The middlemen are changing India’s publishing scene

Kanishka Gupta

By Somrita Ghosh

New Delhi–India’s publishing industry is as ruthless as it is dotted with glitz. With debutant authors often taking years to find a publisher, the journey of the manuscript to a full-fledged book is not a cakewalk. Changing this trend is the rise of literary agents in India.

Commonly known as “middlemen” in the publishing industry, the literary agents offer their expertise to authors to reduce their struggle in getting books published. Take 34-year-old Kanishka Gupta, one of the youngest literary agents in the South Asian belt whose big break came in 2013 with Anees Salim’s book “Vanity Bag”.

Gupta’s firm, Writer’s Side, was set up in 2010 and he claimed that his agency has sold more than 500 books to publishers in the last six years.

Kanishka Gupta

“In the year 2015, we sold 100 books to the publishers, among which 25 were to HarperCollins. We stress on strong prose and exceptional storytelling skills in fiction, and socially relevant or controversial themes in non-fiction,” Gupta told IANS.

According to him, the publishing industry is not a field which can sustain on funding or investment. “It breathes on goodwill; and agenting in the literary world can survive only on goodwill exercise; it is a relationship-driven world.”

Like Writer’s Side, another agency — Siyahi — too has been acting as a guide to many authors since 2007. Not just Indian authors, but Siyahi has been bringing good writings from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the US and Britain to Indian readers.

“An agent acts as a catalyst in all senses, helping with the creative process of writing, liaisoning with publishers, making sure the book gets promoted well for an author,” Siyahi founder Mita Kapur told IANS.

Unitl a few years ago, authors did not know much about literary agents. But Gupta says that the change has begun and authors, mostly debutants, are approaching agents because they assure that a manuscript is turned into a book.

Gupta further said that often a debutant author remains clueless about how to submit a manuscript, which publisher to approach and what the market prospects of the book are.

India’s publishing industry is unstable as the top honchos keep shuffling very frequently and often good scripts do not get published, the agents said.

“Unless one has direct connection with the editors, a writer can end up getting quite a low amount for the book. And here lies the importance of our job. If an author is supposed to make one lakh, we make sure that he gets at least five lakhs for the book,” Gupta added.

And not just the authors, publishing houses too are opening their doors to literary agents.

According to Kapur, a manuscript from agents is an assurance of “quality writing” and also maintaining a smooth relationship between an author and the publisher.

“Publishers are preferring to work through the literary agents because they are very good mediators. From making a copy publishable to its book cover designs — it is on the shoulders of the literary agent,” Gupta further added.

Success does not always knock on their doors and, according to Gupta, no agent — even the top ones — has a 100 per cent success rate.

“Often it is because of differences in opinion. At times, publishers don’t like the book or feel it doesn’t fit their publishing profile. Many times, sales compulsions force publishers to turn down manuscripts they really want to publish,” Gupta said while also adding that smaller publishers are not keen on dealing with literary agents.

“The whole problem of legitimising the role of an agent, settling with payment issues, makes us avoid them,” he stated. Though the agents have made an impact in the publishing industry, some hurdles still remain to be overcome.

“In India, agenting is very tough and difficult to scale because of the menace of direct commissioning wherein authors sign directly with publishers,” concluded Gupta. (IANS)


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