Let’s Hear The Young Voices In Indian Publishing!
A new WhatsApp group ‘Women in Indian Publishing’ has been created as a platform where younger women in the industry have the opportunity to air their concerns and connect with each other. Here’s more on this unique social media group.
Arpita Das of Yoda Press has initiated Women in Indian Publishing WhatsApp group for two reasons: one, to create a space where younger women in the industry have the opportunity to air their concerns and connect with each other; and two, to create a platform where women in the industry generally could keep in touch with each other.
“There are now 101 members on the group, from Delhi, of course, being the publishing hub, but also Goa, Chennai, Calicut, Pune, Kolkata, Nagercoil and other places. I am really hoping that the younger women in the group start becoming more vocal in the coming months and that ultimately this networking leads to a more formal association of women in Indian publishing,” she hopes.
Here, we talk to two members of the group on how they find this platform useful for them. Shubhi Surana is an editor at Wonder House Books, an imprint of Prakash Books.
While, Greeshma Gireesh is a literary agent with Labyrinth Literary Agency.
AABP: What is your objective to join the WhatsApp group?
Shubhi: The conversation really helps shed some light on what can otherwise be a hazy path, and I hope to make the most of it and get a much deeper, and more personal insight into the industry. And though I couldn’t have foreseen this at the time of joining, watching these women take on changes and hurdles, especially during Covid-19, has given me great hope (and some personal goals!).
Greeshma: I joined the Women in Indian Publishing group for a couple of reasons: In a post #MeToo era in India, women in our industry needed to come together and address the issue. Secondly, as someone with not too many years behind her in the industry, I really wanted a space where I could see publishing decisions happening in real time. Before Arpita started the group, women from different levels within the industry didn’t have a space to come together and discuss the myriad issues that affected them strictly from a publishing perspective.
AABP: Is there any particular issue you will like to be addressed ?
Shubhi: An informal and inclusive platform such as this can be the perfect launching pad for initiatives aimed at encouraging discussion amongst its participants. Something like dedicated industry mixers and events, or even an informal mentor-mentee programme could help both doyennes and newbies keep alive their love for this craft.
Greeshma: One of the biggest problems with WhatsApp group conversations is that there’s no streamlining of conversations. It’s almost always multiple parallel conversations. Regardless of that, it’s the one group where I make it a point to go through all the conversations because of the many issues that are addressed there – from authors, to marketing, to publicity – it’s a complete eye opener. There’s less feedback that comes from academic publishers but maybe there will be an upswing in the group numbers over the coming months.
AABP: What motivates you about publishing?
Shubhi: I had my eyes set on publishing since quite early on, and being here is cause enough for me to be sufficiently grateful and motivated. However, knowing that I have the privilege (and responsibility) of perhaps shaping what goes on people’s bookshelves fills me with great joy.
Greeshma: I entered publishing as merely an avid reader and book lover. But 3 years in the industry has really made me realize that the business of publishing is a whole different ball game. It requires keen business sense while working towards publishing books that add to the literature of our times. Signing up authors, working on contracts, the whole process of marketing and publicity is a thrilling experience that as a book lover I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy.
AABP: Any particular challenge if you would like to highlight?
Shubhi: We could, as an industry, develop better HR practices. There exist few formal, and fewer practical training paths inside. To begin with, a more streamlined internship programme could really help eliminate some of the invisible entry barriers to the profession. Even once you enter a particular department, your experiences seem to get restricted to that one domain, and this can lead to a very siloe view of the publishing process. But getting a fair understanding of the various functions, right from production to rights acquisition, really helps build a well-rounded skill set, the benefits of which will surely show in time.
Greeshma: Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish there wasn’t such a steep pay gap between entry level jobs and mid to high level positions. It takes patience and an intense level of affection for books to stay put and work your way up to a position that also satisfies you from a salary perspective. I would also hope that publishers would take a firmer stand on publishing contentious literature. I think it’s okay to not give a platform to people who have previously intended harm and malaise.
AABP: How are you managing work during the current COVID crisis?
Shubhi: Thankfully, my current organisation was extremely proactive and ensured that we would be able to work from home seamlessly. Communication might suffer occasionally, but the editorial function predictably seems to be the least affected. While media outlets seem to have adapted to the crisis rather well, personally, I do feel caged up, and it is taking a toll on my creative output. Something that I think really helps with any language-related roadblocks, is immersing yourself in another language for some time, be it through a Marathi movie, or some Urdu couplets. Observing the rhythms of another language really helps you get some perspective on the one that you work with.
Greeshma: Thankfully, work has been steady throughout the lockdown. The only difference is that work now spills into hours that I previously considered personal time. A 50-hour work week now reads more like a 60-hour work week but with enough intermittent breaks in between. My only fear is for my authors. I hope we’re back to churning out tonnes of brilliant books as usual!
AABP: Who is your inspiration in publishing?
Shubhi: Seeing Arpita Das put in such genuine efforts into building a greater mentorship culture in publishing has been both inspiring and comforting. Casual conversations with her have given me more insight into the profession, than all my other efforts in the direction put together. Also, Neelam Narula’s calm, quiet and restrained approach to both editing and people is something that I hope to em ulate over the years.
Greeshma: Three people come to mind — Chiki Sarkar, Arpita Das, and Anish Chandy. Chiki for her feisty outlook towards publishing. I find her approach to marketing books unrivaled. Arpita is someone I really look upto because of the way she puts her heart and soul into the process. Lastly, Anish Chandy, my boss at Labyrinth. I credit my entire learning curve to this man.
AABP: Your favourite book/ author and why?
Shubhi: My favourite one is Harilal and Sons by Sujit Saraf. It strikes a nice balance between commercial appeal and literary merit.
Greeshma: Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend quartet really blew me away, but I’ve to give credit to Ann Goldstein for translating it to English.