A view from behind the stage

About two weeks ago I was flooded with an overwhelming nostalgia for someone I revered deeply. I kept wanting to voice my thoughts but it seemed as if no word could do justice to my emotions. Only three images kept flashing in my mind’s eye, almost like a montage—a pair of dark-rimmed spectacles, a red pipe and sketchbooks. Inextricably linked to all of this was the musty smell of a room full of books. Despite my efforts to ignore these images, they kept growing stronger and more overpowering. I knew that I had to put them down on paper, in a way that would help me express my feelings. And so I found myself rummaging about on the Internet for these images, anything that would bear some resemblance to the pictures in my head. I found myself placing these images on an A4 page in QuarkXpress—flipping, shifting, adding, deleting—trying to piece together the innerscape of my mind.

My urge stemmed from the visual way of life that I have known so closely at Seagull. It made me realize how visual we all are—how our every thought is accompanied by an almost exclusive visual element that corresponds to that thought. And the greatest and, perhaps, the oldest embodiment of this is the book. In a book, matter and form are intricately linked, word and image feed off each other, as much an intellectual experience as a visual one. For those who live and breathe in the world of the word and the image, books corroborate expression and, often, existence.

The books that live with us through our life—thoughts that dance in our head long after we’ve read about them, words that define who we are and images that form a part of our everyday memory—are those that we treasure and caress, devour and respect. These are books that have been blessed and nurtured by good designers—those who care as much, if not more, for the author’s words and ideas and provide them with the appropriate vehicle for expression, build a bridge between the author’s imagination and the readers’ mind. It is the design of the book that allows this congenial passage of thought.

Being guided by such a designer into the wonderfully creative world of book-making helps validate both the form and function of the book as we know it. Tangible. Beautiful. Treasure-worthy. At the Seagull School of Publishing, the design students were gradually initiated into this magic-making world where form and font, colour and image, word and space all collaborate to form the book.

And I have been privileged to partake in this adventure.

Having devoured books that are beautifully crafted, tastefully set and lovingly produced, I now glimpsed backstage, where the magic is wrought. I was like a child in a toy shop. With every foray into the world of word, colour and images came the joy of self-reflective creation. Armed with a Macintosh computer, scanners, adept softwares like QuarkXpress and Adobe Photoshop and an unfettered imagination, book designing began as play—collecting and arranging, cloning and erasing, layering and peeling—and opened up a world of possibilities.

Every word let free a gamut of images, every colour pulled along with it another from the palette. And ideas swirled in the mind. But book designing is about knowing which ideas to let go of and which to nurture and value. The art of the book embodies restraint, not excess. The design of the book must never call attention to itself and undermine the act of reading nor be a jarring presence where the words get lost in the exhibition of the designer’s skills. It must never upstage the text.

Designing the text, the pages of a book, the words on the page are as important as the cover, by which a book although perhaps not judged might often be identified. Having been taught the intricacies of a dependable page layout software at work, having toyed with various aspects of typesetting, of format and page size, I realize that an ideal design is one that arises out of necessity. It is beautiful because it is in consonance with that to which it gives form and shape. With every change in form, every alteration in layout and every new font, the content of the book too lends itself to a variety of interpretations.

Good design contributes to much more than the dialogue between the reader and the author. It forms the visage by which a book is recalled and remembered. Design is often enmeshed in our imagination in such an intricate way that, when we reread the words of a book later, in a separate context, perhaps in a different form, the image, font and design with which we were first acquainted floats in front of our eyes. The success of a book lies in this unity of content and design.

My exploration of the world of book art, in the Seagull School and across the street from it—having been inspired, given free rein and having had my hand held and eccentricities respected—made me realize that creativity can never be justified with reason and vision can never be explained with strategy. As an art, the aim of book design, to quote Aristotle, ‘is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance’.

The last three months of the Design course at School has been a training in skill, in thought, in vision and in values. The first crop of designers setting out to breathe life into the words they touch have a portfolio that can boast of cover designs and text layouts, of books of different genres, of catalogues for different markets but what it can boast of most is the range of skill, technique, imagination and talent.

