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     Volume 7 Issue 41 | October 17, 2008 |

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Kanishka Gupta

On the Writer's Side

Writer's Side is India's first manuscript assessment service. It reads, critiques, edits and recommends manuscripts to publishers in India and overseas. It has contacts with several publishers and agents in the UK but the process of matching a recommendation with the right publisher is never-ending. In an interview with The Star Kanishka Gupta, founder of Writer's Side, talks about the venture.

Ahmede Hussain

Do you think English writing has gained popularity in the South Asian sub-continent?
Yes. In terms of a slushpile it has. I have been with Siyahi, a literary agency for more than six months and the number of submissions has skyrocketed. Nowadays everyone seems to be writing a novel. It's the in thing these days. However, it makes life for us very difficult because as much as we want to, we're still going to find that one publishable manuscript out of the 100 that we read.

Indians have also started writing books to climb up the social ladder. The very idea of immortality through the written word is catching up and is making life for agents and publishers very difficult. Being a writer myself, I have to be very careful in scrutinizing manuscripts because most of them are written very poorly. In fact, I've told my agency to vet manuscripts before sending them to me. Makes life a little easier.

What do you think are the reasons behind this?
The main reason is that success stories of South Asian writers have been few and far between after Arundhati Roy's ' The God of Small things'. I think publishers in the West feel that time has come for another success story like that. The media hype and disproportionate advance money is another factor contributing to this interest.

My own experience of publishing in India is that it is far more trend-driven than talent-driven. A so-and-so book creates a trend and it becomes the moral responsibility of a publisher to take out 20 books similar to that book. This has given birth to genres and sub-genres that are distorting the very lens through which we view literature. If you have been in the Indian publishing industry for a year or two, you can almost second-guess a major publisher's catalogue one year in advance. Who is suffering? Really talented writers whether they have agents or not.

Do you think South Asian Writers are getting the attention from the critics that they deserve?
Indian critics have become very vocal. I was almost shocked after I read the review of Manil Suri's ' Age of Shiva' in one of the major newsmagazines of the country, which openly suggested that publishers should consider their unread slushpiles if this was the quality of world-literature. The Sunday column of Hindustan times also carries some very brave reviews. I also like the fact that many talented writers like Neel Mukherjee, Ambarish Satwik and Tabish Khair are reviewing books. They reveal to the readers an aspect of the book that a common reader can't understand.

I also feel that the public is paying serious heed to reviews. I have been told by many friends that they refused to shell out money for a book that got a murderous review in such-and-such paper. If you were to ask me, critics are very good filters for future projects from the same writer. In fact, even the Man Asian is a sort of a filter, which is very necessary for South Asian writing.

What are the ideas behind Writer's Side?
While 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; it was then that I thought of giving the writers a comprehensive feedback, instead of coming up with a cold, impersonal rejection letter. Another thing is, the major publishing houses are showing very little interest in books written by new Indian writers. They're relying on their own team of commissioning editors who scout for ideas and themes that are in vogue and find a suitable writer for the book.

I am not happy with some Indian publishers, as innovation is zero, or close to it.

What does the first-time, inexperienced writer gain from all this?
Writer's Side has been established to help emerging writers and help them evolve through our several feedback options.

How do you work with the authors?
We are not agents. Nor are we publishers. We are professional readers and editors who feel that there are many manuscripts being written in India that are not quite ready, but are still very promising. Our services can turn these manuscripts from promising to publishable. Writer's Side deals primarily in literary and commercial fiction, women's writing, dark novels, children's fiction, science fiction and business management books.

For non-fiction, we would prefer to work with manuscripts that have already been published in India. Even then, we would recommend the manuscripts only if we feel that they have a market in the UK or in Europe - irrespective of how well they've done in India.

We work with over 16 UK publishers, most of them famous literary imprints, and 9 top UK agents. The recommendation model works something like this: If our team is certain that a book idea fits an imprint's list then we will recommend it directly to the publisher, whereas if we are not clear about the publishing house we will recommend it to an agent.

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