The Professional Bookworm

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editing

The dream job of every book lover – being paid to read – apparently exists, finds Amruta Lakhe

Ambar Chatterjee walks into his office at 10 am with a coffee cup in one hand and the day’s appointments in the other. His table has piles and piles of manuscripts. He settles into his chair and picks up one. His day has just begun. Chatterjee is a commissioning editor for Penguin Books. Every publishing house has a commissioning editor – a person who decides which manuscript gets made into a book and which doesn’t.

BUT IT’S NOT JUST READING…

Commissioning editors do not just read manuscripts; they also conduct market research to investigate and study reader habits so that they can identify which kind of books people are reading and would like to read more of. For example, if the research reveals that people like reading about history and mythology, then a commissioning editor will get writers to write books on the subject. The editor will work closely with them, advising them at every stage. Most editors also assist with cover ideating, publicity and marketing.

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

Read:

Be ready to read and read and read. Commissioning editors to go through multiple manuscripts daily.

 Ideate:

Study the typical reader and come up with ideas for a book.

 Manage:

Study the sales, stock levels and demands of previously published books. Any time a book needs to be reprinted, take a call.

 Work with Writers:

Contact writers and work with them systematically.

 Work with Numbers:

Work hand-in-hand with the administrative, finance and budgeting teams of the publishing house.

Have an Eye for a Good Story:

Pick up stories, ideas and feedback from book fairs, conferences and events.

STUDY ROUTES

  • A degree in English is the standard requirement…
  • BUT degrees in cognate subjects like history, sociology, etc that require good language skills are also acceptable.
  • Serious fiction alone is not published because commercial interests are important too, so a degree in any field – arts, science or commerce – is acceptable as well.
  •   Media studies programmes that teach editing, publishing and writing are good preparatory courses.

WILL MY FUTURE BE BRIGHT?

  • Is print dying? It is almost dead abroad, but the publishing industry in India is expanding. English readership is evolving, along with other regional language publishing.
  • Online media has taken the prestigious place of the print industry, what with the rise of e-books. But Chatterjee says, “Although it is too early to determine what shape the future of publishing will take, one can expect it to continue expanding.”
    It’s not just about reading books, after all. But then, creating a book right from the scratch, ideating and then publishing your ideas – what more can a book lover ask for?

WHAT ABOUT MONEY, HONEY?

India is getting to know book and magazine publishing better as this industry is still growing. The pay may vary from one publishing house to the next. Freshers with no prior experience can expect a salary of Rs 1.2 to 2 lakhs per annum, and people with an experience of two years and above can expect Rs 3.5 to 4 lakhs per annum. These amounts usually vary with experience and position. However, Chatterjee adds, “If you’re looking to become a millionaire, this is not the job for you.”

LOTS OF WORK, LITTLE PLAY

The job of the commissioning editor is very intense. The editor needs to stay on top of multiple projects at most times. “It’s important to see that the lists of books you handle are given equal rigour and attention,” says Amish Raj Mulmi, Assistant Commissioning Editor at Hachette Book Publishing.  There are perks like attending book launches, book fairs and conferences, but the job itself is exacting. “Other challenges include ensuring that each one of your authors is well taken care of, that their queries are addressed promptly and efficiently,” adds Mulmi.

EXPERT SPEAK

“I think internships are the ideal way for students to break into the industry. It will give them first-hand work experience as well as a tangible idea of how the publishing industry functions. All publishing houses are on a regular lookout for interns. Penguin hires editorial interns on a regular basis throughout the year. I stumbled into publishing not knowing what exactly to expect. It’s been more than three years and I have no regrets.”
– Ambar Sahil Chatterjee, Commissioning
Editor, Penguin Books

“A good way to break into the industry would be to apply for summer internships, which allows students to understand how publishing works. Most companies take in summer interns, including Hachette India. One needs to love books, and must love to  read.”
– Amish Raj Mulmi, Assistant
Commissioning Editor, Hachette Book Publishing

 

Volume 2 Issue 12

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