Fighting the Book Fight with Florence Giry

When I first heard that an expert in publishing rights was coming in all the way from France, I was excited and curious. A number of questions went through my mind. What would she be like? What is it like working on international rights? How does it feel to work for one of the biggest French publishing houses and to have interacted with reputed authors and translators? I was filled with anticipation at the glimpse we would get into a whole new world.

When Florence Giry first walked in, I couldn’t help but notice her warm smile and the enthusiasm with which she greeted the class. She began by explaining the basics of publishing and the procedures and systems by which rights to books were bought and sold. Filled with interesting and comical anecdotes about the world of French publishing and her own life and her love for books, there was never a dull moment in the three days that she taught us. She fielded questions with ease and gave detailed explanations to every query.

During her time here, we were treated to an interesting glimpse into the life of a person who has not only become a renowned expert in her field over the past decades but who is also an avid lover and reader of books and a meticulous researcher of everything to do with the world of publishing. She gave us an idea of what type of books would do well in what country and how and when she would pitch the sale. As an example, she used the sales of Fifty Shades of Grey, rattling off statistics for our own country that we had no clue about. The culture of a place and the market and its trends were what most affected her decision-making as to what rights to sell where.

Her moral code in terms of pricing was very clear and based on what was affordable. This particularly impressed me because she was most interested in getting good books to people all over the world. More than anything else, she wanted great writing to reach people everywhere, especially where it would be understood, appreciated and inspire readers. She also stressed on the importance of relationships within the industry, citing several instances and stories of her own friends and colleagues. At the same time, she explained how she separated the personal from the professional and treated everyone equally.

With her dry, sarcastic sense of humour, Florence gave us a completely fresh perspective to the world of books and the way it functions. In a world where books are quickly losing their importance as people turn to simpler modes of entertainment, we need more people to fight for their cause. The cause of reading for pleasure. With her work and her passion, Florence fights the battle tirelessly everyday and has inspired us to do the same.

She made me realize how much I wanted to be a part of the publishing industry and gave me the assurance that I would be a part of something wonderful.

Sarah Jane Vasu

Inside Guptenberg’s Sacred Space: A Visit to CDC Printers

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies
George R. R. Martin

In early-fifteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith residing in Mainz was involved in a series of misadventures—the most prominent being his fateful invention of printing and typefaces, a groundbreaking discovery for Europe and the rest of the world. From the age of hieroglyphs and cave paintings and papyrus and paper, humans had finally (finally, as Dwayne Johnson yells) traversed a long, rough patch to publish the now-famous Gutenberg Bible. The press was to the future the key to ‘tomorrowland’, the precursor to mass media.

Lunacy is the word that echoes in my mind whenever I think of Gutenberg, for only a lunatic would have dreamt of creating something so unique and awe-inspiring. Technology has witnessed exponential advancements since then, and printing a book is much easier than it has ever been. And this phenomenal escapade begins inside the magical walls of a printing press. The story of Seagull’s flight to the West is a curious case study and Ronnie Gupta, the adorable ‘Guptenberg’, is the pilot-cum-production manager supporting their lunacy of publishing strangely spell-binding books on world art, literature and aesthetics. He first visited the School to give us an insight into the silkscreen method of printing at the workshop last week. Then he bestowed his generosity upon us in the form of a visit to his sacred space, his press, the CDC Printers.

An impressively maintained four-storey building, CDC Printers has a floor dedicated to every cycle of the printing process. As soon as we entered the premises, my nose was assailed by the heady smell of ink. Krishna was manifesting on the sheets spewed out of a Heidelberg, Hanuman on the adjacent Mitsubishi while in a corner a herd of dedicated men, manually yet precisely, shrink-wrapped paperback editions of an Odia–English children’s book.

We entered an air-conditioned room on the fourth floor (for controlling the machines) where Ronnie briefed about the various stages of a book’s journey—from screen to bound objects waiting to fall into a reader’s hands. He unwrapped thick silver sheets, or plates, which may be used as many as 15 times and on which the imprints of the pages are formed. Fitted to the rollers, they offset the ink onto the sheets of paper passing through the gigantic mutant-like press.

