A long time ago I emailed Sayoni Basu when she was at Scholastic Books, sending her my manuscripts and she was fabulous in responding to them. When she left the big publishing houses to setup a publishing house along with Anushka Ravishankar, I was in awe and of course delighted. I met Sayoni last year in person when I was at Bookaroo and she & Anushka kindly invited me over to her house to join hosts of other Duckbill writers for breakfast.
Sayoni has worked in publishing for over thirteen years, including at Oxford University Press and Penguin India. She was in charge of the children’s list at Puffin India, before she joined Scholastic India as publishing director, a position she held for several years. Most recently, she worked at ACK Media as the group publisher. Duckbill is a publishing house, run by Sayoni Basu and Anushka Ravishankar. They have been publishing books for children and young adults, since October 2012.
As part of the series of interviews ahead of our twitter chat on Indian books, I asked Sayoni some questions about books for children in India and its place in the international scene. Here is what she said.
- What are the major challenges for an Indian children’s book publisher on the world stage and within India?
Within India: We find distribution and getting adequate display space in bookshops a major challenge.
On the world stage: well, that depends on the particular publisher. Indian picture book publishers like Tara and Karadi are doing fantastically on the world stage, but that is due to not only fantastic books but also dedicated work over the years.
For us, it is still early days on the world stage, though we were very happy to be shortlisted for the LBF International Excellence Awards.
2. When you go to Bologna, what are your impressions of the market compared to Indian books? Do we have more variety? Are Indian books lacking in any aspect ?
Considering that the English children’s book publishing industry in India (apart from the NBT and CBT and textbook publishers) is really at most twenty years old (Tara, Katha, Karadi, Tulika were all set up about twenty years ago), we have a fair amount of variety. However, there is always room for more. I think quality improvement in any industry happens over a period of time with many players each doing their best–so yes, I do think there is room for improvement, but I also feel that the improvement is happening quite swiftly now.
- What is your experience in selling rights to world markets? Does the west want to buy very traditional content? Do they want you to fit inside the multicultural box or are they willing to look at the contemporary stuff too?
Recently, there has been more willingness to look at contemporary stuff–but this is from a few publishers with very specific interests.
By and large, India is associated with (a) cheap books of fairytales and ABCs and (b) traditional tales.
- Do you get support from international and Indian bodies to help with the costs of attending world book fairs? Is your presence at these fairs important?
Presence at the fairs makes a huge difference as one can see what different publishers around the world are publishing, both from a point of view of learning and also in terms of looking at what publishers publish in order to pitch books to them.
I have received support only from international bodies–the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Italian Trade Commission–so far!
- Should India carve its own space in the book market and not worry about whether US and UK buy rights? What other markets are more welcoming to Indian books?
When we publish a book at Duckbill, we are thinking solely of the Indian market.
Our aim has always been to create books that Indian children would find compelling, to enhance their enjoyment of the written word and their understanding of the world they live in. After we sign on books, yes, then we think of the rights potential and we know that there are some books which have potential to travel!
I think Indian publishers by and large focus primarily on the home market, which really is how it should be.
We do not have sufficient experience in rights selling to say that some markets are better than others. UK and US are perhaps more difficult markets to sell into. We would love to sell our books there, but also to Asia.
I think we need to read more books from other parts of Asia, and our books need to travel more there.
- Can you recommend three Indian books that any child in any part of the world should read?
Thank you Sayoni. Let’s hope the contemporary books that take on difficult topics (not just for India, but for the world) and stories from India get their fair recognition on the world stage and of course in Indian bookstores too.
If you have a view and you want to discuss, join me on Twitter on 24th Apr 2015 (Friday) at 6 pm GMT with hashtag #storiesfromIndia.