A twist in their tale

A twist in their tale

Rachna Chhabria finds out how Sayoni Basu and Anushka Ravishankar put behind them a thriving publishing career to bring out wacky and fun teen books.

Missing the excitement of discovering new talent, and creating books that children would want to read again and again, is what propelled them into their new venture. Sayoni and Anushka hope to publish genres which have not been published very extensively in India. Sayoni feels that children are aware that they are living in quite a complex world and are sensitive to what is happening. This awareness and sensitivity makes them embrace newer genres and stories.

Last year May saw the launch of Duckbill Books, an independent publishing house specializing in books and digital products for children and young adults. It was started by two women who can be considered publishing giants - Sayoni Basu and Anushka Ravishankar, who have loads of publishing and writing experience behind them. Duckbill Books, partly owned by Westland Books, will be bringing out books for young readers: from children’s books to young adults.

Sayoni Basu has had quite an illustrious career in publishing. She has been associated with the publishing sector for most of her working life. She worked at OUP, Penguin-Puffin, Scholastic and Amarchitrakatha before she set up her own publishing house. Anushka Ravishankar is an author, having written over twenty books for children, many of which have won international awards. Several of her books have been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish and other languages. Anushka has also worked as an editor with Scholastic.

Sayoni says one of the main reasons for setting-up her own publishing house was that her love for editing and creating books was being subsumed with a host of administrative and policy making responsibilities at all the publishing houses she earlier worked at.

Where other publishing houses play it safe by concentrating on books that educate a child, detective books and adventure stories and stories where gentle moral lessons unfold at the end of the story, and books that ensure that children are cacooned in a safe and protective environment, Duckbill hopes to fill the void by bringing out a slew of books that can be termed as wacky and fun. Going by the names of the books on their list, children are in for a great ride.

Duckbill’s publishing philosophy is based on the platypus, a creature of curious assemblage. A platypus is a beaver with a duck’s beak. It’s also the only known egg-laying mammal and believe it or not it’s a venomous one. Its cute looks can be quite deceptive. A lot like the books Duckbill is bringing out - cute titles with stories that pack a powerful punch!

Sayoni says that 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 the author and the publisher staying put and keep on doing it!

Their first three books were launched on 30th October last year. Two of these books also saw the simultaneous release of their e-books. They hope to publish a book every alternate month. “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 contains a story the world should read,” says Sayoni.

Sayoni is quite unperturbed as far as competition from other publishers is concerned. She feels that there is enough room for everyone and that there really aren’t enough books for the bookworms and so they can all thrive. Their USP is that they have a lot to offer in terms of editorial and marketing. They also have the luxury of time to work on each book they sign up, so that it is the best book it can be, and they will try to sell each book in the best way it can be sold. Sayoni and Anushka also work quite a bit with authors at every stage of the book so that the final product is at its best. 

Sayoni’s advice to aspiring writers is 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,” she says. Good unusual stories and a strong voice are the two criteria that Duckbill is looking for in their books.

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