For me, the education that has taught me to question ‘why’ and ‘why not’,  continues beyond the class as it allows me to participate daily in the creation of various possibilities of imagination, expression and magic-making.

Sohini Ghose

Publishing Lives 11: Allan Sealy, Author

Why do we write? Is it to read or to be read? Is it to give voice to an ideology that we have either imbibed or constructed for ourselves, to consciously build a canon? Is it to tell our stories or of people who cannot tell their own? Is writing about bearing witness or is it about saying what we think needs to be said, regardless of time, space and reader? If these are the questions that a writer has to tackle before being a writer, writing cannot be an easy task.

In the last master class at the Seagull School of Publishing, where he came as a guest faculty, writer Allan Sealy made writing seem an easy task. Because for him writing is an honest, heartfelt task—not a vehicle for propaganda, for borrowed political or literary ideologies. So the beginnings and the ends of his works of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, are instinctive rather than calculated. For ‘What has to be written begs to be written.’

Facing a barrage of questions from the audience of curious students, Sealy spoke about his philosophy, his works and his interests with a conviction and sincerity that left us deeply moved. The sparkle in his eyes, the frequent little jokes and the complete lack of pomp and self-importance spoke volumes about his love for the art and about the man behind the ‘writer’.

Inspired by his family history and the hitherto stilted accounts of Anglo-Indian history in India, Sealy began work on The Trotter-Nama—a mock epic, written in the fashion of the great historical eulogies of India’s Mughal past—about the seven generations of the Trotter family. In an age where serious epics cannot escape being pretentious, and unwilling to write a dead and dry history, Sealy chose a form that would do justice to the miscellaneous bits of news and information, however quirky, that he collected for years about the Anglo-Indian communities across India and yet provide a truthful account. It was a form that would allow him to be ‘grand but not grandiose’, a form that would not be didactic but informative. Sealy feels that one cannot truthfully write for others or represent them—one can only write about one’s impression and interpretation of others. But now, having researched for years, he is ready to embark on a serious historical project.

A student of English literature, Sealy has garnered inspiration from Derozio and Gandhi and the great Russian masters of literature, but equally, if not more, from his travels across the world and his interactions with different climes and cultures. Over the years, he feels, his style has changed—‘It has become less literary.’ He has become ‘less a student of English literature’. Though it is dependent on genre, his language has grown simpler and his literature more sensory.

Asked what he was working on at present, Sealy spoke delightfully about his new non-fiction work—the history of a 433-square-yard piece of land, his garden in Dehradun. What began as the biography of his gardener and his mason, Sealy’s ‘gurus’ in life, has now become a travelogue across time, set in the form of an almanac. Inspired by the Small Wild Goose Pagoda at Xi’an in China, Sealy’s present preoccupations are the pagoda he is building in his garden and this book which weaves together personal history and history of others.

Statistics and demographics of reception by the marketplace are far less important to him than the ‘moment[s] of communion’ with discerning readers. For Sealy feels that one writes to oneself; readers are only mirrors that reflect a different face. And in those rare moments of communion, when the reader fully comprehends the author and undergoes the same paroxysms of delight or melancholy or fury, s/he validates this writing to the self. And as part of this process, the editor is perhaps the author’s first sincere reader with whom he has the first moment of communion. It is difficult, almost impossible, for the author to be objective about his creations and the dispassionate, panoptic view that is necessary to weed out mistakes and inconsistencies and to make the work more accessible has to be provided by the editor. And though he is not too fond of such intrusions, Sealy admitted to have benefitted from editorial interventions in the past. But after a point of time, when he has revised his work for the last time and it has gone out into the world, it becomes like the grown-up, absentee son or daughter, about whom one cares and worries but only subliminally.

The world of literature, as seen from the author’s perspective, and from the likes of Allan Sealy, a most wonderful independent man and author, brought to a fitting close this four-month-long publishing course, by providing a glimpse of the professional and yet equally human relations forged between lovers of literature across space and time, across ethnicities, religions and cultures.

