Beyond the Manuscript: Ink & Influences of Women in Publishing
The role of women in publishing is quintessential. With unwavering dedication and innovative perspectives, women leaders in publishing are architects of change, redefining the narrative and contributing substantially to the dynamic evolution of the field. Their roles span from heading renowned publishing houses and managing academic publications to founding and leading influential literary agencies. As gatekeepers of diverse voices and stories, women in publishing play a crucial role in fostering inclusivity and ensuring a vibrant and representative literary scenario.
– By Smita Dwivedi
AABP in an exclusive series of interviews explores unique perspectives, challenges, and triumphs, shedding light on the transformative journey of women in Indian publishing. Neeta Gupta, Publisher at Yatra Books and a literary consultant with a special emphasis on translations; Nitasha Devasar, Managing Director of Taylor & Francis India, Vice President & Commercial, Lead India, South Asia & Africa; Mita Kapur, Founder and CEO of Siyahi; Monica Malhotra Kandhari, Managing Director of MBD Group; Kalpana Shukla, Managing Director of KW Publishers Pvt Ltd; Shobha Viswanath, Co-Founder and Publishing Director of Karadi Tales; Lipika Bhushan, Founder of MarketMyBook; and Trisha De Niyogi, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Niyogi Books share their journey in publishing.
Here’s a brief viewpoint encapsulating the heartfelt revelations and feelings of the contributors. Gain a firsthand understanding of their journeys, challenges, and triumphs as they share candidly from the heart as they open up about their experiences, offering readers an insider’s perspective on the dynamic and evolving landscape of the publishing industry.
Neeta Gupta is the Publisher at Yatra Books and a literary consultant with a special emphasis on translations.
“I think women have an advantage over men when it comes to the publishing sphere, as they have many more role models and opportunities for mentorship. Interestingly, several small and independent publishing houses in Delhi are run by women. A number of women publishers from my generation have been deeply influenced by the iconic feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia. She co-founded Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publishing house, along with Ritu Menon in 1984, and Zubaan Books, an independent imprint, in 2003. I think women who are keen to enter this field, will find themselves in very good company.
In the early 2000s, my colleagues and I set up Yatra Books, with a focus on publishing high-quality translations from and into Indian languages. We initially worked in collaboration with Penguin Books India to launch their Indian Languages Program and later collaborated with Westland Books. These opportunities of working with big publishers gave us a chance to understand the economies of working on a large scale, while remaining an independent company allowed us to have our voice.
We have moved from an era of competition to one of collaboration. Women understand this better than men do. For instance, in April 2020, a group of Indian language publishers came together to co-found the Publishers’ Exchange. The idea is to learn from one another and keep ourselves updated on global best practices, to ensure that none of us gets left behind. I also strongly believe that books and stories, no matter the format or platform, will always be told/retold.”
Let’s Be Difficult Ladies!
Nitasha Devasar, Managing Director of Taylor & Francis India, Vice President & Commercial, Lead India, South Asia & Africa, is the editor of ‘Publishers on Publishing: Inside India’s Book Business’ (2018) and ‘Looking Back, Looking Forward: 75-years of Indian Publishing’ (2022).
“I recall a remark by Jane Good all, the ‘chimpanzee woman’, ‘It doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman’, she said, ‘that’s why there are so many of us.’ There may be many in this world but there aren’t nearly enough of us in Indian publishing. We need more ‘difficult women’ and we need them to be more troublesome: asking questions, pushing boundaries and using their articulate voices for change.
Indian publishing is now in its seventy-fifth year, but in reality, much older, and has its roots in family businesses that evolved from book distribution to publishing. These are passed on from one generation of males to another. Alongside were the colonial and post-colonial entrants, the international publishers who have brought global DEI practices to interact with local patriarchy. The rich landscape of independent publishers proliferating in our large and growing market has been dominated by women, from the earliest feminist publishing initiatives to the most recent tribal, Dalit, alternative, star-ups. Clearly, entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen are not an issue even though we women seem to flock the creative, publishing and design end of the industry spectrum.
What we need is more metrics and objective measures of contributions by women in Indian publishing. How many of the books published by the 90,000 Indian publishers were commissioned by women editors, and how many went on to be bestsellers, and won local/ international accolades? How much have women copyeditors and production personnel contributed to the bottom line, so crucial in our tight-margins landscape. What is their presence in senior management and on company boards? What is measured can be acknowledged and enhanced, so we need some measures of collective impact alongside individual success stories.
