An Interview with Ishani Nandi, Senior Editor with Reader’s Digest

Ishani Nandi is a senior associate editor with Reader’s Digest, India with more than a decade’s experience in writing and editing for journalistic, corporate and publishing platforms. She’s our first editor for an interview from India. Here you find Ishani in conversation with Viney Kirpal, a health and personal essay writer.

Viney: Ishani, the readers of Freedom with Writing belong to diverse locations. What could they write about in Reader’s Digest India?

Ishani: Many editors will expect writers to have some sense of the magazine they’re pitching to, the kind of voices and perspectives that reside within that brand world. Familiarity with that will let a writer know if it aligns with the story they want to share, or they can look for a story that would fit with what that magazine typically produces. Reader’s Digest for example is a general interest, family magazine that covers everything from health and wellness to inspiring and positive stories of everyday kindness and heroism. The unifying factor amidst this variety could be summarized as “things that enlighten and uplift”. Even a quick scan of an issue of RD will reveal that to anyone even if they don’t have a discerning eye. All it takes is a visit into the world.

Viney: It seems easy to tell the reader so, yet this is also the spot where writers miss finding the right home for their story.

Ishani: Broad demarcations between magazines or journals are obviously easy to identify. A lifestyle magazine and a political magazine will sound and read vastly different. The good news is that stories that have “lasting interest” (a Reader’s Digest staple)—the kind that are timeless in the feelings they evoke, the power of humanity they reveal and its universal relevance—will always be in demand. Reader’s Digest offers a conglomeration of human interest, lifestyle, advice, and a window to the world. What should people know about the world around them—their immediate world and the larger one. We look for stories that hold relevance and value to people even ten, twenty years in the past, or future.

Viney: I like that bit about the abiding quality of your stories but as the editor how do you identify this quality?

Ishani: When I go through a brief, I look for two things: a deep truth or value that the specific incident or narrative speaks to, and anything in the piece that serves to add something to a reader’s mind or spirit. Relationships, unique perspectives and points of view, stellar contributions by extraordinary individuals, glimpses into an interesting and unfamiliar space are all examples of this. Tales of kindness, heroism, a spirit of survival and resilience, people overcoming great odds are also subjects that will always be inspiring and sought after, regardless of the stage on which it is set.

Viney: Pitching is a crucial first step for contributors. What markers help you commission from the pitches you receive?

Ishani: Of the hundreds of pitches we get, only a few are seriously considered. The basic premise and angle must be present in pitches in order to be seriously considered.

For example: Pitch1: A first-person account of a dog who changed someone’s mind about adopting strays shows me a unique point of view and speaks to a larger, worthy cause behind it. That interests me. Pitch 2: I was mugged while traveling in Europe. What about it? Is it just what you went through or is it a list of tips on how others can prevent this from happening to them? If the pitch doesn’t make this clear, one is far more work than the other.

Someone from Mumbai shared a long story about a patient he treated while in training. The patient, a rickshaw driver eventually moved back to his village to a very humble life, but found a way to check up on this doctor during the COVID pandemic, worried by news about the great challenges faced by medical professionals at the time. It also included detailed information about the condition the patient suffered from, its detection, treatment etc. To me, the doctor-patient relationship angle he pitched was the selling point, not the health/medical advisory aspects. It ultimately had the basic elements I needed to decide its value to our readers. Yet, writers should never assume that editors or whoever is reading or short-listing pitches will have the time or bandwidth to make that kind of scrutiny

Viney: But here you actually dug deeper to locate the story and helped the writer publish it?

Ishani:  It’s very easy to miss and most editors will not have the time or bandwidth or the space for it but in the same example, I think it was in the very first couple of lines that the focus was kind of given very clearly that this was somebody like a patient who came in with severe pain, developed a lifelong friendship with me and to the point of even staying in touch until last year when the pandemic hit. So just that bit, the keywords that I picked up from there kind of give me a little bit of a sense that there may be more to this. So let’s go in a little bit deeper because I don’t know. Reader’s Digest receives a lot of stories like this from very ordinary individuals who have nothing to do with writing.

Sometimes a tweaked angle can result in a lovely piece of reading so it’s worth it but it’s also unfair to present a shapeless idea in a pitch expecting the editor to write your story for you. My suggestions would be: 1) offer at least the premise and the angle (what is the point of view and fresh about your story). 2) put yourself in the editor’s shoes: How does your pitch appear to you if you received it? 3) Flesh out a clear beginning, middle and end. This can reveal potential gaps. 4) Read published work in your content space for inspiration but also to avoid offering something similar to what is already out there, which saves both you and pitch recipients time and effort.

Viney: That’s well-put. I’ve personally known you to be a contributor’s editor, and it’s a rare thing given the constraints of time editors have. Is that a skill an editor should possess which is different from a contributor’s?

Ishani: I think the skills kind of overlap. An editor must know the writer’s experience, should understand and feel and be in the position of what the writer goes through while constructing the story in order to be able to work hand in hand with them.

Viney:  That’s a great answer, Ishani.

To listen to you speak from inside out in this interview has been a fascinating experience. Thank you! Ishani can be reached at editor.india@rd.comVisit the Reader’s Digest India website here.




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