publishing trends

What does it take for an Indian writer to be published abroad? A literary agent has some answers

An interview with literary agent Jessica Woollard of David Higham Associates.

After the Arundhati Roys and Salman Rushdies, the Amitav Ghoshs and the Vikram Seths, the Arvind Adigas and the Anuradha Roys, how can other Indian writers be published in global markets? Scroll.in talked to literary agent Jessica Woollard of David Higham Associates about South Asian writing abroad, what foreign editors are looking for, and where the UK and US book markets are headed. Excerpts from the interview:

Do you think that there has been a slump in the number of South Asian writers being published overseas? If so, why?
Publishing in the UK and US is extremely competitive and clearly has a major issue with lack of diversity especially in the UK. European publishers are more open and less focussed on buying from English language publishers than previously. Australia has always been a strong market for Asian writing.

Many worthy South Asian authors are rejected by foreign publishers since the latter feel their works are too localised and specific. Yet, in the recent past, the same publishing houses have published and championed similar works. Is there a method to this madness?
In the UK, publishing has changed hugely in the last five years. Mid-lists have been axed, editors have been fired. Major houses have merged in order to compete with Amazon. The shape of lists has changed and more is expected of each book that is published. Fewer gambles have been taken.

It appears that foreign editors face a lot of interference from their sales and marketing departments while deciding on a submission. What do their sales and marketing teams look at when considering a submission?
Past sales figures, the total consumer market, and predicted sales for the future. Whereas you employ an editor for their taste, you employ a sales and marketing person for their interaction with the market. So publishers are clearly indicating that this is a deeply important criteria for them now.

There is this belief among South Asian writers that foreign publishers give preference to a certain type of South Asian writers, such as those born and brought up overseas or those with fancy MFAs and PHDs in creative writing. How true is this?
Publishers are looking for books that speak to their market, and clearly it’s easier for them to relate to and move towards books about subjects which are familiar to them. So a South Asian writer living in America is likely to write in a way that makes it easier for an American to relate to, compared to someone living in Assam. But this is oviously a pretty limited approach. Haven’t we all grown up reading books from around the world to enrich our minds and spark our imaginations? Aren’t we adventurous and curious readers? One would hope so. It is also true that publishers like authors to be in situ to publicise a book. It can be hard to generate excitement for a debut author in the media when the author lives on the other side of the world. As for PhDs, while impressive, they aren’t any kind of guarantee that the author can write a good novel.

I am told that even European and non-English language publishers are mostly interested in bestsellers published in the UK and the US. Are these markets difficult to break into?
Yes

For every million-dollar advance, there are hundreds of authors being paid very minimal advances. Then why this mad obsession with publishing overseas?
With mid-lists cut, advances tend to be tiny or overblown. Brand names get big money and debuts, barely enough to live on. The average yearly income of an author is below the minimum wage in the UK. But there are also plenty of new writers who are sought after, whose work sells at auction for good sums.If you are writing in English, as many South Asians are, then the opportunity for the work to travel seems obvious. No translation issues apart from that of one culture to another.But what about all the Indian writers who don’t write in English? Indian publishing seems to be opening up at last to publishing in Kannada and Malayalam, Urdu and Tamil etc., I’d love to hear more about those writers. Are these the real stories that should be coming out of India now?

It’s not just Indian agents, even the Indian arms of foreign publishing houses have a hard time bringing books to the latter’s attention. Is an agent in the UK or the US still the best bet for finding a foreign publisher for your book?
I have brought this fact up with UK publishing corporations myself. There is still a deep arrogance on the part of UK publishers, who foist books on their export territories but don’t look properly at books coming the other way. In America publishers tend to be inward-looking on the whole. Though there are of course houses like New Directions doing amazing things. Yes an agent is necessary – most editors won’t read anything unless it has been sifted through the agenting process first.

What are the important considerations for pitching a book abroad?
If you are a writer then you are a visionary of sorts by trade. You know what it means to hold a story in your heart and then expose yourself on the page, to hope that readers out there will share your view of the world and love what your write. Be proud of what you have achieved in your home market. If you get picked up by an agent the chances are that your work has international reach, but don’t be disillusioned if it doesn’t happen. The industry is a massive gamble and not the only indicator of merit.

What kind of South Asian literature are foreign editors interested in pursuing?
There tend to be two ways that the UK is comfortable perceiving India, embodied in the work of Arundhati Roy on the one hand, which is perhaps the more romantic approach, and of Aravind Adiga on the other, urban, megacity grit. But the key to good international writing to my mind is the voice. If the voice is really good, it is universal, which means that someone in Germany or Canada or Brazil can recognise what you are saying and respond to it. It probably requires some kind of international understanding to pull that off, but not always.

Does travelling to bookfairs like Frankfurt and London Book Fair help in making deals?
Yes, massively. Editors like to buy from people they know. When publishing professionals get together they make relationships and learn about each other’s taste. It doesn’t help for a debut writer to go there though, if that’s what you mean. It’s not a good place for writers unless they are a big brand promoting their new book.

In your opinion, which Indian book has played the most pivotal role in popularising South Asian writing in the West, and why?
No one book. VS Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, all those men, and then Arundhati Roy, everyone fell in love with that book and with her. I like Tagore with his Bloomsbury set spiritual glamour and Jeet Thayil’s gritty Mumbai backstreets.

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The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

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This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

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The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.