Friday, January 11, 2013

Interview with Editor and Publisher of Duckbill Books

Today I have an interview with Editor/Publisher Sayoni Basu. Sayoni together with Anushka Ravishankar started a new publishing house called Duckbill, partly owned by Westland Books. Aimed at young readers, it was launched in May 2012.

Here is my interview with Sayoni:

Q  What was the reason you set up Duckbill Publishing, leaving the safety net of a successful career with Amar Chitra Katha?

I love editing and creating books. My role at Amarchitrakatha and also earlier at Scholastic was increasingly suit-like and policy-making and I really missed the excitement of discovery and creation. Also, both Anushka and I felt there was a lot more which could be done in the children and young adult book space, and we wanted to do it. So Duckbill was set up!

Q What kind of books is Duckbill hoping to publish?

Really good, fun books. One of the great things about being independent is that we are not tied to any number of books we have to publish. This is very liberating. We will publish only when we find a book which we feel deserves to be published, which is a story the world should read. Primarily fiction. For the moment we are not looking at picture books, though we hope to in the not too distant future.

Q What will be your strategy to compete with the more established publishing houses?

I don’t really see any competition—there is enough room for everyone. There are not enough books, so we can all thrive.

But yes, clearly for authors who can publish with anyone they choose, our USP is that we believe we have a lot to offer in terms of editorial and marketing. We also have the luxury of time, and we want to work on each book we sign up so that it is the best book it can be, and we will try to sell each book in the best way it can be sold.

Q Why is there a lack of children’s books, especially a series, in the Indian Market?

Children’s books are harder to sell—unless they are educational. They are also harder to market. Since the numbers are smaller, authors earn less, and therefore are often not willing to invest the years that it takes to develop a series. Publishers too often lose interest if the first couple of books in a series do not sell too well. So it is really a question of both author and publisher saying we will do, and doing it!

Q You already have a good online presence. How important are Social Networking sites in promoting books?

It is early days to say! The problem is that children are not on social networking sites, their parents are—and I am not sure that parents look for children’s books when they are on these sites! (It is of course different for young adult books.) But we do believe that it is vital for a small unknown brand, because you are building a community and eventually hopefully your potential customers will hear!

Q What are you looking for in your submissions?

Good unusual stories and a strong voice.

Q What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

To write for the pleasure of writing. If one thinks of publishing and fame too soon, the story you are telling gets compromised, because inevitably one is thinking of what-will-make-my-book-sell rather than what-is-going-to-happen-to-my-characters.

Q  We keep hearing about catch them young. But still there are not many good Picture Books in India. What is the reason for lack of good quality Picture Books in India?

Because there is not much of a culture of reading picture books. As a society, we look for educational content for our children and probably most parents would rather buy multiple ABC and 123 books than a picture book which simply tells a story. Also, picture books by very definition tend to more expensive because of the art and four-colour printing, and many parents feel inhibited by the price.
But it is changing slowly!

Q You have had several successful innings starting with being the editor of Puffin, then moving on to Publishing Editor of Scholastic. From the books you edited, name three of your favourite books.

Anushka Ravishankar: Moin and the Monster
Manjula Padmanabhan: The Unprincess and Other Stories
Siddharth Sarma: The Grasshopper’s Run

Q What do you think is the reason Indian writers writing for children don’t do well abroad?

I think Western societies still prefer their children to read stories of familiar worlds rather than the unknown and foreign. Unlike kids in India who grow up reading stories from all around the world—possibly for English-reading kids more from other parts of the world than from India!—there is always a certain amount of reluctance, especially for UK and US publishers, to pick up Indian children’s books.

Sayoni's Bio: Educated in Calcutta and Oxford, Sayoni Basu has worked in publishing for more years than she cares to remember, at OUP, Penguin-Puffin, Scholastic, Amarchitrakatha. She is now primary platypus at Duckbill Books. She has also worked as a librarian, security guard and tea lady.

You can visit their website Duckbill Books

Thanks Sayoni for agreeing to the interview. We all wish you lots of success in life.


  1. That was an interesting perspective related t publishing books for the children and young adults, Rachna:)

  2. Great interview Rachna. It was so interesting hearing about the children's market in India.

  3. Thanks, Rachna, for a great interview, and to Sayoni for a look into Duckbill publishing. It's encouraging to see a new imprint start up and get insight into what editors might be looking for...

  4. This is an insightful inspiring interview. Rachna, I nominated your blog for an award! You can check my blog for details.

  5. Hi friends...Duckbill has come as a huge blessing to both Indian writers as well as readers. They are coming out with an amazing collection of books.

  6. I’m visiting from Julia’s blog, and I am now your newest follower. Please join me at the Disconnected Traveler (

  7. How exciting! Best of luck with Duckbill Books, Sayoni. I would be fascinated to learn what it was like to work for Amarchitrakatha, too. They were a staple of my childhood.


  8. "To write for the pleasure of writing. If one thinks of publishing and fame too soon, the story you are telling gets compromised, because inevitably one is thinking of what-will-make-my-book-sell rather than what-is-going-to-happen-to-my-characters."

    Such a true piece of advice, yet so many writers fall into that trap.

  9. Great interview. I love the advice to writers. So very true!

  10. A fascinating interview. Thanks for,

  11. Fantastic interview! I love how you plan to focus on publishing books you love. :)

  12. Thank you Sayoni and Rachna, for a wonderful interview! I enjoyed it thoroughly!

  13. We get so focused on the US market (even those of us who don't like in the US), it's easy for get about other countries.

  14. Fascinating interview. I hope Duckbill Books is a success.

  15. Writing for the pleasure of writing is one of the best pieces of writing I think. If you love what you do you will never work another day in your life. Great to meet you Sayoni!

  16. Great interview!
    When asked about the more etablished publishing houses, I loved this response:" I don't really see any competition - there is enough room for everyone. There are not enough books, so we can all thrive." Great attitude!
    Good luck to Duckbill Books!

  17. Great interview. I enjoyed learning about Duckbill

  18. Sounds like Sayoni is taking the right approach as a publisher. Writers should write from the heart, not to suit any kind of market. Great interview, Rachna!

  19. Thank you guys for the good wishes and kind words. Anushka and I are having a lot of fun at Duckbill and we are very excited about some of the amazing new voices we have found.
    You could have a look at our blog to meet some of them:
    And thank you Rachna! Those were fun questions to answer.

  20. So do you get these great interviews Rachna? :)

  21. Interesting interview. The point of Indian kids reading books from all over the world and Indian books not being welcomed by European and US markets hits the nail on the head.