Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating carere?
I’m from India, but I grew up in the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, India, Canada, Pakistan, Germany, and Poland so stories from diverse traditions and with diverse characters have been interesting and important to me. I went to Columbia University in New York City and studied English literature. When it came time to graduate, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to work with literature—read it, talk about it, analyze it. I thought perhaps academia was the right path for me. But not wanting to go into a six year commitment simply out of momentum, I decided I should take a year away from school and get “a real job.” That’s when I learned about the Columbia Publishing Course (a summer graduate course on all aspects of publishing).
Tell us about the course
Unfortunately, I learned about the course the day after the application was due! Fortunately, however, a very kind graduate of the course could tell that publishing might be a good fit for me and she persuaded the admissions board to consider my (late) application. I attended the course, learned about various parts of the industry, and realized that I only wanted to work in children’s books. The people who worked in the field were smart, interesting, and driven. And I wanted to be a part of it. Plus, with children’s books, you get to work not only with text, but also with visual storytelling (if you work on picture books) and that was very appealing to me.
What was your career path?
At the end of the course I interviewed with a number of major houses (there weren’t that many jobs, and it was very tough to be a foreign student looking for a job–not all HR departments are fully informed on how visa requirements work so I learned the importance of knowing those regulations thoroughly) and landed my first job as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins. Since then I’ve worked at Disney/Hyperion, and now I’m at Simon & Schuster.
One of the books I recently edited at Simon & Schuster is a finalist in the Children’s Book Council’s Children’s Choice Book Awards, the only national book awards program where the winning titles are selected by children and teens of all ages. Zombie in Love, written by the fabulous Kelly DiPucchio, is up for the win in the Kindergarten – 2nd grade Book of the Year category. Voting for the Children’s Choice Book Awards opened today, so have all the kids you know vote for their favorite books (especially if it is Zombie in Love)!
What makes an evergreen and what makes a hit?
To add to what the other editors already shared, Namrata mentions that sometimes when the terms “evergreen” or “hit” are used to discuss a book, the words are given a qualitative definition. And, even though you can’t break it down in a quantitative way, it’s interesting to think about it that way.
A book’s success is unknown until time passes and it’s revealed. It’s a nebulous topic in that way.
Discussion turns towards how much marketing is influencing acquisitions. There are strategies that the editors employ, including bringing their allies aboard before going into the acquisitions meeting.
What might be a kind of objection that you would anticipate facing?
It doesn’t really matter what the objection is, a part of Namrata’s job as the editor has a lot to do with chemistry. Something in her bones starts to vibrate and she has to have the book. It’s like falling in love.
Namarata uses her husband as an comparison: “Even though he is cute, I can’t convince Lin to feel the same about him as I do.”
“We have to go into an acquisitions with that focus, feeling the passion to that degree and convey it viscerally.”
In children’s publishing, one’s value as an editor is not based on being a hit machine.
There’s a tell that let’s Namrata know she’s found a project she should pursue: When she has finished the book and she has put it away, if her mind has not stepped away from the story and it’s characters, it’s a clear sign. A lot of it has to do with voice and that the characters feel true and a real.