Bringing Words to Life
WITH A BOOM IN THE LITERARY SECTOR, IT’S TIME TO CONSIDER PUBLISHING AS A CAREER
Ionce read these lines on a website called Pubcrawl, written by a literary agent by the name of Mandy Hubbard, which suggested a simple, two-step approach to becoming a literary agent. “First, decide you want to become a literary agent. Second, call yourself a literary agent,” it said. For someone like me, who forayed into this field without a degree or relevant experience, these lines were gold. The scenario has changed a lot since then.
Get a degree
Nowadays, it is not necessary for a publishing professional to be an English or Philosophy graduate. They come from various fields including engineering, management and even pure sciences. A good grasp of English, however, is a prerequisite. And while, it is not mandatory to have an educational qualification in publishing, it is definitely helpful. Publishing courses offer a 360-degree view of the field and help aspiring agents build contacts. In India, the three-month intensive course offered by The Seagull School of Publishing, Kolkata, is a good option for those looking to enter the field after graduation. It exposes you to different kinds of publishing and allows you to interact with faculty from around the world. If you are looking for a course overseas, then Masters of Arts in Publishing offered by the City University of London, UK, and the Columbia Publishing Course offered by Columbia University, US, are good options. However, getting hired as an agent or starting your own agency in the UK or US is difficult.
Hone your skills
An agent is essentially a multitasker. He is a reader, editor, lawyer, accountant and PR manager all rolled into one. So, simply being a voracious reader or a good editor isn’t enough. In order to be a smart agent, one needs to have a good business sense and exceptional people management skills. This is also a job that requires a fair amount of tact and diplomacy since the agent has to please both his author and the publisher without appearing to favour one over the other. It requires you to be good at networking with a proactive approach, especially in a place like India, where publishers continue to accept direct submissions. “So, you need to keep in touch with the trade, see what is selling and what isn’t, what’s really in demand, and be businessminded enough to go for that, irrespective of your personal tastes,” says Renuka Chatterjee, Vice-President, Publishing, Speaking Tiger Books. According to her, an agent has to actively seek out authors, instead of waiting for work to come to them. Thinking of ideas and finding good writers who can execute them, much like a commissioning editor, is also important.
Don’t worry about the money initially
Low advances and direct commissioning are a fact of life in the Indian publishing industry and it will stay this way till the market opens up for us to sell in large numbers. If you’re a commissioning editor, the desire to seek out writers, or develop fresh ideas, will always be there. But a good agent cant do well despite these factors.