Literary Agents: Bringing New And Established Voices To The Readers!

There are a number of new formats in which stories are now told and consumed. Online and retail stores are going hand in hand, the distribution business is changing, readers and reading new genres the publishing in India is seeing drastic changes. Amidst all this, literary agents are bridging the gap between publishers and authors. Here, AABP interacted with four leading literary agents in India to know how they function and the trends they see in the industry.

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Siyahi Top authors and books:

Venita Coelho – AIA 1: Tiger by the Tail
Vish Dhamija – Bhendi Bazaar
Devdutt Pattanaik – Indian Mythology, My Gita Mridula Koshy – Lost Boy
Paro Anand – Nomad’s Land
Adeline Foo – The Diary of Amos Lee: I Sit, I Write, I Flush Top translations: Chokher Bali by Rabindranath Tagore, translated to English by Radha Chakravarty Mohini’s Wedding by Selina Hossain, translated to English by Arunava Sinha

Siyahi, India’s leading literary consultancy, is known for forging extremely holistic, wholesome and grounded relationships with their authors. “We engage with the audience with a view to inculcate a healthy reading habit, spreading a love and awareness for and appreciation of literature, art and culture,” tells Mita Kapur. “Siyahi works in tandem with the publishers to ensure the best publicity for the books we represent. This includes liaisoning with the publishers for a detailed-oriented marketing and promotion plan for the books, and constant follow-up with the publishers to ensure its execution. We suggest authors for various national and international festival. We also cross promote our titles and authors on our social media pages. Siyahi also works towards the dramatisation, film rights for our authors’ works. We work with film agents, to pitch for creative film and television adaptations, and are also in direct touch with leading independent and mainstream production houses. We actively help production companies source authors and books that fit the genres they are looking to work in.”

Labyrinth Literary Agency was set up in 2014 to offer representation, editorial and business services to authors and publishers. “We offer these services across all genres. We represent only English language authors and their works in translation,” tells Anish Chandy, the founder of The Labyrinth Literary Agency.

The Labyrinth Literary Agency
Top authors and their books:
Nikita Singh – Like A Love Song, Letters to my Ex, After All This Time
Sanjay Manjrekar – Imperfect
Mihir Dalal – Big Billion Startup: The Untold Flipkart Story
Top translations: Imperfect by Sanjay Manjrekar, translated into Marathi No Holds Barred by Narayan Rane and Priyam Gandhi Mody, translated into Marathi Like A Love Song by Nikita Singh, translated into Hindi

WordFamous will soon complete five years of exciting journey. “In the last half a decade, India has seen explosive growth in literary activities and we have been lucky to ride this wave. Since inception, we have represented over 50 titles of new and reputed authors from countries like India, US, UK, Germany, Israel and UAE,” tells Dipti Patel of WordFamous Literary Agents. “WordFamous has dealt in books across genres like fiction, non-fiction, illustrated work, poetry and even children’s books.”

First Forays is a fairly recent agency that has its roots on the goading of a few published authors who felt the need for a good Literary Agent in India. It emerged organically when its founder, Lalitha Ravindran, informally was promoting books and in the process got to meet authors from overseas who felt that someone like her would be a good representative for their work. “From a beginning of two authors in 2017, it grew pretty fast to have over a dozen authors of fiction and non-fiction in the English language,” tells Lalitha.

Mita Kapur (left) is the founder and CEO of Siyahi, India’s leading literary consultancy. Her first book, The F-Word, is a food book, memoir and travelogue. As a freelance journalist, she writes regularly for different newspapers and magazines. She has received Femina Women Super Achiever Award (2018), the Maharani Gayatri Devi Award for Woman of Excellence (2014), and the Karamveer Puruskar (2009). She is also the producer for the Woman Up! Summit, and Soul Connect Experiences, and was producer for Mountain Echoes – The Bhutan festival of Art, Literature and Culture (2010-2019). Mita is currently Literary Director for the JCB Prize for Literature.

Anish Chandy (2nd from the left)  is the founder of The Labyrinth Literary Agency. He was the Head of Business Development at Juggernaut Books and a Senior Commissioning Editor at Penguin Random House (India). He is also the co-founder of www.wikifyindia. com a non-profit that was focussed on information access for Government procedures and is on the Advisory Board of www.wheelsforlife.in which is the world’s largest wheelchair donation platform. He is an angel investor in companies in the content industry. He was Business Intelligence Consultant with Infosys before switching over to publishing.

