March 7, 2012

Fake literary agents in India


There’s a cautionary tale this week from India, which has been experiencing a publishing boom for a decade now. As detailed in this Spectator report of late last year:

… dynamic economic growth has combined an increasingly vocal, upwardly mobile middle class readership with a refined literary elite to create a solid publishing tradition. Some 25 years after Penguin first came to India, all the big international publishers have established Indian operations, and local and independent presses abound. With 90,000 books and 19,000 publishers, India has the world’s sixth largest publishing industry, booming after the year 2000 when the Indian government allowed 100 per cent equity in publishing.

Interestingly, says Tanuj Khosla on his CNN-Indian Broadcasting Network blog, until recently it was a virtually agent-free market:

In the West, most writers engage literary agents to represent their works in front of publishers and assist in the sale and deal negotiation of the book. However literary agents are still a very new concept in India and over 90 per cent of the authors submit their manuscripts directly to the publishers.

Sounds like heaven if you’re writing from a small indie publisher. We often find that our most fruitful relationships are direct ones with authors — not least because agents so often price indie publishers out of deals altogether. There’s a snag, though:

Over the last few years, many unscrupulous individuals in India have taken advantage of the absence of big names in the country and lack of awareness among aspiring writers and established dubious literary agencies.

Unfortunately most don’t offer a single service that a literary agent should. New Delhi, which can rightfully call itself the publishing capital of India, is leading this trend with ‘literary experts’ setting up shops at every nook and corner.

It seems that one of the biggest problems is agents advising that authors self-publish, and taking a cut themselves. Rather takes the ‘self’, and so the point, out of the self-publishing equation, no? Over at the Complete Review, Michael Orthofer observes:

I’d suggest that one reason why the publishing industry is thriving in India is because so little of it as yet passes through the hands of ‘literary’ agents, scrupulous or not … Look for everything to go downhill fast once they establish themselves.


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.