In part one we explained what a literary agent does. In this part we talk about who are the best literary agents in India. In part three we will cover how to select good agent(s) and sign one up.
For this list of the best Literary Agents in India, we’ve gone beyond just checking their websites and compiling all the information. Instead we reached out to every single one and interviewed almost all of them. We also spoke to quite a few authors about their experiences working with Literary agents in India. That way we got first-hand insight and understanding about who they are and what they do.
The outcome of these interviews was a renewed respect for the agent community. I think literary agents in India work hard, are very passionate, and the good ones care deeply about their authors. They may vary in attitude and in their business models, but most seem to have an impressive work-ethic and come across as highly professional.
Given the size of our country, we have very few Lit. Agents. Further, most literary agents in India only work with English language manuscripts. While this is a pity, it is not a judgement of the agents. This is simply driven by the state of language publishing in India. Except for a handful of strong regional languages like Bengali, Tamil, Kannada & Marathi, the publishing scene for most other languages is pretty dismal.
Literary agents in India – and everywhere – are very picky. They have to be. As explained in part 1, they have a lot of credibility with the publishers. This credibility comes from their ability to pick out good writing, develop it further and push it through to publishers. This means they also set high standards for themselves – ergo their pickiness.
We debated how to list these literary agents in India. We considered listing them by the number of business deals, but found that number hard to establish in many cases. Besides, as we interviewed agents we realized that the best agents aren’t necessarily the ones doing the most deals. Often the opposite can be true. Agencies working closely with a few select authors may add a lot more value. Listing them alphabetically didn’t really offer any insight either.
The industry has been around since 1997. Since then many literary agencies in India have grown and thrived, but a few haven’t. While new literary agencies have opened in India, some such as Osian and Boxwallahs have folded. Kadalu and SBI Impresario – both listed on the Hachette India website – seem to be non-functional. Purple Folio’s Facebook page says,
“Purple Folio was founded in 2012 as a premier literary agency. But currently we are not working as book agents. We are undergoing changes and will update when possible.”
We finally decided that the age of an agency is definitely a sign of stability and credibility. As mentioned earlier, the oldest agents aren’t necessarily the largest, but in talking to these ladies (they are mostly women) we realized what amazing work they did. The below list of agents is chronological, based on when each agency was started. Wherever two agencies started in the same year, we’ve gone alphabetical.
Please don’t rush into the very first agency you find worthwhile. Picking an agent who is a good fit is critical. In part three of this series, we talk about how to select and sign on a good agent.
The best literary agents in India are as follows:
Jacaranda Literary Agency- 1997
The oldest literary agency in India, Jacaranda was founded in 1997, which makes the “industry” 23 years old. The founder of Jacaranda is Jayapriya Vasudevan. A true pioneer, she started the agency when none existed in India. She was mentored by Paul Marsh of the renowned Marsh agency of the U.K. in her early days. She has lived in various parts of the world – Bangalore, Singapore and Africa.
Today the agency also has a partner – Helen Mangham – based in London. The Jacaranda Literary Agency is registered in Singapore, and represents authors from all over the world. In addition, they also work closely with literary agencies from all over the world, Jacaranda is amongst the most globally well-connected literary agencies in India today. It is an international agency with roots in India. So if you believe your book has potential beyond India, Jacaranda would be a great one to talk to.
They represent 60 authors including the likes of Trisha Das, Tiffany Tsao, Kubra Sait and Lisa Ray. They have translated and published Sapiens in many Indian languages, and also have done 15 translations of Mitch Albom’s work. Notable recent books include “The Deoliwallahs” by Joy Ma and Dilip D’Souza and “The Quarter” by Naguib Mahfouz.
Their preference in terms of genres is non-fiction, and while they do accept fiction, it is much less. Fiction requires the full and final manuscript, while non-fiction works with a concept note and the first fifty pages as a writing sample.
They seem to enjoy a really deep relationship with their authors. They are everything from a therapist to the go to person for their writers. They try and support their writers in every way possible, and also sent out a letter of “Encouragement and Calmness” to their writers when the pandemic broke. This short excerpt from their letter to their authors says a lot:
“Helen and I wanted you all to know that we are thinking of you – our writing family – at this difficult time. We know only too well that this is not easy and that there will be more challenges ahead. Some of you will be coping with having young children at home or worrying about an elderly relative. Some of you will be finding it difficult to focus on your writing or other work. Some of you will be enjoying the peace and quiet, some will be fighting cabin fever. All of us will be trying to stay healthy, care for our families and remain sane! We are both trying our very best to stay positive! 💕 So with that in mind, we have been trying to think of small ways that we at Jacaranda can help us all to come together and lift our spirits collectively. What we have come up with is an idea to celebrate our shared love of books and writing.”
