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.
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.
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?