For the past six years, a select group of Australian publishing professionals has been visiting India every year with the aim of raising the level of literary exchanges between the two countries. Wendy Were, current director of the programme spoke to about the delegation, the Australian book market, and where India fits in. Excerpts from the interview:

When did you come up with the idea of the India Literature Exploratory delegation? Was it always envisaged as an annual trip?
The India Literature Exploratory delegation started in 2015 following exploratory visits in 2013 and 2014, and has become an annual programme which is a key part of the Australia Council’s international arts development strategy in this region. The purpose of this delegation is to investigate artistic and market development and exchange for Australian and Indian authors and the broader Australian and Indian publishing and literature sector.

It demonstrates our commitment to engaging with India and what an important market this is to Australia, but also the important and growing links between our countries. This is our fourth delegation, in January 2018, which recognises the value of taking a long term approach to partnership building. The delegations of publishers and writers’ festival programmers who travelled to India in January 2015, 2016 and 2017 benefited so much from the experience and we have been delighted at the opportunities it has generated for both the Australian and Indian literary sectors. This continuity demonstrates our serious intent to engage with India, and the Indian publishing community recognises and actively engages with the Australian delegation.

The delegations have become an important way for us to explore new markets and nurture relationships in our region to help foster collaborations and opportunities for the Australian and Indian literature markets and culturally important partnerships. The fast-growing Indian diaspora community in Australia presents significant opportunities to engage with the sub-continent. As the connections between Australia and India strengthen, there is a growing appetite for books in both markets, and the delegation aims to capitalise on this.

Do you send similar delegations to other countries?
In the past we have organised similar literature delegations to China, Taiwan and Korea in partnership with Austrade. For the first time in 2018 we will be taking a publishers’ delegation to New York which will be focused on selling rights.

These delegations tie in reciprocally with our Visiting International Publishers programme (VIPs). As part of this programme we actively look to host Indian visitors and have hosted 10 Indian publishers since 2003.This has allowed a mutual beneficial intelligence gathering and vice versa.

Are delegates chosen keeping in mind adequate representation, or is it their interest in Indian writing?
Over the past four years we have selected delegates via a mix of open call Expressions of Interest and direct invitations. We seek a broad representation of the Australian literature sector, including children’s literature, young adult literature, First Nations literature, academic publishing, and general literary fiction and nonfiction.

Delegates are asked to outline how the programme will consolidate and increase their target contacts and partnerships, and to define the potential match of their work in the Indian market. We try to match the delegation with areas for possible collaboration with the Indian publishing sector. For example, we know that children’s and YA literature, and First Nations literature are of mutual interest to both sectors so we ensure the programme includes engagement in these areas.

The delegates work best when the publishers are in decision-making positions within their publishing houses, as they are most able to advance any partnerships and deals initiated during the exploratory.

It has also proven useful in the past few years to include festival programmers in the delegation, and for the first time in 2018 we also have a representative from a literary magazine.

There has been a slow decline in the number of attending delegates from the first year to 2018. Is there a reason behind this?
We are always evaluating our programmes to make sure they deliver the strongest impact. Experience from our previous delegations indicates that the exploratory visit works best with between five and seven delegates.

How has the trip itinerary and the level of engagement with the Indian publishing community evolved over the years?
The inaugural delegation in 2015 took in only Delhi and Jaipur. Since then, we have sought to expose the Australian delegates to more festivals, literary cultures and translation markets in India, adding the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival and Hindu Lit for Life Festival in Chennai to the itinerary.

What would be the approximate number of Indian authors who have been published in Australia as a direct result of this exchange? Have any Australian authors benefited from this exercise?
This programme has generated outcomes for Australian publishers in both the Indian and Australian markets. It has also provided opportunities for Indian publishers to sell rights to Australian publishers and delegations have been deliberately structured to include both buyers and sellers.

Some outcomes from 2015-2017 include the sales of two titles to Giramondo Publishing – Collected Poems by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and Unclaimed Terrain by Ajay Navaria; The Sari of Surya Vilas by Vayu Naidu to Affirm Press; We Come From The Geese by Ruby Hembrom and Boski Jain to Magabala Books. Meanwhile, Anish Chandy at Juggernaut Books has signed on Australian publishers for Juggernaut’s online distribution platform, including distribution of Black Inc. Book’s Nero digital content. Indian publisher Speaking Tiger has bought rights to Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski from Scribe Publications, which is now their second highest bestseller. And of course, many Indian writers have been invited to Australian festivals. There are many more reported right sales and a number of collaborations actively in place.

Has the exchange led to any long-term collaborations such as writers’ residencies, joint publishing, etc.?

In 2018, the Australia Council is partnering with The Seagull School, India’s premier publishing academy, to offer a unique opportunity to an Australian publishing professional. Sophie Splatt, of Australia’s Allen & Unwin was in residence in Kolkata, where she undertook a three-month editing course at The Seagull School. In addition to her course, Ms Splatt made professional connections with writers and publishers in India. She used this opportunity to attend the Kolkata Literary Festival and conducted a workshop for children at the Kolkata Literary Meet.

In addition, there have been programming outcomes from the festivals that have participated in the exchange, including the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF)/Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) partnership. JLF Melbourne was held during Asia TOPA on February 11-12, 2017. This was the result of Stephen Armstrong and Kate Ben Tovim’s participation in the exploratory in 2015 and MWF Director Lisa Dempster participating in 2016. Several Indian writers were invited, including Sanjeev Sanyal, Sudeep Chakravarti, Sofia Ashraf, Sampurna Chattarji, Rakhshanda Jalil, Mishi Saran, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, and Namita Gokhale. In August 2017 the Byron Writers Festival was held where Indian writers Kunal Basu, Vayu Naidu, and Venkat Shyam were invited. At the Adelaide Writers’ Week in March 2018 two Indian illustrators, Dhwani Shah and Ragini Siruguri, participated. Meanwhile, at the Sydney Writers’ Festival which will be held in May 2018, Tata LitLive will collaborate on a writer exchange. We have also seen a publishing collaboration between Magabala books and Adivaani.

In 2016, you began including festival directors in the delegation. How many literature festivals do you have in Australia? Which is the largest and the most popular one?
The writers’ festival scene in Australia is a diverse and vibrant one, reaching large audiences in all parts of the country, including hundreds of regional writers’ festival. The Australia Council supports writers to make work for festivals of all sizes and also directly funds many of the larger and more established festivals in major cities. This includes the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which is the largest literature festival in Australia with over 100,000 attendees each year.

Most UK publishers buy Commonwealth rights to books. As a result, Australia is not considered a separate market by Indian writers and publishers. Your thoughts?

This is a challenge. However, there is a growing appetite for rights splitting.

How different is the Australian publishing industry from its Indian counterpart? What is the impression that delegates usually take back with them?
There are so many commonalities between Indian and Australian publishing. Valuable lessons are learnt on both sides. The Australian delegation often comments on the many innovative approaches they discover in India, including business models.

Can you tell us a little about the controversy surrounding Amazon’s entry into Australia?
Our sense is that it is too early to say conclusively without seeing more data. The publishing industry is watching this space keenly.

Who is the most famous Indian writer in Australia? Does the country have many Australian writers of Indian origin?
It is hard to say. Big names like Rushdie, Seth, Desai, Ghosh are all are very well known but many mid-list authors are published in Australia. Many of these are published by Giramondo.

Who is your favourite Indian writer and why?

I couldn’t pick one – the diversity is too great. I’m reading Perumal Murugan’s The Goat Thief right now and loving it.