The plight of the hapless Indian literary agent


What does it mean to be a literary agent in India? Kanishka Gupta reveals it all in Scroll.in

Many authors have no idea about the print runs and the advances prevalent in the industry. A writer from the film industry wanted Rs 1 crore for a seven-book deal. “If Ravi Subramanian can get it, why can’t I?” Subramanian delivered three smash bestsellers too, you see, but this fact went completely unnoticed by this particular writer.

Some authors expect the potential print-runs of their books to be a certain percentage of literate people in India, and sometimes even of the entire population of India. “We are a country of one billion people. I think it would be fair to do a first print run of ten lakh copies.”

Many well-known authors haggle over the commission and some don’t want agents to have a percentage of the subsequent royalties. I usually agree – because in all likelihood they are not going to see a royalty cheque in their lifetimes anyway.

But I must confess that things are better when it comes to publishers. Most, if not all, welcome agented submissions. However, this has happened only after years of hard work, nurturing relationships, and gaining credibility. But there are some homegrown ones who are resistant, perhaps because we ask for good terms for our authors. When a publisher turned down one of my first proposals, the author managed to get a meeting with the publisher through a common friend – and a few days later, he got an offer for the very same proposal!

So what does an Indian agent do in these near insurmountable circumstances? What did I do? The answer: be flexible and adaptable.

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