Sohini Dey

Seagull: An Event in My Life

When I came back from the School today, my mother asked me over our cup of afternoon tea, ’So, looking back to 2 April 2012, how do you feel now? Only a few days left until the end of the course!’ ‘Is it a two-mark objective question?’ was my immediate response. ‘Or is it a long question, say, 15 to 20 marks? In the case of the former, the answer is, “Good. More confident. Looking forward.” But for category two, I need at least 500 words. Let me travel back in time for the long answer.’

I was informed that I had been selected for the course. Many questions, many possibilities, some doubts, some anxieties. Many people closely connected with my welfare had a common concern: ‘Will they give you a job by the end of the course?’ ‘I have no idea’ was my reply. ‘This is an opening for you,’ some others advised. ‘A big step in your career. Make the most of it.’

1 April  2012. Evening. Excitement. Lack of concentration. Doubts. All the emotions gathered, like clouds across the sky. A great anxiety surrounded the ‘foreign’ participants. What would they be like? How would I communicate with them with my not-so-good spoken English skills? And the ‘accent’? How would I deal with that? How many ‘pardon’s and ‘sorry’s were going to pepper my every conversation?

Finally, the morning came and then the afternoon and then the evening. The day was over. The mind eased a lot. The worries eased up. The burgers, the sandwiches, the coffee and, above all, the ‘greeting’ opened up the narrow alley into a broad, friend-lined avenue.

The only person I was familiar with from my childhood (I had watched him on television) among all the faculty and colleagues was Sri Samik Bandopadhyay. I could not believe that a person of almost my father’s age would be Samik ‘da’ in the blink of an eye. The other faculty members—Naveen Kishore, Anusuya Bhaduri, Sumit Roy and Sunandini Banerjee—appeared like friends too. From the very first day I felt as if the Seagull space was my second home. Spacious. Bright. Lovely. These were the adjectives that sprang to mind. And I was comfortable enough to admit that I could not understand all the pictures on the walls. But they did make the rooms look so very beautiful.

The coffee during our break, our dear Swapan-da and his assistants, made my moments with Seagull a really memorable. As soon as I walk into Seagull, they greet me with a ‘Good Morning’. This makes not only my morning but also my whole day a really good one.

A mathematical calculation results in four months equal to so many weeks or days. But, maths apart, it also equals millions of moments. We were the first batch at the Seagull School of Publishing. We were special.

The questions, though, did not leave me. Sometimes they sat before me, lined up a row, sometimes they rushed at me, helter-skelter. How is it going? Is this going to be useful? Are you enjoying yourself? How do you feel?

‘The tree is invisible, still,’ I would say. ‘I can’t see the fruits. But I am enjoying it to the core of my heart.’ I did not expect to end up making such such good friends. We did have different opinions, different minds, different points of view, but the exchange of all these differences was all part of the learning process. It did not affect our feelings. The new friends from outside India were so friendly that they soon seemed like family.

We were the first batch. So there was no experience. There were some flaws at the organizational level, true, but the faculty asked for feedback at different point of time. In time, I think the inconveniences will be rectified and a better course offered to future batches.

Among the million moments we shared here, I liked, rather loved, the journey to CDC Printers. It was a memorable one. Accompanied by that ‘Jamaica Farewell’ chorus.

And now, when we have only two weeks left in the course, I look back, not in anger but in pleasure. And I want to leave a question for my friends: ‘What will you miss the most?’

For me, without a moment’s hesitation or doubt, I can say, ‘The coffee.’

Anamitra Ray

Publishing Lives 10: Gita Wolf, Publisher, Tara Books

‘Publishing is a very individual vision,’ begins Gita Wolf.

About a week before Gita’s scheduled master class at the Seagull School of Publishing, a few cartons had arrived from Tara Books, Chennai, the publishing house she co-founded in 1994. From the cartons had emerged an exquisite selection of finely crafted books, ‘unusual and rare voices of art and literature’ as they justly proclaimed themselves to be. As Gita begins to speak at the master class, one is already aware of the imprint of individual vision that each of these books triumphantly displays.