- Acceptance Rate : Jacaranda has a very low acceptance rate. They work on very select titles, and are picky about the quality of writing.
- Editorial Services : They have offered editorial services in the past under the “Write Advice” page on their website, but it currently seems to be suspended.
- Terms of Engagement: The agency charges 20% of royalties. They do not charge anything upfront.
- Submissions: The agency now accepts manuscripts only through reference, and does not accept direct submissions.
- Website: You can learn more about Jacaranda at their beautifully designed and very impressive website at http://jacarandalit.com/
Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency- 2007
Bombay based Sherna Khambatta founded her eponymous literary Agency back in 2007, and has worked independently ever since. Sherna holds a Master’s Degree in Publishing, probably the only agent in India to do so. She likes to understand a writer’s motivations before she signs one on.
“Why is the person writing? Ego? Brand Building? Understand the motivation. If it’s just an ego trip, you can self publish and give it to your five friends,” She says and continues, “But some books really just need to go out in the world.”
- Acceptance Rate: She is picky. With a submission rate of 80-100 manuscripts a week, she has her hands full. Her acceptance rate is well below 4%.
“To be honest, the problem may not be with the book, but with me. I often pass on stuff which is really good, but which I am not comfortable handling. Women’s abuse is one such example.”
Sherna prefers non-fiction including genres like travel and food. She stays away from poetry, sci-fi, thrillers and kids books. “I stick to what I understand,” she emphasizes.
- Editorial Services : NIL
- Terms of Engagement : She has requested us not to share specific percentages. She does not charge anything upfront.
The number of deals she does is not large but that is because she wants to stick with the few projects she cares about. She isn’t interested in scaling, but prefers to stick with the projects she believes in.
- Submissions: Sherna also gets her submissions through references and her network.
- Website: Her site landing page looks nice but doesn’t work because it requires Flash, which is outdated. It goes to say that she’s at a point where she doesn’t need to / care to advertise herself as a literary agent anymore. Her reputation precedes her. Her website is at http://www.shernakhambatta.com/ but her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/shernakhambatta/ has better information.
Siyahi, a literary consultancy – 2007
Mita Kapur started Siyahi and has been running it since. One of the older firms in the business, Siyahi is unique in that it is based in Jaipur and not a large metro. In addition to running Siyahi, Mita has also been involved with the Jaipur Literature festival, the Noir Literature Festival and many others. She is herself an author published with Harper Collins.
One of the larger Literary agencies in India, Siyahi has a busy roster of Authors which includes authors such as Devdutt Pattanaik, Gulzar and Gurcharan Das. They also do a lot of translation work. Siyahi is one of only two agencies which accepts manuscripts in Hindi.
“If we sign on a book, we have to place it. Failure is not an option. I am very idealistic in that sense, and once I take something on I don’t give up.” She says.
Through the pandemic the advice Siyahi is giving to their writers is to keep writing and also to read a lot.
An established name, Siyahi currently is keen on non-fiction, although they aren’t closed to fiction. They prefer stuff like memoir and Biography, but stay away from poetry and short stories.
- Acceptance rate : Low at 5% or less.
- Editorial services : Yes. Siyahi does offer editorial support, but keeps it very distinct from their literary agent services. Using their editorial services does not mean Siyahi will represent you as an author.
- Terms of Engagement: The agency charges 20% of royalties. They do not charge anything upfront.
- Submissions: The agency accepts manuscripts through their submissions page.
- Website: You can learn more about Siyahi at their website http://siyahi.in/ .
Red Ink Literary and Film Agency- 2008
Anuj Bahri, the founder of the Red Ink Literary and Film agency – is an affable, funny man who frequently switches to Hindi. For someone who leads one of India’s top agencies, he comes across as a very approachable person.
The agency started as an outcome of his annual visits to the Frankfurt book fair. Bahrisons is a big retailer in India and he was able to sign rights for India, and for Indian books overseas. This initial work led to the creation of the agency.
His biggest author in India was probably Amish Tripathi, for whom he was the agent from 2008 – 2018. Mythology is a genre they like, and they are currently putting out the Mahavatar Trilogy by Kevin Missal. They have also done the Peshwa series by Ram Sivasankaran. They also do work in other genres such as non-fiction – “Remnants of a separation” by Aanchal Malhotra is one of their jewels, as is Spy princess by Shrabani Basu.
