Publishing Entrepreneur, Divya Dubey, Gyaana Books, Fiction For Adults

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We at YourStory.in recently caught up with Divya Dubey, Delhi based Publishing Entrepreneur and Founder of Gyaana Books, a trade-book publishing firm that focuses on fiction for adults.

Divya Dubey was also one of the finalists at the British Council’s Young Publishing Entrepreneur Awards in 2010. To know more about the Young Publishing Entrepreneur Awards, click here. To follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards on Facebook, check out http://www.facebook.com/YCEAwards

Divya, tell us about your Publishing Firm Gyaana Books.

We started our little publishing firm in July 2009. We publish fiction for adults – yes, perhaps the only ones in India who do just that – literary or popular. Our first list was launched on January 22, 2010, at India International Centre, New Delhi. The three titles were released by Keki N Daruwalla, the eminent poet and writer. We’ve released six titles so far(one romance, two murder mysteries, one literary fiction, two short-story collections), and two more(literary fiction) are due for release soon. We work both with new faces and known writers.

Gyaana has featured in some articles in the media including ‘Writing a Success Story’ (The Week), ‘Summer of Pulp’(The Financial Express), ‘Article on Self-publishing and Print on Demand’(Indian Printer and Publisher online journal), ‘India Thirsts for More Publishers’(Indo-Asian News Service), and ‘A Good News Story?’(The Times of India).

We had launches at India International Centre, India Habitat Centre, Yodakin, Akshara Theatre, and St Stephen’s College in Delhi; and Axis Books and Oxford Book Store in Bangalore, with participation from Chippy Gangjee(the well known actor-director), Sunit Tandon(former CEO of Lok Sabha TV, director of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, and well known theatre person), Jalabala Vaidya(veteran theatre person and co-founder of Akshara Theatre), Ashok Row Kavi(well-known journalist and LGBT activist) , and Dr Shekhar Seshadri(professor of psychiatry at NIMHANS, and president of the board, Sangama, Bangalore). And, we have more events coming soon.

A part of No Flying from Fate was adapted for stage by Akshara Theatre, Delhi, during their summer festival, ‘Diksha’ 2010. Akshara theatre also adapted Anuradha Kumar’s novel The Dollmakers’ Island for the stage. It was performed to a packed hall on June 26, 2010, led by Jalabala Vaidya and Sunit Tandon.

Recently, we’ve also started a new wing, Gyaana Writers’ Coracle (GWC), which aims to help aspiring authors – for a fee.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I come from a family of doctors. Fortunately, I discovered my real calling before Medicine could claim me! I’m a former student of MA English at St Stephen’s College, Delhi; and MA Publishing at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford. I started my career as an editor with Sage Publications, and then went on to do textbooks, trade, and graphic novels, before returning to trade – where I really belonged.

So, what is the story behind starting up Gyaana Books?

The story of an ordinary mortal waking up one morning and realising she had just one life to do all she wanted to do! I wanted to work for myself – be my own boss, and do the kind of books I really wanted to do. I started Gyaana Books the day I found the guts; after that it has simply been perseverance

Where are you based? What is the size of your team?

We are based out of Delhi. We’re probably the tiniest publishing firm on earth right now – with three people in all including me, a marketing person, and an office boy – and one laptop that’s our ‘office’ for all practical purposes. I guess that’s also our USP.

Going forward, what would be your market differentiators?

I started the firm with no existing brand name, contacts, connections, or big capital. I was an unknown name, and I worked with unknown names. You can compare all of that with what we’ve achieved in two years, and arrive at your own conclusions.

Apart from that, we’re trying something new under Gyaana Writers’ Coracle. Many times scripts that do have potential are turned down by publishers because they still require work. Nobody has the time to offer feedback on a rejected script, or tell the author what he/she could do to improve it. GWC aims to help such aspiring writers to improve their script and writing skills.

What are the challenges you faced while starting up Gyaana Books? How did you overcome the challenges?

