and I opened a Sellers Account in Amazon to make the book available.
This was 2014.
There were no further plans.
After my ambition to work in a publishing house was thwarted, I decided to spend my energies in selling two manuscripts of short stories that I had been writing and rewriting over the years — Notebook of a Part-Time Revolutionary and The Measure of Happiness.
Dear readers, I did my best, but the books remain unpublished. At one point, I even got a contract and managed to get a glowing blub from the great Vijay Nambisan, who had been my mentor for a brief while. But the adventure was stillborn.
So, I had two options. Be bitter about the whole thing, and remain a failed writer or divert my energy somewhere else.
During the time, I had started translating the works of Assamese poet Sananta Tanty. The manuscript turned out to be massive — 300 pages. I was certain no publisher would entertain a 300-page poetry book, that too of an Assamese poet whom no one knows.
I already had nine ISBN numbers left. I could be publisher if I wanted.
But I did not know anything about publishing. I needed to learn it. Serendipitously, I found a perfect partner in Ragavendra Madhu. He had a manuscript. We worked on it for three months.
I honed my skills in editing, learned book design in Adobe InDesign; spent days in Chawri Bazaar looking for paper; visited numerous printers all over the city and went through sessions of mind-numbing calculations on money matters.
Madhu’s book, Make Me Some Love To Eat came out in December 2016.
Three months later, we published Selected Poems Sananta Tanty. The book went on to be in the longlist of the first Jayadev National Poetry Award 2017.
After the 10 ISBN number was over, it was time to plan. iwriteimprint sounded a bit amateurish.
Thus, Red River was born in November 2017.
Today, I take care of all the aspects of publishing, commissioning; editing; designing; marketing; sales; accounting, besides my day job.
I have a group of friends who help me with reading and copy editing. They also buy my books to ease the financial burden whatever way possible.
However, after publishing 13 books, I’ve finished up all my savings and I don’t have money to invest in a book.
Remember? Poetry doesn’t sell.
The math is simple. Your investment is not coming back.
So, what next?
I don’t know. I am working a viable model, a co-publishing model where the poets become partners in the publishing process.
It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a good beginning.
I wait for a day when Red River would have enough support so that I could positively sell 200 copies of each book I publish.
This is the ambition. A guaranteed sale of 200 copies for the each book I publish, and Red River will continue to flow.
We do not have a formal office. I am based in Delhi. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Selected Poems Sananta Tanty, translated by Dibyajyoti Sarma, was longlisted for Jayadev National Poetry Award 2017.
Visceral Metropolis by Uttaran Das Gupta was shortlisted for the RL Poetry Award 2016.
Raindrops Chasing Raindrops by Paresh Tiwari was the recipient of The Touchstone Distinguished Book Award 2017.
Reclamation Song by Jhilmil Breckenridge was shortlisted for the RL Poetry Award 2017.