Children’s books, contracts and publishing at Jaipur Book Mark

Insightful learning for speakers and attendees

Book fairs
(L-R) Neeraj Jain, Radhika Menon, Bijal Vaccharajani, Manisha Chaudhry, and Preeti Vyas at the Jaipur Book Mark 2023. Photo JLF

The ninth edition of the Jaipur Book Mark, which was held alongside the Jaipur Literature Festival from 20 – 22 January 2023, was marked by insightful discussions around the world of translations, the importance of children’s publishing, policy-making around publishing, and the future of audiobooks.

According to advisor Manisha Chaudhry, the Jaipur Book Mark (JBM) this year was quite interesting, and turned out  well. “It found an identity this year with  focused panel discussions on issues that actually concerned the publishing industry, which I think was the reason for its success. A significant number of panels turned out very interesting. There was actually some learning for the audience,” said Chaudhry.

The USP was good speakers and good moderators, and a variety of formats such as short interviews with industry leaders and panel discussions specific to areas of publishing, she said. They all had something for all those who had registered to attend, such as first-time authors from overseas looking to pitch a manuscript. “They got a real sense of the publishing scene by listening to the different panelists,” she says.

Jaipur Book Mark
(L-R) Namita Gokhale, Hans Jacob Frydenlund, Urvashi Butalia, and Sanjoy K Roy at the lamp lighting ceremony of the Jaipur Book Mark. Photo JLF

Dry topics made interesting

Chaudhry referred to a session such as contracts for OTT and audio, which seemed to be a very dry topic. “I didn’t have very high expectations but it actually turned out to be a really interesting panel because there were differing views on the possibilities of audiobooks.”

There was Yogesh Dashrath, head of Storytel, who felt audiobooks had a great future, which is why different contracts were being offered to different people such as first-timers or well-established authors. Kanishka Gupta from Writer’s Side, an established literary agent, however, was somewhat sceptical of the future of  audiobooks. “When they exchanged views, it was a learning for both of them because Yogesh (Dashrath) gave Kanishka (Gupta) very good reason to believe audiobooks had a real future,” Chaudhry said.

The point that came to the forefront, she said, was the lack of communication and clarity over contracts. “This is an example of how a hardcore publishing panel could generate a lot of interest. The audience had no idea that there were so many options in the contract. As an author, you don’t know what options you can ask for, simply because you’ve never thought about contracts or you don’t know the kinds of contracts that can be solicited from people. But if you know more about it, then you’re in a better bargaining position,” she said.

The world of translations

The main focus at JBM this year was translations and children’s publishing. There were three focused sessions on translations. The first was titled ‘Developing a Market for Translations’ Roundtable’, which featured Alice Mullen (Poetry Book Society, UK), Bijal Vachharajani (Pratham Books, India), Hélène Butler (Johnson & Alcock, UK), Leonie Lock (Firefly Press, UK), Molly Slight (Scribe UK), Rahul Soni (HarperCollins India), Raman Shresta (Rachna Books, India), Riddhi Maitra (BEE Books, India), Sarabjeet Garcha (Copper Coin Publishing, India), Sarah Braybrooke (Bonnier UK), Tamara Sampey-Jawad (Fitzcarraldo Editions) and Yogesh Maitreya (Panther’s Paw Publications). Neeta Gupta was the moderator.

The British Council session was enormous. It had six Indian and six Britisher publishers who were part of the publishing fellowship. They made a presentation on how they have been working with the idea of translations and also about their work. A very good spectrum of people shared how to increase interaction between the UK and the Indian publishers and how you can find each other for rights sales or finding more translations. You got a real sense of the number of people who could benefit from these fellowships and interactions,” Chaudhry said.

Jaipur Book Mark
Manisha Chaudhry, advisor, Jaipur Book Mark. Photo JLF

The second session was titled ‘In Other Words – Translation Roundtable’, featuring Mini Krishnan, head of The Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation’s translation program, Daisy Rockwell, International Booker Prize winner of Geetanjali Shree’s Hindi novel Ret Samadhi, Baran Farooqi, winner of JCB Prize for Literature 2022 for The Paradise of Food, her translation of Khalid Jawed’s Urdu novel. It was moderated by Bengali translator Arunava Sinha.

It talked about the whole arc of what has to be considered when a publisher is looking seriously at translations. The Tamil Nadu Textbook & Educational Services Corporation’s program, which supported translations initially only in southern languages, is expanding to other languages as well. They are giving paid subsidy and doing a buyback of translated books, which is attracting good translators and publishing houses interested in translations,” shares Chaudhry.

The third panel titled ‘Rooting for Translations – Grants and Agenting’ was presented by The Royal Norwegian Embassy. It featured Nermin Mollaoglu, founder of Kalem Literary Agency, Kanishka Gupta, founder of Indian literary agency Writer’s Side, K Sreenivasa Rao, Mini Krishnan, Kelly Falconer, founder – Asia Literary Agency, and Andrine Pollen from Norla (Norwegian Literature Abroad) in conversation with Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan books.

