Monday, October 24, 2011

The Myth of a Chequered Career

Very often in publishing, when you apply for a job, and manage to get to the interview stage, your interviewer might ask you the question, Why do I see a chequered career on your CV? What he or she usually means is why your CV shows you have changed five jobs in five years, and why those jobs reflect academic, textbook, trade, coffee table, graphic novel publishing, and something else. Why couldn’t you stick to one job for five years? And, if you did have to change, why didn’t you stick to the same kind of books in another company?

Nothing wrong in sticking to the same job in the same company for years, or even switching to a similar job in another company. You hone your skills; you specialise in a certain kind of publishing. At the same time, there is nothing wrong in being the Jack of all trades either if you can manage to be the master of at least one.

There is another significant fact that your interviewer may have chosen to ignore – that the Indian publishing industry is really small and openings are few. For someone who needs a job quickly, it’s not always possible to wait until the right kind of opportunity turns up. So one opts for whatever is available. And, when someone begins his/her career with the wrong genre, it becomes even more significant. Sticking to a job that isn’t right for you can, and usually does, have its own consequences in the long run. Until you’ve tried a couple of areas, you may not be able to figure out where you fit in best or what really interests you the most. Once you’ve identified your niche, it makes sense to stick to it.

It is also important that while you’re hunting for your niche, you should be able to extract the maximum you can from whatever job you are in – whether it is knowledge, experience, or expertise. For instance, if I had never done academic publishing, I would never have learnt the significance of style and consistency. If I hadn’t done trade, I wouldn’t have understood the importance of flexibility. Exposure to different forms and genres of publishing helps in broadening your perspective and prevents stilted thinking. So it isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you’re sure it’s publishing where you belong.

A lot of people tend to confuse publishing with journalism. That is tricky business since publishing and journalism are two different vocations, with little in common. If you tell a layman you’re an editor, the first question usually happens to be, ‘Which newspaper?’ Often you have journalists applying for certain editorial positions in publishing, not realising that their requirements are very different. A journalist who does have those required skills may be able to make a smooth transition, but it doesn’t always happen like that. A lot of them find themselves disillusioned and prefer to return to the territory they are familiar with after a while.

Publishing is said to be a harsh industry. Tolerance levels are low; jobs are demanding and stressful; everything is subjective. And – you’re on your own. Swim if you can, or it’s Happy Sinking!  Yet, that’s precisely why it is so important to keep going. Never mind false starts; never mind your mistakes. In any case since you live only once, whatever you have to try you have to try right now. And, if you’re the kind of person who learns his lessons quickly and well, there is no reason why you should not be able to make a chequered career work in your favour.


  1. Thanks for this write. Very useful indeed.

  2. Divya Ma'am! It's simply awesome! Thanks to you I learned a new jargon - Chequered Career and its significant meaning. By giving pros and cons of both specializing and experimenting, you have cleared a lot of myths surrounding the publishing system. Thank you for such a well-informed article.

  3. Divya, you are bang on! Publishing is mostly DIY. I have seen people who are otherwise good at language fret, fume, and struggle despairingly as soon as they don the hat of a book editor. What they had supposedly thought would be fun reading might as well turn out to be a train wreck in the form of a manuscript. Imagine putting it to order, and that too while the wall clock throws threatening looks at you, as if the usual pressures of the job weren't enough. This is not to say that journalists can't be book editors, or vice versa, but that the transition isn't always a cakewalk, as you've rightly said. Then there's the issue of constantly updating and upgrading oneself in a world obsessed with speed and information. Publishing professionals are expected to allow at least some of this obsession trickle into their minds.

  4. Thanks Julia, Jolly, Sarabjeet.
    @ Sarabjeet: Yes, many people have that misconception. As you know, the requirements of each are very different. I was trying to explain it to someone recently. Each has a different purpose to serve and a different target audience. Editing is not simply about fixing commas and full stops, or reducing a sentence structure to its barest form (as in news). In publishing, it's a lot more of substantive editing as well. It's tedious and technical and slow moving. A news desk is never like that. Yes, some editors do manage it, and even enjoy it, but then those are the ones who already have the required set of skills.