Sterling Publishers

 

Dear Publishing Professional,


At the Institute, we have just completed the 6th Intensive Course for Editors in Publishing from 20-25 May . This time we had 22 participants from Egypt, Uganda, Nepal and various parts of India. It was a quite an experience to organise this editing workshop and I enjoyed doing it.

The Ebook revolution started with Amazon launching Kindle in 2007. Since then lot of developments have taken place in this direction - from dedicated e-readers to multi-functional tablets. The Akash tablet was launched costing in the range of Rs 3499 to 4799 and having various models/options by Mr Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO, DataWind. The media celebrated the development with conflicting reviews even as the Indian government announced its collaborative support for the tablet.

Last week Mr Akhilesh Yadav, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh launched a free laptop scheme for intermediate pass students in Noida, as promised in the manifesto during elections. Today it is UP, tomorrow it will be other parts of the country.

The great knowledge based revolution has started. The publishing world is changing at a quick pace. Mind it, this will also change the author-publisher relationship and all other aspects of publishing too. What are the anticipated changes? Are we publishers ready to meet this challenge? Are we equipped to adapt to this new era in publishing?

I would love to hear from you.

ONE TO ONE

with Sayoni Basu

Director, Duckbill Publishing House

SKG You are a publishing professional and it must not have been easy to leave a cushioned job and start Duckbill, a brand new publishing house. What motivated you to take this bold initiative?
SB
When men turn forty, they are popularly believed to have hair replacement, buy red Ferraris and run after women twenty years their junior. Since I am not balding, do not drive and do not fancy men twenty years my junior, I needed to find some other way of bringing about a drastic change to my life. Chucking my job seemed to be a good way!

I was in sufficiently senior positions that I was in danger of turning into a suit. And I was spending more time in management and strategy meetings—at which I am no good—instead of finding new talent and editing books which I would like to think I am good at. And since Anushka and I had long talked about setting up our own publishing house where we would publish the kind of books we love, this seemed like a good time to do it.


SKG Please tell us about how you started your career with Oxford University Press after finishing your studies? Was it your first job?
SB
My first job was as a tea lady in the history faculty library at Oxford. I also worked as security guard, librarian, teacher of English to Japanese business men, and sundry other things. I also taught in college in Calcutta. My first job in publishing was as a freelancer for OUP in the UK, where I contributed to the DNB. My second job in publishing was at Seagull Books in Calcutta. I joined OUP in Delhi in a spirit of experimentation, and discovered rapidly that academic publishing was not something which really excited me!

SKG Explain your journey from OUP to Penguin to Puffin to Scholastic India to ACK Media and finally Duckbill.
SB
When I had been at OUP Delhi for a couple of months, Penguin India advertised for a fiction editor, which seemed more my thing than academic publishing. So I joined Penguin. Puffin happened because I used to read lots of children’s books for entertainment. But one thing which bugged me was that children’s books always got less attention than adult books—which always happens when there are adult books in the fray in the same company! So it seemed logical to join Scholastic, where there were only children’s books. I had a complete blast there, but then ACK came along and with their focus on digital publishing and storytelling across different mediums—books, magazines, TV, animation, ebooks—they seemed to have exciting ideas.


SKG Going back, you have worked with some well-known authors- Ruskin Bond, Jerry Pinto, Siddharth Sarma, Samit Basu, Manjula Padmanabhan, APJ Abdul Kalam…….; please share some of your interesting experiences.
SB
I think the one truth I have discovered is that the better the writer, the more positively they respond to editing! Authors I have worked with are often people you end up being really good friends with, because you have worked together on something which is meaningful and important to both of you!

SKG You take a lot of effort in developing authorship - what are the special measures that you take?
SB
We run the Duckbill Workshops, which are for people who write or want to write for children, and we have really found some amazing voices through them. Almost half our authors are first-time writers, or at least first-time writers for children. And we spend a lot of time working with authors on books which need to nudged that little bit to be really brilliant.

SKG How did you come in contact with your business partner Anushka Ravishankar?
SB
I was Anushka’s editor many years back and I had commissioned her to write Moin and the Monster. It has always remained one of my favourite books for children, and I was very happy that that was one of the first books that Duckbill published.

SKG How is the work responsibility shared between the two of you?
SB
Well, randomly. We both commission and we both edit and we both do a whole lot of other things as well—from running our social media, cutting paper for crafts, sending books for review, the works. So I think it is a case of we both do everything, but usually whoever has started a project finishes it! We also just started The Duckbill Gang, which is our online book club for children, so there is a lot of writing and admin which needs to be done with that.