What can women themselves do to make it to the top of their companies? Take on balance sheets, sales forecasting and inventory management, make business plans and engage directly in marketplaces. But most of all use objective metrics and outcomes to be vocal and visible within and outside your companies. This is happening, but we need much more and at a faster pace, be it a corporate set-up or a family business, an industry association or government negotiations.”
Ensuring All-round Growth
Mita Kapur is the Founder and CEO of Siyahi, India’s leading literary consultancy and is currently the Literary Director for the JCB Prize for Literature.
“Women have always been an integral part of the publishing scenario and there can only be an upward swing. I hope to see more women head sales and accounts though. Since it’s already a very women-friendly industry, I am sure every publishing house has created a conducive environment for everyone to work in. Maternity benefits and equality of pay scales plus a safe working space are the basic requirements. I have worked with heads of publishing houses and have only learnt a lot from them. There are too many reaffirming anecdotes for me to spell out but we have strong bonds of mutual respect and friendship which makes our working life exciting, fun and uncomplicated. Women will continue to be the strongholds of our industry and with their innate ability to be professional, humane, smart time managers, there can only be a surge of growth in all spheres.”
It’s an Era of Collaborative Landscape
Monica Malhotra Kandhari, Managing Director of MBD Group is also a key member of CII; Co-Chair (Publishing) at FICCI; Vice President (North) of Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP); and member of Educational Publishers Forum, and IPA (International Publisher Association). She has been the key force behind MBD Group’s recently launched flagship product, Aasoka Learning and Teaching Solutions (ALTS).
“In the publishing world, the opportunities for women are brimming with potential for significant impact. According to a new study by an economist, women are now publishing more books than men. Therefore, the industry which was once dominated by traditional organisational structures has now shifted towards women redefining the industry’s essence. Women are infusing the industry with authenticity, vulnerability, and a nuanced understanding of the human experience. And modern technology empowers women not just to write but to shape the publishing ecosystem. Creating suitable opportunities requires a supportive ecosystem in the form of mentorship programs, networking platforms, and initiatives that champion gender inclusivity in leadership roles.
When I reflect on my years in publishing and see women’s achievements. It’s not just about the headlines, it’s all about the quiet resilience, the relentless passion, and the way we navigate the industry’s labyrinthine paths, leaving our fingerprints on every page, every frame, every corner of the book world.”
Hurdles and hustles
“In acknowledging the challenges that persist for women in the publishing world, there is still ground to cover to ensure a truly inclusive environment. The evolution of female roles within this industry has been breaking down barriers and opening up editorial positions once monopolised by men. However, a persistent challenge is the underrepresentation of women in higher-level positions and the enduring wage gap. Today, although women occupy numerous roles in publishing, a stark imbalance persists, especially in leadership positions.
Balancing careers, personal dreams, and family life is an invisible juggle often overlooked in the relentless pursuit of deadlines. The industry must champion flexible work arrangements, support systems, and a culture valuing well-being alongside productivity.”
Aspiring better future for us!
It’s crucial to encourage young girls and boys to explore publishing careers, breaking stereotypes about industry roles. Recognizing and celebrating the strengths that both genders bring to the table will inspire future generations to actively pursue careers in publishing. Let’s work collectively to build an environment where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive, innovate, and lead in shaping the future of publishing.
Choose a Subject of Interest and Hone Skills and Knowledge
Kalpana Shukla, Managing Director of KW Publishers Pvt Ltd, has built the business from a Library Consultancy to a Publisher of repute since 1986. Previously, she worked as a Regional Director for Palgrave Macmillan, UK for 18 years and worked with Tata McGraw-Hill for over 11 years.
“As a woman in publishing for close to 50 years, I found that learning has to be a quick exercise and you have to be fleet-footed to deliver promptly. We are all living in a society much more progressive than earlier, and it is possible to deal with hurdles with ease and promptness if the colleagues and environment are supportive. The opportunities exist to either work in an organisation or start your own business, and it is important that you identify within yourself the subject of your interest so that you enjoy your readings and are able to make a positive contribution to all stakeholders, more particularly the authors, who themselves are very learned persons. This is what I would call Skill and Knowledge in your subject of interest. Publishing is growing to be a technology and digital-based activity, with an increasing focus on AI. While the focus will also be on plagiarism, there is a new magical world of business available to choose from. Women have a big opportunity to increase their footprint in publishing and contribute to the development and the future of publishing in a very meaningful manner.
We are on the cusp of a generational change in the way one will look at publishing. Now is the time for women to increase their participation and role in Publishing, take more of Corner Rooms and lead the industry to make a positive contribution to Society.”
