Jayapriya Vasudevan is active in the publishing industry for more than 20 years. From editing and event management to sales and distribution, she has ‘done it all.’ With a partner she set up India’s first bookstore café in Bangalore. The Bookseller magazine hailed her as “one of India’s most dynamic booksellers.”
In a conversation with Kabuliwala Kamal Pruthi, Jayapriya Vasudevan shares her initial ideas of coming up with a bookstore café, the challenges of running it, of how Jacaranda agency happened, her advice for writers and publishers et al.
Share your own untold story and journey into the publishing industry.
Always before my time! have done things before the world is ready for it. A bookstore cafe that was so hard to run! The agency that took five years to get off the ground…
I started off working at east west books with the wonderful KS Padmanabhan (company that is now Westland) and moved on to set up jacaranda after meandering through publishing.
I joined publishing straight out of college. I grew up in Kolkata surrounded by books and people. Both my father and grandfather were writers.
If you were not into publishing, what would you be?
I joined publishing by accident but cannot think of anything else I could have ever done.
If I could one word to define my life, it would be serendipity.
From editing to event management to sales and distribution, you have “done it all” in the publishing industry. If you were to look back in times, what was the most satisfying aspect of publishing which kept you happy?
Running a bookstore and running an agency equally. I think in order to run a lit agency; my experience with the other aspects makes it easier. It’s a way to sort of marry everything I know to my current job.
You were the first person to come up with the idea of Bookstore Café in India. How did it happen? What was the idea behind?
I had a partner in the store. It was a common idea and dream. It just happened. One thing led to another and there was Vikram Seth inaugurating the store.
What were the challenges of running the bookstore cafe?
It was tough to get people to come to a store that was not on the main road. It was tough to keep doing events to make customers come in. and it was tough to be snobbish and only sell certain kinds of books. It was clearly too good to last. Ironically, it would do very well in today’s times.
How did Jacaranda agency happen?
The idea was simple. Through the bookstore, I knew writers and I knew publishers. It seemed the perfect thing to do, a kind of connecting the dots exercise. I opted out of the bookstore and set up jacaranda without a clear idea of how an agency worked. I sort of had to figure it out for myself and it was quite difficult. Additionally, publishers were wary of the whole idea.
How was the initial response?
There were some who refused to even meet me and others who wholly embraced the idea. I took on 9 books after reading 40 manuscripts. I had an editor friend and we worked very hard on our list and sent the books out in really good shape. They all sold. One at a time. And all to penguin. I sold only India rights for five years and again, was lucky enough to get a wonderful mentor. Paul marsh of the marsh agency. He took me under his wing and taught me how to sell rights everywhere.
What sets Jacaranda apart from other literary agencies?
We are regional. We work out of three countries (India, Singapore and the Philippines). We’re an all women agency. We are particular about what we take on. Actually, all agencies have their own ways of working. We don’t compete. As agents, our job is to represent our writers well and sell their books. It doesn’t matter what another agent does.
What have been the highlight and most challenging aspect of your publishing career?
Starting off was tough. And three years ago, we pretty much rebuilt and redefined the agency. It’s walking that thin line between author and publisher, managing expectations that are always difficult. And it won’t go away!
Are there any challenges in keeping the best interest of the author as well as the publishing companies? If any, what are they?
Always. Because as agents we work for the author and not the publisher. It’s a thin line. A fine line. A space between a rock and a hard place.
The Bookseller magazine hailed you as “one of India’s most dynamic booksellers.” How does it feel?
At that time, when I ran a bookstore, it felt wonderful. Recognition is good. Now its history. I sell books differently now.
What two lessons would you like to impart through your masterclass at Publishing Next 2016?
To an author: rewrite, edit, rewrite, edit
To publishers, be more open about books you buy. Not all books can be bestsellers.
What is your opinion about events like Publishing Next? What role are they playing?
In publishing, it’s all about conversations and connections. Events like these are also needed.
Publishing Next is an annual gathering of publishers, authors, editors, translators, librarians, book retailers, printers, technologists, service providers and policymakers from all over India and abroad. The event is organized by Goa-based CinnamonTeal Publishing, since 2011.
Dates: 15th 16th 17th September 2016
Venue: Kochi, Kerala