Sterling Publishers
Vol. 6 No. 1-2, Dec-Jan 2012
ONE TO ONE with Chiki Sarkar, Publisher Penguin
  Training Course in Book Publishing
  Forthcoming Training Courses
Dear Publishing Professionals,  

There has been a sudden increase of Publishing Conferences being held in India in 2011, especially, after August. In September, we had Publishing Next in Goa organised by Leonard Fernandes of Cinnamon Teal, a British Council YCE, and the conference was supported by the British Council. A few publishing professionals came from Britain. It was followed PubliCon 2011, in New Delhi organised by FICCI and attended by over 100 participants; then followed by National Book Printer’s Conference, Trivandrum organised by Wellbound, attended mostly by printers from South India; and the year ended with the 3rd GLOBALOCAL Crossing Currents publishing conference organised by German Book Office in New Delhi and Frankfurt Book Fair, from 24-25 November. The meet was very well planned, much better than their earlier ones. More than 100 publishing executives participated in a 2-day event. It was addressed by International Book Fair organisers: Emma House, of UK, Seung-Hyun Moon of Korea, and Juergen Boos and Holger Volland from FBF, Josh McIvor, Publishers Association, UK, Sony Music, Octavio Kulesz, Director, Teseo, Argentina, making it really a global conference. It was supported by Indian speakers from publishing, printing and IT industry. Some of the topics: Changing face of Retail, Cloud Computing and Publishing, State of Digitisation and Workshops on Social Media Marketing, and Digital Practices and Rights were handled very well and appreciated by most of the participants . I enjoyed attending the same. This is a new development in the Indian publishing and printing industry. None of the conferences were organised by any professional association. The question arises, “Is it not the duty of the associations at the state and national levels to organise these conferences?“ These conferences helps in establishing and strengthning networking and to know the new trends and developments in the industry, which are the key ingredients for the success in business these days. I must congratulate the organisers of all the conferences and hope they will continue the trend and keep on doing these time and again.

This month for One to One, I interviewed Chiki Sarkar, Editor and Publisher of Penguin India. She has revealed the mind of a young publishing professional.


with Chiki Sarkar, Publisher Penguin

Q. You joined Bloomsbury in 1999 after finishing your studies in UK. What was your subject of study?

Ans. Modern History and English.

Q. Share your experience at Bloomsbury. What was your first assignment and how did you evolve in your role?

Ans. My first job would have been to photocopy manuscripts and make tea. I worked with Alexandra Pringle, the publishing director, for seven years and grew there eventually to become commissioning editor. It all happened very naturally. I was just given more and more responsibilities as it happens in most companies.

Q. From Bloomsbury, London, you joined Random House, India as Editor-in-Chief in 2006. Share your experience?

Ans. My five years at RHI are probably the most intense and memorable in my life. I had to start a list and give it an energy and identity very quickly. I didn’t know anyone in Delhi, or in India, professionally before that – so it was setting up everything from scratch in a new place. And I always wanted to be different (which isn’t always a good thing!) and which often led to trouble. But in my five years, RHI became the house of the most extraordinary new literary debuts. We created the entire health genre which RHI still leads on, and we published the most interesting lifestyle books from TV tie-ins like ‘Highway on my Plate’ to stylish cookbooks like ‘Italian Khana’. Milee Ashwarya, who was the commissioning editor with me at RHI and who is now the publisher of Ebury, must be the most brilliant lifestyle editor in the country today.

Q. Your memorable acquisition in fiction and non-fiction at Random House?

Ans. The literary debuts are all amazing and remain the publishing I love the most: Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Basharat Peer, Namita Devidayal, Shehan Karunatilaka, Aman Sethi. Signing on Rujuta Diwekar was as high as was persuading IIMA to do a series of business books under their banner. Before I left, we got Suhel Seth to do an Indian version of ‘How to win friends and influence people’ which has become a hit this year and tied up with Mint to do business books. All these were strong ideas and there’s something very addictive about building a book from the idea up. We also reissued all the Anita Desai backlist when I first got to RHI and I think these editions of her books remain one of her favourites. Giving something old a new life and repackaging stuff is also another passion of mine.
Q. Recently you joined Penguin India as an Editor-Publisher. What challenged you to undertake this move?

Ans. I couldn’t say no – it was too good an opportunity.

Q. You have worked in three international MNCs; is the work culture similar in all of them?

Ans. Penguin as a company is more international-minded, with lots of interactions between the other companies across the world. The different RH companies across the group are more insular. This is the main difference between the two, apart from their list. Bloomsbury was a small, stylish, independent group which has now grown with outposts in Germany, the USA and the UAE. It must be the only example of a company that is growing to be a sort of MNC, although much smaller in scale, but its DNA lies in very literary, high quality publishing.

Q. Do you enjoy working day in day out with authors?

Ans. Love it, love it, love it. It’s why I am here.

Q. A bestseller in UK is usually guaranteed to be an international bestseller. An Indian bestseller is not so necessarily - what are your thoughts?

