literary agents Posts

Interview with Susan Van Metre, Executive Editorial Director, Walker Books US

Susan Van Metre, Executive Editorial Director, Walker Books

Susan Van Metre is the Executive Editorial Director of Walker Books US, a new division of Candlewick Press and the Walker Group. Previously she was at Abrams, where she founded the Amulet imprint and edited El Deafo by Cece Bell, the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger, the Internet Girls series by Lauren Myracle, They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki, and the Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Pete Fornatale, and their daughter and Lab mix.

Susan and I met when we were a part of the Visiting International Publishers delegation organised by the Australia Council and Sydney Writers Festival. It was an incredibly enriching time we spent with other publishing professionals from around the world. Meeting Susan was fabulous as Walker Books is synonymous with very high standards of production in children’s literature. Over the decades the firm has established a formidable reputation. Susan very kindly agreed to do an interview via email. Here are lightly edited excerpts.

1.        How did you get into publishing children’s literature? Why join children’s publishing at a time when it was not very much in the public eye?

I never stopped reading children’s books, even as a teen and young adult.  I have always been in love with story.  I was a quiet, lonely young person and storytelling pulled me out of my small world and set me down in wonderful places in the company of people I admired.  I couldn’t easily find the same richness of plot and character in the adult books of the era so stuck with Joan Aiken and CS Lewis and E Nesbit and Ellen Raskin. And I loved the books themselves, as objects, and, in college, had the idea of helping to make them.  I applied to the Radcliffe Publishing Course, now at Columbia, met some editors from Dutton Children’s Books/Penguin there, and was invited to interview.  Though I couldn’t type at all (a requirement at the time), I think I won the job with my passionate conviction that the best children’s books are great literature, and arguably more crucial to our culture in that they create readers. 

2.        How do you commission books? Is it always through literary agents?

Most of the books I publish come from agents but occasionally I’ll reach out to a writer who has written an article that impressed me and ask if they have thought of writing a book. Recently, I bought a book based on hearing the makings of the plot in a podcast episode.

3.        How have the books you read as a child formed you as an editor/publisher? If you worry about the world being shaped by men, does this imply you have a soft corner for fiction by women? ( Your essay, “Rewriting the Stories that Shape Us”)

What a good question. I definitely look for books with protagonists that don’t typically take centre stage, whether it’s a girl or a character of colour or a character with a disability. I have always been attracted to heroes who are underdogs or outsiders, ones that prevail not because they have special powers or abilities but because they have determination and heart. I am in love with a book on our Fall ’19 list, a fantasy whose hero is a teen girl with Down syndrome. It’s The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.  I have never met a character like Agatha before—she’s all momentum and loyalty.  Readers will love her.

4. Who are the writers/artists that have influenced your publishing career/choices?

I am very influenced by brainy, hardworking creators like Ellen Raskin and Cece Bell and Mac Barnett and Sophie Blackall and Jillian Tamaki.  I admire a great work ethic, outside-the-box thinking, an instinct for how words and images can work together to create a richly-realized story, and respect for kids as fully intelligent and emotional beings with more at stake than many adults.

5.  As an employee- and author-owned company, Candlewick is used to working collaboratively in-house and with the other firms in the Walker groups. How does this inform your publishing programme? Does it nudge the boundaries of creativity?

There is so much pride at Walker and Candlewick.  Owning the company makes us feel that much more invested in what we are making because it is truly a reflection of us and our values and tastes. Plus, we only make children’s books and thus put our complete resources behind them. There are no pesky, costly adult books and authors to distract us. And I think the strong lines of communication amongst the offices in Boston, New York, London, and Sydney mean that we have a good global perspective on children’s literature and endeavour to make books with universal appeal. I think all these factors contribute to innovation and quality.

6.  You have spent many years in publishing, garnering experience in three prominent firms —Penguin USA, Abrams and Candlewick Press. In your opinion have the rules of the game for children’s publishing changed from when you joined to present day?

