From Louis Vas


This is an interview mailed by Louis Vas, I am sharing this without his permission. I hope he will excuse me.

Since there seem to be quite a few aspiring authors in Goa, below is a
not so recent  interview with a literary agent in Mumbai, which may be
helpful in their getting books published. I don’t know the agent and
am not endorsing her by any means.

Luis

Please welcome our first celebrity for the month of August: – Sherna Khambatta

Sherna is one of the most famous and influential literary agents in India.

Her list of representations include Gopika Kapoor for – ‘Spiritual
Parenting – Wisdom (and wit) for raising your child in a stress-free
environment’ which made it to the best-seller list as soon as it was
launched in India. She follows this book with one on Spiritual
Pregnancy and Spiritual Dating both releasing in 2010 by Hay House
India.

In non-fiction, Joyce Slayton Mitchell’s Guide to American
Universities for Indian students will be out in 2010.

In fiction, Nityasya Belapurkar at age 16 has her first young adult
fiction novel released You’re Not Alone and Chandru Bhojwani’s debut
novel The Journey Of Om . A book of poems, Sufi’s Garland by Manav
Sachdeva Maasoom based in Afghanistan during his work with the United
Nations will be releasing in the latter half of 2010.

She is also working with American author Michael Benanav who was on
the Discover Great New Writers list on Barnes And Noble for Indian
editions of his works Men Of Salt & Joshua & Isadora which will be out
within the next few months.

Currently, for children Katherine Reynolds – Born To Dance which tells
a pure and timeless tale of friendship, adventure, hardship and
triumph. The book has been awarded First Prize for Children’s Fiction,
San Francisco Book Festival in 2009. First Prize for Children’s
Fiction, the David St. John Thomas Charitable Trust in 2008 and has
received an Honourable Mention for Children’s Fiction, London Book
Festival 2009 which has been released in Hong Kong with availability
for the rest of Asia shortly.

Sherna also acts as the Indian representative of the U.K. based Wade &
Doherty Literary Agency, for further information visit
www.shernakhambatta.com

1) What motivates you when it comes to writing/publishing?

I think one must do what one really feels passionate about, without
fear and giving up its success or failure is unimportant. Working with
books and reading them before anyone else does is amazing and being a
part of the process of seeing an authors work come to life is a
privilege, I immensely enjoy being part of the creative process with
the author.

2) Actually, what does a publisher expect from a writer? (Apart from
writing style)

A publisher looks at a writer’s sustainability and uniqueness in
content. The author and his/ her work should complement a publishers
list adding value to it for the best fit.

3) Also, tell us something about the concept of literary agency in
India and its struggles. How did you venture into it?

I wrote a book of poems, which was published in 2002 and found the
entire process extremely alien if not intimidating, and I wished that
I had someone to guide me through it. This led me to pursue a Msc. in
Publishing upon which I felt that I could fill a void in the
publishing process. Publishers overseas rarely accept unsolicited
manuscripts from authors. Instead, they use reliable agents who assess
the manuscripts they present, thereby ensuring that they are
publishable and of good quality. Though the concept is new to India, I
felt that there is a growing need for professional agents. Having had
work published, a Diploma in Creative Writing and a Masters in
Publishing gave me confidence to set up as an agent and use my
experience from an author’s point of view.

4) As one of the most famous and influential literary agents, how do
you feel when you see average writers/books being published? Any
comments? In addition, who is responsible for this?

It would be grossly unfair to term a writer’s work as average since
the writer has obviously spent a lot of time and effort, not to
mention courage and determination to write his work. If the book is
published, it indicates that the given publisher saw potential in that
work and the responsibility of publishing lies with the publisher. A
publisher takes into account reader habits as well as saleability of
the book and after weighing the pros and cons would publish it so in
my opinion there are no average writers or books, they are all work,
which someone saw potential in or else they would not make it to being
a published book.

5) A famous Indian writers once said, ‘Even if we don’t write in the
best English, that’s fine as it’s not our first language.’ Don’t you
think Indian writers are carrying the load of writing in English when
the world doesn’t expect them to write in English?

Most of the writers who I’ve come across and work with are all fluent
in English and it is their first language, being the one that they
speak, think and dream in. The world may not expect them to write in
English but increasingly Indian writers are breaking boundaries and
commanding respect internationally proving that they are on par with
any English speaking writer or nation.