Red Ink also has a penchant for darker fiction the series “Alice in Deadland” by Mainak Dhar and “And the Roses Bled” by Mehak Daleh. Thrillers is another favourite, and they also are the agent for Mahendra Jakhar who is a former crime reporter and the author of “The Butcher of Benaras”. Their celebrity authors include Gul Panag, Shweta Bachchan and Malini Agarwal of “Miss Malini” fame. Red Ink says they have five authors who are on the world stage.
They do limited work in poetry and short stories. Right now (this is July 2020) they mentioned having 70 active authors and a substantial backlist.
- Acceptance Rate: As like other leading literary agents, Red Ink also has a very low acceptance rate. All shortlisted manuscripts are read by four staffers, and only if at least three of them approve of it does it move forward. So only 1-2% of manuscripts submitted to them are selected.
- Editorial Services: They do not offer editorial services separately, and feel strongly about reading fees / editorial services.
“Reading the manuscripts is the Agent’s job. After I read it, I decide whether I believe in the manuscript or not. If I don’t believe in the manuscript, and I don’t want to represent you, then why would I work on something I don’t believe in?” Anuj says.
- Terms of Engagement : Their terms are 20% of royalties. They do not take any advance or fixed upfront payment.
- Submissions: They, along with Siyahi, are one of only two literary agencies which accepts Hindi Manuscripts. If you know of more, please mention it in the comments.
- Website: You can learn more about Red Ink on their website https://redinkliteraryagency.com/ .
Writer’s Side Literary Agency- 2010
Writers’ Side claims to be South Asia’s largest Literary agency. From all accounts, it has had a meteoric rise. They have a comprehensive website with good information, and Kanishka Gupta, the founder, writes prolifically across various media channels. We were in touch with them via email but they were unable to answer our questions over the phone or via email, so we have little insight to offer on them in terms of quality and nature of work.
We did speak to Arjun Raj Gaind, a writer who works with the Writer’s Side Literary Agency. He says
“The draft of my first book, A Very Pukka Murder, spent more than a year moldering in slush piles until I was introduced to Kanishka Gupta at Writer’s Side. After a three hour phone call where he explained, in excruciating detail, what was wrong with my writing, he proceeded to get me a three book deal in less than 48 hours.
That was four years ago. Since then, he has become a close friend, and our relationship has evolved into something more complex, where he serves not just as my agent, but also as a confidante, a sounding board for new ideas, and occasionally, as my therapist.”
While that is the view of an individual writer and not a larger picture, it does give us a sense of at least one relationship.
- Website: http://www.writersside.com/
Shruti Debi – 2011
Shruti was the editor at Picador India for seven years before she became a literary agent in 2011. She is Delhi-based and works as an independent agent with a colleague selling language rights out of London. Her website is a cryptic one-page affair with just basic contact information. There is a reason.
She is not accepting any new manuscripts at this time because she has her hands full with her current authors. She expects a second wave of books from her existing clients, leaving her with little or no time for new authors.
She prefers to do a few books at a time, but very good ones. Further, they endeavor to do a fair number of deals for every book. Shruti is clear of her likes and dislikes. She sticks with her own preferred genres. She feels a strong affinity for more literary work. One genre she completely avoids is Mythology and historical fiction.
“I am interested in literary techniques,” she says. “Over the length of a chapter of a manuscript one can usually see where the author is in terms of material and mastery. I am attracted first to the material and with good writers one gets a sense of whether the mastery will follow when one has considered a sentence or three.“
She is attracted to books with a “long shelf life”. She likes political writing, journalism, memoir, sports and biography. She works with authors such as Tavleen Singh who has written “Durbar”, “India’s Broken Tryst” and most recently, “Messiah Modi: a tale of great expectations”.
She was also the agent for Samanth Subramanian’s book “A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of J. B. S. Haldane ” and authors like Namita Devidayal, Jahnavi Barua, Aruni Kashyap, Akshaya Mukul, Neyaz Farooquee, 2020 Graetin Prize winner Andrew Fidel Fernando. She is currently handling Girish Karnad’s autobiography and a new translation of U R Ananthmurthy’s third novel “Avasthe”.
She does a lot of novels and a few short story collections too. These include Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbag & Leila by Prayaag Akbar. Leila was made into a Netflix series. Her upcoming works include a book by Karuna Ezara Parekh, an Instagram star. Her novel “The heart asks pleasure first” has been in the works for ten years.
“I like books like that which have been worked on for a long time,” Shruti says “It is unlikely that someone who has not written much will turn up with something great. So I prefer writers who have been writing for some time.”
- Editorial Services: NIL
- Terms of Engagement: Shruti has asked us not to share commercial details of how she works. She does not charge anything upfront, and does not offer editorial services separately.
