Interview: Literary agent Kanishka Gupta on publishing

I’ve always found the job of a literary agent very curious. Since as an author I know that most Indian authors don’t make much money, I do not understand how a literary agent, who charges the author 10-20 percent commission on royalty, makes any money in Indian publishing. This curiousity led me to ask these questions to Kanishka Gupta, a friend and my agent in India for YA/A novels.

Kanishka runs the literary agency Writer’s Side and has represented more than 400 authors in his short six years as an agent. I find him superquick in his responses, honest about his feedback and open to debut authors. In this excerpt he answers all those questions about agenting that had got me curious. I haven’t edited the blog, so it’s rather long. Take your time.


Q) A literary agent is rather an unusual profession. People who come into it, either wanted to be writers or publishers. How did you start as a literary agent?


As an out-of-job, out-of-sorts struggling writer in my early twenties, I was deeply perturbed by the lack of a support mechanism for writers in the country. At that time there was just one literary agency ( yes one!) and publishing editors were like inaccessible government bureaucrats. After freelancing briefly for a literary agency and a well-known novelist, I took the entrepreneurial plunge and founded Writer’s Side. In the beginning WS was more of an editorial consultancy but over time we have shifted our primary focus to author representation.

Continue reading “Interview: Literary agent Kanishka Gupta on publishing”

Media Mentions: HT Brunch, Scroll, Bangalore Mirror

Last few months, got a few journalists asking me to give a quote for a lot of interesting stories they were working on for their media houses. Listing down my absolute favourite ones! This is more for my reference than your reading, but go ahead and read it if you’re looking for interesting stories around storytelling.

Shattering the idea of feminism with wit – Bangalore Mirror

This was a fantastic story that talked about new age women in all careers who are trying to face-off chauvinism, patriarchy and bigotry with humour, wit and a slice of lemon. I loved the story, though I didn’t have to say much I’ve always struggled with the idea of feminism and what it represents in India (aka feminazi) though I bet Anantya would disagree.

 

Who I want to see at Jaipur Literature Festival – HT Brunch

Douglas Adams! That’s who. Imaginethe author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  coming down to Jaipur with his massive wit and observing the whole gamut of the festival and the bustle crowd around literature without a book in their hand. He would have a blast, I tell you.  I loved the answers of others in this too. Read the whole article online here.

Reared by the wolves – Firstpost.com

Firstpost did a great article on why we remain fascinated by the human child that grew up in the jungle, aka Mowgli. I got to add my two bits along with Ashwin Sanghi and others.

 

“Shweta Taneja, a speculative fiction author and a Charles Wallace Writing Fellow, offers this perspective: “I feel the idea of growing up in the wild, away from social norms, is tied up to having a re-look at society and what construes social norms and civilisation. When a character grows up in the jungle so to say, his/her perspective to our society is fresh, explorative, almost child-like in its curiosity, innocent and simplicity. This kind of storytelling is a way to explore the society that we live in from a fresh, almost innocent perspective. The writer, who is invariably city-based and grew up in the civilised environment looks at the jungle/forest space as something which is chaotic and dangerous, but at the same time has codes that are untouched and untainted by the civilized codes.”


Have a story you’re doing? Write to me. I would love to give in my two bits.

Five signs that say you might be depressed

You’ve been sad for a while now. At first you think it’s just a phase, you lose interest in everything, don’t want to eat, are forgetful and lack motivation. According to World Health Organization research, updated in April, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. “Depressive episodes could be mild, moderate or severe in intensity based on the nature, extent and duration of the symptoms,” says Sameer Malhotra, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “In severe episodes you can develop extreme behavioural changes from a high phase of mania to a low phase, become deluded or encounter hallucinations where you can’t stop listening to negative voices in your head.” Biological symptoms include weight loss, disturbed sex drive, a loss of appetite and interrupted sleep. To some extent, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent depressive symptoms, says Dr Malhotra. “Follow a regular sleep-wake schedule, do regular exercise, have a nutritious and balanced diet, engage in creative hobbies and stay away from drug and alcohol abuse,” he says. Continue reading “Five signs that say you might be depressed”

Year end and so much to be thankful for

Time is a thing of beauty. There are moments it trickles, slows down enough that you can hear your heart beat, beat by beat. There are flashes when time zooms, taking you on a journey full of laughter and glee. That’s how my 2016 went. Flew by, waited tiresomely and pondered. So I just want to list down the things I was thankful for.

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Made new friends

Beginning of the year, I shivered and learnt from Booker Prize winners at Chichester as a Charles Wallace fellow. Gave a talk in London. Worked on three books simultaneously, editing two and writing a new one. Learnt how empty it feels when you finish a project you’ve been with for years. Wandered in loneliness and heard myself. In the process, hung out with new people and made new friends.

