“Joy of seeing one’s book published in other languages is unmatchable”

Says Kannan Sundaram of Kalachuvadu Publications while sharing his views on rights selling in Indian languages.


Kannan Sundaram of Kalachuvadu Publications shares his views on rights selling in Indian languages. Excerpts.

AABP: How does rights sale work in language publishing?

Kannan: The first initiative I came across and participated in the rights trade among Indian languages was the ‘Rights Table’ organsied by Rubin D’Cruz on behalf of Kerala State Institute for Children’s Literature. It happened in Thiruvananthapuram in 2007, interestingly under a left wing government. The National Book Trust organsied a rights table in the NDWBF for several years. PublishingNext in Goa was a great opportunity to connect with Indian language publishers. Jaipur Book Mark’s motto of connecting Indian language publishers to the world has created great opportunities for Indian language publishers .

However even big publishers in Indian languages lack a rights department or dedicated personnel. This is because they do not take it seriously. The exceptions in this regard from my personal experience are DC Books and Mehta Publishing. A few more publishers like me handle their rights trade personally. Total number of Indian language publishers with a keen interest in rights trade may be a dozen or so. This has to dramatically increase for rights trade to improve. NBT must organise fellowships for Indian publishers to learn the rights trade, travel to many publishing centers within the country and develop networks.

AABP: Do you sell rights for other Indian languages as well?

Kannan: We began by selling rights within India and continue to focus on it every day. Our books have been translated into Kannadam, Malayalam, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Manipuri, Gujarathi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and Odia.

AABP: What about rights selling in English to foreign countries?

Kannan: We first sell rights to Indian publishers in English. We retain the world English rights unless there is a specific time bound offer to acquire and promote world English rights. Very few Indian English publishers focus on selling world rights. Therefore we ourselves attempt to sell them internationally. We have had a few successes with Perumal Murugan, Sundara Ramaswamy and Salma. Working alongside brilliant agents like Priya Doraswamy and Jay Vasudevan, we sold rights to Grove Atlantic, Pushkin Press and Amazon Crossing. Manasi Subramnaium (PRH) sold the rights for Salma’s Women, Dreaming to Tilted Axis. We are happy to work with agents, publishers or any publishing professional when it comes to selling rights.

AABP: Also, have you sold your rights for foreign languages. Do share details.

Kannan: When it comes to selling rights internationally for Indian languages, it’s best to work in two steps which makes it double hard but efficient. You need a competent English translation of the work you propose to promote internationally. Even when the actual translation from Kannada to Spanish happens directly, you need an English translation to sell it. There might be very few commissioning editors across the globe that are competent in an Indian language. But most of them would read English. And it will be on the basis of the English translation that they will make the decision to buy a book. Our books have been translated from Tamil to English, Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Italian, German, Slovenian, Czech, French, Galician and Albanian languages.

AABP: World rights vs territorial rights – your views on that?

Kannan: Territorial rights are very important. When signing a contract it is best to consider this aspect carefully. There are a few Indian languages with a future potential for territorial sales. Tamil is one of them. One hopes that the Tamil publishing industry in Sri Lanka, South East Asia and the West grows big enough to buy territorial rights for Tamil books.

AABP: Please share details for books for which you have bought rights from other publishers?

Kannan: In India, we have translated books from Kannadam, Bengali, Malayalam, Telugu Telugu, Hindi, Chinese and English languages.

We have also translated books from international languages like Portugal, English, French, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Irish, Australia, Israel, Finnish, Icelandic, Flemish, Russian, Latvian, Taiwan, Polish, Welsh, Chinese, Catalan, Slovenian, Czech, Canada and Scotland.

AABP: What is the criteria for choosing books for the same?

Kannan: The criteria depends on what will fit into the list of the buyer. We have bought rights for Modern classics, Contemporary fiction, Poetry and Nonfiction. We collect hard and soft copies and get them reviewed by our team of readers. While grants are helpful, our publishing decision is not dependent on the grants. Books selected for publication get published even if our application for grant is turned down.

AABP: Anything else you would like to add..

Kannan: We have invested time and money on rights trade for the last 15 years. The returns are two-fold. The monetary gains are very important to continue the work and grow. It took many years of hard work before the returns began to tickle in. During the lockdown phases, crucial generation of funds happened through rights trade. It is important for publishers to have multiple sources of income.

The second aspect is the pride in bringing significant international writings to your language and in witnessing its impact on readers and writers. And nothing gives more joy than seeing a work promoted by you published in international languages.

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