“Every author doesn’t need an agent. In the UK and the US publishers and publications do not open submissions to all but in India where it is still possible to be published directly I’ll sometimes advise a writer that being agented might lower the chances of being published. ” says Shruti.
- Website: Shruti’s website is at https://debi.co.in/ .
Lotus Lane Literary Agency – 2013
Based in New Jersey, the Lotus Lane Literary agency was founded by Priya Doraswamy in 2013. Priya was a practicing lawyer in the US before she set up Lotus Lane.
Priya’s journey as a literary agent began with Jacaranda in Singapore. She has deep experience working with Indian authors. They have a strong India focus for a US-based agency “I have a very diverse list of authors, and a substantial number of authors are American. I also have a strong list in India, and some of my Indian authors are published in the U.S. and U.K., as well. Depending on the author’s provenance and genre, I sell to specific territories to suit such provenance.”
On asking if she also does India-only deals, she adds, “Yes, I’ve done many India only deals. Perhaps 15% to 20% of my deals are India only deals. Really depends on what’s in my stable and therefore fluctuates in percentage terms.”
We noticed that they weren’t accepting any submissions at the time of going to press. She said “I usually close submissions once or twice a year depending on how overworked I am!”
The Lotus Lane Agency currently represents some 55 authors. They did some 30 book deals and about half a dozen book adaptation deals in 2019.
- Submissions: Lotus Lane is open to both fiction as well as non-fiction titles, but stays away from horror, sci-fi and academic publishing. Lotus Lane works with many well-known authors such as Arshia Sattar and Farrukh Dhondy.
- Website: You can learn more about them on their website https://lotuslit.com/ .
Labyrinth Literary Agency – 2014
The Labyrinth Literary agency was founded by Anish Chandy, probably the only literary agent with an MBA degree. His seems a classic case of someone following his passion, and his unlikely choice of setting up a Literary agency has been a good one for the industry. He is well spoken of in the community. He set up Labyrinth after stints at Penguin and Juggernaut. He’s tried his hand at many other lines of work before he got to publishing.
Labyrinth handles some very well known authors including Anita Nair, Nikita Singh, children’s book writer Roopa Pai (Taranaut series) and cricketer-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar.
- Submissions: Labyrinth is most open to narrative nonfiction, general nonfiction & literary fiction. Anish doesn’t want to touch poetry at this time.
- Acceptance Rate: Labyrinth has an acceptance rate of just 1%, so you would have to be lucky to sign Anish up as your agent.
- Terms of Engagement: Labyrinth charges a 20% commission on author royalty and has done 120 deals in 2019.
Anish’s time – similar to that of most top-notch literary agents – is valuable. He uses this precious resource for a good cause. Anytime someone who isn’t a client wants to have a general chat about books, Anish offers them some time if they donate a wheelchair via www.wheelsforlife.in .
- Website: http://www.labyrinthagency.com/
Preeti Gill – 2014
Preeti Gill has a strong background in feminist writing and has worked at organizations like Kali for women and then Zubaan. She is Delhi-based but she also founded Majha House, a literary centre in Amritsar, where she travels often. Majha house does great work and offers many programs in the literary space, and also a residency for writers. You can learn more about Majha House at http://www.majhahouse.com/ .
- Submission: Driven by passion, she prefers to stay away from mainstream and commercial writing and is very selective in the books she takes on. She likes to encourage new thinking and voices.
- Acceptance Rate: Her acceptance rate is <5%.
Speaking to her was enlightening. She is steeped in recognizing and encouraging the craft. The motivation for her work clearly seems to be passion and not money.
- Terms of Engagement: Her terms are 20% of royalty, but she makes exceptions based on the kind of book.
The Book Bakers Literary Consultancy- 2014
The Book Bakers website is a free one-pager on BlogSpot with rather sketchy information, and hadn’t been updated since 2013 when we went to press. So it was with some trepidation that I spoke with the founder, Suhail Mathur.
Suhail turned out to be an affable, charming fellow. A lawyer by training he says he entered the literary scene and he observed the industry in late 2014, “The unanimous consensus that I reached was that publishers and literary agents were not very keen on working with young, first-time authors. So the focus of The Book Bakers has been to give first-time authors a break.”
He proudly spoke of an 8-day literary festival conducted online during the pandemic, which saw participation of more than 600+ authors.
- Acceptance Rate: Since their goal is to encourage first time authors, they have a high acceptance rate of about 60%, which means they reject less than half of the manuscripts that come their way.
However, they do charge an upfront fee, and negative comments about them do float around on the internet.
