Reading is the most marvelous adventure the mind embarks upon. Having made a career out of her love for literature, Milee Ashwarya quite agrees.
Editor-in-Chief at Penguin Random House India, she keenly promotes debut authors and has published bestsellers by Hussain Zaidi, Karan Johar, Twinkle Khanna, Radhakrishnan Pillai, etc.
We met Ashwarya when she visited the city to host a panel discussion at Crosswords.
You mentioned in an interview that you happened to join publishing quite by accident. How did that materialise?
Well, I had done my Masters in English and was very confused about what to do next. I was considering an MBA, Mass Communication or Advertising, which was when one of my classmates joined publishing. I happened to meet him and saw that he was really enjoying it. He knew of my love for books and suggested that I join publishing.
That was how I applied for a job at Rupa Books and got into publishing, quite by accident. Well, now here I am!
What does a day in your life as Editor-in-Chief look like?
Well, there are some things I have to do at the macro level, such as managing my divisions, my team and having a vision for my list. But, I’m a commissioning editor at heart and I love coming up with new ideas for books. I work a lot and very closely on several books of my own.
So, it’s a mix of macro and micro responsibilities. It’s, also about meeting a lot of people; be it authors, prospective authors, agents, readers, etc. All this interaction is probably, one of the best things about publishing.
A trait you value and seek in new authors?
I do feel that you have to be prepared to work very hard. You have to really engage with your readers, interact with them and build your audience together with the publisher. This is of course assuming that their proposal is good, they can write and the team and I have conviction in the idea of their book.
I do look for dedication as a basic quality that will stand them in good stead when the book is out and they are to promote it.
A book you’ve read in the past year that has really stayed with you?
I read ‘The Vegetarian’ that got the Man Booker. A very complex but haunting book, it has really stayed with me. It’s a translation from Korean and it was wonderful reading that.
I love reading thrillers too. We do a lot of reading for work, then we read for pleasure as well. You can’t imagine being a publisher if you’re not passionate about books.
How should avid readers prep for a career in publishing?
You have to love books, as your world will be surrounded by books, writing and authors. You also have to be prepared to work very hard. Publishing is a profession that is relentless, as it isn’t a 9 to 5 corporate job.
You’ve got to be personally invested and self-driven to make it in this field.
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