Oh, definitely.  When I started, children’s publishing was a quiet corner of the business, mostly dependent on library sales.  There was no Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Wimpy Kid; no great juggernauts driving millions of copies and dollars.  And not really much YA.  YA might be one spinner rack at the library, not the vast sections you see now, full of adult readers. Now children’s and YA is big business and mostly bright spots in the market. The deals are bigger and the risk is bigger and the speed of business is so much faster!

7.   Do you discern a change in reading patterns? Do these vary across formats like picture books, novels, graphic novels? Are there noticeable differences in the consumption patterns between fiction and nonfiction? Do gender preferences play a significant role in deciding the market?

I think we are in a great time for illustrated books, whether they are picture books, nonfiction, chapter books, or graphic novels.  And now children can move from reading picture books to chapter books to graphic novels without giving up full colour illustrations as they age.  And why should they? Visual literacy is so important to our internet age—an important way to communicate online.

8.  One of the iconic books of modern times that you have worked upon are the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Tell me more about the back story, how it came to be etc. Also what is your opinion on the increasing popularity of graphic novels and how has it impacted children’s publishing?

I am not the editor of the Wimpy Kid books—that’s Charles Kochman—but I was lucky enough to help sign them up and bring them to publication as the then head of the imprint they are published under, Amulet Books.  Charlie comes out of comics so when he saw the proposal for Wimpy Kid, which had been turned down elsewhere, he understood the skill and appeal of it. I have NEVER published anything that took off so immediately.  I think we printed 25,000 copies, initially, and we sold out of them in two weeks.  It showed how hungry readers were for that strong play of words and images, and how they longed for a protagonist who was flawed but who didn’t have to learn a lesson.  Adult readers have many such protagonists to enjoy but they are rarer in kids’ books.

9.  Walker Books are inevitably heavily illustrated, where each page has had to be carefully designed. Have any of your books been translated? If so what are the pros and cons of such an exercise?

Our lead Fall title, Malamander, is illustrated and has been sold in a dozen languages.  I think illustration can be a big plus in conveying story in a universally accessible way.

10. The Walker Group is known for its outstanding production quality of printed books. Has the advancement of digital technology affected the world of children’s publishing? If so, how?

I think they incredible efficiency of modern four-colour printing has allowed us to spend money on other aspects of the book, like cloth covers or deckled edges.  That sort of thing.  Children’s books are incredible physical objects these days.

11. Walker Books’ reputation is built on its ability to be creatively innovative and constantly adapt to a changing environment. How has the group managed to retain its influence in this multimedia culture?

First, thank you for saying so!  I think the rest of media still looks to book publishing for great stories and as a house that has always invested in talent, we are lucky enough to have stories that work across many forms of media.

12.  Have any of books you have worked upon in your career been banned? If so, why? What has been the reaction?

Yes.  In fact, I am working with Lauren Myracle on a young adult novel, publishing in Spring ’21, called This Boy. Lauren is the author of the ttyl series, which was on the ALA’s Banned Book list for many years. It was challenged for its depictions of teenage sexuality.  I was raised to be modest and rule following so my personal reaction was horror—especially when parents started phoning me directly to complain—but I feel so strongly that kids and teens deserve to read about life as it really is—not just as we wish it would be.  So I came to be proud of the designation.  Nothing is scarier than the truth.


Hannah Lambert (2010) Sebastian Walker and Walker Books: A Commercial Case Study, New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 15:2, 114-127, DOI: 10.1080/13614540903498885. Published online: 03 Feb 2010.

25 Sept 2019

“The Journey Of Indian Publishing” by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

I recently contributed to How to Get Published in India edited by Meghna Pant. The first half is a detailed handbook by Meghna Pant on how to get published but the second half includes essays by Jeffrey Archer, Twinkle Khanna, Ashwin Sanghi, Namita Gokhale, Arunava Sinha, Ravi Subramanian et al.

