If 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.