In this session, we looked at how different organizations, whether it was aTurkish literary agency or the Norwegians, looked at translations and how they push for them,” shared Chaudhry.

The session titled ‘Bhasha Samvaad – Indian Publishers and Intra-language Publishing’ featured Ravi Deecee from DC Books, Maya Mrig from Bodhi Publishing, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee from Seagull Books, Kannan Sundaram from Kalachuvadu Publications, Alind Maheshwari from Rajkamal Prakashan. It was moderated by Esha Chatterjee from BEE Books.

In this session, Indian language publishers discussed why they are not pushing enough translations – if they are, then what is working, and if they are not, what is keeping them from it, says Chaudhry.

Children’s Publishing

Publishing for children was another focus area of JBM, where the main agenda was to increase the sales of books and give kids more choices, Chaudhry said.

A session titled ‘Children’s Publishing Roundtable’ featured Radhika Menon from Tulika Books, Bijal Vachharajani from Pratham Books, Neeraj Jain from Scholastic India, and Preeti Vyas from Amar Chitra Katha, and moderated by Manisha Chaudhry. Another session titled ‘Writing for Children’ was presented by The Royal Norwegian Embassy. Katherine Rundell, children’s author, and Kristin Roskifte, Norwegian author and illustrator and co-owner of Magikon Forlag took part. It was moderated by Bijal Vachharajani from Pratham Books.

Jaipur Book Mark
(L-R) Govind DeeCee from DC Books, Yogesh Dashrath from Storytel, and Himali Sodhi, founder of A Suitable Agency at the Jaipur Book Mark. Photo JLF

A panel titled ‘Growing Up Right: Nurturing Young Readers’ featured Himanshu Giri from Pratham Books, Parul Bajaj from Kitablet and Kavita Gupta Sabharwal from IndiaKitLit, and moderated by Radhika Menon from Tulika.

Another panel titled ‘Reading Together: Building Communities’ featured Tanu Shree Singh from Reading Racoons, Jamie Andrews from the British Library, Radhika Timbadia from Champaka Bookstore, Library and Cafe, and Mridula Koshy, Indian author, and free library movement activist. It was moderated by Hemali Sodhi, founder of A Suitable Agency.

The sessions focused on how to build a whole community of readers who regularly visit the library – how to keep them engaged, how they come back for more, and how can publishers pitch into that because they are really pushing the idea of the free library network.

Children’s publishing in India has a real potential of generating revenue, Chaudhry said, adding it is the one segment after educational publishing waiting to be developed in a bigger way.

“The National Education Policy (NEP) is recognizing the importance of children’s reading in their libraries, in their classrooms. The children’s publishing sector can also encourage the habit of reading. It requires a lot more in terms of reaching out, and increasing access to children’s books. Multilingual children’s publishing is now on an established track. We are not just talking about English and Hindi – we are talking about all Indian languages and generating enough children’s literature so that there is something to read for all children. Many children have a problem with reading because they don’t have enough books to read. They only have their textbooks. So unless you create enough books in their languages, the problem is going to remain,” she said.

“Several speakers on those panels are still in touch, which I see as a good sign. It’s not like you just turned up and went back home and forgot all about it. You are continuing to stay in touch and looking at how you can continue the conversation that started in JBM. Whether you were choosing to lobby with your state government for ethical purchase of suitable books or you’re sharing good library practices or databases for children’s books looking at what’s happening in other countries, you’re sharing that information with your co-panelists. That is again a sign that a conversation that was well begun is carrying on.”

The challenges, she said, were a lot to do with logistics, finance, people canceling at the last minute and financial constraints, etc. “In the face of economic recession, funds for cultural activities are less. But sometimes when cancellations happen at the last minute due to health or visa issues, you discover new speakers you hadn’t thought of earlier,” she says.

In a session ‘Interface: Retailers, Publishers and Editors’, the problems faced by smaller retailers came to the fore as well as new ideas that retailers are expecting from publishers in terms of support. Publishers put forth their point of view on these issues, she said.

Publishing and Policymakers

A session titled ‘In Lockstep or Out Of Sync?: Publishing and Policymakers’ looked at how policy can be more supportive of the publishing industry. It featured Gaurav Shrinagesh from Penguin Random House India, Arun Maheshwari from Vani Prakashan, Yuvraj Malik from National Book Trust, Neeraj Jain from Scholastic India, Vikrant Mathur from Nielsen Books. The session was moderated by Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal from Vani Prakashan.

The session looked at how policy can be more supportive of the publishing industry. We learned a lot about what the government has already done, which we may not be aware of. We talked about how to recognize that publishing actually contributes to a knowledge economy. Publishing should not only be looked at as a business that should be taxed but also recognize that without good publishing, how do you get knowledge out and among readers?” concluded Manisha.

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