Please tell us about yourself

A young student from Assam has recently been selected for the prestigious commonwealth scholarship in United Kingdom. Sneha Khaund, a 22-year-old from Jorhat district, is an english graduate from St Stephen’s College in Delhi. She was recently selected for the prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in United Kingdom for the year 2015-2016.

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She is one among 22 Indian students selected for the scholarship this year and will now be pursuing her Masters degree in Comparative Literature at London University. Expressing delight over her selection, Sneha said that she looks forward to study the subject she loves.

“I am very happy that I have been chosen for this scholarship and I feel honoured. I look upon it as an opportunity for me to study something that I love. There will be world class facilities available there so I feel very grateful and I think it is a great opportunity,” she said.

Sneha was one of the few students whose application was selected by the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry and forwarded to the commission. Sneha further said that she wants to remain in touch with social issues while pursuing an academic career.

“I hope to have an academic career and get a PhD I don’t want an academic career that is completely divorced from social issues that we face. Even while pursuing an academic career, I want to be involved in other aspects. I hope to write,” she said.

Sneha’s father, Devajeet Khaund, said that lack of awareness among people about scholarship opportunities available has left many eligible students deprived. “If my daughter can make it, then there are so many promising students who are eligible to get this type of scholarship. Because of lack of awareness, many of them are deprived,” he said.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

When I was a kid, we had a Reader’s Digest subscription and I suppose that’s how I started reading. My grandfather–kind, generous, unassuming, a clever lawyer, passionate social worker, and extremely disorganised–had magazines going back decades that were not just dog-eared, but also dotted with silverfish holes. Yellowed issues from the ’70s with the brighter ’90s on the overburdened plywood of the shelves that also held (barely) his hardbound legal books.

I’d read the month’s issue in half a day and would then scour years’ worth of magazines. I re-read my favourites under the covers first thing when I woke up or when the adults napped on Sunday afternoons. Reading was an obsession to the extent that I would read anything I laid my eyes on, from electricity bills, bulletins of social organisations my parents belonged to, comic books, Enid Blyton and ‘Harry Potter’. I read ‘Tamarind Mem’ far too early, the ‘Noddy’ books a little too late, and whatever else you can name in the middle.

So it’s not much of a surprise that I began a career directly related to books. But it’s not merely love for reading that qualifies one to work in the publishing industry. It’s a business; it’s a job that pays your bills; it’s an industry affected by trends and shaped by technological developments. All of which make it a hugely exciting field to be in. Ultimately, working in publishing means to be involved in knowledge production. It means to have a nose for detecting lines of thought that can be nurtured. It means you learn to keep an eye out for Amazon algorithms and retail promotions that ensure that your intellectual efforts reach the target customer.

Tell us about your career path

I stepped into the industry in a fairly conservative way, through an internship. I was fortunate to train at Hurst Publishers in London while waiting for my Masters results to come in from SOAS. It was through that experience that I realized how much I enjoy every aspect of publishing, and not simply the editorial part, as I’d thought. The very next day after I returned to India, I was lucky to interview for a vacancy in the marketing department at Bloomsbury.

What do you do?

Today, I look after the blogger engagement programme at Bloomsbury and work closely with bookstores across the country. I also work with subscription boxes to help them curate their monthly lists in advance. Getting everything in order for book launches is something I do as well and very much enjoy, although the challenge nowadays is to be more creative in conceptualising such events. This is a highly stimulating aspect of working with a major trade publisher. At any given point in time, one is working on books spanning several genres. The key is to strategise niche marketing while trying to guarantee standard visibility.

To give you an example, ‘The Bitter Pill Social Club’ is a new release for which we have put together a first of its kind blogger tour. The idea is to attract millennial readers who are digital natives, Instagram-savvy. For a book like ‘The Epic City’, which has been widely reviewed in literary journals across the world, we’ve collaborated with online influencers and initiatives like Books on the Delhi Metro to attract younger readers. Margaret Atwood, a legend of our times, does not need a marketing team but it has been heartening to see how through our Women’s Day collaborations with bloggers and readers showed how Atwood’s writing speaks to India.

There have been challenges and mistakes along the way too. For instance, once I convinced a customer to purchase hardbacks of a very niche Young Adult title, but mistakenly processed the order for paperbacks. Lesson learnt in taking ISBNs seriously!

What do you love about your job?

It is very gratifying to work in this space at a time when the sheer volume of publishing is in some senses overwhelming. For instance, at Bloomsbury alone we publish between 50 to 60 front list trade titles a month, let alone academic, professional books, agencies for whom we distribute, etc. Among them, we have about 3–5 Indian books each month. This number would be higher for other publishing houses since Bloomsbury is only five years old in India.

Therefore, the crucial question is how to ensure visibility. How do you increase the chances of a potential customer viewing a particular title on an e-retail website or, more pressingly perhaps, in a bookstore which is increasingly running out of space?

My favourite part about my job is to be surrounded by books all the time. There are books on my desk, on the floor, bookshelves all around, and I don’t want it any other way (even if it means me tripping every so often on my way to get coffee). Other than that, I love being involved in the production of books. I have always enjoyed reading but I find it very stimulating now to be involved with books from a business perspective. It’s highly gratifying to work in an industry that is primarily about knowledge creation. If you enjoy keeping abreast of the latest developments in ideas, debates, and publishing trends and are interested in creatively channeling them to further the conversation that’s ongoing in society, this is the industry for you.