But where does that individual vision come from? Gita calls herself ‘a former academic rash enough to start a publishing house’. The rashness, the individual vision, lies in the instinctive nature of the start-up—no market surveys, hardly a business plan. Who will read my books? is a question she does not ask herself. The books have to see the light of day because there is no alternative. They have to be born. ‘You do not expect any audience for your books apart from a few people you already know. The books find their market, their readership,’ says Gita. One is struck by recognition: at Seagull, we have heard Naveen Kishore, publisher, utter those words so very often. The truth of this maxim is evident in our independent-publishing lives, quite magically so.

A quick look at Tara’s array of books will tell you that they are ‘art books’. For over a decade, Tara has been in dialogue with the incredibly rich and varied forms of traditional and tribal art in India, bringing artists’ work into the form of the book. In 1996, Tara created its first ‘handmade’ book. The Very Hungry Lion featured art based in the Warli tribe of western India; the images were silkscreened onto handmade paper, then stitched and bound entirely by hand. Several books have followed since, each more ambitious in scale and meticulous in production. Gita shows us a short film on the making of The Night Life of Trees—a book by three of the most eminent Gond artists, Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and R. S. Urveti; a book where, according to John Berger, ‘the nightingale sings until morning’—at the end of which we impulsively burst into an applause.

One realizes immediately why this book, like each of Tara’s books, is not just another art book on your coffee table. ‘This book is not about art,’ warns Gita, ‘It is art.’ The claim is undeniable if one looks at the way each book is handcrafted. Delving into Tara’s catalogue, one finds: ‘Our production manager, C. Arumugam [. . .] runs a print workshop in Chennai, employing 16 artisans he has trained into expert screen printers, binders and bookmakers. [. . .] The handmade book workshop is run on fair trade practices, and the workers live together as a community. The statistics are astonishing: they’ve created over 180,000 books, which require 11 million impressions, or individual ‘pulls’ for each colour.’

The printed book was the first mass-produced cultural artefact which, in the mid-fifteenth century, changed human lives entirely. Arguably, the book remains the most beautiful mass-produced object to this day. Tara has stayed true to that initial spirit of the printed book and has made art as accessible as possible. Pick up Water Life by Rambharos Jha, and, for less than Rs 1,000, you walk away with a masterful artwork, a thing of beauty, a joy for ever.

Tara’s early books were meant for children. It is accepted that books with pictures are meant primarily for the young. But, increasingly, pictorial books are becoming adult. Tara’s response is unique. In looking for traditional storytelling practices in India, one is bound to arrive at patua scroll art of eastern India. Being one of those rare narrative traditional art forms, the medium lends itself perfectly to the form of the graphic novel. Moyna Chitrakar’s Sitas Ramayana (an age-old yet widely neglected perspective on a timeless epic) and I See the Promised Land (a biography of Martin Luther King Jr, an imaginative collaboration between blues singer Arthus Flowers and Bengali scroll-painter Manu Chitrakar) testify to the success of the experiment. Moyna and Jaydeb Chitrakar’s Tsunami, recounting the terrifying 2004 event, goes further, nearly replicating the very format of the patua scroll.

The question starts to creep into one’s mind: What kind of thought goes into the design of these gorgeous books? Over two days, Gita spends three sessions with design students at the school. ‘I have no formal training in design,’ she says. (Recognition strikes again in Seagull minds—Sunandini Banerjee, Seagull’s senior editor and designer, and dean of design at the school, has often described herself in the same way.) ‘Design is functional before it is aesthetic or decorative,’ Gita continues—a pivotal concept—‘A product’s beauty must be very close to the way it needs to be used.’ The plea is for that delicate balance between how it looks (good) and how it works (perfectly). The interplay between content and form, text and design must be accurate: each must be inextricable from the other. They must together create meaning. The designer is the co-author. That is how Tara’s books are born.

Two examples shine, books that Gita talks about at length. The well-known English folk poem ‘I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail’ is a seventeenth-century trick-verse classic which appears nonsensical at first but, given a break in the middle of each line, begins to make sense. As with most folk poems, it marvellously teases out meaning beyond grammatical trickery. Gita talks at length about how the designer, Jonathan Yamakami, shaped the book, using Ramsingh Urveti’s Gond art and integrated die cuts, re-creating the poem by exploring fully and most precisely the complexity of its meaning. Without the design, the book will not exist; it will be pointless. The design is the meaning; the design is to be read.

