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

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