The Expanding Empire Of A Literary Agent

The Expanding Empire Of A Literary Agent

by Vikrant Pande - Thursday, August 25, 2016 03:40 PM IST
The Expanding
Empire Of A Literary AgentGetty Images
  • Kanishka Gupta is helping budding and aspiring authors to find a publisher.

    He is keen on conquering the world of publishing.

Kanishka is the name of an Emperor. And Kanishka Gupta of Writer’s Side, a literary agency helping budding and aspiring authors to find a publisher, is one such young man who is bent on conquering the world of publishing.

The author Bucchianeri writes about a friend: “An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear.”

That to me describes a true literary agent; someone who has your interest in mind but not at the cost of quality. The publishing world is a strange, unknown territory, especially for the first time writer, who has somehow managed to complete a novel and is now wondering how to get it noticed. When the author searches for websites of top publishing houses, he or she realises that there is no way they can speak to an editor. All they can do is send the manuscript, or part of the manuscript, as advised by the publishers, and wait! Most publishers very clearly mention that the authors should not call and that it would take a few months and that they may not bother to send a rejection letter. So it is truly sending a piece down a bottomless pit and just praying for someone to respond! Here steps in the agent. He is your guiding light, the one who hand-holds, that ‘someone’ the desperate first time author wants to talk to, to listen to, and finally to get ‘one’ publisher’s attention.

Kanishka Gupta of Writer’s Side is one such rare figure. When I first heard of him, I was sceptical but seeing the kind of reviews he had got from the authors he had helped publish, I sent my manuscript. I had read on blogs that he responds very quickly but I was literally taken aback when Gupta called me in an hour. He said he had liked my work and that he would love to get it published. Within two days, he had lined up three publishers!

A good literary agent knows which editor he should pitch the book to. This is where his judgement comes in. Gupta says that it has taken him time to get the credibility built with editors who have come to trust him. He says:

“In the publishing world, first impression is the last impression. I am really obstinate and I actually waited for a whole year before signing my first author Anees Salim. Being a rank outsider, with no experience or formal training in publishing except for a brief life changing internship with novelist Namita Gokhale, I had to be doubly conscious of quality. In the early days I felt more like an aspiring author than an agent because of the kind of response I got for my submissions. At times, I had to call and message editorial assistants and request them to bring my submission to an editor/publisher’s attention. Today I can say that I have a strong relationship with the heads of all the publishing houses and that all my submissions are taken seriously. While I am an author’s representative and have their best interests in mind I am also acutely aware of the extreme constraints under which publishers, editors, sales and marketing teams work. I am empathetic.”

The rare quality of an agent is to guide the new author and give him or her the right feedback. He gets manuscripts by the dozens and he rejects more than 95 percent of them. The one quality which has helped him reach where he is he says is ‘versatility’.

“I am often accused of taking on too much. That’s simply because I am open to all genres - literary fiction, commercial fiction, YA, children’s, graphic novels, all kinds of non-fiction, poetry and sometimes even academic books. If I can’t fully grasp the subject matter of a promising book I will pass it on to an expert/specialist but will never reject it. This is how publishers work. While it may appear that Writer’s Side is a one-man show in reality I rely on the counsel of several professional,’ he says.

Of course, quality matters. Quality is foremost criteria on which he judges a book. The editor respects him for his ability to judge a manuscript before he sends it for a perusal.

Gupta says:

The hard fact is that a majority of my books are rejected because of sales/marketing reasons. There have been instances where the entire editorial team has backed my proposal but ultimately rejected it because sales didn’t feel they’d be able to sell it.  If there are quality issues then they are usually with translated fiction or literary fiction. But there is an element of subjectivity in assessing fiction,” .

Once an author is established, there is a tendency to go to the publisher directly. This is where Gupta tries to show his acumen and adds value by guiding the author, whether it is the  signing amount or the right publisher which will help the book to reach a particular mark. Finding authors across the border or finding manuscripts with niche subjects has helped this most successful agent in South Asia to continue building his reputation as India’s foremost literary agent. He says,

“I am not just a book agent but a friend, counsellor and confidante rolled into one. Of course, differences and partings are inevitable in some cases but most of my old authors have remained with me.  Anees Salim has done five books with me. One of my authors Bhaskar Chattopadhyay has done 10 books with me. I would attribute this to my accessibility and swiftness. I am of the firm belief that an agent needs to have the instincts of an entrepreneur more than an editor.”

A good line-editor does not always make for a good agent. For someone who charges 15 percent of the advance as a commission, Gupta does a lot more work than what the author signs up for. He guides the author, finds the right editor, negotiates the best deal possible with the publisher and then ensures that the book is published as soon as possible.

The NY Times best-selling author Daniel H Wilson says,

“I wrote a query letter to an editor - a friend of a friend. The editor called me an idiot, told me never to contact an editor directly, and then recommended three literary agents he had worked with before. Laurie Fox was one of them, and I’ve never looked back.”

In India, especially in the literary world, it is a refreshing change to see someone do his work with the passion which is rarely found. No doubt, Kanishka Gupta, at the young age of 33, is set to reach many more milestones in the future and is poised to become one of the most favoured agents for all publishers.

A graduate of IIM Bangalore, Vikrant Pande’s day job is spearheading the TeamLease Skills University at Baroda. His keen desire to see his favourite Marathi books being read by a larger audience saw him translate Raja Ravi Varma by Ranjit Desai (Harper Perennial). He has since translated Shala by Milind Bokil, and is currently working on several other books. He is fluent in many languages including Marathi, Gujarati, Bangla, and a smattering of Tamil and Kannada.
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