|Vol. 7 No. 3-5, February-April 2013
|Dear Publishing Professional,
I would like to share my recent experience in the designing of a book
cover for our forthcoming book—Destination MBA: Showing you how to get
there. The author suggested that she would want to get the cover
designed by her friend. I encouraged her for it. The artist came up with
a design that had logos of the major MBA schools around the world. It
looked good and I gave my art director a go-ahead for finalizing it.
Soon it dawned on me that the logos are the copyright of the schools. I
tried to contact my legal adviser for a clarification on this but he was
busy celebrating Holi. Then I shared my thought with our author and we
decided to write to the schools seeking permission to use the logos. She
dropped mails to all the schools whose logos had been used and got the
Harvard: Unfortunately this does not fall within our logo use policy
and we can NOT give you permission to use the Harvard Business School
logo on the cover of your book. From Yale: We cannot grant permission to
use the Yale School of Management logo on your book jacket. We don’t
allow our logo or word marks to be used outside of the school’s own
publications or for commercial purposes.
permission was declined from most of the schools. Friends, we decided
to redesign the cover and saved ourselves from legal complications that
might have come up.
of breach of copyright, I recall a case about a publisher friend who
had compiled the speeches of the former President of India into a book
and had got arrested. He was involved in a long legal battle. The lesson
learnt is that we shouldn’t use somebody’s property for our commercial
use or benefit. So let’s be careful!
and Asian writing in the Indian subcontinent has come of age. Our
publishers have started paying heavy advances. Recently, Amish Tripathi
got an advance of US$ 1 million on his forthcoming book, yet to be
titled, from Mr Gautam Padmanabhan, Westland. This outstanding deal is
an advance for his next book, audio book and ebook rights for South Asia
territory through a literary agency Red Ink owned by our friend Mr Anuj
the Indian publishing industry the deal is an empowering step. It
clearly shows the maturity of Indian writing and the advent of literary
agency business in the industry.
Weidenfeld & Nicholson has
signed the Story of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani
education activist, for £2 million. She was shot in the head by the
Taliban in October 2012 but survived.
must make a special mention here of our publishing colleague turned
journalist Mr Najam Sethi of Vanguard Books, former editor of Daily
Times and a popular host on Geo TV, who has been elected as the
caretaker Chief Minister of Punjab in Lahore. Congratulations to him!
this issue I have interviewed Ms Mandira Sen, a social science
research and feminist publisher from Kolkata. I hope you will enjoy
reading it just as much as I have enjoyed interviewing her.
|ONE TO ONE WITH MANDIRA SEN
I met her at a seminar in memory of Tejeshwar Singh and we met again over breakfast on 23 March 2013 for a one-to-one.
SKG Good morning Mandira ji! I wanted to interview you for Publishing
Today; thank you for giving me the time in Delhi. Should we start?
MS: Yes, why not? SKG How did you come in to Publishing?
I started working right at the bottom in publishing in Boston. I had
been to school and university in London because my father, who was a
civil servant, was posted in London and after he and the rest of my
family returned to India I stayed on to complete my BA and MA. Thus, a
couple of years later, when I went to Boston in 1972 with my husband
(who was doing a PhD) it was not too difficult to get a job at the lowly
end. One great thing about the USA is its openness, so the publishers
were willing to consider me. They also liked the British English that I
had been taught. I first worked for Schenkman Publishing Co at Harvard
Square, Cambridge. It was a small publishing house specializing in the
social sciences, owned and run by Alfred Schenkman, who had very close
ties to the academics of Harvard and MIT. He had a fairly rapid turnover
of senior staff, who would get impatient of the cash flow problems the
company faced as a result of which salaries were not paid on time.