Several challenges at every front, the greatest being apathy and skepticism – from distributors, retailers, the general public, the media, the literary circles, though things are falling into place very slowly. It is very tough to find acceptance and make a niche for yourself, especially when there are so many big players in the market already. Also, India doesn’t have a great reading culture, or let’s say book-buying culture(at least not for books in English). Most people run after big brand names and bestsellers – or low-priced books.

We’re still fighting all or most of that. Publishing – whether for a small firm or for a multinational giant – is a new battle every day – perhaps the only industry that’s like that.

What are the Publishing sector specific challenges?

Marketing, distribution, media attention, apathy from retailers/distributors, fewer trade book shops, fighting for shelf space and visibility, astoundingly long gestation period, delayed payments, lack of transparency, disorganised process flow, etc.

How does Gyaana Books work?

We now have two distinct categories: book publishing and GWC.

For publishing: it’s the traditional model. We receive manuscripts from authors as all publishers do, evaluate them, decide what we want to publish, and sign a contract with the author. Then we schedule the book’s publication. It usually takes us about three months once the process begins and, fortunately, we have had some absolutely lovely authors! We do keep the author in the loop throughout, even after the book has been published, so that he/she knows exactly what’s happening. Everything is transparent. The authors also help in marketing and promotions. We send the books out of reviews, and they’re also listed for sale on online shops such as Flipkart etc.

For GWC: the scripts are specifically addressed to GWC. It’s not just an editorial services agency; it is more than that. Our aim is to help aspiring authors write better. We evaluate the script, gauge its potential, and discuss the project with the author. Since I deal with this wing personally, I only take up the project, if the author and I are comfortable with each other. The author must have cent per cent faith in GWC, and must be willing to put in the hard work the project will require. Once we begin, there is no turning back. We go at a pace the author is comfortable with. At the end of the day, the author must feel he/she’s gained something from the whole exercise. On principle we do not publish the GWC scripts, but we can(and do) guide them to other publishers/agents.

Please share with us a few success stories of Gyaana Books.

Going by success in terms of numbers, we still have to go a long way. But yes, we have some recognisable names on our list now – including Anuradha Kumar, Dipika Mukherjee, and Anjana Basu. Our forthcoming title, Thunder Demons, was long-listed for the Man Asian Prize 2009. Pink Sheep, our gay fiction title, was one of the few books published in this genre last year, and received great reviews in the mainstream media. I took a great risk self-publishing Turtle Dove, my own short story collection, but that too received pretty decent reviews in the mainstream media. Our recent release, The Body in the Back Seat by Salil Desai is already on Landmark's bestseller list.

We’ve done quality books, and whatever we’ve achieved we’ve achieved on merit. We move slowly, but steadily and honestly. In spite of the challenges, our authors believe in us – and so do our readers. For us, that’s another kind of success. Strangely enough, there are authors out there who would rather wait to be published by Gyaana than go to other, bigger publishers. Now, that came as a complete surprise – even to me.

What next at Gyaana Books? Share with us your expansion plans.

Right now, we’re looking to make our mark in adult fiction. At some point we would like to explore other genres as well. And, of course, expand the GWC programme too.

How do you make money?

Let me simply say we sell an excellent product (books) and excellent services. Ours is a traditional, straightforward publisher sells to distributor, and distributor sells to retailer model, though these days we’re also focusing more on online/direct sales. I’m aware that some publishers here have started following ‘advertisement-powered’ models with sponsors’ ads and merchandise, but not us.

What is the size of the market you are trying to tap?

It’s the same market the trade-publishing MNCs and the Indian bigwigs rule. The number of players is increasing every day, but the size of the market hasn’t increased significantly. We have to be on our toes all the time.

Any advice you want to share with budding entrepreneurs in publishing?

Yes! You need the nerve of a warrior and the patience of a sage.

Lastly, share with us your experience at YCE.

A learning experience for any young, new entrepreneur.

Please check out http://gyaanabooks.com/ for more details. Do let us know your thoughts on this story by writing to us at feedback@yourstory.in

Varsha Adusumilli | YourStory.in