Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview with Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial at Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

I am honored and delighted to have Jeevan Sivasubramaniam as my guest on the blog today! I first "met" him on Twitter (follow him @EditorialHell) after becoming a fan of the informative and hilarious monthly newsletters he sends out for Berrett-Koehler Publishers. (Check out their website and subscribe to their newsletter here.) Berrett-Koehler is a publisher of nonfiction books and is a company dedicated to "creating a world that works for all." They are celebrating their 20th anniversary and also have a feature article in the latest issue of Publisher's Weekly:

Read on for an editor's insights on the writing and publishing process!

What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

Well, I'm the Managing Director for the Editorial Department here at Berrett-Koehler Publishers. I do work on acquiring a project or two here and there but by and large I am the chief administrator for the Editorial Department and handle a lot of the inter-departmental stuff. People never think of editorial departments as having administrators, but they actually need it more than anyone else because a company lives or dies by the acquisitions and decisions the editorial department makes. I am responsible for tracking all projects, drafting contracts, administrating editorial reviews, overseeing signings by the editors (and meeting various signings goals), handling author relationships, inter-departmental communications, legal and copyright concerns, communications with various Library of Congress offices, and a few other boring things. I am also given some leeway to do the initial legwork on acquiring some promising projects and authors and I usually pull in about two or three a year. Because I don't have a quota of signings like the other editors, I can be very selective and hold out for the most promising authors -- a luxury few editors can afford.

How did you get interested in editing and publishing?

I was originally interested in intellectual property and legal documentation but slowly gained an interest in copyright and publishing legal issues during my time with a legal services company after graduation from college. In grad school I worked with a professor as a graduate research assistant and her big task for me was to find a publisher for an anthology of plays by women from around the world. I had to educate myself as I went along and it was quite exciting. It was also downright frustrating as I saw how publishers can treat authors. Almost all authors you meet have an adversarial relationship with their publisher -- as if they consider each other as necessary evils. I felt publishers could do better, and also wanted to be a part of a better publishing model.

What grabs you as a reader?

A compellingly different way of looking at things. I say "compellingly" because just seeing something in a different way is not enough. As human beings, we are programmed to see things differently whether we like it or not -- that in itself is nothing too exciting. But some people see things that almost contradict what everyone else sees. To give an example, there are so many books on how to act on the here and now -- how the past is not relevant, only the present moment and what you choose to do with it. Then I met an author who actually felt that was simplistic and wrong. He felt that the past was the most valuable tool we had to shape our futures -- that the lessons from our regrets and things we would rather not think about are most important to this exercise. I liked that he was not afraid of going up against an entire movement (you know which authors I'm talking about and you know how big they are) and challenging how they advised people to do things. A colleague once told me that I'm always looking for a good fight when it comes to the books that I like. I think his assertion was spot-on. I like books that create trouble and make people question what they thought they knew.

Check back tomorrow for PART TWO of my interview with Jeevan!

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