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Critical care for aspiring authors

Q&A: Kanishka Gupta

Jai Arjun Singh  |  New Delhi 

Kanishka Gupta, a 25-year-old writer and editor, has just launched Writer's Side, which he describes as India's first manuscript-assessment service. The idea behind the venture, he tells JAI ARJUN SINGH, is to read, critique and edit manuscripts, and to recommend the promising ones to publishers.

What was the genesis of Writer's Side? Why does the Indian publishing market need a service like this?

When I was working for the literary agency Siyahi, I often wondered why we had to go through a hundred manuscripts in the hope of finding one publishable one.

Why not try and give exhaustive feedback (for a service fee) to writers, rather than a cold, impersonal rejection letter? I feel that a combination of editorial support along with the occasional recommending (only for really good manuscripts) would work better.

I am not happy with some Indian publishers. Innovation is zero, or close to it. The global conglomerates coming in are hardly buying books written by promising new writers; they're relying on building up book ideas conceived in-house and commissioning already established writers.

What does the first-time, inexperienced writer gain from all this? Nothing. Writer's Side has been established to empower emerging writers and help them evolve through our several feedback options.

What is the nature of your agreements with writers? What services will you provide?

It's a simple writer-editor agreement. We don't promise publication or recommendation "" we can only work on the manuscript and try to bring it to a publishable level.

The rest of it depends on a particular list a publishing house is planning to expand, and, I am sorry to say, an individual editor's mood. We provide reading, critiquing, all kinds of editing "" exactly what an editor at a publishing house would do.

Do you have tie-ups with publishers, in India or internationally? What weight will your recommendations carry?

There are at least 16 UK publishers who have agreed to read manuscripts recommended by us. Some of them even sent me their catalogue and told me the kind of Indian fiction and non-fiction they are looking for.

These publishers are an eclectic mix of big conglomerates and fiercely independent publishing houses such as Profile Books and Marion Boyars. I also have agents and scouts willing to look at our suggestions and recommend them to European publishers for translations.

As for weightage, the market is so tight that only a good manuscript will sell. I'll make sure that our recommendation has been read, which in itself is an important step.

The work you are doing "" as middlemen, providing advice and guidance "" is similar to that of literary agents in the West. Do you think such agents will catch on in India?

Agents take a cut in the royalties, while we charge a flat, one-time fee. In the long run, we are bound to benefit more because we don't have to waste our time on reading unpublishable manuscripts. We make money on every submission, at the same time offering the opportunity to improve it.

Agencies in India might work in the sense that agents would be able to sell good manuscripts to publishers here. But I haven't seen a single manuscript that can catch the fancy of a UK or US publisher "" markets that are flushed with money.

Most editors in publishing houses are forever groaning under the weight of submitted manuscripts. Can you handle a large number of submissions?

We are ready to act as scouts for Indian publishing houses "" that is, read manuscripts for them and give feedback on them. However, that is something I haven't decided on yet. I am taking it very slow. Being a writer myself, I have had the fortune to be in touch with some very talented writers.

As for submissions, we can certainly handle much more than our small team might suggest. It's just that, at any given time, we might not be able to edit as much as we could read and critique. There's a possibility of a waiting list, but we can always add more editors.

What is the background of your team? Have most of them worked in publishing houses and do they specialise in particular types of writing?

I've worked as the chief editor of a men's lifestyle portal. Rahul Soni, my most trusted editor, has worked with many online magazines and is now editor of Pratilipi, a fascinating online bilingual journal.

Among my other team members is Sanjay Lafont, a filmmaker and columnist who will be able to handle all that racy commercial fiction that gives the other editors a headache!

(For details on Writer's Side, see http://www.writersside.com)

First Published: Sun, April 27 2008. 00:00 IST
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