Some established authors – such as Neil D’Silva – speaks highly of the Book Bakers. Another well known author – Kulpreet Yadav – walked away from a more established agency. “My current agent is Suhail Mathur of Book Bakers. He’s got me deals with Bloomsbury, Penguin, and Rupa. Deals are the most important thing for a writer,” says Kulpreet.
However, amateur writers seem to have had a negative experience with Book bakers. Such folks mention being charged up front, and also about promises being made but not kept.
- Submissions: The Book Bakers is open to all genres and all kinds of writing. They believe poetry and short stories can also be published, but having them streamlined and linked to a single theme helps.
Suhail gave the example of “The Deadly Dozen” by Anirban Bhattacharya. It is an anthology of non-fiction crime stories about serial killers in India. Another example he cited was of “The greatest folk tales of Bihar” by Nalin Verma.
- Editorial Services: Apart from editing services, they also offer a range of other services on their website such as editing, proof-reading, cover-designing etc. which can be useful for an author, individually or as a package.
They also offer these services to publishing houses separately.
- Terms of Engagement: Suhail was not comfortable sharing the amount of the upfront fees or the % of royalty they charge as fees. He said that each deal can vary depending upon the genre and the quality of the writing.
- Website: While the Book Bakers’ website is rather basic (http://thebookbakers.blogspot.com/ ), their Facebook page is active and you can learn more about them at https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheBookBakers/ .
Word Famous – 2015
Dipti Patel comes from the corporate world without any literary background when she started Word Famous. “In the early days, I used to accept everything including kids books, sci fi etc. Over the years I have been working more on well-researched mytho-fiction, romance, thrillers etc. I find short stories, poetry and Muslim stories really hard to place.”
Dipti seems to have a penchant for working with older writers. She has placed many books written by writers in their 70s and 80s with A-list publishers. She has done well over 50 deals so far including 12 deals in 2019.
- Terms of Engagement: She initially charged a fee of 15% of royalty, but now charges a flat fee of INR 15000 on signing a deal.
- Website: http://www.wordfamous.in/
First Forays – 2018
Lalitha Ravindran founded First Forays after a career in Financial Services and IT. She never planned to become a Literary Agent, but a book review she wrote followed by a chance meeting with an author at the Pune Lit fest in 2018 led her to this new calling.
She works mostly with debut writers. While she did four deals in 2019, she has already signed another 4 in 2020, despite the pandemic. Her preferred Genre is non-fiction, and in fiction she prefers drama, romance and historical fiction. She stays away from sci-fi, poetry, fantasy and erotica.
- Terms of Engagement: She charges a fee of 15% of royalties, and a fee of 5-10k on signing of the contract.
- Website: http://firstforays.com/
A Suitable Agency – 2020
While “A Suitable Agency” is the youngest Literary Agency in India, it is an impressive set of people.
The founder Hemali Sodhi spent over two decades at Penguin Random House. The team includes Ambar and Smriti who have significant Publishing and Marketing experience. Varun, who consults with them, has deep expertise in book marketing, and also helped market my book “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” from Penguin.
The agency is inspired by the abiding love for books. It intends to work mainly in adult fiction and non-fiction, although it maybe open to compelling books in other genres as well. Hemali Sodhi says “I think we are fortunate that publishing in India is a very vibrant space and we see so many new voices and debuts both in fiction and non-fiction. I think there are many more voices waiting to be discovered though, and we’d love to be a part of that very exciting space and make some of that happen. Like I said I love working with authors and with books, and I had told myself that when I step away from a full-time role I would start an agency.”
The one big differentiator this agency offers is a strong Marketing capability. Hemali consults as head of communications for the Centre for Policy Research and advises them on communication strategy. The agency also consults on marketing for the New India Foundation, and takes on select projects where it can add value in marketing or communications.
- Acceptance Rate: They are too new for an acceptance rate yet, but we expect they will be quite picky.
- Terms of Engagement: They haven’t shared specifics of the fee structure, but mentioned that they will follow global terms of engagement.
- Website: https://www.asuitableagency.com/
You will notice that all agencies are really about a single person. Two at best. This is not just an Indian phenomena, but true worldwide. Agencies are rarely large organizations. Mostly they tend to be very niche and run by passionate individuals who care about specific genres. In the west agencies often work only in a specific, narrow genre. In India it is not that specialized yet as agents work across multiple genres, but they still have personal likes and dislikes.
With this comprehensive introduction to the literary agents in India, you now face the task of choosing the right one for yourself. For that look out for our upcoming post on how to pick the right agent and sign one up.