And then there is Andrea Anastasio’s Fingerprint, a little artist’s book, in which the art is executed entirely through thumbprints of different colours. Shorn of text, the thumbprints tell a story of immigration and racial integration—of identity, a concept so indispensible to the thumbprint, from the days of slavery to the contemporary menace of airport security. But as you literally ‘thumb’ through the book, it demands your engagement—you want to tell your thumbprint tale as well, assimilate yourself in the madness and pattern on the pages. You realize that through the thumbprints, another story is also being told: the story of reading. You have left your invisible thumbprint on every page you have turned in those much-thumbed books of yours. And those turned pages have made you into who you are, given you your identity, the madness and the pattern that is uniquely you. You have read, read more and become who you are.

So, when Sunandini, in order to wrap up two days of scintillating discussion, asks Gita one final question—‘What makes a good designer?’—Gita’s unflinching and natural answer is just that one word: ‘Reading.’

Bishan Samaddar

Publishing Lives 9: Dr Petra Christine Hardt, Rights Director, Suhrkamp Verlag

Our first acquaintance with Dr Petra Christine Hardt, rights director at Suhrkamp Verlag, the esteemed German publishing house, was through her book Rights: Buying, Protecting, Selling published by Seagull Books. Having met Jennie Dorny previously, ‘rights’ was no longer a really scary term for us but more knowledge on that was definitely welcome. Who better to impart that knowledge than the rights director of a publishing house that has published some of the greatest names in Social Sciences and World Literature and has been buying and selling rights for decades?
Dr Hardt took us through the Suhrkamp journey, right from the time when Siegfried Unseld and Peter Suhrkamp started the publishing house. Suhrkamp has a backlist of 9,000 titles and approximately 1,500 of them are available as e-books and the books have been translated into more than 101 languages. They have published Herman Hesse, Walter Benjamin, Jurgen Habermas, Thomas Bernhard, Paul Celan, Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz and many others.
First and foremost, the duty of the rights department is to protect the authors, she asserted. According to her, copyright is essential to generate income for the author, the creator of a work and the publishing house, which contributes in making that work accessible as a book.  Intellectual property needs to be protected. Dr Hardt said that if a publishing house has rights for all editions then there is more scope for creativity. She spoke in detail about buying and selling rights, highlighting the major points of a contract like duration, language, region, edition, etc. We learnt about the various kinds of rights that a publisher can buy—print, media, digital, translation and more.  Suhrkamp sells around 500 translation rights every year.
On the subject of e-books, Dr Hardt mentioned that according to her, within the next few years ebooks will replace a lot of the paperback collection. She also feels that there will be an increasing demand for bound books, as people will want to own an e-version for reading on the go and a bound version for their home library. This brings to mind a thought that many of the visiting publishers expressed—that to survive, the hardbacks and paperbacks need to be beautiful as objects. In India, unlike in the foreign countries we are yet to see everyone in the bus or metro reading from their Kindle or ipad. This allows us the luxury of believing that the day when e-books will become a threat to physical books, is not of immediate concern. Nevertheless, it is a reality that one can’t ignore. She said that back home, she tells her colleagues to work on preparing an e-book catalogue, not later but ‘now’, with 1,500 titles in the e-book format, a catalogue is needed. We learnt that with new books, creating an e-book is easier but converting an old book into the e-format is a much more expensive process.
Perhaps, the most important thing that we as students have learnt from her is the importance of widening one’s horizons and being aware and excited about what’s happening in the world of publishing in different countries. She said that translation into English is what excites many authors the most, but there are other languages too! She spoke enthusiastically about the East-European nations, about the market in Japan, China and Korea, about the publishing industry in countries like Brazil, the scenario in Scandinavian countries. One has to look beyond America and Europe too. She is now exploring the African market and intends to know more about it very soon. She was not ready to accept that an independent publisher cannot go beyond his or her own nation, according to her they should visit book fairs and reach out to other publishers. She believes that even in the age of e-mails and Skype, nothing can beat a personal conversation. She believes that with patience and perseverance every barrier can be overcome, one should get the funds, one should concentrate on building a good backlist and then reach out to the world.  She agrees that it takes time and that it is difficult, but it is possible.
Dr Hardt believes that India which has ‘more people’ can do much more. The world outside is interested in our literature but to reach out is ‘your job’, said she. She cited Seagull Books as the perfect example—a publishing house from Calcutta reaching out to the rest of the world.
To instil within us the confidence to reach out to publishers with our own unique content, she urged us to present proposals for our favourite books to her. This generated great excitement and a bit of nervousness. But the following day’s discussion about our projects was a rewarding experience. Students presented proposals of various authors and Dr Hardt discussed each one in great detail with valuable suggestions. She ended her session on a high note by saying that one thing that publishers should never have in this business is ‘doubt’—‘You should have no doubt about your author.’