Here is the essay I wrote:


AS LONG as I can recall I have wanted to be a publisher.  My first ‘publication’ was a short story in a newspaper when I was a child. Over the years I published book reviews and articles on the publishing industry, such as on the Nai Sarak book market in the heart of old Delhi.  These articles were print editions. Back then, owning a computer at home was still a rarity.

In the 1990s, I guest-edited special issues of  The Book Review on children’s and young adult literature at a time when this genre was not even considered a category worth taking note of. Putting together an issue meant using the landline phone preferably during office hours to call publishers/reviewers, or posting letters by snail mail to publishers within India and abroad, hoping some books would arrive in due course. For instance, the first Harry Potter novel came to me via a friend in Chicago who wrote, “Read this. It’s a book about a wizard that is selling very well.” The next couple of volumes were impossible to get, for at least a few months in India. By the fifth volume, Bloomsbury UK sent me a review copy before the release date, for it was not yet available in India. For the seventh volume a simultaneous release had been organised worldwide. I got my copy the same day from Penguin India, as it was released by Bloomsbury in London (at the time Bloomsbury was still being represented by Penguin India). Publication of this series transformed how the children’s literature market was viewed worldwide.

To add variety to these special issues of The Book Review I commissioned stories, translations from Indian regional languages (mostly short stories for children), solicited poems, and received lovely ones such as an original poem by Ruskin Bond. All contributions were written in longhand and sent by snail mail, which I would then transfer on to my mother’s 486 computer using Word Perfect software. These articles were printed on a dot matrix printer, backups were made on floppies, and then sent for production. Soon rumours began of a bunch of bright Stanford students who were launching Google. No one was clear what it meant. Meanwhile, the Indian government launched dial-up Internet (mostly unreliable connectivity); nevertheless, we subscribed, although there were few people to send emails to!

The Daryaganj  Sunday  Bazaar where second-hand books were sold was the place to get treasures and international editions. This was unlike today, where there’s instant gratification via online retail platforms, such as Amazon and Flipkart, fulfilled usually by local offices of multi-national publishing firms. Before 2000, and the digital boom, most of these did not exist as independent firms in India. Apart from Oxford University Press, some publishers had a presence in India via partnerships: TATA McGraw Hill, HarperCollins with Rupa, and Penguin India with Anand Bazaar Patrika.

From the 1980s, independent presses began to be established like Kali for Women, Tulika and KATHA. 1990s onwards, especially in the noughts, many more appeared— Leftword Books, Three Essays, TARA Books, A&A Trust, Karadi Tales, Navayana, Duckbill Books, Yoda Press, Women Unlimited, Zubaan etc. All this while, publishing houses established by families at the time of Independence or a little before, like Rajpal & Sons, Rajkamal Prakashan, Vani Prakashan etc continued to do their good work in Hindi publishing. Government organisations like the National Book Trust (NBT) and the Sahitya Akademi were doing sterling work in making literature available from other regional languages, while encouraging children’s literature. The NBT organised the bi-annual world book fair (WBF) in Delhi every January. The prominent visibility in the international English language markets of regional language writers, such as Tamil writers Perumal Murugan and Salma (published by Kalachuvadu), so evident today, was a rare phenomenon back then.

In 2000, I wrote the first book market report of India for Publisher’s Association UK. Since little data existed then, estimating values and size was challenging. So, I created the report based on innumerable conversations with industry veterans and some confidential documents. For years thereafter data from the report was being quoted, as little information on this growing market existed. (Now, of course, with Nielsen Book Scan mapping Indian publishing regularly, we know exact figures, such as: the industry is worth approximately $6 billion.) I was also relatively ‘new’ to publishing having recently joined feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia’s Zubaan. It was an exciting time to be in publishing. Email had arrived. Internet connectivity had sped up processes of communication and production. It was possible to reach out to readers and new markets with regular e-newsletters. Yet, print formats still ruled.

