The Business of Books: Master Class with Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal

Here I was hoping to become an editor—pursuing a course in publishing, trying to run as far as possible from marketing (which I had studied as an undergrad). Here I was making conscious efforts to remove myself from what seemed like an oil spill in the ocean—detrimental, polluted and superficial—and Aditi speaks to us about the efforts that went into creating an integrated marketing scheme for Vani Prakashan. Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal is the director of the Copyrights and Translation Department at Vani Prakashan, one of the leading publishers of Hindi literature that has metamorphosed as a platform where cultures and languages unite.

She emphasized on the need to create value, to create a readership for the books, without being gimmicky. She shared many fascinating experiences with us. One of them was how she had attempted to directly sell copies of a book she knew was beautifully written and produced, and yet was ridiculously difficult to get bookstores to commit to it. In another, she spoke of their successful collaboration with Oxford Bookstore to promote Hindi literature and organize literary discussions and seminars. Aditi gave us an insider’s perspective on the Indian publishing milieu and helped us understand how difficult and disorganized distribution networks can be, the near monopoly of those English-language publishers and the vagaries of language politics. In the same breath, she explains the importance of maintaining great relationships within the book publishing community and how it helps to grow together as an industry.

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said the session was an epiphany of sorts—to note the importance of relevant content in terms of marketing especially for a book to get the attention it deserves; and how, more often than not, vernacular publishers grow horizontally—I believe I have come full circle and now, ironically, embrace marketing. The class helped me understand how publishing in vernacular can give voice to people from diverse social, economic and educational backgrounds; how it makes literature more accessible, not only by articulating their stories but also to make it known, inform the world of readers—so that good literature may not only survive but, rather, thrive. I would like to read in Hindi and Bengali too—I can ‘read’—but I am so overwhelmed by all the books around that I feel I must read in English first (I was indeed ignorant of the language I speak at home).

As the session ended, I was left to reflect on Aditi’s words and question: Why isn’t there an Indian Book Office, a cultural institute that promotes indigenous literature and publishing like the French or the German? Why am I so anglicized? Even though I am interested in literature, I am not half as informed about translations from and writings in vernacular, as I’d like to be—why?

I have now realized that I must engage with literature more deeply and not just escape into it.

Udisha Agarwal

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Minor Matters: Master Classes with Michelle Dunn Marsh

When asked to write about the sessions with Michelle Dunn Marsh, I got excited! (And very, very nervous.) Michelle is founder of Minor Matters Books (www.minormattersbooks.com), an independent publishing house based in Seattle, that produces beautiful visual books. The books she carried with her were a visual treat, but the sessions with Michelle were even more so. Her warm smile and the enthusiasm were infectious. In no time, she made us all very comfortable. She shared with us her experience and wisdom working in a magazine, Aperture, and the publishing house, Chronicle Books. In her 20 years of experience, she has commissioned many artists and photographers.

What I loved about her sessions was that she discussed many facets of working in the publishing industry. And how one can go about creating a network, how predictable the industry is, and what are the ways one can start their own company. Interestingly, one of the most significant factors in this industry is time—time to conceptualize a book, time required to spend on each detail of the publication process while balancing the deadline and time invested to create and maintain relationships.

Now that struck a chord with me. In the day and age of apps and 4G, one forgets to pick up the phone and call. There is nothing better than a quick call to clarify the doubts and misunderstandings. Having the experience of working in the publishing industry, I know that these things make sense and are indeed very important.

Michelle also emphasized on how important it is to just ask: for help, for opinions, for guidance, for more options—or anything at all. Drawing from her personal experience at college and at work, she pointed out the incidents when she found many answers just by enquiring.

In order to summarize what I have learnt from her classes, I wondered about how I could really do justice. The thought made me lose my sleep, increased my appetite and haunted me through the day. Then I remembered my last chat with Michelle—regarding the publishing industry in India, graphic novels, zines—and I had my eureka moment! Thus, I made a zine on it (for all the uninitiated, ‘zine’ is short for fanzine—an independent magazine for self or small circulation)—my first ever zine! Read on . . .

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Shreya Mukherjee