An encounter with Tara Books’ founder Gita Wolf, understanding “the advantages of being a woman publisher”

Her love for making books led her to entrepreneurship. Publishing as a business occurred to her much later, when she realised that she actually had to sell these books.

Wolf left her career in academia to pursue something original rather than comment on what was going on. She along with V Geetha as editorial director went on to found Tara Books. Armed with her savings and some money from husband Helmut and brother Mohan, Wolf attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1994 with little more than two book ideas and a few finished handmade pages. A Canadian company, Annick Press snapped up the concepts, funding the next stage of growth at Tara Books. “Annick Press asked for 8,000 copies of our concept The Very Hungry Lion, which needed to be screen-printed on handmade paper,” she says.

Of course, this process has not been without its fair share of mistakes and waste of money and time, they admit. It was a complete risk since nobody had made handmade books in these numbers before. She says, “We faced production and supply issues after our paper factory in Puducherry shut. This meant finding suppliers and training them all over again.”

However, the first book went on to win a whole lot of design awards, after which the brand began producing a line of offset books as well. The imprint has published nearly 150 books since inception, with rights for over 100 titles being granted to publishers in France, Brazil, Italy, Spain, South Korea, the Netherlands and Japan, among other countries, who have reproduced the books in their respective languages.

From the beginning, this company has been a community undertaking. Wolf gives credit to the company’s deeply feminist structure for the success. When faced with a crisis, the team’s response is to rationally solve the problem and not assign blame.

Both Wolf and Geetha make a great team. “We all complement each other. Each person has brought in something to the business,” says Wolf. What also helps is that both of them are comfortably settled in their personal lives. “There is a political understanding that has made us aware and we have learned to put up with some stuff. Our angst is only about the state of the world, not about what we do,” says Geetha. For now, the duo is content creating Tara Books’ trademark variety of deeply enjoyable, carefully crafted handmade books.

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