The machines were huge, almost the size of monster trucks, and had four segments, each for a colour in the CYMK scheme—Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Kaalo (Bengali for ‘black’, or K for ‘Key colour’, the colour against which the others are adjusted).

Two storeys below, the large sheets of printed paper were folded and cut, then bound and passed through a green-glue-eater for pasting. Then manually stacked inside a hard casing or paperback cover, passed through an extreme pressure-exerting pressing machine and—ta da!—the book is ready to go out into the world.

Which one out of Heidelberg and Mitsubishi is better?

Heidelberg is the Mercedes, while the Mitsubishi is . . . well . . . a Mitsubishi. You just don’t compare them. However, if you buy a Heidelberg, one day your grandson will be very happy.’

Printing is a ‘task’ and an art—one needs patience and dedication to carry it out. A much negated and undervalued industry, it is the foundation of our intellectual existence. Imagining a world without print would give any sane man nightmares. Every book is lot more than the story its author has to tell—it is, rather, a story of its own.

Aakash Chhabra

Screen-printed Memories from the Silkscreen Printing Workshop with Mr Ronnie Gupta

A sweaty Saturday morning,
we tumbled in one after another—
curious peeks, flared nostrils and excited screams
as we spotted the wooden object perched
amidst a tin of ink and glue.

Quick spirals into a throwback—
pinafores and knee-high socks
peeling dried Fevicol from our hands
“Oh this is going to be easy peasy—”
Shh . . . it’s time to begin.

We first came to know about Mr Ronnie as ‘the fixer’ through anecdotes woven by Sunandini and Naveen. Gathering around in a semicircle, we watched him pace around, juggling phone calls and setting up the workshop while going in and out of the backyard.

It started with a cloud of terms—mesh, photosensitive, chemicals, textile, paper, lithe, film, etc. We watched as Ronnie took us through the process of coating the screen with photosensitive emulsion, exposing the film to the sunlight and getting the screen, ink and squeegee ready for print. Stacks of different coloured pocket-sized notebooks sat on the table waiting to be screen-printed with our names.

The set-up

One after another we lined up for a trial round of printing. Ritika Sherry wasn’t in class that day but was on the fortunate end of being remembered repeatedly as we printed her name on every visible white sheet in sight. Guiding us through the process of setting up the screen, placing the notebook and adding the ink, Ronnie explained the importance of the pressure applied on the squeegee. Slowly we realized that there was a lot more to screen-printing than appeared to the eye. It wasn’t as ‘easy-peasy’ as it looked.

Many questions, photograph flashes and trials later we were ready for the final screen-printing on our little books. This time Ronnie stepped back and watched as we attempted to confidently hold the squeegee and master the angle. Thanks to his patience and the faculty, us being enthu-cutlets about it tried again and again till we got it right. Zooming past names and sweating as the sun got higher, we happily captured each other screen-printing.

 Screen-printing with ink and squeegee

What started as an excited cackle in design class when Sunandini showed us a screen-printed book and told us about the laborious yet beautiful process, turned into an afternoon full of learning with smudged ink. But it didn’t end there. Seeing the happy smiles make their way through the class, Ronnie ended the session telling us how to make our own screen-printing machine at home. Some of us huddled around making a list of materials required and quickly plotting ways to get them while others grabbed piping hot coffee and bombarded him with some more questions.

While the ‘editors’ were excited to get their hands messy after long days of sitting with punctuation marks and red pens, the ‘designers’ spent every moment breathing in ink and thinking of ways to use screen-printing in their next designs. Everyone left with their own books, screen-printing the day as a memory in their scrapbooks.

Thank you Sunandini and Ronnie, for roping us into the world of squeegees and screens.

Sonaksha Iyengar




Meeting a Master in Class: Naveen Kishore, Publisher, Seagull Books

‘I am the target audience,’ he replied, when asked about how he determines the target audience for a book he wants to publish. This pearl of wisdom was one of the many we received during our first masterclass at the Seagull School of Publishing. The master I speak of is none other than the Publisher, Seagull Books—Mr Naveen Kishore.

