Writing a book is far easier than publishing it. And for someone who doesn’t belong to the writing milieu but still wants to write a book, what would be better than to know it from the industry experts? So we got Penguin Random House’s Commissioning Editor, Milee Ashwarya, to discuss the nitty-gritties of the trade at the Women Writer’s Fest held in Ahmedabad this Wednesday.

For people who are considering taking up writing, Milee said that Indians should write genres like detective fiction, humour more and entertain the audiences. “At the moment there is lot of serious non-fiction like politics, current affairs, biographies, but I think humour is something that we all need more in our lives.”

“Particularly in detective fiction, we haven’t seen the likes of Agatha Christi in our country where one gets hooked to the books so much that they want to buy the entire series. That kind of writing I haven’t seen from an Indian author.”

Talking about the kind of books Milee likes to publish at Penguin Random House and what interests her as a publisher, she said, “I am very passionate about local publishing in India and I want Indian writers to write. So a bulk of my list consists of home-grown titles and authors. We also buy rights of international books for distribution in the country and some of which we also buy rights to publish in our territory, but that is only a limited percentage of my list. 80% of my list is directly commissioned into various subjects. I publish literary books, fiction and non-fiction, popular books, business books, so it is a very diverse list.”

Health and lifestyle are some of the other areas that Milee feels people need to write more.

So how does a publishing house narrow down a manuscript to a finished product? Milee notes that the process takes roughly six months to a year. And since publishing houses get a lot of book proposals, Milee says that they get around 40 book proposals every day on an average while the publishing house publishes around 300 books in a year. And while there is a team that works to select book proposals, there are also times when a publishing house could approach an author and request him/her to write on a particular subject.

“Once we decide what we want to publish, we sign a book deal with the author and then the editing process begins. There is a deadline, so editors try and publish the book by a certain time. The editing process takes about a month. Sometimes we ask the authors to rewrite the book or go through three to four times of revision. It is a very intense process. We work till a point where we think it is ready for publication. After that we do a line editing, following which the pages are set which shows how the book will look, like the size, the font, the layout etc. Then comes proofreading and then we finally print the book.”

Presentation is very important about how you approach a publisher. I would say do not send a proposal if you are not ready because first impression does matter. For me personally, in fiction, engagement is definitely a criteria. There are times when the book is unputdownable

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“Alongside, we work on the cover design, the marketing plan and digital plan and sales pitch. There is a whole team that works on one book. At Penguin, every author has a publicist, a digital publicist, an editor, a sales point person,” Milee minutely explains the painstaking process of publishing a book.

She then talks about into how a person should even pitch a small idea when they are looking to write a book. “Presentation is very important about how you approach a publisher. I would say do not send a proposal if you are not ready because first impression does matter. For me personally, in fiction, engagement is definitely a criteria. There are times when the book is unputdownable. In terms of non-fiction, we look at content if it is well-researched, if the author has written it in an interesting manner. I look for writing style that is for the general audience.”

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