Eventually they would leave, which meant that the juniors would take
over the books, learning publishing skills on the run until someone
senior was appointed. People who worked in Schenkman later did very well
in publishing; for instance, Mary Mendell who was a designer went on to
design books for Duke University Press and many of her designs won
awards at the Association of American University Presses’ annual
Though I started as a receptionist and general
dogsbody, soon I too learnt how to proofread, copyedit, write blurbs,
deal with authors and designers and printers and got a hang of what
publishing was. After a year, I decided to work part time and spent the
rest of the time as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor for other
publishers. One of these was Little, Brown and Co, one of the oldest US
publishers (now owned by Hachette), who was a major publisher of medical
books. Here I was given assignments and later a full-time job as an
editorial assistant. From there I went to work as one of the two
copyeditors in the trade division of Houghton Mifflin Co (now Houghton
Mifflin Harcourt). Like this I worked for five years in the US
In 1978, I came back to India. From 1979 to
1982 I worked with Orient Longman as regional editor in Kolkata, which
was a very valuable experience for me as I learnt about the existing
state of publishing in India then. In 1983-1984, I was in the UK with my
husband who was spending a year at Oxford University, and I was able to
work as a freelancer for Oxford University Press on medical books and
children’s books. When I returned in 1984, I started the Mandira imprint
for publishing children’s books in Kolkata, publishing folktales for
children in two languages, English and an Indian language (Gujarati,
Bengali, Urdu) which I exported to the UK. I also published social
science. But in a couple of years, my parents-in-law were seriously ill;
priorities changed and publishing took a backseat.
SKG Did you ever think of staying back in the USA or UK?
neither did my parents or sisters. Though a sister did move to the USA
after her marriage but we always wanted to return. Of course, the years
that I spent there were my formative years and helped me immensely in
initiating my career in publishing; what I learnt there made me what I
am, and it undoubtedly influenced my publishing interests.
SKG When did you restart again?
needed guidance and it was around 1986 that I met the late Dr. Amrik
Singh, educationist and publisher of Indian Book Chronicle, who was
always supportive. It was he who pointed out that someone who had much
to teach on distribution was Tejeshwar Singh, who was then setting up
Sage. He sent me to meet him. I am obliged to both of them. Dr. Singh
helped me to become a member of the India International Centre. I
received a lot of kindness and help from him and Tejeshwar and am
grateful that I got to know them.
Around the same time, I met Mr.
Ramdas Bhatkal, then the managing director of Popular Prakashan (now
its chairman) at a conference organized by the International Association
of Scholarly Publishers (IASP) in Delhi during World Book Fair in
1986.I had published one book, Domination and Dissent: Peasants and
Politics by Javeed Alam, and so was just about eligible to attend. Like
many who are absolutely confident about what they do, Mr. Bhatkal came
across as unassuming and easy to talk to. In fact, it was only later
that I realized he headed Popular Prakashan. To my surprise, as I
considered myself as a beginner, Mr. Bhatkal proposed that I could
distribute their books in Kolkata. I found this to be quite a struggle
as I did not have a team but just a part-time person in sales. I thought
he might end the arrangement when instead he suggested that we could
start a publishing venture.
The partnership is with Harsha
Bhatkal, his older son, who had grown up surrounded by the wonderful
books published by the firm that his grandfather, G. R. Bhatkal had
founded. That is how Bhatkal and Sen, a joint partnership, was formed in
1990. SKG When did you initiate Stree and Samya imprints and how did the idea come to you?
and Sen wanted to publish a different kind of social science. So we
started Stree, an imprint that would publish women’s studies, bringing
in the new ideas, concepts and tools that the women’s movement had
brought to the creation of knowledge. The women’s movement had
transformed the way people looked at knowledge and explained how women’s
contributions to life, culture and work had been overlooked for
centuries. Popular Prakashan had published distinguished scholars like
D. D. Kosambi, G. S. Ghurye, A. R. Desai, and were ready to support an
innovative women’s studies’ list. The pioneer of women’s studies in
India was Kali for Women, set up by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon in
Today, we publish in English and in Bangla on the status of
women, covering anthropology, sociology, politics, economics, and
women’s writings in translation. I can only mention a few titles here to
show you the range: Ajita Chakraborty, My Life as a Psychiatrist:
Memoirs and Essays (she was the first woman psychiatrist in India); Rani
Bang, Putting Women First:Women and Health in a Rural Community;
Sarmistha Dutta Gutpa, Identities and Histories: Women’s Writing and
Politics in Bengal, two translations, one fiction, from Marathi;
Vibhavari Shirurkar, Shabari, and nonfiction, The Weave of My Life: A
Dalit Woman’s Memoirs by Urmila Pawar.