Dipti Patel (3rd from the left) , founder, WordFamous Literary Agents (www.wordfamous. in) is based at Mumbai. She has helped CEOs, film makers, journalists, start-up founders, political leaders, academicians and even first time & budding writers. She takes great interest in manuscripts across genres like literary fiction, mythological fiction, business books, children books, current affairs and self-help among others. She is passionate about promoting the regional writers and gets the classics and other great works in vernacular languages like Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam translated and published in English. She has assisted authors from countries like US, UK, Israel, Germany, and New Zealand. She speaks Hindi, English, Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi and Marwari.

After working in Insurance and Information Technology for over three decades and surviving the corporate rigmarole in India and overseas, Lalitha Ravindran (right)  made her foray into the literary world as a Literary Agent for fiction and non-fiction books, promoting debut and young authors find a publisher. She founded First Forays Literary Agency in late 2017 which started with a couple of overseas authors who were published in India. First Forays has grown organically over the last couple of years and boasts of over a dozen authors writing in English. The Agency based in Pune, India also handles sale of cinematography rights and translations into Indian languages

Authors and languages represented…

“We represent authors in English and languages from India as well. We are constantly on the lookout for fresh, talented voices whose stories must be shared. We also work with published writers to manage their writing careers, not just their entire portfolio of books, and help catalyse vernacular and international translations of their books. we work for selling rights in English language publishing in India and internationally, in European languages and in Indian languages as well. We sell across the world. The countries we have sold our rights are UK, USA, Australia, Russia, Italy, France, Germany, Turkey, Brazil, Belgium, Taiwan, Japan, China, Thailand,” tells Mita.

“We represent English language authors globally across all languages,” tells Anish.

While Lalitha shares that translations into Indian languages of published works is an option based on the publisher. “But the initial writing has to be in English,” she says. “First Forays represent authors from India and overseas. Some of their authors are based in US, Europe and Australia. The agency handles translations into Indian languages and adaptation rights for all types of cinematography including web series for producers based in India and in the US. Currently the focus is on Indian publishers and market but international publishing is on the anvil if a suitable manuscript comes our way.”

“Interestingly, we have handled works in Indian languages like Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati and Hindi and taken them to a larger audience through translations.

We represent our authors for the world rights as well as Indian sub-continent rights. So far, we have dealt largely with the Indian publishing houses,” tells Dipti.

Challenges faced by literary agents in India… “The main challenge is market education about the role of the literary agent. It’s a relatively new feature in India’s publishing industry unlike the Western world where literary agents have been around for over 100 years,” tells Anish.

While Dipti adds, “Firstly, while the literary scene in India is booming, book readership is still very low compared to global levels. We all – authors, publishers, literary agents – need to do more to improve the overall readership. Secondly, there is a need to broad-base spread of genres which find greater readership. Currently, the readers are flocking around only a few genres. And lastly, authors need more training to improve their literary skills – after all, India is a country with over fifty spoken languages.”

“Indian publishers are not at all used to working with a professional Literary Agent. Most allow direct submissions. There is no outreach from publishers to literary agents to get to know each other and to share information that will be of use in building a successful relationship. Besides, a literary agent’s role is one of trust and partnership to help an author get published. An agent’s success and remuneration is very dependent on the success of the author, tells Lalitha.

Another challenge which Lalitha points out is that many young authors want instant success. “They don’t take honest feedback very well and rush to self-publish rather than wait for the process of traditional publishing and make their writing worthy of being published. Many such publications are error-ridden, not distributed effectively and cost a lot of money. Many authors who have had bad experiences with self-publishing have come to me. Finally, if you look around it appears there are more authors than readers: at least a reader who pays to buy a book. Piracy, sharing of electronic version of bestsellers and other books affect the sales numbers for an author. I wish publishers would support libraries and book clubs, reach out to readers in schools and colleges and help in increasing the reading habit,” she adds.

