Arpita Das in New Delhi: Mentoring Matters

In News, Opinion & Commentary by Porter Anderson

‘Mentoring is a principal driver of excellence in creative industries,’ Arpita Das writes, and ‘should never come to an end’ in your career.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Yulia Arsenova

By Arpita Das | @arpitayodapress

‘There’s Not Enough Mentoring in Publishing in India’
My second full-time publishing job was sandwiched between an indifferent experience and a toxic one in terms of my engagement with a manager.

The second job, however, was altogether different; it was one of genuine and generous mentoring, and I am probably the publishing professional I am today because of it.

Arpita Das

A year after joining Sage India as an editor, my boss, the publishing manager, asked me to join the acquisitions team she led. Had she not “sensed” my commissioning acumen, I often wonder if I’d have thought of venturing into that part of the publishing office at all. At that time, as a young editor in a lovely, companionable editorial room, I was happy enough fine-tuning and cleaning up author manuscripts, hunkered over my desk late into the evening, a lit cigarette by my side (this was more than two decades ago, folks).

I even wonder sometimes if I would have gone on to start my own independent publishing house, had I not been mentored with such acuity and foresight.

It’s also this thought that often causes me concern when I think of our industry today, because in a time of immense change, one might even say chaotic change, there’s just not enough mentoring happening in publishing in India. Undoubtedly, genuine, thoughtful, and creative mentoring is one of the principal drivers of excellence in the creative industries, and to my mind the same rules apply to publishing. Mentoring practices in our industry, however, are few and far between—more like intentional individual efforts rather than a recognized best practice made part of the system, as it should be.

Myths and Realities About Mentoring

Based on my own experience of being mentored and in turn mentoring others, here are some myths about the phenomenon that need to be dismantled if we want to make this a regular part of the professional ecosystem.

  • Mentoring is about encouraging or advising people who belong to your region/caste/community/gender: Au contraire, the more diverse the mentoring interaction is, the better it is for the mentee. It’s true that in South Asia countries, senior people from communities not well represented in the industry—caste- or class- or region- or gender-based—enable younger people like themselves to find a way in. But we also need to mentor outside the lines set by these categories, and make an authentic attempt to mentor the “other.”
  • Mentoring should happen at the convenience and comfort of the mentor: not at all. As a matter of fact, mentoring must occur in spaces that feel safe both to the mentor and mentee. It’s not about a power-play, so step out of your cabin and/or cubicle in which you feel like the boss and attempt it in the park near the office or on the metro going home. Or in a space in which the mentee suggests that she or he feels comfortable. Or even online. All of this works wonderfully.
  • Mentoring only works between two people: absolutely not. Mentoring in small groups works like a charm. It might, in fact, be a much more dynamic , engaged, less awkward or stilted experience for all concerned, while also keeping alive a healthy dose of competition and a heavy dollop of community.
  • Mentoring is a one-way street: While serving on the board of PublisHer between 2020 and 2023, I learned the concept of reverse mentoring. Or rather I learned what it was called, because having worked with sparkling young interns in my office for more than a decade by then, the concept itself was already invaluable to me. Even as I’ve mentored the young people who have passed through or continued to work at my office, I have, in turn, learned so much from them. Two matters I would mention in particular: technology (I still remember when I was taught to make my slides on Canva and it changed my life); and the importance not just of diversity, but also of inclusion in the industry. I feel indebted to them for these epiphanic moments I’ve experienced late in my publishing life.
  • Senior mentors and younger people get mentored: Frankly, mentoring and being mentored should never come to an end in your working career. Remember Robert De Niro in The Intern. Even after more than two decades in the industry, I’m still mentored by a lovely New York-based senior I’ve known since 2006. This is also important because no one is born mentoring; you learn to mentor as you grow in life and work. And your mentoring practice evolves alongside.

I meet many young publishing professionals in our industry on a regular basis, and over the years, I ‘ve noticed that many have moved away from the industry precisely because they felt they received no mentoring.

They’re hungry for opportunities in which they can learn and be inspired. And they have a lot to say as well, and for us to learn from.

I also see mentoring as being particularly important for young women, for young people without the social capital that many of us take for granted, and for those belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, for them to grow and thrive in our industry in India. Frankly, on all fronts, I see the incorporation of mentoring’s best practices as a win-win since it can only make the industry richer.

Join us for Arpita Das’ bi-monthly columns. More coverage of her work from Publishing Perspectives is here. Arpita Das’ opinions are her own, of course, and not necessarily reflective of those of Publishing Perspectives.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.