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Learnt about failure

The book I started, refused to come to me. I lacked the skills for it and had to park it. I learnt to breathe and learnt about patience. I learnt to let things go. Attended a wedding in the middle of July in Delhi. Roamed on the streets. Found bugs with nephew and saw them through a lens so we could appreciate the beauty in their wings.

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Did things new to me

Saw a zebra running wild and a lioness being licked by her cubs. Found how hard it was to plant a tree. Launched a book and became a hybrid author. Started a new book, which I’m halfway through as I write this and am hoping to finish. Joined an ATM line, two days after demonetisation was announced and read a book on my Kindle. Joined two startups as their communication advisor.

All through this, I made many new friends and spent time with my old ones. Wandered the streets, chattered over filter coffee and green tea. Heard stories, nodded in empathy and danced away the nights. I’m so thankful my year went so beautifully.

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As you read this, I’m off somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, with my closest buddies, doing what I do to recharge my creative batteries: Walking, hiking and listen to collective wisdom on the road. I’ll come back with new stories, probably of ghosts, woes to share, ideas to write down and more things to be thankful for.

Have a wonderful year end, peeps.

Read, learn, make new friends, be merry, share laughter with strangers, fall in love, learn a new skill, slow down, get fit, plant a tree and listen to what it says to you. Take your life away from gadgets and make time for the people you love. For we won’t be here forever. And remember to be thankful for everything the universe has given you. Oh, and keep having that tea with Mad Hatter.

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Crowdsourced maps of real places in your favourite books

I’m a literature geek who loves to visit places that I’ve read about in fiction, especially detective fiction.  While in Switzerland, me and my husband (who’s equally crazy about this stuff) made a special excursion up a hill to see the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes tussled with Moriarty and fell off the falls. While posing against the  Sherlock dummy placed there for tourists, we thought it should have been Dudhsagar falls if Doyle never wanted his detective hero to come back (for Reichenbach are just not tall enough).

Which is why when I came across Placing Literature where you can map the real places your favourite author writes about, it made me go glee. The website creates maps of literary scenes that take place in real locations. If you’re in a city, you can check on the website and see which all spots were written about in which all books. Each spot also comes with the description of the scene and what happened in the plot there. Since it’s a crowdsourced map, you can make a map on their site by logging in with your Google account. Isn’t it fantastic?
Explore yourselves while I plan out my travel around spots talked about in Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes or places to visit in New York City.
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5 life hacks for aspiring writers

Want to start on that first book? Aspire to get published? Here are a few tips for aspiring writers that I shared with Writersmelon.

Why do you want to write?

If you want to be a writer, the first thing that you need, which is I think a very individualistic thing, is the desire to write, the passion to create something new, to express a story, a character in a new way. I write because  characters crop up in my head and bang inside, demanding to be let out. I write because it’s addictive and I have no other choice. It’s the highest I’ve ever felt, and also the lowest. It’s hard, but I’m not going to leave it anytime soon.

Once you’ve keyed on this desire, it will drive you through the long, long process of gathering the skills and actually writing the whole thing. Ideas are easy to come by, getting the skill of writing is also not too difficult, but it’s this desire that makes all the difference. This motivation that comes from inside you, will discipline you, make sure you don’t give up halfway and will not let you rest till you complete the creative work. In that sense, it’s an intrinsic value.

A stranger browsing the book. Isn't that nice!
A stranger browsing the book. Isn’t that nice!

Finish that first draft

Don’t let your rational mind take over till you complete the first draft. Write with your instinct, write whatever you see the characters doing, just write without thinking too much. Continue reading “5 life hacks for aspiring writers”

Deal with post Diwali blues by donating

Hope you had a fantastic Diwali. Now add more lights to it by donating. The best way to feel good about yourself is to bring in light into someone else’s. It lifts your spirits up and makes you feel thankful for what you already have.

With this Diwali’s wishes, I wanted to share a few of my favourite places to donate to. Donate to one of these causes, write back to me and I’ll send you a signed-copy of any of my books. In case of How to Steal a Ghost @Manipal, it would have to be an ecopy with a personal email 🙂

Donate. Now. Believe me, you’ll feel great.

Independent Media

Citizenmatters: They are a team of passionate journalists and a long list of voluntary bloggers who want to do good, reveal inefficiencies in the system and make their city beautiful, warm and welcome. I would recommend this one if you’re based in Bangalore. Donate here.

The Wire: A team of fantastic journalists who are coming up with in-depth insight into current politics, culture and our society. Right now, they’re better than any mainstream media. Find here how they’re funded and donate.

