Want to chat with a Literary Agent? #MSWL #amwriting


As part of my ongoing writer’s guest post series in this blog, Melanie Lee spoke to us a week back. Today, it is with great pleasure that I present Jayapriya Vasudevan, one of the best known literary agents in Asia, who founded the Jacaranda Literary Agency. She answers questions on various topics of writerly interest: feel free to leave your questions for her in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to get answers for them.

Hi Jayapriya, and welcome to Daily (w)rite. What was the impetus behind your becoming a literary agent?

I used to run a bookstore/café years ago, and got to know both writers and publishers really well. The agency started when a writer I adored asked me to introduce him to the head of Penguin, India. It seemed to be the perfect way to use all my experience in the publishing world ( I worked in various aspects of publishing before I set up the store with a partner). I was the first agent in India, and I figured out the business as I went along. An editor friend and I put the word out that we were looking for manuscripts. We received more than 40 in a week. Amongst the authors we took on were Anita Nair (her first novel) and Rohini Nilekani. The writer who started me on this journey, the very first author in the Jacaranda list, Shashi Warrier. I still represent his work. The publisher, David Davidar. Now head of Aleph.

What is your typical day as an agent at Jacaranda Literary Agency?

Insanely busy. We are four agents who work out of four countries, with around 80 writers on our list. With varying time zones it’s mad. The first half of the day is about calls and emails. I speak on Skype with either Helen in Singapore or Andrea in Manila at 6.30 am my time. I spend around two hours reading every day: a fiction manuscript and one non fiction manuscript at a time. Takes me around 10 days to finish two manuscripts. And meetings happen as they will, as well as literary events in Nairobi, put together by various organizations like Kwani, (works with emerging African voices) and Storymoja, (does a chapter of the Hay Festival), and then there are the major book fairs and literary festivals we attend through the year.

What do you look for in an author you choose to represent? What sort of submissions are you seeing too much of, and what are the kind of submissions you’d like to see more of?

Good writing is at the core of everything. At least two of us at Jacaranda need to love it. The agency business is also very relationship based. The author-agent relationship is one of trust, and partnership. The ability to talk freely with the author, discuss edits and ideas is as integral to the agency business as the work itself. We get too much debut writing, of a quality that we’re unable to represent ( also saying here that we read at least 50 pages before abandoning a book). Writing to a trend or a market does not necessarily make for good writing, and that’s what seems to be happening now. We’d like to see more narrative non fiction. More beautiful and personal stories. More memoirs. Writing that stems from real experience or very good research as the case may be. We’re looking to grow our brand new Children’s list, and writing from Singapore, India, The Philippines and East Africa.

If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?
Anita Nair. Shashi Warrier. Suchen Christine Lim.( FH Batacan.Krishna Udayasankar. Kiran Khalap. Jess De Boer, Tracey Morton.. I could go on really…) These in particular for their incredibly beautiful writing. Vivid. Nuanced. With real stories to tell.

Will you be at any upcoming writer’s events, festivals, conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
I will be at Storymoja in Nairobi. Helen and Andrea will be at AFCC.

Any words of advice to authors worldwide looking forward to representation from your agency?

Take the trouble to do more than one draft. Be critical of your own work. Edit. Edit. Edit. Stay with a style that you are comfortable with and not try and copy a writer you admire. Proof your work. Send it out in a format that makes for easy reading.

Jaypriya Vasudevan: Jacaranda Literary Agency

Jaypriya Vasudevan: Jacaranda Literary Agency

Tell us about a project you’ve represented that is coming out now/ soon.

Krishna’s next book this fall. David Grossman’s To The End of the World in Tamil. Shashi Warrier and his wife Prita ( adorable to have husband and wife writing), their novels also this fall. A riveting first person account on being bipolar. Zafar Anjum’s book on the poet Iqbal. FH Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, and Table for Three.