By now multinational publishing houses such as Penguin Random House India, Scholastic India, Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins  India, Hachette India, Simon & Schuster India had opened offices in India. These included academic firms like Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Springer, and Pearson too. E-books took a little longer to arrive but they did. Increasingly digital bundles of journal subscriptions began to be sold to institutions by academic publishers, with digital formats favoured over print editions.

Today, easy access to the Internet has exploded the ways of publishing. The Indian publishing industry is thriving with self-publishing estimated to be approximately 35% of all business. Genres such as translations, women’s writing and children’s literature, that were barely considered earlier, are now strong focus areas for publishers. Regional languages are vibrant markets and cross-pollination of translations is actively encouraged. Literary festivals and book launches are thriving. Literary agents have become staple features of the landscape. Book fairs in schools are regular features of school calendars. Titles released worldwide are simultaneously available in India. Online opportunities have made books available in 2 and 3-tier towns of India, which lack physical bookstores. These conveniences are helping bolster readership and fostering a core book market. Now the World Book Fair is held annually and has morphed into a trade fair, frequented by international delegations, with many constructive business transactions happening on the sidelines. In February 2018 the International Publishers Association Congress was held in India after a gap of 25 years! No wonder India is considered the third largest English language book market of the world! With many regional language markets, India consists of diverse markets within a market. It is set to grow. This hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, Livres Canada Books commissioned me to write a report on the Indian book market and the opportunities available for Canadian publishers. This is despite the fact that countries like Canada, whose literature consists mostly of books from France and New York, are typically least interested in other markets.

As an independent publishing consultant I often write on literature and the business of publishing on my blog … an opportunity that was unthinkable before the Internet boom. At the time of writing the visitor counter on my blog had crossed 5.5 million. The future of publishing is exciting particularly with neural computing transforming the translation landscape and making literature from different cultures rapidly available. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being experimented with to create short stories. Technological advancements such as print-on-demand are reducing warehousing costs, augmented reality  is adding a magical element to traditional forms of storytelling, smartphones with processing chips of 8GB RAM and storage capacities of 256GB seamlessly synchronised with emails and online cloud storage are adding to the heady mix of publishing. Content consumption is happening on electronic devices AND print. E-readers like Kindle are a new form of mechanised process, which are democratizing the publishing process in a manner seen first with Gutenberg and hand presses, and later with the Industrial Revolution and its steam operated printing presses. 

The future of publishing is crazily unpredictable and incredibly exciting! 

3 Feb 2019

On literary agents, unedited and complete article

On literary agents, unedited and complete article

Literary Agents and agencies in India, Brunch ( )

BRIEF: on literary agents and agencies in India: who they are, what they actually do, whether they serve here as they seem to do in the west as any writers’s first reader, handholder and guide.

Literary agents are defined as those who represent writers to publishers, theatre and film producers. They negotiate on behalf of the author for the best and fairest deal possible. For this, they are paid a commission, which is a percentage of the proceeds of the sale that they have negotiated for their client. It is usually 15 per cent for domestic rights and 20 per cent for international rights. According to David Godwin, “usually an advance is paid over four moments–signature, delivery, publication and paperback publication.” Author and poet, Jeet Thayil says, a literary agent is a blessing, since s/he is responsible for all the nitty-gritty administrative work, including the tedious follow up required in signing a book deal, releasing precious time for the author to focus their energies on a constructive and creative output, rather than be exhausted by paperwork.

Literary agents first burst upon the scene in nineteenth century Britain. It began with A.P. Watt whose work as a literary agent appears to have begun around 1878, when he was asked by a friend, the poet and novelist George MacDonald, to sell his stories for him. By 1881, he was known as an advertising agent and a literary agent. Initially he charged a fee for the services he offered, but soon switched to taking a 10 per cent commission on the money that he earned for his clients on any transaction he completed. By the end of the nineteenth century, he was representing some of the leading writers of the time, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Besant, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling. In 1893 when publisher William Heinemann wrote a scathing portrait of a literary agent, he in all likelihood had A.P. Watt in mind: ‘This is the age of the middleman,’ wrote Heinemann. ‘He is generally a parasite. He always flourishes. I have been forced to give him some little attention lately in my particular business. In it he calls himself the literary agent.’

