A Times of India reporter reached out to ask me about my views on literary agents (here’s the published article). The interest in the topic was triggered by the recent announcement that Amish Tripathi (author of the Shiva trilogy) has recently got an eye-popping Rs 5 crore advance for his next series. That’s a million US dollars!
In the international market there are authors (and non-authors / celebrities) who get multi-million dollar advances. What makes Amish’s win commendable is that it’s happening in India, where publishers are tight-fisted when it comes to advances. When the book gets marketed outside India, the advance and royalty income with grow multi-fold.
Amish’s Shiva trilogy has done phenomenally well in a country where the only mass market appeal for fiction was attributed to Chetan Bhagat. With authors like Amish, Ravi Subramanian (Banker series) and Ashwin Sanghi (Chanakya’s Chant, Krishna Key) the publishing world and thousands of aspiring authors have new role models to look up to. The writing stars who can sell lakhs of copies, make crores in the form of book royalty and think about leaving their cushy jobs to focus fully on their writing career.
Apart from the excellent writing and well-planned marketing strategies, there’s someone else who’s played a key role in the success of the Shiva Trilogy – Amish Tripathi’s agent Anuj Bahri who manages the Red Ink Literary Agency.
The Times of India reporter published a few of the things I shared and the rest got edited out (whether it’s books or newspaper articles…editing can be equally brutal!). So I thought I’d post those thoughts here.
I think the literary agenting model in India is caught in a little bit of a time warp. A short, historical context to explain what I mean.
Outside India, the operating model has been very different. In the US, for instance, most of the reputed publishing houses don’t even look at unagented manuscripts. The roles of the author, agent, editor and publisher are clearly demarcated. In such markets, agents have traditionally wielded a lot of power. They were able to get their authors good advances and favourable clauses (e.g. marketing support) in the publishing contract.
In contrast, an overwhelming number of Indian authors approach publishers directly and manage the legalilities directly. So Indian agenting hasn’t had a chance to come of age.
Now there’s another challenge as a big ‘disruption’ happening in the international publishing industry. With the advent of e-books and self-publishing, there’s a whole new model emerging. Authors are able to bypass many of the intermediaries and reach their readers directly.
This raises a lot of questions about the roles traditionally played by distributors, retailers, agents and in fact, even mainstream publishers.
However, despite technology making things a whole lot easier, publishing is still a very complex game. Literary agents should still be able to play a key role in the publishing process if they are able to adapt themselves to the ‘new world order’ & re-define what they can do for authors that technology can’t.
This also means that the Indian literary agents will not have the same amount of time (that their western counterparts did) to reach the same level of scale & influence. Their evolution curve for them will be much steeper. That’s the time warp I was referring to.
For the old-timers who understand the essence of how publishing works and who are able to look at the exciting new prospects & mould themselves accordingly, it presents a huge opportunity.
Phew! Feels so much lighter now…to share the story, the whole story, on the blog. See why I keep encouraging you to start your own blog? 🙂
I’d be interested in hearing about your preferences. Would you prefer going to the publishers directly or waiting for a literary agent to represent you?