Stuti has worked as a content writer for a travel website called globester.com for about a year before joining Rupa & Co. Her job at Rupa includes editing, content writing, proofreading and doing everything with a raw manuscript to make it readable and catchy. From dealing with talented authors to co-authoring books with editorial changes, she has seen it all at Rupa. At Sahitya Akademi, she worked on an Encyclopedia of Indian Poetics as Senior Copy Editor which involved extensive research and constant rendezvous with Sanskrit and Hindi words.
Who inspired you to become an editor? How can one become a manuscript editor in India?
Stuti: As a child, I used to be fascinated with my father’s command over the English language, given that his schooling was from a small town in Punjab, in Hindi medium. I have seen him correct text in wedding cards, formal letters, etc., not just for us, but the extended family too. I guess my interest came from there. For being an editor, there is no particular qualification needed. If you have a good command over spoken and written aspects of the language, you can start right away!
What are the qualities a good editor should possess?
Stuti: The ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and think. As an editor, we need to juggle between writing styles and reading preferences. The former from the authors; the latter from the readers. If we don’t mould ourselves into the author’s shoes, we will end up being unfair to the story, and if we cannot understand what the readers wish to read and how, then we will not be able to deliver the story in the right way.
Can you tell us how you start working on a manuscript?
Stuti: The first thing I do is reading the manuscript. The first look always gives me the idea of the narrative style, plot, language and characterization. Then, when I actually sit down to make changes, I have a clear idea of what I wish to do and the way to go about it.
What are your expectations when you work with a writer? Do share some tips on how writers and editors can have a great work experience.
Stuti: From experience, there are two categories of authors – those who are open to criticism and would collaborate with you to make the storytelling and reading experience better; and those who think they have the perfect story written perfectly, ready for the perfect readership. It is always a joy to work with the former, because I am putting my thoughts across for the betterment of the script, with respect to readers’ expectations as well as the impactful narration of the story. Authors and editors can create magic, if only they have faith in each other. That’s the magic mantra for me. Maybe that’s why most authors that I have worked with in the past are now good friends too.
Is it advisable for writers to copyright their work before sending it to an editor?
Stuti: If the editor is a part of a publishing house, then no. Because when you send in your work as a manuscript, putting it on record in an email or letter, the copyright is automatically established in your name, further etched in the book upon printing. Copyrighting your work when it is to be sent to a freelancer is also just an option. Most editors work on a strict confidentiality policy and copyright rules in India are pretty strict too.
When you worked at the Sahitya Akademi, you had to conduct lots of research for encyclopedias. How do you conduct research for a book?
Stuti: Being an editor, I did not need to find out information; I had to verify the given facts (The encyclopedia being the case in point. I had worked on an Encyclopedia of Hinduism while I was working with Rupa Publications too, so that helped). When I have a point that needs verification, it is easy to refer to the right books. Online portals and search engines can give you names of the books and references and make work quite easy. Then I referred to the physical copies as well as online journals by leading critics and scholars.
How can writers improve their manuscript before sending it out to the publishers?
Stuti: We, as publishers, only look at the potential of the story and how much faith the author has in it. Everything else – narrative, plot, language, expression – can be managed at our end. As a result, we have had books in the past that we have literally rewritten at the editorial level because we really liked the story, and they went on to do really well.
What's your favourite book on editing or writing?
Stuti: I have learnt editing from books; I learnt while I read. Certain things by observation, certain others from experience, and a few with strict thrashing too ☺ I started off with the Chicago Manual of style, making it my bedtime reading, and really liked The Artful Edit by Susan Bell. I have always believed that if writing is an art, editing is artistry, and both go hand in hand.
Often, aspiring writers on a budget self-edit before they self-publish their work. Do you think that's a wise choice? Do writers always need an editor?
Stuti: Nobody can know your story like you do, and who better to edit it! But, if you are aware that your language skills need help, and you do not have knowledge of how the industry works, then it is always wise to approach a professional. Reading pleasure has to be ensured, irrespective of the cost.
What annoys you the most when you work your way through a manuscript?
Stuti: Nothing annoys me; I just get worked up a bit when I end up making the same changes over and over. After all, it’s a part of my work and there are always good days and not so good days.
Is it advisable for writers to send their query letters and sample chapters to multiple publishers at the same time?
Stuti: It is, actually. Because every publisher has a publishing list in mind for a given year, and sometimes, despite your story being a great one, it might not be suitable to someone just then. Approaching more publishers will let you have more options to choose from later, not to mention how much time a publisher takes to respond. If you wait for response from one to approach the other, you’d end up spending a lifetime waiting.
Why is a book rejected by publishers? Are there any factors apart from poor writing style?
Stuti: Poor writing style is not a criterion we go by. As mentioned above, we look at the story and the author’s faith in it. His/ her passion to make people read it and feel the way they did. If at any point we feel that the author lacks conviction for their story and that they are getting it published for any reason other than the sheer love for it and passion to make it reach other readers, we don’t hesitate to turn it down.