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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Literary Agent Interview: Jayapriya Vasudevan, Managing Partner, Jacaranda Literary Agency

Literary agents! Inundated with books, inundated with folks. The job of seeing that your book reaches the correct audience is their job, and they take infinite pride in it.

Of writing, editing, proofing, networking and working on our craft is what is required of us to see our book though. And I haven’t even started yet. Whatever you do, you have to do more, and this agent tells us what that is, and what our expectations should be.

A notion, previously unknown in India, Jacaranda Press was set up in 1997. Today, there are no words or concepts to describe what Jayapriya Vasudevan with her team has brought and continues to bring to us. So, read up these words of advice, guidelines and inspiration… 

How did you become a literary agent? What qualities did you need to become one?

I became a literary agent in an almost serendipitous way. I knew publishers. I knew writers. I used to run a bookstore.  It was a question of matching the two. I started the agency with an editor friend in 1997 and pretty much figured out what an agent did by myself.  I learnt as I went along.

To be an agent, you need to love books. And people.  To have boundless patience and perseverence.  

To have endless enthusiasm for good writing. And really strong inter-personal skills when dealing with fragile egos.

Mostly, agents need to have a strong love of all things literary. My colleagues and I do.

What exactly does the job of a literary agent entail? Could you please explain in detail?

Lots of reading!  We look at a book and see potential where others might not see it. We work with the authors to get books into readble shape and submit to publishers in several parts of the world, depending on the relevance of the book (some books do not travel well).

We go to book fairs regularly and have established a great network of connections.

Our principal work is to represent the interests of writers to publishers. We work for writers.

Are you inundated with manuscripts?

YES!  But at least being able to send and receive and read digitally makes things a little easier.  However, we are now only a click of a button away, so that probably encourages more people to contact us.

At any point, we have at least 20 manuscripts to read. Each. We are three agents in Jacaranda. Like anyone else in publishing, we do have a slush pile that grows. There’s never a point when we can say that we are up to date on all reading.

How do you spot new writers? Where does one usually find them?

Many ways – something interesting posted online, articles or something in the press, word of mouth, a random conversation, through our network of contacts, referrals by our own writers… the list is endless.

What sorts of project(s) are most likely to get an okay from you?

Great writing, originality, topicality – we are open to fiction and non-fiction as well as writing for children.

As we are based out of Asia something with a local flavour is particularly interesting but NOT essential.

Having said that, we do have a small list of writers from the US, the UK and Africa. It’s always good writing that excites us.

How do you tell writers that their expectations do not match yours?

One always has to be diplomatic and manage expectations. If a writer’s expectations are unrealistic then it is difficult to work together.

That’s really the agency story. Managing expectations.

What are you looking for in a book, when it first comes to you?

We generally read a synopsis first and my interest first needs to be piqued by this.  After that, we try and read the first three chapters – this is usually enough to assess the quality of the writing and if this is a manuscript that requires further work/editing.

What are the mistakes that a writer might make?

Trying to fit everything into one book – being too ambitious in scale.  Trying too hard.  Telling their life story rather than using it as inspiration.

What according to you, should the characteristics of a new writer be?

Someone observant of human nature and able to accurately convey that on the page.  Someone always prepared to learn and hone their skill. 

Someone constantly searching out new inspirations and keeping the creative juices flowing.  Someone who is realistic about the difficulty of getting published in today’s market.

Someone who is patient. Someone who believes in her work.

How quickly do you make a decision on a manuscript?

You either love it or you don’t.  I judge from the covering mail.

How do you maintain relationships with publishers? And writers?          

Attending the London and Frankfurt bookfairs, going to at least one Literary Festival each year, keeping updated on who works where and keeping in touch via email or via social networking. 

Reading the trade press.  Meeting up frequently with my writers. Ringing writers whenever we can.  The list is endless. And nonstop.

How could a prospective author approach you?

It’s on our website… www.jacaranda-press.com.sg.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Tough to say. I feel excited about every book I take on and bring to each one passion and energy. Tough to say…

What’s your advice to an aspiring author?

Read what others are writing, keep learning, work on your craft and seek out the company of other writers.  Have patience… Write, edit. Rewrite. Edit. Proof your work.

What are you working on, currently?

A book on match fixing in football with two Italian authors.
A gay novel set in 1970’s China. 
Krishna Udayasankar’s new book.
Shashi Warrier’s new book. 
A quirky book about Parsis (fiction). 
A gorgeous book on a Tang dynasty poet. 
A book on Chaiwallah’s. 
A lovely novel set around the circus in Singapore and Malaysia. 
A chilling novel set in a fictitious town in England.

What are your top three favourite books?

I have too many favourite books. I like reading fiction. And like reading crime very much. I am also a great re-reader of books I enjoy.

What was the last book that you read?

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

What is your favourite thing about being an agent? And your least favourite thing?

Favourite? That’s easy.  Selling a book that I’ve loved.
Least favourite?  Rejecting a writer or failing to sell a book that I love!

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Managing expectations for sure. Balancing creativity with the need for companies to make a profit – especially in these difficult economic times.

It’s a tough time to be in publishing. But like most people in publishing, it’s a calling.

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