From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Shilpa Shetty, Yuvraj Singh to Karan Johar, our next icon in the ‘Leaders of India’ series has brought all these achievers to the table to pour out their hidden stories or talents. Young and dynamic, MILEE ASHWARYA, Publisher, Ebury Publishing and Vintage Publishing at Penguin Random House India, tells EKATMATA SHARMA how she manages to publish bestsellers and what inspired her to flip one page to the other
Inside the towering corporate building of Penguin Random House India in Gurugram, when we were escorted to Milee Ashwarya’s glass cabinet, we could hear laughter bells ringing. Milee with a charming smile on her face was warming up with the production crew as they prepared for the photo-shoot. Milee, the Publisher, Ebury Publishing and Vintage Publishing at Penguin Random House India, turned out to be a charming girl who was brimming with candid stories, ideas and banters. Her top-notch position didn’t overpower her true affable personality. “I deal with egos all the time. Some writers can be difficult, as most creative people are. But, I have benefitted from it, as I have learned patience and tactfulness,” said Milee, sitting on a luxe leather chair as sunlight rested on her jovial face.
She never imagined her love for books will one day make her the last word on books. She said, “I love books. But, I wasn’t sure that I could build a whole career around it.” Reminiscing her childhood days, she said, “My grandmother was an avid reader of Hindi novels. My family enjoyed reading. I enjoyed reading The Famous Five, Enid Blyton and Jeffery Archer while growing up. I still read Calvin Hobbes comic books and The PG Wodehouse series as their stories take me to an idyllic setting, which I find entertaining as well as relaxing. I believe you just have to find the right book in your early days of growing up that keeps you hooked on to reading. It is the right book that you find at the right time or the right book that finds you that the right time.”
Books found trust in her and never left her. After completing her schooling in Patna, she moved to Delhi for higher studies. She studied English literature at Hindu College, Delhi University and completed her Masters from Delhi University. She never planned to be an editor, publishing happened to her by accident. “I dint know what do next, I was confused to take up advertising or mass communication. When one of my friends asked me to join a publishing house, I decided to give it a shot. In 2006, I got my first job at Rupa publications as an assistant editor. In two years, I got promoted as an editor. In 2008, I joined Random House India as Commissioning Editor. I commissioned, acquired and published bestselling books including From XL to XS, Jugaad Innovation, Dhandha, the IIMA Business series and the MINT Business series. In 2013, Penguin and Random House merged and the entity became Penguin Random House India. I was appointed as Editorial Director and then rose to the position of Editor-in-Chief. I am now the Publisher for Ebury Publishing and Vintage Publishing ,” she elucidated. “It has been a beautiful journey. I feel blessed for the opportunities that came my way. I am really lucky to have mentors like Rajan Mehra and Chiki Sarkar. I couldn’t have asked for more. I grew within the organisation in a small period of time. I never planned my career, just went with the flow,” shared Milee, who has been responsible for shaping Random House India’s list of popular fiction and non-fiction, business publishing as well as a specially curated list of literary books that will be published under Vintage.
In more than a decade long career in publishing, she is known for setting new trends and exploring new genres. Her focus has been on promoting the best voices while publishing a range of bestsellers across segments. Her authors include Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Piyush Pandey, S. Hussain Zaidi, Yuvraj Singh, R. Gopalakrishnan, Karan Johar, Ravi Subramaniam, Twinkle Khanna, Navi Radjou, Shilpa Shetty, Amjad Ali Khan, Shradha Sharma, Emraan Hashmi, L K Advani, Sonali Bendre, Radhakrishnan Pillai and Payal Gidwani Tiwari amongst others. She has skillfully transformed ideas and stories into best-selling books. Her convivial personality reflects in the joy she receives in meeting people. “I think the best part about my job is meeting extraordinary people from all walks of life. Whether they are from Bollywood, politics, art, culture or literature, I feel my authors truly deserve their success as they have worked extremely hard for it. Be it Anand Neelakantan, Sonali Bendre, Hindol Sengupta or Ustad Amjad Ali khan, they all have been very involved with their books and have worked closely with us during the editorial process,” said Milee.
Moments spent with visionaries have helped Milee grow. She vivaciously shared her conversation with legend Ustad Amjad Ali Khan while authoring his book Masters on Masters, “Ustad ji is an epitome of gentleness and humility. I remember his musings about life. He said, ‘Medical science has advanced so much there is cure for everything. But, one thing that is incurable is arrogance.’ For a man like him, saying this was very deep and it really struck a chord with me. No matter who you are or what you become one should never forget the basics of good manners and humility. It will always help you win the hearts of people.”
We prodded her on Twinkle Khanna, a surprise sensation in the world of books. “Twinkle is exactly how you would picture her through her writings. She is original, intelligent and always ready with her one-liners. At the same time she is warm. Whenever I go to her house, she feeds me with love. She is a true Punjabi host. She really takes her career in writing very seriously. We published her debut book Mrs Funnybones which has been a huge success. She has taken to writing like fish to water,” said Milee.
Talking about popular film-maker and reality show judge Karan Johar, she said, “He is very sharp, sensitive, articulate and kind, and really knows how to mentor budding talent. In his book An Unsuitable Boy, he has been very honest.”
Besides popular celebrities, Milee has successfully published books with both new and existing authors. All these years she has inculcated certain qualities that make her a leader in the industry. She said, “Publishing is a risky business; there are times we have to trust our instinct, especially when it comes to fiction. Being open to new ideas is the key. We keep on learning till our last breath.” With the rise of digital books and online retailing, the publishing business is renewing itself with the latest online trends. And Milee is optimistic about the advent of digital. “I don’t think reading books is going anywhere. People still like to read, buy and gift books. We have been publishing e-books since several years now and that is additional sales for us. Another opportunity lies in using our existing content for new digital opportunities like web-series, TV series and films. This is a growing trend and a lot of our books are getting picked up for various platforms,” she said.
She loves her job and with every new book, she invigorates herself for the next one. “Once an editor, always an editor. The most satisfying feeling is still the same, holding a new book in my hand when it comes fresh from the press. The whole creative process of developing an idea and turning it into a book that will possibly also go into the hands of readers across the world, entertain them and inspire them is unbeatable,” signed off Milee with a smile.
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