We were interested in
publishing books that would not fit into women’s studies. In 1996, we
started the second imprint, Samya (equality), focusing on caste and
could be the first publisher to have done this kind of publishing. Samya
covers the way society is changing, as the discussion on caste reveals,
and we also wanted to publish on new kinds of knowledge and on Dalit
writings, often in translation. In 1996 we started with Kancha Ilaiah’s
Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture
and Political Economy. His was a new voice, speaking for the
downtrodden. His life was transformed by the success of this book, which
was seen as a manifesto for the Dalit Bahujans. He was asked to write
columns in English dailies like the Hindu, the Hindustan Times, the
Deccan Chronicle, and so on. We also publish Dalit autobiographies like
Joothan: A Dalit Life, by Omprakash Valmiki, which was the first book to
receive the New India Foundation’s Award, given by Infosys in 2004. We
do collections of essays by Dalit scholars to show a new kind of social
critique—Ravikumar, Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and
Politics; Ashok Mitra, A Prattler’s Tale: Bengal, Marxism, Governance;
Jolly Kaul, In Search of a Better World: Memoirs, new interpretations of
history and society, Achuthan M. Kandyil, Writing History: A View from
Below; Anand Teltumbde, Hindutva and Dalits, and so on. Currently, we
are in the process of publishing a new psychological study on the
partition in the eastern region: Jayanti Basu, Reconstructing the Bengal
Partition: The Psyche under a Different Violence. SKG What are the challenges you are facing in Publishing Today?
has always been a problem for small establishments. Getting collections
remains difficult and messes up the cash flow and planning. Now the
question of the ebook has also transformed publishing programmes and
complicated policy. Co-publishing agreements are tied to territory, and
ebooks cross borders easily. Of course, these are what other publishers
are also grappling with, and there is much discussion on how to reframe
agreements to take care of new developments. Here working together as an
industry is most helpful as most of us are not experienced in this
area. For instance, how does one price ebooks versus the print edition
and how are agreements with authors being framed now.
problem is retaining authors. Small enterprises take risks and develop
new authors and once the latter are established the mainstream moves in.
They can offer much more than we can.
This means being
innovative on what to publish, doing what independent publishers do
best: publish in a new area. Today greater gains are coming from
entertainment, not education. Independent publishers are best at
education, at packaging knowledge, which has smaller print runs that
have not increased over decades. At the same time, the large
multinationals who are grappling with the mass market in this new phase
of publishing are also uncertain, and to fortify their presence in the
market have moved into the academic market. So we have to be very clear
on what we are publishing and for whom. We have to make sure that we are
publishing books that sell.
Finally, recruitment has changed: up
to about five years ago, experienced and inexperienced people would be
anxious to work for the quality enterprises. They would learn editorial
and production skills that would be very competitive. But now the salary
level matters, and it is harder to find experienced professionals as
they now want high salaries that usually the large companies can pay,
often for lesser experience. It is still easy to get interns since they
want a foothold in the industry and are eager to be trained. SKG How many new titles do you publish in a year?
do about nine substantial books a year, which may have taken about two
years in editorial work, though we also do books that move through
editorial and production much faster or we would not survive. And we
reprint about five books a year.
