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?
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!
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
Please tell us about how you started your career with Oxford University
Press after finishing your studies? Was it your first job?
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.
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.
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?
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
SKG How did you come in contact with your business partner Anushka Ravishankar?
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?
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?
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?
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
SKG You also release ebook versions of the Duckbill print editions - what is the ratio of sales in print versus ebook sales?
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?
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.
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?
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
SKG What is your take on online booksellers versus independent bookstores?
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.
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?
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
SKG Where do you visualise Duckbill after 5 years?
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
SKG Please express your views on digital publishing for children.
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
SKG Do you remember when it was that you bought your first book and which one was it?
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?
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?
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?
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?
think I have spoken quite enough about myself. Editors are supposed to
be quiet invisble people, whose presence is felt more by its absence!