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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Literary Agent Interview: Kanishka Gupta, CEO & Founder, Writer's Side Literary Agency

Kanishka Gupta
This one sure, took quite a while. But it was all worth it, in the end. So, no words to waste. Because this particular interview, says it all. Kanishka Gupta is a literary agent and consultant. His first novel, 'History of Hate' was on the long list for the Man Asian Prize in 2009. 

But of meaning and importance here is the fact that he set up a manuscript assessment agency called 'Writer’s Side' and in 2010, he began to represent authors, as well.  He is the literary agent to reckon with. So, here goes...

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

Publishers in the west focus on the different aspects of publishing. Looking for good writers is not one of them. That’s the agent’s job. 

Agents are kingmakers in the West because there is no concept of unsolicited manuscripts there. In India too, some publishers like Hachette have stopped accepting manuscripts from authors and while, a lot of publishers still commission directly, agents are fast gaining prominence.

It is our job to find good writers, work on their books and try getting them deals with publishers. But an agent’s job doesn’t end after the author’s book finds a home.

Often, they have to act as mediators between authors and publishers and sort out creative differences, misunderstandings, mismatched expectations. They are the authors’ advisors and their eyes and ears.

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

I get most of my writers through referrals from existing clients, some common friends, or direct submissions through the website. If I feel strongly about a subject/theme, then I do sometimes approach a writer, who can do justice to it. 

I do work selectively on developing ideas and sharing them with the right author.

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

I am probably the only agent who is open to all sorts of genres, including translations, children’s books and commercial fiction.

I always look for good writing and engaging storytelling in fiction and socially relevant/slightly contentious themes in non-fiction.

In fiction, credentials don't matter but in non-fiction, I am looking for people who are experts and are well-known in the field, that they write about.

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

They should keep writing and not think about the end goal, that is publication, money, accolades. Writing requires a lot of discipline and passion. My advice to every new writer is to write only if you have the itch and if you feel passionate about it.

Don’t use it as a means to achieve an end. It just doesn’t work. Writers also need to have a lot of patience and understand some of the harsh realities of publishing such as the low percentage of success and poor remuneration.

Don't be too idealistic, leave everything, sit at home and write. Have a full
Amish Tripathi
time job unless you get 5 crores like Amish Tripathi or your book start having a first print run of 10 lakh copies.

How could a prospective author approach you?

Through my email address on my website.

What’s your advice to an aspiring author?

Patience, perseverance and passion. Otherwise, quit.

What are your top three favourite books? 

Zoe Heller
I really like the works of Austrian writer, Elfriede Jelinek. Bhisham Sahni’s ‘Tamas’ also deeply affected me as did Zoe Heller’s ‘Notes on a Scandal’.

What was the last book that you read?

Probably a manuscript that I have signed on.

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