13886427_494847720639720_1485080451208064134_nEducation

Donate A Book: This is a library crowdsourcing platform through which you can help build a library in a school. The initiative is run by Pratham Books, one of the more innovative children books publishing house and is fabulous. For a book in a child’s hand opens a new world. It allows the child to dream, to think of new possibilities, to know that a different future is possible for her. Give some kids stars, by donating here.

Kalap Trust: Kids of a remote village in Utharakhand are looking for people to sponsor their additional education. This genuine work is done by a friend of mine.  Sponsor a child here.

(images courtesy Kalap)


Know other NGOs doing great work? Comment below and I’ll add them on in a future blog. Till then, keep donating!

 

A million ways to read

Share your book, read an unlimited number of them or just pay for one chapter. E-book publishing is becoming flexible in a bid to suit individual needs

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Talking about Indian comics in London

I’ll be giving a talk on Indian comics at the Cartoon Museum in London later this week. This post is about how it happened. It’s a good story, do read it!

Early in May I attended a workshop on British comics, full of comic scholars in London, led by the marvellous Paul Williams from Exeter University. There I was, in bustling, sunshine-y London, closed off in a small room with twenty scholars, who had brought along old comics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 80s – all decades really. We discussed on visual imagery in war comics, what British identity means, and many other important things. And I didn’t miss the outdoors, which says something about the comics, the activity and knowledge that these fabulous scholars presented there. But I digress. What happened in lunchtime is what led to the talk.

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We munched on fried fish, aalo pakoras (you read it right), spring rolls and quinua salad in the pub while talking comics and then headed back to the Cartoon Museum, which is where this workshop was happening. It was a 10 minute walk. While walking back, I happened to accompany Anita O’Brien, the curator at Cartoon Museum and then of course it being comics, I started yapping about my love of comics and how there are so many talented artists doing fantastic things in India and how she should do something about it here in London. She told me she’d commissioned the World War I graphic novel with Campfire. I told her the artist, Lalit Sharma, was a good friend. We found out we knew more than a couple of other artists from the industry.

‘You should do something more on Indian comics here!’ I cried, my head buzzing with ideas.

‘Why don’t you do it?’ she asked, calmly.

‘Me? Do what?’

‘Talk about Indian comics,’ she said.

‘Oh,’ I said, rather eloquently.

And that’s how it happened. Before I knew it, I’d asked Jason Quinn to ask me the right questions in this talk, who was sweet enough to agree. We will talk about comics coming out from India, some of which we love, some which we don’t, swap tales, talk about my work and his and anything else we feel like really. We have the stage after all.

If you happen to be in London and would like to join in the joy ride, come over. It’s a free event and you’ll get to hear stories about comics. What can go wrong with that? All you need to do is register yourself by sending a tiny email to the Cartoon Museum at shop@cartoonmuseum.org to reserve a seat. It can be a sentence long, really. I don’t think they have a word limit to it.

Finally, the moral of the tale (for there’s always a moral): Always walk back from the pub and always yap about the things you love. 🙂

Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Guest post: Is Vanity Publishing Author Exploitation?

Rasana Atreya is the author of Tell A Thousand Lies (shortlisted for the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia prize), The Temple Is Not My Father and 28 Years a Bachelor.  UK’s Glam magazine calls Tell A Thousand Lies one of their ‘five favourite tales from India.’ Valley Isle Secrets is her first foray into fan fiction set in the USA. Website.


Vanity publishing has arrived at publishing conferences and literary festivals, and this should be of great concern because vanity publishing is less about emulating trade (also called traditional) publishers, and more about convincing gullible authors to pay for services they do not need. Aspiring authors attend these conferences and festivals. The more they hear about these publishers, the more it gets legitimized in their minds.

You, as an author, owe it to yourself to be well informed. There is plenty of good information available on the Internet. Plenty of bad information, too. Learn to tell the difference. If you want to be a published author and have your book available for sale – either submit to trade publishers, or self-publish. If all you want is print copies of your book, go to your local printer. It works out much cheaper, and you also retain rights to your books. Stay away from anyone who wants money to publish you.

I cringe when vanity publishers call themselves ‘self-publishing’ companies. When you take the ‘self’ out of self-publishing, i.e. you – the author – do not upload the book yourself, it is no longer self-publishing. All that remains is vanity publishing.
I was a panelist on the nuts and bolts of self-publishing on Sept 12, 2015 in PublishingNext, Goa. This post is a combination of my take-away from there (a fabulous conference, btw), my comments as a panelist, and also my own impressions.

It getting harder for UK- and US-based vanity publishers to get naïve authors to fall for their ‘publishing packages’ – which can run into tens of thousands of dollars. This is thanks to activism on behalf of authors by platforms like Writers Beware and Preditors & Editors. As a result, vanity publishers have moved operations to Asia and Africa. That includes India, of course.

Continue reading “Guest post: Is Vanity Publishing Author Exploitation?”