When I first read about the masterclass in our class schedule, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, all my doubts were laid to rest after five minutes of listening to Naveen. His warm and friendly demeanour instantly put me at ease, and I felt as if I was in a conversation among friends—a free-wheeling session about life, entrepreneurship and books. The genesis of Seagull and its decades-long journey towards becoming the novelty that it is today was passionately and animatedly described by Naveen, accompanied by some intriguing anecdotes. The one thing that caught my fancy though, was his frank declaration: ‘In retrospect, it may seem that everything good that transpired at Seagull was well-planned and executed, and that it was part of a larger strategy—but it wasn’t. A lot of times things just worked out for the best, as it so often does in life.’ These words were like a breath of fresh air, given how some accomplished people nowadays make no bones about claiming otherwise. Having said that, it would be wrong to assume that there was no method to the madness. The fact that Seagull can boast of an international list to die for, is no accident. It seems to have stemmed from a very strong personal belief in the content they work with. To the uninitiated, their approach to publishing may seem unconventional but I believe therein lies Seagull’s strength and the reason for its success.

Just as our second session with him was drawing to a close, we were assigned an interesting assignment. The brief was simple, but it ignited an explosion of ideas among us. The energy in the room was palpable. From being curious listeners and casual conversationalists, we suddenly seemed to have transformed into Army Generals, gathered around a table, devising plans of action.

Our task? To come up with an idea for a publishing house we wanted to start—from its name to a list of our first six titles, including outlines of their themes/subjects. All this was to be compressed into a three-minute, offline presentation the following day. Now, this may seem like a pretty straightforward task but what made it special was that we were told, categorically, to base our plans on one thing and one thing only—the kind of books WE wanted to publish, not what sells or is ‘popular’ but what matters to us personally. If the category didn’t exist, then we were to create it.

So, armed with that brief, we brainstormed, marched on and returned the next day with our presentations. All the ideas presented were unique and interesting—we were all hooked. They were met with acceptance and encouragement from Naveen, who gave vital inputs and helped us build on those ideas. All in all, the masterclass was an eye-opener and it concluded in a wonderfully fruitful manner, leaving us excited for the days ahead and looking forward to more such interactions with the masters of the trade.

Chanakya Grover

Relearning the Rules of Grammar and Punctuation

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Dear Diary,
Today was the first day of the grammar and punctuation sessions. It was on this day that I experienced the famed Calcutta rains. My friend Sarah and I got late; stranded in the rain, looking out hopefully for an empty auto. This concept of sharing autos with other people is something that I have recently wrapped my head around. Not to mention the endless queues of people waiting very patiently for an auto to come around. On the other hand, the swarm of people that Sarah and I have to wade through everyday, at peak hour, just to get on the Metro, is something I have now completely embraced. It’s funny though, because I never really have anything to hold on to in the train; so I clutch on to Sarah’s hand. The poor thing almost ends up getting yanked off her hand-rung every time the train halts or takes off.

So, after battling the humidity, heat and the pushing and shoving that comes with every train, Sarah and I finally made it to class.

One of the first things I noticed in the room was a hilarious poster that had the symbols and meanings of a proofreader’s marks. I won’t lie, the symbols looked ancient runes and some of them were downright funny—marks of exasperation on the part of the proofreader.

So we walked into class late for the very first session. I had to take the seat right under Bishan’s nose and sat squirming in it for the first ten minutes. The one thing that I was disheartened to hear was that we as editors couldn’t really take over the entire text and make it our own, no matter how much we wanted to. I remember last week how Sunandini reminded us that while we should be at the top of our editing game, we should not murder our co-workers over a semicolon.

Now the thing is, dear Diary, I’d thought that grammar and punctuation are things that would have come very naturally to me, considering that I’d studied them for a very long time. But oh! was I to be proven wrong. Everything that I thought I knew about commas, semicolons and hyphens was about to change.

I think I love how it isn’t just the grammatical correctness of the text that matters but what the author is trying to say, and what the feel of the text is that makes a difference. A single comma can delay a pause, change the tone and even change the meaning of what is being said. An editor is like a mediator between the author and his readers; making sure that the reader gets everything the author wants to say. Of course, we’d have to edit the work in such a way that we have to be invisible.

Then came the fun part—semicolons and colons. I don’t think I’ve ever had to think about whether a pause in a sentence was too short to validate a semicolon or if the comma was framing a clause that wasn’t essential to a sentence.