Ans. Absolutely! And nor is a Brazilian or a Japanese bestseller. And ofcourse, this doesn’t relate just to books. It has to do with so many things but in the simplest sense because of political structures, of US/UK being regarded and dealt with as the ‘centre of things’.

Q. You have worked with known authors. What have been your experiences? Any anecdotes?

Ans. I’ve loved working with all my authors, even the ones I’ve fallen out with subsequently. Every writer, even the unknown ones, have their quirks. I had a debut author once who refused to do public appearances. Salman Rushdie, on the other hand, is the most publicity-savvy author, I have ever worked with. When we were discussing the publication of ‘The Enchantress of Florence’, he actually knew which specific journalists he wanted us to contact for the book and he was spot on. He’s very smart and aware of the Indian media. The author I have had the hardest time working with is Anita Desai and it’s because she doesn’t use email! You have to fax or mail her stuff and in the age of internet, let me tell this can be exhausting. It’s made up by the fact that she writes lovely notes even when they’re about banal matters and I used to save them up.

Q. How do the large multinationals manage selling of rights amidst themselves in different territories and outside?

Ans. Well I think you do this by building relationships with editors across the company, so you know what kind of book they like and who to pass things on to. I did a lot of that at RHI and have started doing this at PBI. Making friends all around the world with fellow editors is one of the most fun things about my job. I’ve always loved it.

Q. How would you describe a good book?

Ans. Tough question. It depends. For a literary book, I judge the prose and the ambition. I also often now buy a literary book thinking I am not just buying one book but a writer who I want to take a bet on. For a commercial book, it is the idea and how much it grips me. But you know what its really about? When I read a manuscript, and I think its special, for whatever reason, two things happen. First: as I read it, my heart starts beating really fast, it’s as if I had a crush. I can also often see exactly how to do it, how to pitch it, how it should look etc. Secondly, I find myself talking about it afterwards. Everywhere – at work, at dinner parties, on the phone with friends. Then I know it’s sunk inside me and it is love.

Q. Your views on globalization & its impact on Indian publishing?

Ans. Well this is such a large question, I am not exactly sure what it means. Do you mean the role of MNC’s in Indian publishing? In which case, I would say, it’s been stimulating – from OUP to Penguin, international companies have published extraordinary books in India and nurtured great talents alongside our brilliant Indian houses.

Q. Do you think print publishing will die or perish with the onslaught of digital publishing in the next five years?

Ans. Well I certainly think there will be a time in the future that there will be more ebooks than print books. I don’t think this is doomsday though.

Q. What is your opinion regarding royalties on printed book verses digital book.

Ans. The current royalties on ebooks are much higher than printed books – most international publishers pay 25% net receipts and I think this is largely a matter of consensus. The larger question is, “will those ebook royalties increase and to what extent?”

Q. What are your hobbies and how do you spend your spare time?

Ans. I am very boring. I read a lot. I love to cook and eat and run, watch movies, go to plays, and concerts and art shows. I love travelling and am often heading off somewhere or the other. Really run of the mill I am afraid.

Q. What are your views on the copyright amendments for which the bill is under consideration in the Parliament?

Ans. The proposed amendment as you know has now been dropped – and along with all my fellow publishers who campaigned against it, I am extremely happy that this has happened.

Q. How would you rate the Social Responsibility of a publisher, and how is Penguin meeting the same?

Ans. To get people reading more books. To create an atmosphere where people will want to write more. Its PBI’s 25th birthday next year and we are going to be introducing all sorts of exciting new campaigns around this which you’ll hear more of later on.


The Institute of Book Publishing, New Delhi organised the 24th Condensed Course for Publishing Professionals, at India International Center. This ten day (12-21 December, 2011) intensive programme for middle level publishing professionals is being taught by experts from the Indian Publishing Industry. The course was inaugurated by Mr. Asoke Ghosh, Managing Director, PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd, who spoke on the digital environment in the book publishing industry and the Indian scenario.
The course will give hands-on training to sharpen the professional skills of the participants who have come from different parts of the country, including two participants from Latvia and five from Sri Lanka. The course faculty is drawn from a panel of highly qualified and professionally experienced personalities in the publishing world. Eminent speakers include: Sridhar Balan, Malani Sood, Vikas Gupta, Manish Arora, Sukumar Das, Sudhir Malhotra and Rakesh Sharma to name a few. The course contents include: the present status and future of publishing, role and functions of various departments; copy editing; book designing; etc.
Special sessions have been devoted to topics such as digital publishing; e-book; on-line editing and software applications in the book industry; role of social media in promotion and marketing; etc. The speakers will unfold before the participants the opportunities of the digital publishing and the challenges involved in this.
The course has been designed to update the working knowledge regarding the different aspects of publishing. The course will provide opportunity to the participants to interact with the faculty and with Course’s Directors. For ten days the participants will attend lectures, workshops, and taken on a field visit to a leading publishing house and a modern printing plant.
G S Jolly


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