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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Editor Interview : Ajitha GS, HarperCollins Publishers' Commissioning Editor

The idea of ‘fresh’ is something which, we have to keep reminding ourselves when we begin to write our own book. How we come up with the concept and how we develop it are all part of our initial writing, and it is the editor who will look at it and say 'yes' or 'no' before we start off on the book.

Our curiosity is satiated when we start to write out the book. And though, this editor does not think in absolutes, she definitely s a good concept of what a book should look like, and is tipping us off in the interview, and has a good lot of books, which could end up on your desk, so read on...

What are you looking for in a book, when it comes to you?

Good writing, fresh concepts, intellectual engagement.

What, according to you are the qualities of an ideal writer?

I think there is no ideal writer, only good writing and writing that doesn’t work for me, personally. That said; the writers I enjoy working with the most are the ones that are thoughtful and serious about what they are saying. There is research and enquiry that goes into the writing.

Could you explain the process, from writing, to editing, and finally, printing and marketing?

A manuscript comes in, a commissioning editor assesses it. If it works, the manuscript is commissioned. The editor works with the author on a preliminary, structural edit.

The writer takes these suggestions on board and comes back with a final edit. This then goes on to a copy edit, typesetting and proof-reading. A couple of stages later, it’s ready for the printing press.

At this stage, the author and the marketing team begin their promotions conversations, if they haven’t already started talking about it.

What is the one thing, you would you tell an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many tips as you would like)

Oh, I have no words of wisdom, I’m afraid! Writing is an individual process and people come to it in their own ways.

That said, I do think it’s a good idea to have a finished manuscript that is in as good a shape as you can get it to be before you send it out to editors and agents.

I have received enquiries from people who are thinking of writing a novel and want to know if we’d publish it so they whether it’s worth spending time writing it – and that’s just a little annoying.

What do you like most about the entire editing process?

Every bit of it! I enjoy working with words and engaging with a writer, coming to understand how her mind works and how she sees the ideas in the book.

What do you think an editor can add to the writer’s work?

That would depend on the editor and the writer. But most importantly, an editor’s is an empathetic read of something that has stayed with the writer for a long time. 

It is the beginning of when the manuscript is preparing to go out into the world.

What are you working on now?

A few things simultaneously. A book of fiction, a non-fiction memoir and a graphic novel.

Which has been your favourite book, among all the ones your have edited till now?

I couldn’t possibly answer that. Some books have been more intense engagements because of what they’ve taught me – a new lens on the world, so to say.

There are two books that have impacted the manner in which I process the world: an anthology of Dalit writing from South India, edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, and a book analysing Carnatic music, its history and context by T.M. Krishna.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a book editor? 

No, I started out in books and then moved to journalism for a long time. I’ve for long be sure that I like being an editor, though.

Could you tell us about some of your upcoming titles? 

HarperCollins India has an exciting line-up in the next few months. All of us are very excited about it, and about the sheer diversity of the books we do. I am waiting to read Rana Dasgupta's 'Capital'

Then there’s 'Conversations in the Nude' by Mihir Srivastava, which is one of mine, and is another experience I treasure as an editor – the collaborative, passionate nature of it.

Meghnad Desai's 'Who Wrote the Bhagavadgita?: A Secular Enquiry into a Sacred Text' promoses to be provocative. We have Hussain Zaidi's 'From Bangkok to Byculla', which no doubt everyone’s waiting for. 

There’s a book on Indian rock by Sidharth Bhatia, 'Indian Psychedelic' and Manoj Mitta's Modi, Godhra and fact-finding book. There’s Anita Nair’s historical fiction, 'Idris', which will be very big for us, I know. I am excited about Gouri Dange's 'Alexander McCall Smith-like Three-dog Night'.

Oh and there are many more...

What are your top three favourite books?

Couldn’t say… I rarely think in absolutes.

What is your favourite thing about being an editor? And your least favourite thing?

Ditto. :)

Where do you see book publishing heading to, in the next few years?

It’s a time of flux. I don’t know enough to say where it’s headed, but I hope it will be some place good.

I hope fiction will find a revival. I hope print books and ebooks will both thrive. I hope that bookstores will be around, the big chain ones as well the independents, which I personally favour.

More than anything, I hope more people will read many more books.

With mobile publishing, ebooks, coming in; how much of change does it mean to your job as an editor?

None at all. We edit books based on their content, not form. 

Perhaps there will be books where the content is tailored to the form soon, but then too our efforts will be to help the content be the best it can be.
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