Making every book a masterpiece!

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-Post Graduate Diploma in Book Publishing: An IGNOU innovative initiative

Two of the most frequently asked questions by subject experts who are also conversant with desktop publishing and word processing is “Why do I need an editor if my language and word processing skills are good?” And “Why do I need a publisher if I have DTP, a printer and a willing cover designer and printer.” Prof Sunaina Kumar shows the importance of training in book publishing.

It is common knowledge that there is a trust deficit between publishers and authors with both suspecting the other of unduly profiteering from the publishing process. Do publishers now see books merely as “revenue-earning products, to be quickly produced, attractively packaged, effectively publicized and completely sold”? Do authors suspect that publishers are, through various strategies, not revealing the number of copies sold/printed and not sharing royalties?

Publishing is after all a business, and books must create livelihood for all those involved in the process of creating a book—editors, printers, binders, sales and distribution entities, marketing persons and so on.

The crying need of the day, then, was a course that, while training aspiring publishing professionals, also transparently detailed the entire publishing process. Collaterally, this would benefit all the stakeholders in the process. (An offshoot of this unfortunate suspicion was some computer hardware and publishing software have emerged that, while facilitating aspiring self-publishers, killed much initiative, creativity and independent thought. Honorable exceptions apart, that is.)

Courses in book publishing

A pilot study conducted by Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP) revealed that while there were some courses that offered training in one or other aspects of publishing, through workshops or part-time courses, there was none that was comprehensive, recognised both by academia and industry.

PG Diploma in Book Publishing

While the world of book publishing has changed phenomenally in the last three decades or so and there are a variety of means by which books can be accessed nowadays—print, hand held devices, computers, other portable electronic devices like smart-phones, pen-drives, etc, something intrinsic has not changed. What has not changed to the same degree is the content.

The development process

In order to address this and related issues, the IGNOU and the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP) held a series of brainstorming meetings and designed a Post Graduate Diploma in Book Publishing. This was a major initiative and the resultant programme (called a course in conventional parlance) was developed, designed, printed and produced under an MOU signed for the purpose by the IGNOU and the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP).

An account of the experience of offering such a Programme follows. It is hoped that many such courses specialising in one or other aspect of publishing follow our lead.

Any course on book publishing must first recount that which is already in place and point the way forward to new experiments as well. Basically, what has been in place for over three hundred years is what needs to be systematically presented to an aspiring publishing professional before going into any future developments.

Our attempt in preparing a book publishing programme is a ringside window into the field of book publishing. This is followed by courses (papers in common parlance) that would take students through the entire publishing process. (Since publishing for newspapers and periodicals is a different thing altogether, we have not gone into this in detail except for pointing out the difference in the two domains.)

As mentioned earlier, our surveys of such programmes already available in India showed that the existing ones were either for some weeks, one month or part-time or occasional. This meant that faculty was available only for the duration of the book publishing course and the materials – print, hardcopy or soft or lectures and field trips were essentially ephemeral in nature.

We therefore felt that leverage of the existing knowledge, skills and resources of the IGNOU and the FIP would go a long way in preparing a course that could serve both for introduction and skill upgradation. Such a course would be available in print, via interactivity using multimedia and be validate by evaluation followed by certification in case it was to be of any purpose. We call it the PG Diploma in Book Publishing (PGDBP).

The PG Diploma in Book Publishing has eight courses or parts: Introduction To Publishing And Its Legal Aspects (compulsory); Editing and Pre-Press (compulsory); Production & Emerging Technologies (compulsory); Marketing Promotion and Distribution of Books (compulsory); Editing Books For Children (optional); Editing Scientific Technical and Medical Books (optional); Editing Textbooks (optional) and Apprenticeship/ Internship (compulsory).

The last component, designed again in collaboration between IGNOU and the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP) was a four-week compulsory training in a publishing house that was a member of the FIP. This was an in-built measure of certification and validation both – certification by our identified supervisor of the training and validation through a daily diary and a viva—a measure necessary in these days of fly-by-night printing houses (calling themselves publishers) and DTP companies that can provide seemingly genuine certificates, logo and all.

The elective (optional) papers include those components for which that is a demand in the market which include editing books for children, editing STM and editing textbooks. It has come as a surprise to many of our students that publishing does not only mean editing and that there are many, many openings in marketing, sales and distribution.

What we learnt

Our experience, as those involved in the actual training has been most instructive. While, designing this programme we tried to cater to both entry-level learners and those seeking skill and knowledge upgradation. To our pleasant surprise, we saw our applicants include retired bureaucrats, middle-level employees of publishing houses and of IGNOU itself (IGNOU is the largest publisher of tertiary level textbooks in the country), technocrats, housewives, aspirants to jobs in educational and administration setups like the NCERT, the Rajya Sabha, and so on.

What has been seen is that most learners are keen to undertake the training as designed and structured by us (our manual gives detailed instructions for both trainer and trainee). This includes one week in each of the core areas covered in courses mentioned before. We find that a fair number wish to get their training in the publishing house, printing house or DTP concern where they are already employed. They are looking for skill-upgradation or certification.

What still needs attention?

The internet, with its capability of overriding time and place constraints is the biggest culprit for offering chances of plagiarism, copyright violation, breach of privacy and trust, the temptation to copy-and-paste, etc. Since the internet is an evolving entity whose courtesies or lakshman rekhas are not yet in place, we have tried to sensitise our learners to what constitutes copyright violations, IR violations, etc. Many users of what is available on the internet have no concept that what can be read cannot be passed-off as one’s own. As soon as one danger is identified and tackled, another crops up. A small example is that most people in academia do not understand that even an unpublished thesis is copyright!

Another issue that most authors do not seem to be aware of is that Author-Publisher agreement is important to protect both the parties. Financial loss apart, the practical aspects of preparing an MSS for publishing are clearly laid out in this and prevent much heartburn later—even after both the parties may be no more, the heirs will benefit.

We propose to keep updating our materials and would be looking out for modularly doing so by creating elective (optional) courses on self publishing, do-it-yourself publishing, print-on-demand, new modes of distribution, multiple distribution channels, etc.

(Prof Sunaina Kumar is on the faculty of IGNOU and has developed courses on creative writing, feature writing, copy editing and proofreading and is currently working on a course on World Literatures in English Translation. Currently she holds the charge of director, School of Humanities as well.)

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