About Jayapriya: I come from a family of writers. My father was one. My brothers are writers. I studied English Literature in College and have been in publishing since then. I adore the Arts, both performing and visual. Love books, naturally. I have lived in many countries and am delighted that this allows me to experience the literature of several countries as a local. Publishing is the only industry I would be a part of. I live in Nairobi, Kenya.

—-

Dear reader, what are your thoughts on Asian authors? Have you read any of the authors Jayapriya mentions? Are you on the lookout for a literary agent? Do you have any questions for Jayapriya Vasudevan? 

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57 thoughts on “Want to chat with a Literary Agent? #MSWL #amwriting

  1. Pingback: Have you read the Indian Game of Thrones? | Daily (w)rite

  2. Thanks for having me connected to your blog. This post is extremely informative. I always had these questions on my mind and thanks for doing the asking for me….:) Love your blog….:)

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  4. Damyanti, Thanks for arranging this chat that put forth the expectations and perspectives of the other side of the table. In my view, sometimes, getting honest feedback before approaching agents, pose a challenge.

  5. Hi there! Thank you so much for the follow and I love your blog! This was great stuff to read for me, as I write a lot of narrative non fiction and I have memoirs I want to share with people in the future. I’m so glad you wrote this piece, and I am so inspired! Take care

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  8. Thanks Damyanti, great info. I met an agent interested in my work at the Taos writers conference in the US. Her advice for an unpublished author was submit, submit, submit. In my case short stories as I have a collection and she loved them. Get a few stories in print, and she said she’d take me on with the promise of a novel to come. So now I’m submitting and working on a second novel (first one never published.) Thanks for all the insight- keep writing, edit, rewrite, edit, submit, and most of all delight in the writing.

  9. I don’t know that I have anything to add that others haven’t already said. Just, again, great post. Thank you so much for taking the time to interview. Hugely insightful.

  10. Great job Damyanti and Jayapriya. Its invaluable tips on writing and not be limited to just one draft. Its pretty awesome to get the perspective of a literary agent and its true on the need not to write for a specific market and emulate one’s favorite authors. Enjoyed the interview:)

  11. Thank you Damyanti and Jayapriya. I am now starting to look for a literary agent, not without a little trepidation, and your calm words have “humanized” the process a little bit!

  12. What an interesting perspective, thanks for sharing! I’m amazed at the logistics of working across multiple time zones. How about different languages? How many do you speak/read/publish?

    • We work largely in books written in the English language. And books that are translated into English. Having said that we just sold David Grossman into Tamil rights. I speak Tamil. I speak pidgin many languages. We’ll work on anything interesting from any language as long as one of us can read it ( and commit to it).

  13. How amazing that they read 50 pages of every book before making a decision. That’s very impressive. I have a feeling many agents only give it a few pages unless it grabs them.

  14. It’s always nice to hear things from the mouths of the types of people you’re hoping to get in touch with in the future. The idea of a literary agent to me is daunting, but reading about what they do makes it a little less scary to send my work out! Thanks for the post! :)

  15. Thanks for a very informative post! It’s nice to meet you Jayapriya! It’s exciting to hear that memoirs are wanted, since a lot of what I practice my skills on is memoir writing on my blog. My WIP progress, however, is sci-fi/thriller.
    You sound like you’ve found the perfect fit for your skills and interests, and I wish you all the best in your career, and the success of your company.
    Tina @ Life is Good
    On the Open Road! @ Join us for the 4th Annual Post-Challenge Road Trip!

  16. Thank you for sharing this interview. I’m not looking for an agent – heck I’m not planning on writing a book, but it was interesting to hear what she was seeing too much of.

  17. I have to say, I am woefully ignorant of Asian authors. Those I’m familiar with come from Japan or China with some Indian writers who emigrated to America. I wonder, too, if which coast one lives on can influence what writers one sees. I grew up in the Northeast of the U.S. so my education was heavy with European and Russian writers, as well as American. I wonder if West Coast readers are more influenced by the Pacific and Asian writers? I don’t know….. Cinda

  18. Thank you , Jayapriya, for dropping by to answer questions from this blog’s readers. You inspire us with the work you do to foster literary talent in Singapore, India, and beyond.

