Rejected By Publishers, He Became A Literary Agent
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Setbacks and discouragement(s) by people are part and parcel of one’s life. But if you still want to attain success in life, then your passion plays a pivotal role in it. And when it comes to publishing, it is all the more difficult for an individual to carve his/her niche and make a name that can be recognized by people.
The story of Kanishka Gupta, founder of Writer’s Side faced it all before he became a literary agent. Entrepreneur India interacted with him and peeped into the pages of his success story.
How does your work experience and educational background complement each other?
Frankly speaking, I am not qualified to be in publishing, or for that matter, any other industry. After I scraped through my BBA pass course at an unremarkable college, I did nothing for many years but played Virtual Tennis on PlayStation, have slanging matches with members of the now defunct Books and Literature room on Yahoo chat, and read and write sporadically. I was exposed to the corporate world while interning with Pepsico. I remember one of my assignments entailed being driven around to different parts of Delhi in a Tempo and taking down sales figures of Pepsi (and other Pepsico products) at paan shops and other kirana stores. In fact, one of the employees sensed my discomfort and told me that I was not meant for a corporate job.
So would you call you becoming an entrepreneur; a freak accident? Please share something about your entrepreneurial journey?
I am an accidental entrepreneur yes! I was introduced to the publishing world by the renowned writer Shobhaa De. She liked my now-abandoned novel and was kind enough to invite me to Mumbai for a meeting. She introduced me to several top-notch editors, but none of them accepted my novel. I got a ‘real taste of publishing’ during my seven-month stint with novelist Namita Gokhale. On more than one occasion, Namita ma’am told me that I was going to be in publishing, even though I was not sure about the same on my own. ‘I see a spark in you hidden behind a lot of things,’ she once told me. Statements like these by her kept me motivated and strive for better things in life in this domain.
Please share the story behind the conceptualization of your start-up brand.
I started Writer’s Side primarily because of my nightmarish experience as an aspiring writer. I realized there was hardly any support mechanism for debut writers. They either relied on feedback from family/friends or some author known to a family member or friend. That’s why Writer’s Side began as a consulting service for aspiring writers, although I branched into agenting in 2010.
Is there a story behind the conceptualization of your startup’s name?
I named my venture Writer’s Side since our only endeavor is to assist, empower, and be on the writer’s side all the time. It just suits the business idea in the most appropriate manner.
Please highlight your major business model. Who are the key players in your team who contribute to your success?
All agents work on a commission model (usually 15 per cent of the total earnings from an author’s book) and Writer’s Side is no exception. We also provide editing and critiquing services to publishers and authors who approach us on their own.
How have your consumers responded to your product/service? Any particular story or comment you remember?
Indian authors are slowly becoming more receptive to the concept of agents. In the last couple of years, hundreds of well-known personalities and senior journalists have joined me. They realise that an author’s job is to focus on the writing and not get caught up in the other annoying aspects of book publishing.
Which was the last startup that made you think, ‘this made my life a little easier’?
Uber tops my list of startups that have made my life much easier, since I have stopped driving, and personal drivers can’t be relied on.
What are some of the tips for beginners entering the Indian startup ecosystem?
When I was trying to do something on my own, my uncle Anshu Balbir gave me a very valuable piece of advice. He told me that I should never depend on recommendations and approach everyone directly. The advice stuck and that’s exactly how I’ve been running my organisation since 2010. I would also advise beginners to be patient and not look for immediate results; this I learnt from reading insurance agent Jaydev Patel’s story. He kept in constant touch with everyone, even those who did not buy his insurance policy at first, but eventually they did become his customers.
How has your family been a guiding force in your entrepreneurial journey?
My parents have supported me tremendously throughout my journey. They never forced me into higher education, to get a job or join the family business. They were extremely supportive when I was unemployed for years, seemingly doing nothing. My mother is also a voracious reader and reads most of the books that I represent.
Please share craziest moments which you witnessed during your career as an entrepreneur.
I think all the badmouthing and discouragement over the years has hardened my resolve. During my struggling days, a famous bookstore owner told my mother that I had no future in publishing and that she should be prepared to spend at least 50 lakhs enrolling me in a creative writing course in the US. One of my authors told me how his ex-agent told him a few years ago that I was an upstart and not to be taken seriously. I find it ironic that today this same author has signed with this ‘upstart’.
Who has been your mentor in your entrepreneurial journey? What has been your biggest learning from that mentor?
I am usually very independent, but personalities like Shobhaa De, Ravi Singh and Namita Gokhale have inspired me a lot and given me great insights into publishing. I’ve been in touch with Shobhaa ma’am for more than 10 years and till date, not a single mail or message has been left unanswered. A lot of people don’t know this but she has been mentoring and grooming many writers and publishing professionals.
What’s your business mantra to stay ahead in the market?
My passion, keenness and relentlessness make up for all my supposed limitations and inadequacies. I am also very instinctive and quick to see potential in authors and manuscripts. I have realised the importance of promptness and lightning-fast responses. Most Indian agents have access to all the publishers, so there is very little to distinguish between them.
What is the biggest challenge you faced while running your business? How did you face it?
The biggest challenge which every Indian agent faces is direct commissioning. Unlike in the West, most publishers in India accept submissions directly or actively commission on their own. Add to this the clout of powerful UK and US agents, and the career of an Indian agent becomes extremely fraught and precarious. I overcame this challenge by sharing my own ideas with promising writers and contacting authors before a publisher/commissioning editor could.
When the yearning for success is strong, the journey of an entrepreneur is always glorious. This indeed is applicable in the case of Kanishka Gupta. It seems his vision will create a path for newbie writers to live their dream smoothly and with higher rate of success.