Esha Béteille is an independent publisher based in Delhi. She owns Social Science Press which has a list that displays the work of world-class authors. Social Science Press publishes books in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, with a strong concentration in History, Politics, Sociology, and Anthropology.
In a conversation with Kabuliwaala Kamal Pruthi, Esha shares her untold story of getting into publishing industry, her experiences of being unaccepted at her workplace, the discrimination she faced being a woman, her vision for Social Science Press, and the importance of events like Publishing Next for the entire publishing industry.
Share your own untold story and journey into the publishing industry.
One day at the age of 23 I suddenly lost mobility through a road accident. I was not the same person when I came out of bed after 1 year. But life had to go on and I married (yes, my teacher, Andre Beteille, who introduced me to Sociology, which led to a life-long passion for the subject). I had two children — this was so wonderful, because the accident had dashed those hopes. But I suffered within, because I felt my options had suddenly shrunk — writing a stray article here and there could not be my life. Then one day I took our youngest daughter to play with Naina, Ravi Dayal’s daughter and Ravi offered me a job at Oxford University Press (OUP). I felt completely inadequate, and pleaded, but Ravi was firm. Ravi changed my life!
What have been the highlight and most challenging aspects of your career?
I was not accepted professionally at OUP at first. I was treated differently from others because I came late into the profession, I was in my late thirties, was a wife and mother of two children. Being a woman professional was much harder those days. Back in the early nineties, gender discrimination in places of work was painfully open. It wasn’t easy when people saw me as André Béteille’s wife versus an independent professional! And it wasn’t easy being a family friend of the General Manager! I felt friendless!
The highlight was when I was accepted and taken seriously—as an editor. And I owe this to my authors and my colleagues at OUP, who gave me so much credit for my work!
A piece of advice to authors looking forward to representation from Social Science Press?
We are not difficult people and welcome new scholarship but have to follow the broad pattern of our list, and have enormous financial constraints which make us publish very selectively.
What will be the two genres of focus and interest for Social Science Press in the coming year?
The Social Sciences will remain our focus but we are trying to mix it with culture. I don’t mean culture studies, which is very much at the core of the list, but trying to bring in poetry art and music into serious writing. I don’t know how this will go but it is an enjoyable experience.
If you were not a publisher, what would you be? Why?
That question takes me back to when I was not quite twenty-three. If I was not involved in the road accident, then I would have been a dancer. My mind and body responds to dance and music. Though I am untaught and unschooled—totally! It is somehow there in the air in a middleclass Bengali home!
What message would you like to convey through your talks at Publishing Next 2016?
I don’t have any messages except that publishing is an exciting experience. When I am depressed I come back to my work. I have found that walls have a way of opening up to new possibilities. And the publishing world is full of wonderful human beings.
You are conducting a masterclass on editing during Publishing Next 2016. What are the 3 most important tips you would like to give to the editors who would not be able to attend your masterclass?
You are in a very exciting profession, don’t let anything come into the way of doing what you wish to do. It might sound clichéd but publishing instincts have a logic and a life of its own!
If you are an independent publisher you have the good fortune of having colleagues who quietly come in when you need them most. This is a different world from the large corporate publishing world where they have to, because of their structure, play along differently.
When faced with a difficult publishing decision, be firm but compassionate. Take some steps back and be ruthlessly objective about your personal compulsions.
What is your opinion about events like Publishing Next? What role are they playing?
What can I say? How could we have come together like this, quite like this, and get to know each other if it was not for Publishing Next? By this I mean Publishing Next is qualitatively different from other conferences which are also helpful—because, we have an insider here.
I love to read all the posts sent to us! How very helpful! Obviously very creative and unusual people are behind Publishing Next!
Let me take this opportunity in saying that Social Science Press is very fortunate indeed in its friends and well-wishers—like Publishing Next. I want you to know that I am taking back a wealth of experience which will open up new areas for SSP. Do please believe me when I say that I did not do anything to deserve such good friends. What can we do to help?
Publishing Next is an annual gathering of publishers, authors, editors, translators, librarians, book retailers, printers, technologists, service providers and policymakers from all over India and abroad. The event is organized by Goa-based CinnamonTeal Publishing, since 2011.
Dates: 15th 16th 17th September 2016
Venue: Kochi, Kerala