  19. Very interesting post thank you Damyanti and Jayapriya for an insight into the world of agents in the field of publishing. I haven’t read any of the authors mentioned though have read eg ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry (one of my favourite books); ‘The Kite Runner’ : Khaled Hosseini and many other Asian writers. I have Manil Suri: ‘The Death of Vishnu’ in my book shelf and ‘Cutting for Stone’ by Abraham Verghese, still to read.It is encouraging to note that ‘Good writing is at the core of everything’.
    Garden of Eden Blog

  20. The Liebster Award

    Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Award. Hopefully I do not bother you, because I liked your blog and thought you deserved it! Keep writing!

  21. What an interesting blog post! Thank you for shedding light on the day-to-day activities of lit agents for us. My question to Jayapriya Vasudevan is two-fold: do literary agents still take children’s writers seriously given that far too many adult-fiction writers jumped on that bandwagon after the JK Rowling success and produced…well mostly rubbish? And if lit agents still take them seriously, why is it that children’s writers are generally offered such poor publisher contract terms compared to adult-market writers? I’ve read on various established children’s writers’ blogs that they are now self-publishing because they were offered new contracts by their publishers that weren’t worth the paper they were written on.

    • Hello there. Writing for children is a huge market by itself and one that is always needed, always growing. I have two colleagues who work on this list.

      The question of self publishing is another story !

      Good luck with your writing.

      Jayapriya

  22. Reblogged this on Stories from the Hearth and commented:
    What an interesting interview with a literary agent from the other side of the globe this is – and very revealing about the lack of quality scripts that people are still sending in, clearly ignoring even the most basic submission requirements. For me as a children’s writer it’s great news to learn that this literary agent has just opened a children’s section. Yay!

  23. With so much self-publishing going on I keep hearing writers say that the agent’s role is no longer needed. Likewise I heard that many agents have left the business for the same reason. Personally I would love to have representation by an agent. Is the professional climate for agents different for agents in the U.S. than in Asia? Is your job becoming more difficult with the trend in self-publishing?

    Good to hear from the perspective of an agent.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote

    • Hello there,

      Asia does not require writers to have agents unlike the UK, US and Europe. An agent just makes the writing journey easier. For the writer. The writer writes and the agent works on edits, pitches and negotiations. We can see it changing here in Asia. In all the countries we work from.

      Self publishing is here to stay. Room for both! Traditional publishing and self publishing.

    • Hello Natalie,

      Finding a good book by a good writer. That moment when i read something truly lovely, that would be the best part of being an agent. Selling the book makes it even better. That there is someone else who thinks the book is worth reading…

  24. This was fascinating. I have a question for Jayapriya Vasudevan! (Lots of questions, but let’s ask one! Perhaps you could answer it for me, Damyanti). A few year’s back I wrote a novel. I contacted quite a few agents, and they all asked the same question: “Who is your publisher?” I contacted quite a few publishers and they all asked the same question: “Who is you agent?” I live in New Zealand. Needless-to-say, the MS hasn’t left the bottom drawer. How do people break out of (or into) the circle?

    • Hi Bruce,

      The publishing business is a tough one. We all have endless slush piles. I would suggest looking at your book again. Maybe running it through a quick edit. And look at agency websites for submission guidelines. Submit. Wait for at least six weeks and then check. You just have to mail tons of agents to find one who believes that your work is worth representing. Good luck!

      • Thank you for that and for the time in answering. I appreciate the time. However, what I meant is that I can’t get any agent to read even the “sample”. “We do not accept unsolicited MSS” !!!

  25. How interesting to learn more about the day-to-day activities of a literary agent! Yes, those time zones can make things a bit messy sometimes with communication within any company – thank goodness for email~!

    • Interesting is a good word. We tend to call it chaotic. But yes, always exciting too. Thank goodness for technology and connectivity. But hey, I live in Nairobi. There are days when we have no power and no wifi. Those are my very zen reading days,

      Thanks very much for your kind words.

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !

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