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.)