Several years ago, Vaishali Mathur used to edit a magazine supplement at the Indian Express called Citizen. “My beat was arts and culture. With young kids, I was finding it difficult to be the music-theatre-film critic that I was. So, I started looking for a career that would use my skills and allow me better work hours.” She quit journalism and after a few short stints with various publishing houses joined Penguin India, where she is one of the top editors today, publishing authors like Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Datta, and Sadhguru.
Lure of publishing
Mathur is one of many journalists who made a switch to publishing early on in their careers. While most couldn’t manage the pressures and hectic work hours of a daily newspaper or magazine, others joined publishing simply for the love of books. Harper Collins’ Siddhesh Inamdar always wanted to be in publishing but as he was based in Mumbai, there were hardly any job opportunities available. After a stint at The Hindu, he moved to Delhi and joined Harper Collins India. A commissioning editor told me that he joined publishing because he wanted to work with books. “Most reporting-related jobs are not as much about reading or writing as they are about having the right, trusted sources in the right places so that you’re the first to break a news story,” he said.
Skills in demand
The fundamental skill sets are common to both journalism and publishing. According to Devlin Roy, Principal of the Times School of Journalism, ‘Certain things about publishing remain common to journalists ie. grasp of the English language, ability to tell a story, write and edit purposely.” Mathur agrees. “Journalists are good at editing their own stories. This helps them structure books also. The publishing profession uses all the skills of a journalist.”
However, as Roy warns, journalist-turned-editors do need to make adjustments. “Publishing is a slow paced industry. It’s not like a newspaper where a journalist gets a kick out of seeing his story get published the same day of filing it or the next. An editor is expected to complement what is already available.” In fact, Inamdar sees publishing as ‘long form journalism’. “I used to be writing about politics and current affairs and now I am commissioning books on the same subjects,” he says. “It offers a more relaxed, intellectually stimulating atmosphere and is best suited for those who are good at editing and don’t enjoy the adrenaline-charged atmosphere of the news-room,” says Roy.
Journalists as commissioning editors
Journalists particularly make good non-fiction commissioning editors because of their large network of contacts and their ability to sift out good stories. Therefore, one often finds a business journalist joining a publishing house as a business books editor, a lifestyle journalist as a lifestyle books editor and so on. They go on to sign up ex-colleagues or writers they were in touch with during their journalism years. In India and overseas, the majority of non-fiction books are authored by journalists, and here the background of such editors comes in handy.
Although journalism courses in India do not teach publishing, they do have modules on editing and design and layout that are very useful for aspiring publishing professionals. “Courses in long-form editing which are useful for magazines can also be useful for publishing,” says Inamdar, a graduate from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.
Courses in publishing
Some journalism school graduates do a short publishing course before applying for publishing jobs. Times School of Journalism offers a specialization in PR and Corporate Communications through their tie-up with PRCAI (Public Relations Consultants Association of India). This can help graduates apply for non-editorial positions like PR and marketing. Besides, there is not much difference in the salaries of an entry level journalist and a publishing professional, although the former usually reaches a higher salary scale faster, mostly by changing jobs.
What matters most? Experience or qualification
“I don’t know if a journalism degree is of particular use in publishing but experience in journalism is,” considers Ajitha GS, a senior editor at HarperCollins India. “If a journalism graduate and someone with an MA in English were to apply, perhaps the latter would get preference. There are things about books and the world of publishing that take years to understand at an instinctual level, and so publishing really is the best experience for publishing.” With the massive churn and downsizing in the media, one would expect even more journalists to move to publishing. Devlin Roy, however, has a slightly different take on it: “The demand remains the same,” he argues. “Only the presentation, platform and format have changed.”
*The author is a top literary agent.
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