Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Indian Writers Beware: Literary Agent Scams in India a Growing Problem

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

When Westerners think of major book markets, India may not be the first country that springs to mind. But India's publishing industry is the sixth largest in the world, and fully a third of it is devoted to English-language publishing.

Just as in the USA and the UK, the success of debut novelists in India fuels the dreams of legions of aspiring writers. And where there are aspiring writers, there are writing scams.

Reputable literary agents in India are still relatively rare. There's not a huge need for them, with most Indian publishers, and Indian divisions of overseas publishers, accepting submissions directly from authors. Questionable literary agents, though...apparently, that's another story.

According to this fascinating article in Publishing Perspectives (an informative free daily newsletter covering the international publishing scene), questionable agenting is a growth industry in India.
In New Delhi, which can rightfully call itself the publishing capital of India, self-styled “literary experts” and “consultants” have set up all over town. Unfortunately, many have little to no understanding of the trade; most have no direct publishing experience, and the few who do, are frequently authors themselves who moved into agenting after seeing their own literary efforts fail to set the cash register ringing at the bookstores.
Does this sound familiar? So does the list of bad practices the article highlights, including charging upfront fees of various kinds (such as "manuscript assessment fees"), selling editing services (some "agents" apparently charge non-resident Indian authors to "Indianize" their books for the Indian market), selling publishing services, and misrepresenting their expertise. Reputable literary agents operate pretty much the same way from market to market and country to country; clearly, so do disreputable agents.

Although Writer Beware occasionally gets a complaint about fee-charging by an Indian literary agency, I had no idea the problem was so widespread.

So Indian writers, beware. Familiarize yourself with standard literary agent business practice; this will make it easier for you to recognize bad practice if you encounter it. Writer Beware's Literary Agents page has a lot of helpful information in that regard. Keep in mind that reputable literary agents have a verifiable track record of sales to reputable publishers (or, if new, genuine work experience in the legitimate publishing industry), don't charge upfront fees for marketing or submission, don't charge prospective clients for assessing or editing their manuscripts, and don't urge authors to choose pay-to-play publishers.

If you approach a literary agency or literary consultancy that you think is suspicious, we want to hear about it. Contact us by leaving a comment here, or by using the email link at the top of the sidebar (beware [at] sfwa.org).

(Also remember: many questionable US-based literary agents--and publishers--target Indian authors. I get regular questions from Indian authors who've been solicited by vanity publisher Dorrance Publishing Company, for instance.)

13 comments:

Anne R. Allen said...

Predators seem to abound in the international marketplace. I've heard from a number of international indie authors who have been approached by fee-charging "agencies" promising Hollywood film deals and an entrance to US markets.

I'll spread the word about this.

Lucy said...

I hadn't heard of this either, but then again, not surprising. I would guess the same type of thing surrounds Bollywood and its aspiring screenwriters.

Thanks for an educational post!

Lucy said...

Edit: Not surprising that there are scammers, I mean. My syntax needs help. :)

Indian Author | HarperCollins said...

Victoria,

You've hit the nail on the head with this article. In a country like India with so many aspiring writers, there's a whole lot of ignorance about how the whole publishing process works and the role of literary agents.

I'm an Indian author. I was lucky to have got a legit literary agent who could place my book with the top-tier publishers in the country. Despite the agent representation and the contract from an A-lister publishing house, it's still a very slow process (characteristic of the publishing industry), but my non-fiction book will be out soon.

But I also realise that many talented writers may not be as lucky, as there are opportunistic predators who promise quick and easy solutions to impatient writers.

I started a blog for Indian writers & aspiring authors recently, hoping to share my experiences and create some more awareness about how the publishing industry works.

Hopefully the situation will change over time as writers become more aware of the unprofessional practices prevalent in the market.

Nithya said...

Hi, do you know anything about these agents:

Jacaranda
Red Ink

Please post your responses. I am keen for some information. Thanks for the lovely and timely post. :)

New Indian Writing Team said...

The problem is very widespread in India. We run a literary blog- NewIndianWriting.blogspot.com, which is solely aimed at making authors aware of this growing situation.
A lot of authors I have talked to have happily paid Rs30-40k for a book publishing. Plus, they have to sell their own inventory. This is not uncommon. Most first timers are prone to this scam and charging upfront, I am afraid, is looked upon as a standard custom now.

Hersh Bhardwaj

Anonymous said...

If an literary agent offers to edit your manuscript for a FEE, should a writer go for it? Or is it a scam?

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous--yes, it's usually a scam. It may also be the result of ignorance--i.e., the agent is too inexperienced to know that real agents avoid upfront fees and conflicts of interest. Either way--not good news for writers.

Shobhan Bantwal said...

Reputable literary agents do not charge a fee for any of their services. Their income comes strictly from commissions earned from selling an author's rights to royalty-paying publishers. I have six novels published by a well-known American publisher of popular fiction, and my agency has a stellar reputation, so I have some experience as an Indian-American author who has taken the tough but traditional route to publication.

Anonymous said...

I would like to put in a warning to writers about Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai. They take a lot of money from you, and don't provide you with the basic services; no accounts of sales, no reviews, just a blank.

Vipin Behari Goyal said...

What action if any, can be taken against Publishers who do not show you sell data? I am new author with two published books.

The honest confessor said...

There is this website I stumbled upon while researching for a polishing consultant for my own works. "www.siyahi.in" As you stated in your article, this agency charges a "Manuscript assesment" fee per word. This as you said sounded a little dubious. Where can I find out if this organization is actually genuine or a scam? Thanks.

Victoria Strauss said...

Honest confessor--

I'm going to be addressing your question and the issues surrounding it in a blog post next week.