However uncomplimentary a statement this may have been of an agent, the truth is that a literary agent is an indispensable part of the publishing eco-system, even a century and a half later. An agent has specialist knowledge of different publishing houses and is aware of the personal tastes of editors and is able to sell written material to them, matching the writer with the right stable. Agents are also able to provide an author a range of services – reading a raw manuscript, assessing if it is fit for publication, if it is then helping them tidy it up before selling it to an appropriate publisher or if there is interest from more than one publishing house, setting up an “auction” and selling it to the best bidder, negotiating terms and contracts and collecting payments and royalties. Today, agents are expected to be a filter between the publisher and the writer but also be the author’s agony aunt and professional advisor, rolled in one. They also network with agents and publishers in other territories, across the world — ensuring that the book gets published across the globe, and increasingly in different languages.

So is an agent necessary? A question often asked by new as well as seasoned authors. For well-known novelist, Hari Kunzro, “It’s now more or less impossible to access editors at mainstream publishing houses without going through an agent. The volume of unsolicited submissions means that the ‘slush-pile’ is enormous. Apart from using an agent to get connected to the right editor at the right publishing house, agents are also necessary to help you negotiate the increasingly-complex world of book contracts. Unless you know what percentage discount Amazon is going to try to negotiate for a paperback sale, or the going rate for Ebook royalties in South Africa, or whether you should be assigning Canadian rights to your UK publisher, or reserving them for your US publisher, you need an agent. Publishing is probably more competitive than it’s ever been. As the book market transforms, and thousands of hopeful new writers pile in, looking for readers, writers need to have someone on their side.” Having said that, successful translator, Arunava Sinha has no literary agent representing him, but he does realize their significance. (Arunava translates from Bengali into English, he has 14 books published in India, with 6 publishers, 2 titles have been published abroad across 15 publishers and in 11 languages, including English.) According to him, an agent in the Indian publishing landscape has three crucial aspects: for an author to reach an Indian publisher; for an author to find a foreign publisher and in qualitative consulting.

In India, the concept of literary agents is relatively new, about seven years. The oldest agency is Jacaranda, run by Jayapriya Vasudevan and Priya Doraswamy. For them, agenting in India “is hard to compare to any other part of the world.” But they do see this sector growing rapidly in India, especially since they feel that overall professionalism is setting in and processes are getting streamlined. They are beginning to discover that writers prefer to deal with agents and it is a “fair deal” since w”writing is a very personal journey and a good agent is asked to manage everything.” They do warn their authors, especially the first time authors that publishing is an extremely slow industry and submission to a publisher is very “angst driven”. So, as agents they are expected to manage the author’s “nervous energy”. They give advice ranging from editing, managing, marketing and sales. Within the Indian context, they are recognized and with the current mantra for foreign publishers being that they want to link with those who are strong in their own countries, Jacaranda’s position is well established. But as Jayapriya points out, “Our geographical locations being widely spread, with Priya being in New York and my being in Singapore, our list is eclectic and interesting. Selling rights also becomes more direct in several countries. For America for instance, we do not use any sub agents.” As they affirm, “It is a word of mouth industry and it is all relationship based. If we think it is a viable sale, To be connected to the world is a must deal.”