It’s interesting because one never really notices these details that actually direct the way we read a book. I mean these little markings go almost unnoticed. Now I know I make it sound like commas are a lot of fun and being editors we have the luxury and privilege of throwing them around wherever we please, but what I was to learn later was that there are a ton of rules that limit our editorial powers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Dear Diary,
I struggled to get out of bed today; the sky was overcast and it looked like it was going to rain. Apparently, Sarah took a good half hour to haul me out of bed. It was one of those days where you look forward to coming home and curling up in bed; the air was heavy and muggy, the heat didn’t seem like it was going to give us a break either. Luckily we got some relief in the sweet, cool air at school.

Bishan has been talking to us about the ‘hyphen’, ‘en dash’ and ‘em dash’ over the past few days, and somehow, today, managed to drop pieces of chalk in his water as well as his mug of coffee. He was quite exasperated by the end of it.

I didn’t even know there was something called an ‘em dash’. It’s the biggest of all dashes, of which there are three! (Why couldn’t it be easier?) The only visible difference between the three of these little dashes is their difference in size.

We also got proofreading exercises today which turned out to be a lot tougher than I had expected. Every little comma has to be thought over very carefully and I don’t think a book will ever read the same way for me or at least without being subject to my newly acquired ‘proofreading’ lenses. Every comma, semicolon and hyphen will henceforth be under my scrutinizing gaze.

Did I mention that Bishan likes to mess with our heads? He put in a couple of very innocent-looking sentences that I don’t think anyone in class punctuated correctly. On the other hand, I got a little carried away and filled my page up with a ton of ‘close up space’ marks because I thought the spaces between the words were intentionally put there; much to my disappointment, they were not. It also seems that Harsh and Chanakya have favourite punctuation marks—Harsh likes ‘em dashes’ and Chanakya semicolons, and will use them to substitute commas everywhere they can. And it’s always interesting to hear people ask questions that I’d never thought of, or dissect why a certain comma doesn’t belong here or there but needs to go someplace else.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Dear Diary,
I know that you’d think that grammar and punctuation can only be something exhaustively spoken about, but trust me it isn’t. Even Bishan told us that, ‘When in doubt, the Chicago Manual of Style is our bible.’ It’s a little reassuring to know that I don’t have to remember every single rule of use and that even senior editors consult a guide.

So, Diary, did I mention that our punctuation classes do not end after one week? We get back to punctuating and proofreading next week onward. I think accidentally proofreading every book you lay your hands on—as an editor—is an occupational hazard. But hey, I’m not complaining. Is it nerdy that I actually enjoy marking the pages with tiny little symbols that actually have the power to change a text?

Alright Diary, this is me signing off for a while, I’ve got a flight back home to catch in a couple of hours.

Rhea Chandrachud

Learn to Be Invisible

Week One at the Seagull School of Publishing.

My boss is probably cursing me for quitting midway. She’s probably happy—good riddance to bad rubbish. I wonder!

I had been anticipating the commencement of the course for half a month and slightly more—the course on ‘Book Design’.

Each time somebody asked me in that half a month of ‘taking time off’ about what I was ‘doing in life’. I would—with some pride and a polished, superficial accent—tell them about the delightful course on ‘BOOK DESIGN’. Only to receive frowns, awe, contempt and, of course, a question bank:

‘Book Design???’

‘Ohhh! So you mean the cover design?’

‘Really? What do you even design inside a book?’

‘Ahh, so you must be using Microsoft Word to design the pages? I know how to use Microsoft Word.’

‘But don’t you know Photoshop already?’

‘My printer has been designing my company’s annual book. Why don’t you learn from him? He will teach you for FREE!’

But here I was on the first day undeterred, even after all the explaining, excited with butterflies fluttering in my tummy like on the first day of college. New people, new friends and a chance to go back to the classroom environment—it was all going to be so amazing.

The studio looks different from the last time I was there. The walls are painted white and adorned with frames of all sizes. One of the small frames edges out of a bigger one below. It gives me a chill down the spine. I look away.

