Sunday, 21 October 2012

Indie Publishing with a Difference - Kamasutra part 6

Translated but not published was the Kamasutra’s fate until August 1882. For seven years Burton looked for his fortune in gold prospecting, while his friend Arbuthnot retired and went back to England to work on other stories under a pseudonym. Once they had taken the decision, risky as it was at the time, they then had to find a publisher. This should sound very familiar to the indie authors of today!

Their problems with finding such a publisher had less to do with price, than it had to do with anonymity. Not only did the publisher have to keep quiet as to who brought the book for publication, but he also couldn’t sell via the normal public channels.

Enter the Kama Shastra Society, the friends had jokingly mentioned all those years ago. Marketing had to be done in the same manner as publication and distribution - with the utmost discretion and secrecy.
Letter were written to friends of friends, and the book had to be distributed by all kinds of creative means. No public reviews, no special offers, no marketing campaign to advertise.
Only to the modern indie author, this would have meant certain blacklisting under those laws of Obscene publications. But not only did they manage to market the Kamasutra, it started a campaign on sex education, especially amongst women, and contraception albeit not in the public voice of the time.

It was a radical time for the Kamasutra, and yet it sold thousands of copies for the two friends. By the printing of the second edition, it was issued in a more luxurious package with Benares as the author on the cover.
Emboldened by their success, and evasion of prosecution, they issued another Indian erotic classic, this time with their initials on the title page. It was an audacious step, that raised eyebrows even amongst their supporters, as it now more than just hinted at who the authors of the English Kamasutra had been.

Burton died on 29 October 1890 after frantically trying to complete the translation of another erotic work, that his wife burned a few weeks after his death. She wrote that she was not afraid of the work that he had done, but of the way it would be received.
She uttered prophetic words, as the Kamasutra spend the next century not as a work of anthropological study, struggling to be recognised for its value in history, but as a pornographic publication spoken of behind closed doors.