The second literary agency recognized in India and abroad is Siyahi, headed by Mita Kapur who is based in Jaipur. According to Mita, “Siyahi started with 2 authors in 2007 and we now have some 82 authors, with a growth rate of 100% every year and this year I am expecting double the growth rate. The turnover for Siyahi is 1.25cr which is inclusive of the funding that comes in for the festivals. I get around 5 submissions every day but we select only 2 or 3 out of our blind submissions received every year. The number of authors growing is because either they are already published authors or have come through some reliable source which we decide to take on only if I am convinced of the merits of the book.” Mita regularly negotiates rights into regional languages as well, although she works with sub-agents for international languages. “We work with Hindi, English, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarat, Marathi, Punjabi, Russian, Portuguese, French, Italian, and German.”

Writer’s Side, based in Delhi was launched by Kanishka Gupta. According to him, “In a short-span of 22 months we have placed over 64 books with major and reputed publishers. Almost 80% of my clients are first-timers I have to be on my toes all the time. Some questions can really put your patience to test but being a published writer myself I know that feeling very well and can easily relate.” Sherna Khambatta, based in Mumbai, established her agency in 2007. But she prefers to represent non-fiction although does not say no to fiction. She represents in English, Marathi and Hindi.

Some of the other prominent players in India are David Godwin, Shruti Debi of Aitken Alexander agency, and as of this year, the Tibor Jones Literary Agency with their South Asia prize for unpublished manuscripts. Shruti Debi, who has immense editorial experience, and is now in charge of the Indian office of Aitken Alexander feels that a book is a hugely durable item. And nor does a writer have any parameters of quality or nature of the deal that they are getting into. So she feels that it is “healthy to have an agent, who becomes a sounding board for the author and publisher.” Having said that she adds, “I don’t feel like that an author can do without me, but I feel that those who have me for an agent do not suffer to have me.” Picking up an author is not a judgment value, but a literary value. Interestingly enough, as of a few months ago, Aitken Alexander has begun to represent Penguin Books India abroad. It helps by having an agent like Shruti on your side as she says, “I am a big fighter for authors.”

Advice from David Godwin for authors is “to find an agent you have to write a terrific book then you will find someone good. It is all in the writing. Agents want great books and are on the lookout for them.” Sophie Lambert, Director, Tibor Jones Agency adds, “Do your research. Always address query letters to specific agents rather than the agency. Approach agencies that represent authors who are similar but not too similar. Personal recommendations count a lot and if someone can introduce you to an agent then even better. You’ve got to make sure to catch their attention.” She continues, “India has always had a rich literary heritage and there have always been Indian authors whose work has been read throughout the world. The thing that’s changed is how widely and how much international as well as Indian authors are being read in India. There’s a real appetite for literature and it’s exciting to see the world’s largest democracy embrace that. It’s no more difficult for an Indian author to get a literary agent than an author from any other country and at a time when the Indian market is growing, in some respects it should be a selling point.”

Given how robust the growth is for agenting in India, especially with the deluge of writers/manuscripts being written, it is no surprise that some publishers are venturing into this area as well. Of course, they are quick to add that their publishing programmes are independent of the literary agencies. But there is a conflict of interest between these two and it is not clear how efficiently can these verticals be operated. Today, with the tremendous churning in publishing it is not enough to say that no precedence exists for such a business model, but one can safely add that this is an arrangement peculiar to India alone.

Publishers like Karthika V.K., Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, HarperCollins, says that “the agents make it a level playing ground. Publishers, see the book as a product, and can engage for the duration of the production of the manuscript into a book, but not more, whereas an agent will always be there for the author, before and after publication.” Kapish, Managing Director, Rupa Publications, says of literary agents that it of a “participatory nature, they can help you find writing. Fresh writing creates longevity in the industry.” Milee Aishwarya, Random House India, says that it does help to have agents who help to expand the list and get a sense of the market.