There is a bunch of equally anxious people sitting in their best clothes. First impressions are the ones that last. As we ease into small talk and hasty introductions, we are hushed up to the classrooms above. Red chairs arranged in two rows, juxtaposed against each other. Red accent walls in certain rooms and more people. More hands and feet gradually keep adding to the room till no chair remains empty. The eyes keep moving around in quick movements to grab as much information as possible. We form opinions, make little notes in our heads, think of conversation starters and do all that the little brain does.

But then we are all brought to attention by this one commanding voice. The one from the opposite row of chairs, which assures us that we will have an amazing time ahead. The humour and wit amuse us and, unknowingly, bind us into one class.

Everyone gets the pun and does not idolize Chetan Bhagat (to put in acceptable terms).

Not everyone knows the difference between CMYK and RGB, but they learn.

I learn the difference between a page and a folio and the meaning of ‘salmagundi’.

Thus ends the first week of learning with all that one needs to know about a book. Personal accounts by the commanding voice and innumerable hilarious anecdotes serve as Foreword and Afterword, and give us insights into the wonderful world of publishing that we are soon going to be a part of.

I figured: designing books is a thankless job. The ones picking them off the shelves don’t even give it a thought. But that’s the beauty of good design. It’s invisible.

Here I am, learning to be invisible.

Vidushi Kedia

A Swig of Fresh Spirit

Books are like food for those who seek shelter under the tree of ideas. We can never quite explain what happens to us as we turn the leaves and feel a writer’s voice coming through—subtle yet finely tuned.

Our opening day at the Seagull School of Publishing for the June–August 2016 batch was a peek into a new dimension of how books get fashioned so that they can greet us from the shelves, and the different hats that go around a publishing house.

It seemed, as students, we were part of a jigsaw puzzle coming from diverse cities, degrees, jobs, who got enrolled, of course, but then came the TV shows that had us hooked, books we loved and the issues which moved us. The force of ideas knows few barriers, especially when there is a group of people who are frequent flyers in the realm of the imaginary.

Soon we got a ringside seat to the world of publishing as Sunandini from Seagull Books expertly presented the landscape of books. Many hands come together to take a book from being a bare-boned idea to a fully formed expression of what the idea stands for. A publishing house is the engine room of the smooth machinery that takes a book from being a manuscript through the various stages until finally it is printed and available in the marketplace. The different players involved, apart from the publishing house, such as the printing press, distributors and booksellers mean that deadlines and trust are worth their weight in gold.

A book is one of the few products today where each title needs to make a mark for it to work. Publishing houses plan ‘lists’ consisting of frontlists and backlists which are often a mix of books—popular titles which sell well and provide breathing space for the more niche books that are slow sellers and get discovered over time.

Editors generally commission or request manuscripts so as to build these lists. Publishers are usually inundated with submissions from people who see themselves as the next best-selling writer. Whereas editors are constantly on the lookout for fresh talent and new ideas—short story competitions, academic conferences, literary festivals are some of their hunting grounds to find new voices. The competitive nature of the industry means that—apart from discussions on earnings from royalty, paper and hardback editions—the number of book launch events, travel plans and even hotels can swing the book deal!

It was interesting to learn that the listed price of a book gets distributed between bookseller, distributor, publisher and writer. Writer’s royalty earnings are increasingly being based on publisher’s net receipts post deductions from seller and distributor. This helped give a sense of how challenging it is to write books for a living.

Editors intimately engage with a book, right from checking facts and names, apart from, of course, spelling and punctuation. Moreover, editors need to understand the writer’s voice, ultimately the identity of the book in the world. The fun in editing comes from looking at it as playacting, taking on a different voice with every book that you edit.

Designers collaborate with editors in presenting the book to the world. Increasing competition for visibility in both physical as well as online bookstores means that a quality book cover goes a long way towards ensuring good sales. The book cover communicates what the book stands for and sets lightbulbs flashing in a potential reader’s mind.

A book is like a house, co-created by the publishing house and writer. The commissioning editors plan the readers’ entry and house tour, copy editors are the interior decorator who manage the house look and feel while proofreaders ensure that the furniture is clean and correctly aligned. Typesetters add life to the house. There is a certain poetry to book design as we got to know about—title versos, running heads, foot folios and flush pictures.

Editors and designers are ultimately curators of ideas; their workspace is books where readers are travellers who have stopped for a moment to catch their breath.

 Harsh Maskara