SKG How do you distribute your titles?
do some distribution ourselves. We are six people, and one is a sales
executive who has been with us for twelve years. And we distribute
through Popular Prakashan and a group of independent publishers’
distributors of which I am one of the eight partners This is called the
Independent Publishers’ Distribution Alternatives (IPDA). SKG Please share your experience regarding Indian Publishers Distribution Alternative network.
group was founded in 2005, its partners are Leftword, Navayana,
Sanskriti, Stree-Samya, Three Essays, Tulika Books (scholarly, Delhi),
Tulika Publishers (children’s books, Chennai), and Women’s Unlimited.
The marketing director is Amrita Akhil. IPDA is headed by Indira
Chandrasekhar of Tulika Books, Delhi. IPDA has certainly helped us. The
group also distributes for other small publishers. This network has the
advantage that we can consult each other and have brainstorming
sessions, which really beneficial.
SKG Which title of yours has been a bestseller?
have published four books by Kancha Ilaiah and Why I Am Not a Hindu is a
bestseller since it was published in 1996; it reprints every 16 months
or so, had nine reprints before going into a revised edition (2005) and
it has a Hindi translation Main Hindu Kyun Nahi. The revised editon has
been reprinted a number of times. The other three books are: God as
Political Philosopher: Buddha’s Challenge to Brahminism; Buffalo
Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism, which also get reprinted
very often, as does Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan. The Samya books do very
well because these are reaching out to a new readership. In Stree,
Pinjare Basiya (‘Inside the Cage’) by Kalyani Dutta, talking about
women’s lives across several decades, is in much demand. Her critique of
Bengali society, say of how child widows were treated by the Bengali
Bhadraloks is distressing because it is so gently written.
SKG Federation of Indian Publishers gave you an award in 1999. What was the award for?
was for ‘Distinguished Woman Publisher’. It was also given to Sharda
Chawla of Madhuban Books and Ritu Menon and Urvashi Butalia of Kali for
SKG What are your hobbies apart from publishing?
MS I am a fanatical gardener. I listen to Indian and Western classical music. I also enjoy cooking, especially baking.
SKG Please define a good book.
that stirs you up and makes you think. In my office room I have framed a
shopping bag that I found in a German stall at Frankfurt. It is a quote
from Kafka in German, of course. It translates as ‘A good book is the
axe for the frozen sea inside me’.
SKG What are you reading these days?
Kurosawa’s Something like an Autobiography, a slim book that stops in
1950, though he had many more decades to live; and Alice Munro, Dear
SKG How do you take the challenge of ebooks vs printed books?
are trying to have a clearer policy as opposed to doing something ad
hoc. The Bangla books will be dealt with a company that offers a
platform of mostly Bangla books. On the English books, IPDA is going to
take a joint position, although we also do ebooks on an individual
basis, we think coming as a group would be an advantage. We plan to
consult with Popular Prakashan, which is fairly ahead in ebooks and
online selling. While there is no need to panic the way the Western
publishers did a couple of years ago or so, ebooks are going to increase
in numbers. I have heard that for Columbia University Press, the ebooks
outsell the printed books, and assume this is the same with the other
US university presses. Among the differences with ebooks are the facts
that Manish Purohit of Popular Prakashan pointed out: that an ebook does
not go out of print the way a print book does and that it does not cost
anything to keep it going. There is still a lot to find out about the
way ebooks will work out in India.
SKG Is any member of your family helping you in your venture?
on a daily basis. My husband has always been supportive. He is a good
sounding board. My sister Ranjana, who has worked as a senior publishing
executive for Penguin and is now a consultant with Aleph, also
willingly advises me if I am stuck. We get a lot of support from
designers and printers in our area. I am fortunate to have helpful
SKG Any other point that I have missed and you would want to share here?
the very areas we publish are going to change. What we think as
‘knowledge’ will be less consolidated and more fragmented. Thus the
humanities and social sciences are changing and we have to be watchful
of what should be published. We focus on the margins of society—Dalits,
migrants, women, and many have moved to the centre, leaving the margins
to newcomers. I believe the growth will come from Indian language
publishing as the new readers will be from smaller towns and cities.
Translations, which we have been doing for twenty years, will take
centre stage at last.
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