Renuka Chatterjee, Chief Editor, Westland does have the following word of caution about agenting in India: “The advantage of agencies is that they act as the filtering process and sift the wheat from the chaff – at least that is what they are supposed to do. The ground reality is that, with the possible exception of one or two, very few of them do. I have seen this happen time and again — they start off small, and really make an effort to find original, good new voices. But then the greed to just keep on adding numbers and boast of the number of authors you have and the titles you’ve sold, takes over, and they start taking on anyone and everyone. The result is that I cannot think of any agency in India today who doesn’t have a really mixed bag. You can never be sure of the quality — you can’t say that, well, this has come from ‘X so it has to be good, and give it priority on your reading list – unless of course, it is an already published author whose quality you know. So, very often, submissions from agents just become an adjunct to the slush pile, and you read them as and when you get the time. I really wish agents in India would be more discerning. It’s the reason why we still take submissions from any foreign agent more seriously. It’s not a question of a colonial hangover — but you know that if a manuscript has come from a David Godwin or Andrew Wylie or Blake Friedman, it will have a certain basic level of quality which should make it worth looking at. You may not ultimately take it on, if the stakes are too high, or if your individual response to it is not strong enough, but you would certainly take the time to read it. That’s not always the case with local submissions. May be the rush to sign up authors amongst agents here, is a certain insecurity — because the whole agency scene here is still nascent, may be they think that if they don’t sign up this author, another one may not come their way soon enough — or be snapped up by a foreign agent — which is another fear, as most authors, given the choice, would prefer to have an agent in London or New York than in New Delhi!

I know many agents feel they are successful because by and large, they are able to sell whatever they represent. But selling in India is easy, especially now with the multiplicity of publishing houses — from
Penguin and Harper to Srishti and others. So what gets rejected by some, will find a place somewhere else, especially if you are willing to settle for a less than six-figure advance. I’m told that’s a good thing in the long run — everything has its place. Perhaps that’s so — but I feel angry that so much rubbish ends up getting published. All those trees cut down for nothing!”

The future of publishing and literary agents is positive. Shruti Debi says that the era of literary adventures is over, where the publishing industry is partial to debut, but literary agents are quality filters. “2012 will be an interesting year, when we are expecting Indian kindle, some sort of self-publishing to happen; the technology will be important; shadow involvement – you become an ally in the same process and play to the author’s strength.” For Saugata Mukherjee, Publisher, Pan Macmillan, “I firmly believe literary agents in India are here to stay. It’s an expanding market and naturally there will be space for genuine professionals with a nose for the right kinds of books. Hopefully more and more writers from the Indian subcontinent will find a publishing window through these agents and not get lost in the deluge of slush piles in publishing offices. While some of the international agents already do a lot of business with Indian publishers it’s time some of the Indian agents too make their mark. I’d say most literary agencies are still in their infancy in India and we’ll only know where they are headed in a few years as the profession matures.” For Jacaranda, it is an interesting time, but the business will change dramatically and processes will be streamlined, “once publishers stop looking at direct submission.”

While researching for this article, word had begun to trickle in of new literary agencies being established in India, whether by editors setting themselves up as independent agents; individuals passionate about reading, who are branching out into agenting or even agencies abroad, testing the waters in India, but it is early days as yet. They are as yet to prove their mettle in this landscape or even by establishing Indian authors abroad.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing and literary consultant. She may be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @JBhattacharji

Advaita Kala
I didn’t have an agent when I submitted in India, honestly, I didn’t even think of it. Indian publishers have pretty straight forward submission guidelines and I made an online submission. It was only when Almost Single was solicited by Random House in the US that I realised I would need representation and it worked out very well as the book went into auction, something I would not have managed on my own. Publishers abroad prefer to work with agents, there are a couple of reasons, my American editor tells me that especially since the big publishing downturn in 2009 (in the US) and publishing job cuts, publishers are more dependent on agents for editorial support and sifting through manuscripts. So in a lot of ways representation abroad has become even more important. I continue to handle my own affairs in India and had an agent for foreign rights. Presently I am in between publishers and in between agents so I can’t really be more specific about what swings the decision one way or the other but I am sure I will figure it out soon enough!