While Mita adds, “We aspire to achieve larger sales figures for our authors’ books, more visibility and promotion that actually yields results and impacts sales. The challenge is to reach potential readers and markets. The challenge is also to survive but it’s an adventure that we embark on readily day in and day out.”

Literary agents…then and now

The role of the literary agent is reasonably new to India. This role has changed over the last 10 years. “There was a time, when we had to explain who the literary agents are. Now, people do realize the role and importance of the literary agents. There is growing demand for the literary agents as both authors and publishers appreciate the professionalism and improvement in the quality of content that literary agents bring. It’s only bound to grow further due to their understanding of the market,” tells Dipti.

“It has changed in terms of solid relationships with all publishers, I can only see it becoming better and bigger,” adds Mita.

To which Anish adds, “It will grow as knowledge levels about the role of agents improves. Publishing has become more hardnosed from a business perspective which means resources are allocated to a book more appropriately than it was done in the past. The agent’s role in Indian publishing is to work with the author and publisher across editorial, publicity and distribution. In the West, since publicity and distribution are streamlined, the agent’s role is mostly editorially focussed.”

WordFamous Literary Agents
Top authors and books:
Alpesh Patel –
Chalta Hai India
Sonal and Supriya –
Traditional diets for pregnancy and motherhood
Prajeet Budhale –
Infin Eight
Aditya Shroff –
Best Life ever
Pawan Verma –
Age of Imperfect leader
Manoj Pandey –
The Legacy of Nothing
Top Translations:
Before You StartUp by Pankaj Goyal, translated into Hindi Navagraha Purana by V S Rao (Telugu), translated into English and Hindi The soul of Truth by Shaji Madathil (Malayalam), translated into English

“Many authors I’ve interacted with have lamented the lack of guidance in the publishing process and difficulties faced in connecting with a suitable publisher. Hence a literary agent is a win-win for both authors and publishers as a lot of their initial evaluation efforts are carried out by agents. India is seeing a resurgence of writers, writing in the English language and writing Indian stories that has a market in India and overseas. With the increasing number of writers, publishers are inundated with proposals and the turnaround time for selecting one has increased unless it’s a well-known person, a celebrity or someone who is in the news. The role of the agent therefore becomes critical in only submitting manuscripts which are edited, reviewed and evaluated for marketability by the agents. A lot of the preliminary tasks are done by Literary Agents,” adds Lalitha.

Trends in the Indian publishing market…

“There are a number of new formats in which stories are now told and consumed. Other trends are traditional retail stores are under a lot of pressure, the distribution business is changing, consumers are buying books mostly on recommendations, selfpublishing is booming volume because the cost to self-publish has reduced tremendously and the non-fiction market is growing rapidly,” tells Anish.

Similar views were shared by Dipti, who says, “There is a good trend of well researched content. It’s no more the good language that matters, it’s a combination of everything put together. So the authors have to be really good in all aspects of having rich content, relatable and interesting read. Also, there is a growing trend of self-publishing, thanks to the growth in self-publishing platforms including the digital ones.”

“The Indian publishing market has seen many dramatic changes in the last decade and a half. In the past even a writer of the calibre of R. K. Laxman had to depend on an overseas publisher. Right now I find publishers are open to all types of writing styles, genres including erotica and translations from regional languages and viceversa. Some may say that there is a focus on quantity over quality but in a changing demographic society like India, I’d say it’s a growing process. There have been surprises in what succeeds and what doesn’t and hence some risk is definitely involved. The converse also seems to be true in my opinion, where quite often the literary aspect is being pushed to the back burner to accommodate something that is topical or has a celebrity involved. New publishing houses are also cropping up with focus on niche areas like poetry or short stories which don’t find much interest in other traditional publishing houses. This is a welcome trend,” adds Lalitha.

First Forays
Top authors and books:
Shirish Thorat – Twisted, A Ticket to Syria (being adapted to screen), The Scout and The Clay Horses
Aashish Gupta – Anecdotes of a White Collared Slave
Lata Gwalani – Prisoners of Secrets (2020)

“The quest for big books, narrative non-fiction, thrillers, romance continues. Children’s and YA books are seeing a spike which is great. Strong voices, experimentation in cross-genre writing is happening which is rather heartening to see and this will continue to grow,” concludes Mita.

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