Jacaranda Literary Agency – Interview

Writer's BlockIf you are a serious author, planning to approach the best literary agents in India (or Asia), you probably already have Jacaranda Literary Agency on your list. Jayapriya Vasudevan (Founder) and Priya Doraswamy (Partner) have been doing excellent work in the field and setting the standards high for others who wish to get into the literary agency business. [Update: Priya Doraswamy has moved on and started her own agency – Lotus Lane Literary]

They work with established and first time authors and have sold their book rights to all the top publishing companies in India. They sold my book Beyond the MBA Hype to HarperCollins. I caught up with Jay recently to find out more about the agency, their future plans and the Indian publishing industry.

Jacaranda is the oldest literary agency in India. Over these years, what are important milestones that you are proud of?

Setting up the agency was an adventure in itself. I had no one to learn from, no rules to follow. It was really about finding my own path…which has been good.

Milestones…Agenting Anita Nair’s first novel ‘The Better Man’ ( Jacaranda was too small an agency so I encouraged her to move. We continue to be associated and we will be doing a book with her this year), signing on Shashi Warrier ( we continue to work with him). Doing a book on the woman who started CUPA, Crystal Rogers. Running a literary fest to promote our authors, way before it was a cool and hip thing to do..

Can you share some statistics to get an idea of Jacaranda’s scale: how many authors do you represent? how many books have you sold to publishers? how many query letters do you get each month? how many new authors do you take on each year?

We represent around 80 authors ( and with several of our authors writing multiple books, the number of books we represent are quite high). We represent around 30 books from Singapore. And 2 books from the Philippines.

We often sell rights for other partner agents. We sold a wonderful Chinese memoir called ‘Socialism is Great’ ( this was the first Chinese author to be published as a rights deal) and more recently, we sold a big biography on JD Salinger.

Our success rate is good. The sale might take more time and a lot of work for both the author and us, but we can place most of the books on our list. I have never counted the books we have sold. The selling and signing are continuous and we just chug along.

We get around 20 manuscripts a week. We build on our list with about a maximum of 10 authors each year.

After all these years, your team is still very small (only 2 agents). Why haven’t you expanded?

We expand in terms of work. We like being hands on, like reading every word that comes our way. This is just fine for us. We want to be a small and good agency. We do hope to get someone in India. Step by step.

In terms of the scope of work, we have really grown. We do a more Asia list.

And with Priya in the U.S. and me in Singapore, we are building an eclectic list and reaching publishers directly in several countries.

What makes the Indian publishing industry unique? How is it different from the western markets?

The number of Indians who write, well that’s a big number to start with. And publishers in India publish a strong India list. It’s still a country that print still works. It’s just the number of people who write, the number of publishers around and the fact that print still sells makes India unique.

Are there plans to grow your international footprint – in terms of establishing relationships with publishers in the US, UK etc?

The U.S part of it has already begun. And we have been associated with the Marsh Agency for years. They take on some titles for their list. However, we have been meeting publishers from the UK at book-fairs and conferences and do have a good relationship with several.

We sold Kiran Khalap’s ‘Halfway up the mountain’ to a UK publisher years ago. We have sold Shashi Warrier’s work too. Info on that will follow shortly!

What challenges do you face while trying to balance the interests of the authors as well as publishing companies?

As agents, we are truly stuck in the middle. Our loyalty is towards the author. We represent authors not publishers. Having said that, we have to be diplomatic in the way we work, trying to sell our authors’ work and not nagging publishers. It is a business that takes time. It’s up to the authors and us to be very very patient!

With so much demand in India, why do we still have only a handful of good literary agencies?

Till publishers stop taking direct submissions, it will stay that way.

If an author hasn’t got offers of representation from any good literary agencies, what alternatives can she explore?

In India, authors can go directly to publishers. The ebook conversation has to be a separate one. We have strong opinions!

Is the Indian publishing industry getting anywhere close to the big book advances that international authors get?

I think advances have got a lot better and a lot fairer. In the context, yes, advances have got good.

How can a new author grab and sustain your attention?

By writing to us. By sharing information. By following up, maybe once a month. By being patient.

Any new, exciting initiatives at Jacaranda that you’d like to share?

Many new plans for the new year, Sameer. Will share it soon!

Thanks for your time, Jay

My pleasure, Sameer.

22 Comments

  1. Chandrima says:

    A very relevant interview for writers looking to get signed on, or even looking to understand how the process works.
    And thank you for the picture, its great to finally be able to put faces to the two ladies I’ve been interacting with over email! Very pleased to know that I get to associate with an agency of such good reputation and that my book is in excellent hands.

    -someone Jacaranda have recently decided to sign on

  2. Sameer says:

    I dug out that picture from Jay’s Facebook page 🙂

    Jay and Priya work tirelessly for their authors, but there’s very little focus on them or their agency.

    So I thought it was only fair that they got their share of limelight (not that they need it). Though, I’m guessing their authors (including you and I) would prefer it if they remained the industry’s best guarded secret.

    Welcome to the Jacaranda family, Chandrima. Exciting times ahead for you!

  3. Sairam says:

    Sameer,
    You are doing a great job by putting up much needed info for first time writers.

    There is so little info about the indian literary agents – including jacaranda press.

    This is good stuff.

