How Does One Get Published? Can a Literary Agent Help? Here Are the Answers.
‘If you have the words, there is always a chance that you’ll find the way.’—Seamus Heaney
How does one get published? How does one transit from being a struggling writer to a haloed, published one? The mismatch between burgeoning writers and a handful of publishers is a gap which can be bridged with the help of literary agents. Long queues of ‘unsolicited manuscripts’ submitters outside the publishers’ doors juxtaposed with a limited market space, an agent might be the saviour of the new authors in navigating through the unchartered territory of book publishing. Literary agents Mita Kapur from Siyahi, Urmila Dasgupta from Purple Folio and Dipti Patel from Word Famous tell us about the their job and advice writers in finding a way.
Shrutika Mathur (SM): What is the most interesting aspect of a literary agent’s job? Is there a flip side?
Mita Kapur (MK): It has given me a chance to be involved with the creation of books right from the germ of an idea which is such a rewarding experience and a tremendous learning as well. Being an agent is like being shot at with creative arrows from all directions—some you dodge but most you take on willingly.
There is always a flip side—which profession doesn’t have one?
Urmila Dasgupta (UD): Reading new writing is possibly the most exciting part of an agent’s job but the flip side is that one has to read a lot of trash before one finds something exciting and new.
Dipti Patel (DP): There are many interesting parts like a) I am able to spot a bestseller, groom and see it grow. Working with young energetic writers of today, identifying their talent and nurturing them to become successful gives an immense sense of worth for all the hard work a literary agent puts in. b) Opportunity to get the great works in the vernacular languages translated and bringing them to the notice of all the English readers. c) Witnessing the experiences of great people being converted into knowledge banks in the form of books.
Of course, the flip side is that not being able to satisfy the writers always.
SM: What would you advice new writers to write who aspire to get published? Do you advice them to debut with a tried and tested formula of writing in terms of genre and form or explore more and experiment?
MK: My advice to new writers is: read, please read a lot. And be patient! There is no formula. Writing has to be honest and the writer has to be comfortable in his/her own skin.
UD: A debut writer should ideally prove themselves in one genre first and then move onto to experiment with new genres and formats.
DP: A first time writer instead of going as per market trend will be able to give out his/her best with what comes naturally to him/her. The new writers have to keep in mind the following factors: Content is king. Great content with deep research is always interesting which is quite a herculean task and time consuming. Any writer who wants to succeed has to have a topic, unheard or novel and great research backing it will surely add value to it. Language is important too. But if the content is great language can be improved. Writing is an art, so there will always be differences in accepting it. But a great content, language, topic, author’s hold on the subject, definitely plays an important part.
SM: How do you decide which book to take on? Especially when your personal tastes in reading maybe different from what has been offered by an author.
MK: I could give you the cliched answer that I have to fall in love with the writing, but that is not about it. There is a multi-layered narrative at work even for how we take on books. We have specialised editors reading different genres for us before we take any team based decision.
UD: One has to be constantly in touch with market trends and dynamics. That is the only way to do one’s job. Reading for one’s own pleasure is a different ball game altogether.
DP: We try to read the trends, study the market, and experience gives us insights about the right selection of work. Also, sometimes there are books which are completely different than the general trend so the personal taste works in such cases where the language, the author style of writing and the author’s confidence on the subject plays a very important part.
SM: After book has been commissioned by a publisher, how much role does a literary agent play in the way it is published?
MK: We are involved in the book right from the beginning, through the creative process down to promoting the book and making sure it sells; once we join hands we are in there for the long haul.
UD: An agent takes care of the author’s interests at all times and advises the author at every stage of the publication.
DP: An agent is a constant guide to the author from linking him/her to the relevant publisher to providing editorial inputs like formation of chapter outline, and synopsis etc. post the commissioning. Knowing the authors’ background we guide our authors in marketing their books too in the best way possible.
SM: Do you decide to represent an author based purely on his/her concept and writing or do other criteria also weigh in like the author’s profile, contacts etc.; in other words is the whole ‘package’ important?
MK: The package is important but not because the author has contacts! It depends heavily on the writing and the book itself. I normally don’t bother to open the author’s profile even though we ask for it.
UD: The whole package is important but the writing is the most important aspect of the package. If that doesn’t work then nothing else will.
DP: There is not one criterion. As I said earlier, it’s a combination of 5 things: content with research, language, topic, genre, author profile.
SM: Do Indian authors have a market outside India?
MK: Yes, they do. We have sold our authors into UK, USA, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Turkey, Russia and we’ve also sold some of their authors into India.
UD: Not really. But it is opening up slowly now. My author Judy Balan has sold in the US.
DP: The genre and the content in the fiction side are more suited to the Indian readers. Also, the Indian writers need to work more on marketing their books well in the international market. On the non-fiction side, more Indian authors are doing well outside India.
Please let us know if you have any other questions regarding literary agents that might help you in getting published.
Shrutika Mathur is an intern at Open Road Review.