Shiny Das

Publishing Lives 8: Jennie Dorny, Rights Department, Éditions du Seuil

Jennie Dorny, who works in the rights department at Éditions du Seuil, avers in her master-class on rights, ‘If you do not like solving problems, a career in rights isn’t right for you.’ There is incomprehension writ large on all our faces.

Firstly, the concept of rights in publishing is rather nebulous to many of us since the only legal or moral issue that has perturbed us as readers and that we have been warned about expressly by our teachers is plagiarism. Secondly, the only problems that we knew existed in the world of books, apart from those faced by the characters in the books, were in being visible and selling reasonably well.

So what is ‘rights’ anyway? Jennie explains, with the help of her sheaf of meticulously arranged notes, an inventory of every possible word that exists in the rights dictionary and experience gleaned from an almost 30-year-old career in rights, that it is the set of claims a publisher can lay on an author’s work, and the rules s/he must abide by when producing it. The document that lists all these rights and directions is called a memorandum of agreement or simply, a contract.

Jennie, who has worked in three publishing houses of different sizes and ownership tells us a little about her experience in each, explains that the rights department is a transversal department, because it must remain aware of the developments in all the other departments in a publishing house, whether the editorial department, the production and marketing department or the legal one. Then she enumerates the skills a rights person must possess, namely, memory, patience, trust, adaptability, a sense of priority, knowledge of several languages and the ability to communicate succinctly. S/he must also have a clear notion of the intellectual property laws in his/her country and abroad. She regales us with examples—in Japan, an author’s works pass into the public domain only 10 years after his death, if none of his works has been translated into Japanese before his death.

Jennie reads out to us the things she has to do on a normal day at work and the kind of mails and requests she receives, which range from the most banal to the most complicated. Even though we have a merry time laughing at the ridiculous ones, we realize that even the most ridiculous request must be handled with tact and compassion for, as Jennie emphasizes, publishing is a world where human relations matter more than anything else. At Seuil, editors acquire rights and the right department sells them to foreign publishers. Apart from the usual sale of books, selling foreign rights becomes a steady source of income. Selling rights of a particular book, she explains, entails giving a foreign publisher the right to translate into his own language, produce and sell that book, for a stipulated time period within a certain territory. The foreign publisher, in turn, has to pay the proprietor, the publisher in the original language, royalty on either the list price of every copy sold or on the net receipt. There is no upper limit on the number of copies the foreign publisher might sell within that period of time (usually five or seven or ten years), but the royalty payable might increase with each subsequent reprint, depending on the royalty scale. After the validity is over, the foreign publisher may or may not renew the contract. Other details such as the printrun, the validity of the contract whether from the time of signature or from the date of publication, maximum publication delay, etc. are also important. That apart, subsidiary rights such as the right to reproduce in an anthology, to publish kiosk editions, book club editions, prepublication rights etc. are of great value. Audiovisual rights, however, Jennie clarifies, rest with a different department in Seuil, and the rights for the images in an illustrated book are not given by the proprietor to the publisher, but must be cleared from the artist, or whoever might hold them. An author may also exercise his moral right to reject an unfaithful translation of his work, or the additions or modifications made to it by way of notes or preface without his and the proprietor’s consent. Though not mandatory, it is expected that the front and back covers of the translated book have the author’s approval.

