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.