  4. Sameer says:

    Sairam,

    After seeing your New Year’s standup comedy video, I see that you are hedging your bets pretty well.

    Demonstrated potential for at least 2 unconventional careers 🙂

  5. Dr. Urwashi Parmar says:

    Thanks Sameer for this information. I am a full time doctor & like writing. I am on the verge of completing my book & was desperetly searching for someone who would publish my work when I just happened to read ur blog by chance. Hope this information will help me positively.

    Dr. Urwashi.

  6. Sameer says:

    Dr. Urwashi, I browsed through you blog. Your passion for writing is quite evident.
    I also see that you’ve subscribed to my blog posts. So you’ve got two strong factors working for you. 🙂
    That leaves hard-work and destiny. If you take care of the former, you’ve covered 75% of the ground. Hang in there.

  7. Hi Sameer,

    I was looking up literary agents when I came across your blog. Really good stuff! I am looking at a career in publishing and have no clue where to begin. I am somewhat a novice writer too, but that is another story. Life is good when I am surrounded by words, let’s see where life takes me. Sending you an email shortly, will look forward to a reply.

    Cheers!

  8. Dr.Swati Lodha says:

    Dear Sameer,
    Glad to read about the lovely ladies.I have just sent my latest manuscript to Jacaranda titled “Moon Parenting”.I have already got two books published-“come on ,get,set,go…”(2002) and”why women are what they are”(2004).

  9. Sameer says:

    Hi Swati,
    You are on a hat-trick! Congrats.

    Any tips or ideas that you’d want to share with published and unpublished writers based on your experience?

  10. Sri says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I read a few of your posts, and I must say – am going to hang around here a lot more. Treasure-trove of information. Thanks so much!

    I agree to everything you say here – about hard work, destiny, and literary agents. I’m also on my first manuscript, a full length novel. Frequent peeps into your blog will certainly be insightful.

    Please visit my blog when you find time. Would give me great pleasure to have you over.

    Sri
    (a.k.a Phatichar) 😛

  11. Sameer says:

    Hi Sri,

    I see that you’ve already ‘The Blogosphere’ series going strong. And the number of comments for each post is pretty good too. Nice work!

    Glad you found the tips and ideas on my blog useful. Think you could add the site to the ‘Blogs I Follow’ list on your profile page?

  12. Sri says:

    Thanks a lot for the encouraging words. I’d definitely add this site to the ‘Blogs I follow’ list, but there seems to be a problem. The list currently is from the template ‘follow this blog’ that I selected when I visited those sites. Your site does not have a provision for it; and I have no idea how to manually edit/modify my ‘profile page’. I’m not an advanced user of Blogger. I’m on it, will try to add you in somehow. Yeah? 🙂

  13. Prionka Ray says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I found all your posts very informative and relevant.

    I am a writer based in Singapore. My first book was published a few months ago and now I am debating between a literary agent and a publisher for my second book.

    I must say that this interview was quite helpful. Thanks and keep those posts coming!

  14. Dear Sameer,

    Thanks for the information.I am an Environmental Film maker and now was in search for good Literary Agency for children story ( Picture story).

  15. Sameer says:

    Thanks for reaching out, Sanyog. I saw your first video where you roped in Ashutosh Gowariker to share the message. Good work!

  16. Susy Matthew says:

    Hi Sameer, thanks for doing this interview. It has been really helpful. I have just published my first book but the awareness created has been dismal in spite of a high profile launch with John Abraham… I guess I need a literary agent to do this post launch awareness.
    My second book is completed and I am working on my third…

  17. Sameer says:

    Susy,

    A literary agent is not responsible for marketing the book. Your publisher is supposed to do that, well, theoretically.

    If that hasn’t happened you might want to consider taking the marketing reins in your own hands or hiring a PR agency.

    Btw, speaking of celebrity launches, you might find this post interesting: Book promotion: Celebrity book launch vs low key event

  18. Loved this interview! I came across your blog just today and I am so glad I did. I have written a couple of novels but been unsuccessful in publishing them. Will follow your blog for all the good updates. Thanks for all the exhaustive information – it really helps writers like me!

  19. Devdas Kakati says:

    Dear Sameer,
    Thanks a lot for the information. It is just great to know that we have such good literary agents to help authors. The interview has been very informative and inspiring. The photograph is good.
    – Devdas, March 4, 2013

  20. Krishna Kumar says:

    Hi Sameer I am in need of a help. I have written two novels. One published by a small publisher and didn’t get enough recognition. I have completed my second novel too. I want you to help me in getting a publisher. I will try to compensate your help by popularising your blog to fifty thousand people. please contact to my mail id.. [Edited out]

  21. Sameer says:

    @Gargi & Devdas: I’m glad to hear that you find this blog useful. Good luck with your book.

    @Krishna: I can’t help you get an agent or a publisher.

    Rather than promoting others, you’ll benefit more if you can promote your own blog and sell more copies of the first book.

    Even if a fraction of the estimated 50,000 readers pick up your book, you’d be valued more by the next publisher.

    Food for thought?

  22. neeraj srivastava says:

    Hi Sameer ji i need your suggestion regarding publising of a hindi novel.As i have already got published a short stories book on social issues .Kindly advise me to launch the novel succesfully .I am working as asstt accounts officer in ministry of defence .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *