“Homegrown stories gives readers a local perspective”

says Richa Jha of Pickle Yolk Books, who is an independent publisher, bringing out children’s picture books.


Pickle Yolk Books came about as an extension of a website called Snuggle with Picture Books that Richa Jha ran between 2009 and 2015. “It was then India’s only online platform dedicated to reviewing picture books, both Indian and international. I was with Wisdom Tree around that time, handling their children’s publishing programme. Most of what I knew about book making came from my experiences there so my foray into publishing, therefore, was seamless,” she tells.

The uniqueness about name…

“Pickle Yolk, the name, beautifully encompasses everything that I want the imprint to create – books characterised by their wholesomeness on one hand and quirk, tanginess on the other,” tells Richa.

Why picture books?

“There is an indescribable joy in losing yourself to a soul-nourishing picture book. There is no other literary format that can do so many things– appeal at the same time both to the child and the adult reading it aloud, and appeal visually, textually and aurally all at once. It has to tell a complete story with a well-defined arc, characterisations and voice in a matter of about a 400 to 800 words at best,” tells Richa.

Finding the right illustrator…

“That’s the toughest part but finally, it’s down to my instincts. My mind is forever alert for instances of sublime illustrations in recently published books or through profiles shared on social media or the portfolios that illustrators share with me. Each story requires a different style and treatment of artwork so finally it all boils down to matching a story with the best possible style. But it always starts with spotting a certain energy in their frames. I also pay great attention to how well the illustrator’s artwork emotes through its characters – the eyes must speak to me, the lips must make me hear the joy or the pain, the limbs must show me the ecstasy or the despair. The moment I’ve spotted that in an artist’s style/s, I feel something of an itch coming over me to work with them on some project. The right manuscript always finds its way to me soonest after that!” she adds.

Life as an author…

“I am grateful for the unimaginable love I have received from children and adults alike for some of the books I have written. Nothing can be more satisfying for an author to have even that one person walking up to say that her book has resonated with others, or that the reader felt the book was written for her, or that the reader saw himself in it,” replies Richa.

On sale of rights…

“We have done books only in English so far but we’ve been fortunate to have some of our titles brilliantly translated into Hindi by Eklavya. Our regular visits to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Frankfurt Buchmesse have helped us with several other language rights sales to international publishers,” shares Richa.

On translations…

“In children’s publishing, the market for translations is yet to gather pace in the country but my feel is that it is only a matter of time before it starts picking up. There is an abysmal shortage of children’s books in Indian languages in the country; educationists, NGOs and other social reform platforms who work with children at the grassroot level have been pointing out this massive gap that’s staring at us. But unless both mainstream and regional publishers accord it the seriousness of intent and action that it deserves, nothing much with change,” she opines.

On children publishing in India…

“The response will depend on who is being asked the question. Ask the Big Four and they will say that the market hasn’t ever responded better, thanks to their imports that gather huge cult fandom for some of their prized international authors and series. Ask the bookstores and they will say that children’s books adds up to being their fastest growing section. The independent publishers, however, may give a different spin to the numbers. And that’s because the parents and the young readers still seem less inclined to picking up a book bearing homegrown names on the cover,” says Richa.

“The bulk of the market still is propped by licensed characters. But both middle grade and young adults (YA) are getting bigger because the children themselves are clued into global reading trends like never before. Dedicated YA imprints are being developed by almost all the big publishers for Indian authors,” she adds.

On independent children publishing in India…

“Homegrown stories come with a unique advantage of giving the readers a local perspective which is invaluable to a young reader. This is something only the Indian publishers are best placed to address. Besides, it is easier for independent publishers to organise face-to-face with an author and readers,” she says.

But, there is a flip side too. “The smaller independent Indian publishers do not have enough marketing muscle. This coupled with a distribution network that cannot be relied upon translates into a limited reach. At the already dwindling retail spaces, MNC spreading of the shelf spaces is the norm. And there is next to nil space devoted in print media or otherwise for featuring/ reviewing our titles,” she shares.

What’s more? “Picture books are an expensive format to create but the price-sensitive reader is not willing to shell out more. But the same adult may not think twice about buying an international title under a multinational’s umbrella. So we are constantly losing our readers to these,” she shares.

How Pickle Yolk handles the challenges…

“As a small independent publisher, getting the books to reach new readers across the country is the greatest challenge. But the mushrooming of children’s lit fests in all parts of the country is a welcome trend. These help us connect our authors or illustrators directly with children and the parents. I also owe a deep sense of gratitude to the multitude of online platforms dedicated to kid-lit and children’s book enthusiasts who regularly share their reviews and recommendation. And while online sale has revolutionised the way both metros and smaller cities, towns access books for purchase, boutique book shops specialising in children’s books alone, storytellers, book clubs, reading libraries, subscription boxes too are now championing the cause of Indian authors. Moreover, social media has enabled a remarkable level-playing field for the biggies and the indies alike, be it for sales, for marketing, or for review avenues. I’d say, therefore, there are more ways of beating the odds than ever before,” concludes Richa.

Richa Jha is the founder of Pickle Yolk Books, a two-time finalist as the Publisher of the Year at the Publishing Next Industry Awards. As an author, many of her fifteen picture books have won national and international recognition. These range across platforms like the South Asia Book Award, USA, the White Raven, Germany, Publishing Next, Comic Con, Crossword and Neev, among others.

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