Why did you start Yoda Press ten years ago? What gap were you looking to fill?

At that point ,publishing in India seemed very clearly divided into mass market and fiction-oriented trade lists and academic publishing. There seemed far less space for crossover titles, specially non-fiction ones which combined academic nuance with good, engaging writing. That was one gap we wanted to fill with Yoda Press.

Also, we wanted to go after lists like sexuality which I found even academic publishers avoiding except a one-off title. These were lists where there was now an exciting potential author base (which always implies a new market) but no one seemed to be exploring them.

Why did you name it Yoda?

I am a Star Wars junkie, and I always loved Yoda for being wise yet childlike.

What was your first learning? How have you applied it since then?

That returns in niche publishing are few and far between, and we have to think of a business model which actively supports a niche list till it earns a reputation and can call more shots. We started applying it from Day One by providing outsourced publishing services in a systematic and professional manner to organisations like UNICEF, OxFam, DFID, CAF, UNDP, ADB and so on.

What was your first mistake? What came of it?

To not have an accountant from Day One. I found myself in something of a financial mess in 2009, which took some time to go away.

Tell us some of Yoda's happiest moments.

They are mostly to do with our LGBTQ list. I will never forget launching our book Our Lives, Our Words: Telling Aravani Life Stories in Hindi and English editions over an evening when many members of the Hijra community came together in a decrepit community centre in South Delhi to celebrate the book with song and dance and the most incisive conversation I have ever been witness to around a book. My daughter, then six years old, was with me at the launch and she enjoyed the music and dance so very much.

Another time was of course when Section 377 was read down in 2009. It was unbelievable, the feeling of sheer triumph. It coincided with our publication Law like Love. So many of our authors and contributors to the LGBTQ list were closely associated with the court proceedings.

And of course, recently when the Supreme Court passed its landmark judgement recognising the transgender community, a number of Yoda Press titles were cited in the detailed judgement. We got many congratulatory messages. It was a proud moment.

How many books have you published? How many did you want to publish? 

Sixty. We are about to launch our 61st. I always thought I should fold when I have 100 out.

What have the biggest challenges been?

Distribution: that's been the biggest challenge without doubt, as any small, indie publisher will tell you. We have always fought hard to combat the dismal state of affairs when it comes to book distribution in India, but now things seem to be changing. As I always say, online selling and eBooks are fantastic for small publishers like us, and so is print-on-demand or POD, particularly a wonderful POD-based distribution channel like Ingram's Lightning Source. New technology is daunting, and yet it seems to be levelling the playing field for now.

Tell us about your business model. How do you make money?

Outsourcing our publishing services has always kept us going. Though I always make sure that the revenue from the books pays for more books. It's never been easy though.

Over the years I have learnt not to spend needlessly. A small, niche press need not have a separate office space, for instance. Frankly, with the level of connectivity we have today, you can run a start-up straight off a laptop.

I have also always believed in having a very strong support pool of designers, printers, typesetters: people I cannot employ, but who are critical to our success, and hence long-term relationships matter.

Finally, it's impossible for a small press to have its own sales team. So we really shopped around before we decided on a distributor, and then we supported our distributor with a tremendous amount of promotion and marketing ourselves. In the early days it was tough but for the last five years, social media has changed the game entirely as far as promotion and marketing is concerned, and we have trained ourselves to be strong at that.

The idea has always been to find ways to support Yoda Press’s core work, which is bringing out very valuable books, creating a list with a distinct identity. That's a tough job when the list is indie and niche.

Our bookshop Yodakin was also imagined as support, and it gave Yoda Press breathing space, increasing sales and offering a new kind of visibility that we could not even have imagined before. The year we closed Yodakin, I thought up AuthorsUpFront, a self-publishing platform which my colleague Manish Purohit and I launched early in 2014. It's been six months but I can safely say AuF has had a fair share of success already.

Who are the people who have been with you for the ride?

A number of people. Oroon Das, who designed the Yoda Press logo and many of our covers over the last 10 years. Supriya Nayak, who joined us when we were a year old and worked with us for the next five years. Jojy Philip, who has been our principal typesetter from the beginning. Fahim Ikram, our printer from the first year on (although for a number of years in the interim we also had a fabulous working relationship with Sunita Paul, the only woman printer I ever knew and worked with, till her printing press folded a few years ago). And, of course, Nishtha Vadehra, who has been my comrade-in-arms and co-editor at Yoda Press for a little more than four years now.
Give us a preview of the next 10 years. 

I suspect we shall chug along in much the same way as we have done in the last ten years in terms of the number of books we bring out. Each of them will be a labour of love like before.

However, there will be some changes, of course. We will be doing many more eBooks, even eBook-only titles. To fundraise for expensive titles, we won't just be looking at grants and subsidies, but also crowdfunding in a fairly regular manner.

And, hopefully, with our new tie-up with Ingram's Lightning Source provision, our books will reach all our potential readers across the world more quickly and efficiently than they have ever done before.