But selling rights isn’t as easy and swift a process as selling a book, nor is the signing of the contract the only step in it. There are a number of steps leading up to the signature of the contract and they involve a number of people and organizations. The approach differs on the basis of the genre of the book but the procedure is nearly similar. Rights managers of a publishing house or agents representing that house send out books to publishers all over the world, based on their profiles and interests, as well as their country. It is more difficult to sell the rights of a topical non-fiction because between translation and publication, the subject might become oudated. Sometimes, a particular publisher might be given an option which means reading the book before anyone else in his country.

We learn that a publisher can make a blind offer to publish a book without having read it, though Jennie confirms it is a rare practice and not always encouraged even if the offer made is substantial. Offers are then carefully judged on the basis of the money offered by way of a flat fee (in case of closed contracts where the entire amount corresponding to the total amount of rights due for a limited printrun is paid between signature and publication) or advance and royalty (in the case of open contracts), printrun, the publishers’ track records both in terms of capital and quality. When there is more than one offer for a book, an auction is held at the end of which either a publisher who has a clear and wide margin ahead of the others might acquire the rights, or if all the offers are still very close, a call for best offer will be sent out, or very rarely and as determined by house policy, a publisher can be given a topping right to top the best offer made by another publisher. It is also possible that a publisher who makes a high pre-emptive offer for a short period of time to prevent competition might acquire the rights to publish the translation. But Jennie warns that the process must be as transparent and neutral as possible not only to maintain the company’s reputation but also to be just and fair to other publishers, since the publishing worldwide is indeed a fraternity of similar-minded people. As she explains each of these hitherto unheard alien terms to us, Jennie gives us examples of buying and selling rights and the legalities they entail all over the world and the assistance available in terms of grants and subsidies.

Next, she takes us through an exercise that is of primary importance to everyone in a publishing house—to read correctly and, if need be, to draft a contract. Since it is a legal document, Jennie teaches us, the contract needs to be as detailed, specific, unambiguous and exhaustive as possible. It must mention clearly the rights granted exclusive or non-exclusive, primary or secondary, the territory, the advance, royalty, validity, information about the translation i.e. date of publication, printrun, size, shape etc., termination of contract, the provision for a legal solution in case of an inadvertent breach of contract etc. Electronic rights may be granted through an addendum to the main contract.

Jennie’s lecture spanning two days covers every aspect of rights in publishing and every rule and it also teaches us that every problem in this sector has to be approached in a unique way and that one has to constantly improvise the rules and think outside the rulebook. It is no mean feat that Jennie is able to make a hitherto-avoided, dry and dreary subject like rights come alive with her sparkling sense of humour and seem interesting. We keep bursting into fits of laughter every now and then as she recalls hilarious anecdotes that exemplifies both the rules and their exceptions.

Gradually, we begin to realize that world literature wouldn’t be accessible to us had it not been for people who work in the rights departments of foreign publishing houses and share their literary gems with people in other countries and put into motion an elaborate system for disseminating knowledge. As Jennie explains everything methodically, her passion for her area of expertise becomes more and more obvious and inspiring, and it also becomes clear that, at the end of the day, the calculation is not so much of monetary loss and gain as of knowledge, human relations across borders and spreading the love of good books.


Sohini Dey

Design Assignment 20: A Book of Animals

The last assignment was, besides being educative as always, great fun. That the students enjoyed putting together their love for animals is evident from their designs.

This is the brief that was provided to them:

Design a cover for a book showcasing any animal of your choice. The cover must explore the collage form. Pay attention to the texture/surface/picture you use as your base, and then to the interconnected grouping of elements on it. Every element must bear some relation to the other. The cover must also have room for the title, the author’s name and your name as collage artist. Also design two pages from inside the book, with one line of text on one page—ideally, an emotion and the animal (happy cats, angry dogs, furious fish, etc.)—and a collage on a facing page.

Boski Jain

Paramita Brahmachari

Zeena Singh

Urmi Rupa Paul

Rachita Saraogi