2019 Guadalajara Book Fair Guest of Honour Spotlight on India – Rights Sales

India is this year’s Guest of Honour country at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (November 30th to December 8th ). With the fair fast approaching, today we share a final excerpt from our market guide on India, written by expert consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.

Literary Agents

Indian publishers source manuscripts directly from authors and sometimes from literary agents, of which there are only a handful in India. These agents generally represent all genres of publishing except for poetry and short stories. The terms of agreement between the author and agent hover between 15–20% whereas between the author and publisher the standard royalties are 10% for paperback and 7.5% for hardcover. Depending upon the number of copies sold, publishers may introduce a sliding scale of royalties, but this is usually reserved for the more successful authors. For translations, some publishers prefer to split the royalty between translator and author/ literary heirs with a larger share reserved for the author; others prefer a lump sum project fee for translation.

The National Book Trust organizes the annual World Book Fair in New Delhi. It used to be held in February until about four years ago when it moved to the second week of January, including both weekends. It began as a biannual affair, but as local publishing became more closely linked with global publishing it was converted into an annual affair. Mornings are usually reserved for trade visitors when business conversations can be conducted peacefully and for school visits. In the afternoons, crowds converge onto the exhibition grounds. Along with the exhibition, there are many parallel events. One of these is a critical two-day translation roundtable where international literary agents and publishers meet Indian publishers. Most often there are many more publishers from the Indian regional languages than can travel to Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF). The other significant venue for publishing meetings is the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) held annually in January. In terms of timelines, the JLF is conveniently positioned between the FBF and the next few months of publishing schedules.

Since 2014, JLF has introduced a two-day B2B (business-to-business) event running parallel to the festival at the Jaipur Book Mark venue, making it convenient for publishers coming for the festival to attend the B2B meetings as well. Seeing this model work effectively, the other literature festivals mushrooming around India are beginning to introduce their own variations, whether a straightforward B2B interaction between publishers or conducting a “matchmaking” open house where publishers and agents can meet prospective authors who pitch their manuscripts and ideas. The German Book Office (GBO) has a similar initiative during their flagship children’s literature event called Jumpstart and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) does the same with PubliCon. Despite the enthusiasm amongst publishers for exploring new markets and selling rights, a big hurdle is the language itself—to find competent translators. The English edition, common to all parties, usually gets pitched and sold.

Ever since the Nielsen BookScan weekly and monthly rankings began to be released, many publishers have been using the tool to fine tune their commissioning. Unlike in other book markets around the world, inevitably the top ten titles in India are dominated by educational material and, on occasion, by mass-market fiction by Indian authors. In August 2017, the launch of the Hindi bestseller list—quarterly for now—was announced in association with Dainik Jagran. In this short time it has had a significant impact on the world of Hindi publishing; now instead of releasing titles into the market whenever they like, publishers are scheduling releases strategically in hopes of making the list. Later in the sales cycle, publishers can benefit by using the bestseller list to measure their impact factor amongst readers to promote their stable of authors and backlist.

Most international literature is imported and then released into the market with a special Indian price. A specific Indian edition is published locally if the book is expected to have large sales. Winners of international prizes too are usually made available as Indian editions, as was done with the shortlisted Man Booker titles of 2017. Many international publishers prefer representation in India through collaborations with local publishers. Many of the multinational publishers, rather than local distributors, are licensed to represent and distribute publishers from abroad. For example, Pushkin Press and Walker Books are represented by Penguin Random House India; Serpent’s Tail and MacLehose Press are represented by Hachette India. If an international title is represented by an independent publisher, then it is inevitably an Indian edition, as it is more cost effective to print locally rather than fly in a consignment of books.


All publishers, irrespective of size, are constantly on the lookout for co-publishing arrangements. In fact, one of the more successful arrangements was brokered in India more than a decade ago between Zubaan and Penguin India to create a joint imprint that is curated carefully. The titles on this list, both fiction and non-fiction, usually originate with Zubaan and are known for their strong women-centric and gender issues. The ISBN is Zubaan’s but the marketing and distribution is by Penguin India. Many of the publishers I spoke to said that they would welcome co-publishing opportunities.

Fairs, Festivals, and Events

In the past 15 years there have been significant developments in the Indian publishing ecosystem, particularly of promotional and outreach activities.

Book launches, panel discussions, film screenings, lectures, radio conversations, television interviews, etc. are some of the ways in which books are being marketed. Book publicists can now be hired to help promote a book, even promising to get the author/ publisher much coveted space in the main newspapers too.

In the past twenty years, there has been a growth in the number of literary festivals held all over the country. These are organized as soon as summer begins to wane—from late September until early March, with festival season peaking around the Christmas break. Undoubtedly the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is the grandest of them all and attracts participants and an audience from the world over. All the events are free and there is no registration fee. Instead, organizers rely on corporate sponsorship, cultural departments of diplomatic missions, funders etc. to underwrite the costs in either financial or material terms. Inevitably there is a pop-up bookstore where the books of all the speakers and more are sold. Simultaneously, many of these festival organizers conduct outreach programs at the local schools with the visiting authors. Undoubtedly the popularity of these festivals has strengthened the publishing ecosystem and increased the reader base. These initiatives have also helped in the cross-pollination of cultures in a way that has never been done before, enabling businesses to take advantage of these channels of communication opening and fostering bilateral ties.

Download our full market guide, Selling Canadian Books in India (2018) and learn more about this fascinating market.


11/29/2019 | Book Fairs, Export, Market Guides, Rights