6) Any regrets in life. Any manuscript or book, which you feel, you
should have represented?

Thankfully none so far.

7 ) Which books would you recommend for amateur writers? Indian and Others.

The Writers Handbook

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Fiction,

On Becoming a Novelist,

On Moral Fiction by John Gardner

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.

8 ) Could you please explain the procedure of getting a book published?

Here’s a brief on how a book gets published:

For a first time author, a book should begin with a finished
manuscript for fiction and a proposal with sample pages for
non-fiction. Though published authors can sometimes sell novels based
on proposals. An author at this juncture should contact agents for
representation. Once an agent agrees for representation they send the
manuscript to editors at various publishing houses. The agent will
target the submission to the editors that they feel are most
appropriate for the given book. The editors evaluate the proposal and
if it’s something they are interested in they will share it with their
colleagues and boss(es) to gauge the enthusiasm. Once the editor has
the go-ahead to work with the project they will send the agent an
offer.
The submission process can take anywhere from a week to a year or more
depending on when/if the agent finds a match for the project.
An offer usually includes an advance, royalties, territory, and other
specific terms. The offer can be for a single book or sometimes it
will be for multiple books. If more than one editor is interested in
the title there may be an auction to determine which publisher will
make the best offer.
When the deal points have been agreed upon and the author accepts an
offer the publisher will send a contract, which the agent negotiates.
After the contract has been signed, if the project was sold on
proposal it’s then time for the author to write the book.
Once the manuscript is completed (nonfiction) or after the contract is
signed (fiction) the editor will usually send an editorial letter
suggesting content changes that the author needs to make. These
changes are somewhat negotiable, but for the most part authors will
follow their editor’s suggestions.
When the changes have been made and the manuscript is editorially
acceptable, the next stage is copyediting, where typos and other
errors are corrected, and typesetting, where the book is designed as
it will look on the page. The author has to review the different
versions of the completed manuscript for typos. The publisher is also
works during this time on the design of the book, including the cover,
trim size, paper type.
Meanwhile, the editor coordinates with their marketing and sales teams
to write copy for the publisher’s seasonal catalogue, write the jacket
copy, to generate enthusiasm among the sales team for the project, and
to help shape marketing plans. Several months before the book’s
publication the sales team coordinates with bookstore buyers and other
“accounts” as they place their orders, which helps determine how many
copies of the book the publisher prints. The agent keeps tabs on this
process to make sure everything is happening according to plan.
The publication process from finished manuscript to in-bookstore books
usually takes a year or more. When publication date arrives the book
goes on sale in stores.

9) Who is your favourite Indian and Non-Indian author in English?

My favourite Indian author is Vikram Seth and Non-Indians are Haruki
Murakami and Alain De Botton

10) Why do we have English writers from the South Indian or Bengali
community more than others?

The Bengali community and the people of South India have traditionally
been learned and cultured communities who adapted very early to the
English language. They place a great emphasis on reading and literary
pursuits which has led to a greater number of writers from these
communities.

11) How do you feel when you have thousands of listings in Google
through ‘Sherna Khambatta’ and carry the tag of one of the most
influential literary agents in Asia? What is the mantra of your
success?

It is a great honour and privilege to have so many listings on Google
and I don’t think I am one of the most influential literary agents in
Asia though it is something that I aspire towards. The success lies
with the author and I merely am an aid in their venture. My authors
welfare which is paramount, a good manuscript, hard work, instinct and
trust all combined in equal measure = success.

12) ‘Sherna rejects 9 out of 10 manuscripts,’ claims a celebrity
author from Mumbai. Any comments?

This would be true since it’s terribly difficult to come up with a
completely original concept and storyline the execution of the book is
the key point. The idea of the book needs to feel fresh, which is not
the same as being completely original. The uniqueness is about how
it’s written rather than what it’s about and I do need to feel very
strongly and passionately about the book. Having said that, it would
be terribly unfair to work with manuscripts that I didn’t believe in
and so yes, I do reject 9 out of 10 manuscripts.(and I hope this
justifies why)

13) Why is poetry publishing declining? Any comments?

Unfortunately, traditional publishing houses typically do not publish
the work of unknown or moderately known poets because there just isn’t
a large readership resulting in no money in poetry.

14) Any recent book, which you admired in the terms of writing style?