SKG How is Duckbill doing in the adult-children fiction market?
SB
It is very early days—so it is slow. But I have to say the numbers are okay, and what is really heartening is the reviews and feedback we are getting from readers.

SKG How many books have come out in the first year?
SB
We started publishing in October 2012, and we published nine books till March 2013. We will publish 22 books in April 2013-March 2014 (of which seven were out till June). We do not plan to publish more than that at any point.


SKG You also release ebook versions of the Duckbill print editions - what is the ratio of sales in print versus ebook sales?
SB
Much slower than print! But also, we have not really started marketing our ebooks yet, in which we are just starting a lot of work, so we hope to have much more balanced sales soon.

SKG What has been your experience in marketing language rights for Duckbill books nationally and internationally?
SB
Strangely, the international market has been much easier so far than the Indian one. Indian publishers tend not to respond to emails! We have not yet sold anything internationally, but again, we started trying only in April 2013, so it is early days! One of the success stories is that a series we are publishing got sold to a US TV company, so Mainak Dhar’s Alice in Deadland series will soon be on US TV!


SKG Do you encourage manuscripts from school children? Have you published any? Please share your experience.
SB
No, we do not encourage manuscripts from school children. When we are judging a book for publication then the author’s age really does not come into it—the book has to stand by its own merits. And inevitably, few schoolchildren write as well as adults!

We have published one seventeen-year-old, and she was sixteen when she sent us her manuscript. However, we did not actually figure out her age until we had already made her an offer. This is Suzanne Sangi, who has written a book called Facebook Phantom, which is getting very favourable media everywhere.


SKG Are you satisfied with Westland’s distribution?
SB
Yes, Westland is a good partner to work with. Children’s books is a new area to them so they are also figuring out what works best, but we have always found them enthusiastic, supportive and willing to try new things.


SKG What is your take on online booksellers versus independent bookstores?
SB
There is no question which one I prefer—independent bookstores. And there are some fantastic independent bookstores in the metropolises. What I love most is the pleasure of random discovery.

However, online bookstores are invaluable in a country as large as ours because there are many many cities and towns where there are no decent physical bookstores, so online ones are making it possible to reach books there.


SKG I remember attending the launch party of Duckbill. It was very different from normal. What was the result & how did it contribute in creating awareness about Duckbill?
SB
The party was really just for fun! We did not want speeches and a lot of formality, so we decided to just sing and so on! And as a children’s publisher one never gets to have alcohol at parties, so we decided that this was going to be our only party ever where we could legitimately serve alcohol!


SKG Where do you visualise Duckbill after 5 years?
SB
Well, hopefully in every bookstore! We will not increase the number of books we do every year, but we do hope to have lots of new and exciting voices and wonderful books. We hope we will have succeeded in translating our books into multiple other Indian languages. And I hope Anushka and I will have reached the point where we can have normal working hours.


SKG Please express your views on digital publishing for children.
SB
I think it is generally a good and exciting thing. It is a medium we want to experiment in—once we have a little more time. But I do believe that books for print and books for digital platforms have very different requirements and one needs to keep the medium in mind when envisoning the book.


SKG Do you remember when it was that you bought your first book and which one was it?
SB
I don’t. From the time when I was very small, my father would take me to a bookshop in Dover Lane, in south Calcutta, pretty much every Sunday morning to buy me a book. My mother was also a voracious reader—so a lot of the books I read as a kid were her books.


SKG You are married to a publishing professional. Does this mean that work comes into personal life?
SB
Work always comes into personal life—even if a couple works in different industries! But not majorly—it just means that we are better off than other spouses when it comes to company parties, because we know the people independently any way!


SKG Being a publishing-professional couple, you must be reading a lot. What interests you and what do you prefer to read?
SB
I like fiction in all forms. Literary novels, detective novels, romances, historical novels—and of course children’s and YA literature.


SKG Apart from reading, do you have any other hobbies?
SB
No, the only thing I am good at is reading. I like doing a lot of other things—cooking, gardening, painting, sleeping—but possibly sleeping is the only other thing that I am really good at.


SKG How do you define a good book?
SB
Something with a compelling story or a strong voice.

SKG Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
SB
I think I have spoken quite enough about myself. Editors are supposed to be quiet invisble people, whose presence is felt more by its absence!

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