Tabish Khair
Having grown up in Gaya until I turned 24, and having gone to school and university in Gaya too, the path to becoming a writer was a dark and confusing one for me. There were no guides, no patrons, no contacts, no peers who were heading into media or publishing. There was a lot of well-meaning discouragement. So the very notion of having a literary agent did not cross my mind even after I had become fairly established as an author, and had moved to Delhi and then to Denmark. But living in a small town in Denmark, I realised that I needed agents who were based in the centres of literary publicity — Delhi or London or New York. And that is when I decided to get an agent. But I wanted my main agent to be based in India, as I see myself as an Indian writer, with the co-agents based in London and New York. I realised that this was not what was commonly done, but I went ahead with it anyway. And I am happy I did.

Paro Anand

So, why, at this late, late stage of my pretty successful career as a writer for adults, young adults and children do I suddenly feel the need for a literary agent to represent me? I have no problems finding a publisher, in fact, I have several asking me to do books for them and some getting upset that I’ve gone elsewhere. So why now? I just think that the time for lit agents in India is finally here, at least for me. I feel the need to have someone who is professionally committed to looking after my best interests. I want someone who I know will have my back and watch out for me. I want someone who is able to look outside my own small world of contacts and connections. And I don’t want to be having to sell myself anymore. I find it embarrassing to have to push myself. I know that my work itself is good and worthy of pushing, but now I need a team to look after my baby after I’ve given birth to it. I need someone who I can trust and someone who will allow me to do what I do best – write and interact with my audience, without getting into nitty gritty, which I find myself doing a lot of the time. I’m not good at it so it takes a lot out of me to do it. Something like contacting sales people to ensure that my books will be there when I’m doing an appearance. As an author, my contact person is the editor, so it becomes a very four cornered affair if I’m contacted by the venue or organizer of the event, then i contact my editor, who contacts the sales team and then it’s a lot of back and forth. And very often, it ends up with the books not even being there. And this is certainly not with one publisher, but each and every one. It’s no one’s fault, really, it’s just that I’m the wrong person to be getting into it. it needs a system and i think my agent could be involved in this – at least i hope so.

For the longest time, i thought that my job was to write the book and the rest was not up to me. But now i see, that after having given birth to the baby, it’s still your job to make sure that she reaches her full potential, and sometimes there’s a lot of hand-holding involved. I’m more than willing to grow my babies up, and i love the hand holding. But i need my team to sort out the details. I want to feel like a bit of star!!! Is that so wrong? Will my agent do that for me?


As such our English publishing industry is not very organised and I feel even the volumes and hence payments are not very large, so agents who normally have a much fuller function in publishing, are reduced to being only book placers and not much more. It is a fact that it is hard for an unknown writer, without lineage or connections, to be easily published. The cycles of acceptance and rejections are long and many reputed firms have a caveat during submission: there is no guarantee of response. Hence, I feel some writers take help of agents to place their books with publishing houses, often on the basis of some commission. These kinds of agents do not do much more than give a quick glance to the manuscripts and sometimes some minimal editing and then work their wire to get the book placed.

The wholesome function of an agent as a quasi or even full editor, guardian of the writer account with publisher(s), seeking and placing book with foreign agents/publishing houses, support system for the writer, is very rare in India. Some extremely lucky and talented writers have such agents but most of them are abroad (both writers and agents).

So, in a topsy turvy world of publishing, local agents for local books (won’t even call them agents for they are mostly ‘book placers’ and buzz creators akin to PR) do thrive for a brief while and then fade off. For the size of the industry, in terms of titles and not volumes or sales figures, we would do well even if we even had decent scouts, but even they are missing. These book placers often do harm, for instance with my second book, because they are limited to just their own individual wires and contacts and vibes with people in the industry. All this is dismal and the only hope, for me, is to do my job and wait it out until someone discovers the work and wants to take it ahead. Very modestly, like it happened with Coetzee or Marquez.