I recently read Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma which weaves a story that
depicts the internal struggles of an individual amidst the external
chaos that exists around the main character in his memories and
present-day sensations. Beijing Coma confronts the horrors of the
world to feel a sense of sympathy for the victims without the emotion
ever changing to empathy. While rogue governments and their
incomprehensible lack of concern for human life, suitably evoke shock
it’s often far too easy to turn off the news report or finish reading
the magazine article and let the matter remain as background noise.
Through the topic and tone of this novel, our eyes are able to glimpse
into a world that if it were written as pure fiction we would find
fanciful, excessively violent and beyond the comprehension of any
right-thinking individual. That being said, Beijing Coma is a truly
magnificent work of fiction that is destined to become a modern
classic. Almost as admirable as the work itself is the unbelievable
translation which uses language in such a way that if I didn’t know it
was originally written in Chinese I would’ve believed the author wrote
it in English.

15) Would you like to tell us about any of the authors whom you have
represented?

Gopika Kapoor is the very first author represented by me, her first
book in a series of living spiritually in today’s fast paced world –
‘Spiritual Parenting – Wisdom (and wit) for raising your child in a
stress-free environment’ made it to the best-seller list as soon as it
was launched in India. Within minutes of reading her manuscript I knew
it would work as it was beautifully written, connected with the reader
and with universal appeal – all the qualities needed for a good book.
She follows this book with one on Spiritual Pregnancy and Spiritual
Dating both releasing in 2010 by Hay House India

In non-fiction Joyce Slayton Mitchell’s Guide American Universities
for Indian students will be out in 2010.

In fiction – Nityasya Belapurkar at age 16 has her first young adult
fiction novel released You’re Not Alone and Chandru Bhojwani’s debut
novel The Journey Of Om both based on relationships and essentially is
everyone’s story will be releasing shortly.

A book of poems Sufi’s Garland by Manav Sachdeva Maasoom based in
Afghanistan during his work with the United Nations will be releasing
in the latter half of 2010.

I’m also working with American author Michael Benanav who was on the
Discover Great New Writers list on Barnes And Noble for Indian
editions of his works Men Of Salt & Joshua & Isadora which will be out
within the next few months.

Currently, for children Katherine Reynolds – Born To Dance which tells
a pure and timeless tale of friendship, adventure, hardship and
triumph. The book has been awarded First Prize for Children’s Fiction,
San Francisco Book Festival in 2009. First Prize for Children’s
Fiction, the David St. John Thomas Charitable Trust in 2008 and has
received an Honourable Mention for Children’s Fiction, London Book
Festival 2009 which has been released in Hong Kong with availability
for the rest of Asia shortly.

16) Could you explain the concept of self-publishing and the risks involved?

Self-publishing is when an author arranges for his or her own
publication and distribution. Self-publishing is more of a blanket
term which may or may not involve paying up front whereas POD
(Publishing on demand) has more to do with the process by which the
book is produced. Vanity Publishing and POD essentially have different
meanings and connotations . Vanity publishing refers to a service
where the author pays to have their book published rather than
self-publishing. Since the author financially invests in the venture
it is more risky than conventional publishing done by a third party
i.e. the publisher.

17) Any message to young poets and writers?

The most important part of being a writer or poet is to enjoy the
process. Have belief in your ability and talent and work hard at it –
the rest will fall into place.

We thank Sherna for a wonderful piece of interview and hope this
clears many queries which aspiring authors have for the process of
book publishing. Team Okiedoks wishes are all the very best for her
future pursuits. If you want your queries related to books or the
publishing process in general to be answered by Sherna Khambatta, mail
them to d@okiedoks.com or t@okiedoks.com and we will forward them to
her.

Note :- The Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency handles fiction and
non-fiction. They look forward to receive manuscripts in English from
writers across the literary spectrum. They currently accept new
manuscripts in Fiction, General as well as Narrative Non-Fiction in
the areas of biography/memoir, narrative travel (no guidebooks),
current affairs and contemporary issues. They do not handle plays,
screenplays or film scripts. Sherna acts as the Indian representative
of the U.K. based Wade & Doherty Literary Agency, for further
information visit www.shernakhambatta.com

Postal address:-

Sherna Khambatta

Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency

Gold Croft, 39. B. Desai Road, Bombay 400 026, India

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