How a Patna Girl Became One of India’s Most Powerful Women in Publishing

Milee Ashwarya, Penguin Random House

Milee Ashwarya was born in Patna. She spent her formative years there and had a really happy childhood.

“I have great memories of growing up in a house full of cousins, grandparents, food, dogs, and laughter. Those were carefree days with practically no gadgets and a lot of outdoor fun and games. I was very close to my grandparents and miss them very much even now.”, she says.

Ended up in publishing by accident

After finishing school, Milee moved to Delhi. She studied English literature at Hindu College, Delhi University and did her masters. She was then pondering about what to do next.

“I was confused about what to do after my Masters and a friend recommended that I try publishing.”, she says.

She began her publishing career at Rupa & Co and then went on to join Random House India as a Commissioning Editor in 2008. The first book she edited was actually a fun quiz book. While at Random House, she commissioned, acquired and published bestselling books including From XL to XS, Jugaad Innovation, Dhandha, the IIMA Business series and the MINT Business series. She has been responsible for shaping Random House India’s list of popular fiction and non-fiction in all areas of lifestyle as well as business publishing.

In 2014, Penguin and Random House merged and the merged entity became Penguin Random House India. Milee was appointed as a director of publishing. She continued to work passionately and published a series of bestsellers and rose to the position of Editor-in-Chief for Commercial and Business books at Penguin Random House India.

Focussing on discovering the best Indian talent and promoting debut writers, she published a range of bestsellers across different segments. Her authors include Amjad Ali Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Payal Gidwani Tiwari, L K Advani, Piyush Pandey, Hussain S. Zaidi, Karan Johar, Ravi Subramaniam, Twinkle Khanna, Navi Radjou, Shilpa Shetty, Suhel Seth, Emraan Hashmi, Sonali Bendre and Radhakrishnan Pillai to name a few.

A day in the life of an Editor in Chief

Milee says, “A regular day for me includes desk work, interactions with my team, meeting authors, agents, and sometimes attending events. My days are normally packed and you have to be self motivated to survive in this industry. It is a dynamic business and you need to constantly reinvent yourself while staying true to the basics.”

When asked about the most challenging part of her job, she says,

“Convincing authors to sign up without a huge advance! I really hope that the readership grows substantially and we are able to pay writers more in terms of advances and royalties.”

What to publish?

Giving a peek of what goes on behind the scenes, she says, “We have a core team that debates on book proposals and decides what to publish. It is an in depth and intense process as we are very particular about our publishing list. For non fiction it is more straightforward. If the subject is fresh, relevant and the author the best person to write the book on that subject, it is an easy call. For fiction, you need to go by your  gut. The things to consider are the plot, characterization, style of writing, and whether it makes you turn the pages or not.”

On the current publishing scene in India

“I feel we are going through an interesting phase, a churn in publishing. The industry is growing and the dynamics are changing fast. Publishers and authors need to be foresighted, intuitive and experimental. I am confident that the future of publishing especially in India is bright, and we will see new literary talents coming to the fore.”, she says.

Working with Bollywood celebrity authors

Milee has worked with Karan Johar, Twinkle Khanna, Shilpa Shetty, Emraan Hashmi, Sonali Bendre, etc. Sharing her experience of working with them, she says, “It’s been a revelation to see how hard work and discipline are important for success in any industry. All celebrity authors I have worked with are extremely professional and involved in their books.”

Favorite  Books

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The PG Wodehouse series

Favorite Quote: “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  – Roald Dahl

Milee’s advice to aspiring writers is: Be original and work hard to improve your craft.

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