Saugata Mukherjee was in his final year of college when he was offered a job as copy editor with HarperCollins. Eight years later, he finds himself in the enviable position of being the youngest senior commissioning editor at the publishing major.
Mukherjee was among the 18 young publishers chosen for the prestigious publishing fellowship by the Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest in the world) last year. Here too, there was no one younger than him.
Initially unsure of making a career of publishing, Mukherjee’s doubts didn’t last long. “I was completing my graduate studies when I was asked by a friend to take a test at HarperCollins. I didn’t think of taking up publishing as a career then. But the more I saw of the industry, the more I started enjoying it.” An English Literature student from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mukherjee did not formally train in publishing.
Having joined as a copy editor (as an intern first) at 23, Mukherjee went on to become a commissioning editor before he assumed his current position. He also worked as an associate for a literary agent in the UK for a while.
A typical day in office for Mukherjee involves editing, meeting authors, coordinating with the production and the design department. And, of course, there are editorial meetings, where ideas for books and new projects are discussed.
“I work for a trade publisher so I need to be absolutely sure of books I pick, unlike in academic publishing where one publishes according to curricula or research needs. Hence one always needs to negotiate between commercial viability and literary/social relevance. Maintaining the poise is not only a challenging but an uphill task!” says Mukherjee.
As senior commissioning editor, he is mainly responsible for the fiction list at HarperCollins, while he also acquires and commissions narrative non-fiction titles.
“One needs to follow publishing trends around the world. And one needs to have a vision about the list one wants to create for his/her publishing house,” says Mukherjee. His commitment to publishing derives from more than just his love of books.
“Publishing is an exciting industry to work in. Unlike the print or television media, one does not need to fight daily/hourly deadlines. Your product has a lasting value. As a discerning editor one can contribute by publishing books that leave a lasting impression,” he says.