Breaking Barriers: Women Steering Success in Children’s Publishing
Shobha Viswanath is the Co-Founder and Publishing Director of Karadi Tales. She has authored several award-winning picture books for children.
“As a children’s publisher, it is apt to note that not only can women enter the children’s publishing industry, but they have fantastic opportunities to thrive here. We have more and more independent children’s publishers come up across India each year, and they’re all run by women with an all-women team working with them!
When you take a look at Karadi Tales’ catalogue, you’ll see that all the authors and illustrators in large part are mostly women. I don’t see the industry of children’s publishing as anything less than diverse and innovative to begin with. Look at The Little Dipper, or at Pickle Yolk, or Daffodil Lane, or the newly introduced Perky Parrot under Niyogi Books – these are newly emerging children’s publishers, and it’s all good and imaginative work brightly led by women that’s already being put out there. As a long-time publisher of children, I’m glad to note that there is the least discrimination against women in this field. But I would like to see more women who know the Indian market take centre-stage at international fairs and fellowships which are crucial to the creative work and network of this industry.”
Give Us a Little More Inclusivity, Sensitivity, and Understanding
Lipika Bhushan, an award-winning senior publishing professional, Founder of MarketMyBook, a leading publicity and digital marketing agency for writers and publishers. She founded MarketMyBook in 2013 after heading Marketing at HarperCollins India for about 7 years.
“I feel publishing is a perfect ground for women, especially those who wish to restart their careers. In fact, the sales vertical should also see more women thrive in this industry. I see tremendous opportunities in India in each vertical of publishing, as well as the scope for women to lead large publishing houses as CEOs. The industry also extends tremendous support for freelancing and ancillary agencies. The industry needs to create multiple opportunities and forums for women professionals from the industry to come together to discuss issues and concerns and think of ideas that can result in better working opportunities and conditions for women, especially those who are the family way in the high human interface verticals. There should be more women CEOs, and international publishing houses should lead by example here by appointing women CEOs. Another important aspect is to have a healthy mix of all genders in each department in order to ensure gender balance, inclusion, sensitivity, and understanding. More industry-led stories need to be showcased by the media to drive attention to industry-level concerns for overall improvement.
We were the only publicity and marketing agency in publishing when I founded MarketMyBook. Today, there are many more women founding alternative marketing agencies. Women in publishing have been at the forefront of major changes that the industry has undergone in the last decade. The most urgent need for the industry is to create a quality and healthy mix of alternate and diverse voices, thoughts, and ideologies. Several women professionals have stuck to their conviction of publishing and marketing diverse voices that democratise publishing. It is the women’s workforce that will ensure that we create a truly inclusive and diverse environment that has space for revolutionary ideas in publishing.”
We Bridge Connections Between People and Ideas
Trisha De Niyogi is the Chief Operating Officer and Director at Niyogi Books, a homegrown independent publishing house based out of New Delhi, India. She holds degrees in Mathematics, Economics and Business Administration.
“When we talk about publishing professionals, I believe, now, the publishing industry should be a case study for equal pay and policies that support work-life balance. But, gender-neutral hiring practices need to be actively implemented. While we have a significant representation in certain specialisations like editing, designing, illustrating, marketing and translating, we see almost negligible presence in sales or production. There is a growing potential for the job market in merchandising and bookstore management as well. There is a long way to go in that regard.
The publishing industry has the ability to make an impact in a big way – not just through books but also in the way we operate. As a publishing house, which has almost 50 per cent women representation, we strive to include and hire from underrepresented backgrounds, and we are continually looking into improving our workspaces and operational order to be more encouraging of them. We’ve focused on bridging connections between people and ideas, and I’ve realised the best way to realise this is to troubleshoot the logistics and offer belongingness to our growing team and those who want to join us!
Since the time I joined publishing, I have noticed the number of women at the helm of publishing activities increase drastically. In the same breath, we are not shying away from picking our own boxes and setting up our stands. Women in publishing in India have been actively advocating for inclusivity in terms of both content and representation. They have also been breaking the gender stereotypes in the kind of work being done.
I strongly believe if women were in a position of power, the world would be a much better place. While I believe the capability and desire to lead is there, it is our responsibility to bring about the change, and it starts with training and mentoring new generations of women writers and professionals in the field. I also believe that we need to collaborate with other industries like films, theatre, media and music to collectively work towards amplifying under-represented voices. I have observed women in my organisation have been quicker in adapting to newer technology. Technology also could be a great leveller.”