• Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Interview with Suhail Mathur, Founder "The Book Bakers"

Discover insights from Suhail Mathur, founder of The Book Bakers, on literary representation, festivals, and navigating the publishing industry.
on Apr 25, 2024
Interview with Suhail Mathur, Founder "The Book Bakers" | Frontlist

Suhail Mathur is an award-winning and bestselling author of the historical-mythological fiction, THE BHAIRAV PUTRAS and the mythological-fantasy, THE HUNT FOR RAMA’S BOW, a TedX speaker, and is one of the country’s premier literary agents via his agency, THE BOOKBAKERS, through which he has worked on more than 889 books. An alumnus of Delhi Public School, NOIDA and National Law University, Delhi, Suhail, a lit fest regular and the festival director of the largest & longest online Literature Festival; The Book Bakers Online Literature Festival, has also worked as an English cricket commentator for Star Sports & Airtel’s mobile app.

Frontlist: As an accomplished author, literary agent, and festival director, you wear many hats in the literary world. How do you balance your roles and responsibilities while maintaining creativity and passion for writing?

Suhail: Balancing roles in writing, literary representation, and festival direction can be straightforward when you understand their distinct purposes. Writing a book is a solo endeavor focused on crafting a compelling story for readers. Engaging a literary agent adds a collaborative element, blending the author's ideas with the agent's vision to ensure the book reaches its fullest potential through publication. Finally, organizing a literary festival amplifies the celebration of literature, uniting authors, readers, and enthusiasts in a shared passion for storytelling. Each role contributes to the excellence of literature by serving different aspects of the publishing journey. Writing produces the content, agents facilitate publication, and festivals celebrate and inspire literary creativity. This holistic approach not only benefits authors but also ignites enthusiasm among readers, fostering a community where aspiring writers find encouragement to pursue their own storytelling ambitions. Balancing these roles with their unique objectives ensures a harmonious and effective pursuit of literary excellence.

Frontlist: Your books "The Bhairav Putras" and "The Hunt for Rama's Bow" blend historical-mythological and mythological-fantasy genres. What draws you to these genres, and how do you approach the intricate task of intertwining history, mythology, and fiction in your storytelling? 

Suhail: Since my childhood, India's rich mythology and history have captivated me. From the ancient Mauryas and Guptas to the Islamic invasions, Rajputs, Mughals, and British rule, the tapestry of Indian history is vast and f illed with intriguing characters and events. As an author in India, this diversity offers immense creative freedom to interpret and explore historical events, battles, and mythical figures. In my first book, "The Bhairav Putras," I aimed to blend history and mythology, choosing to focus on Lord Bhairav, a lesser-known deity.  

Despite the challenge of making him relatable, I saw an opportunity to introduce readers to this deity while also infusing the story with my own interpretations and creativity. The positive reception from readers validated this approach, demonstrating the power of storytelling to educate and entertain. In my subsequent book, "The Hunt for Rama's Bow," inspired by a conversation at a literary festival about the lack of awareness among today's youth about Indian mythology, I set out to make these stories accessible and engaging. By placing mythical creatures in a modern setting at Delhi University in 2020, I bridged the gap between ancient mythology and contemporary life, creating a blend of history, mythology, and fiction that resonated with readers. My writing journey has taught me the importance of authenticity and passion in storytelling, urging fellow writers to pursue genres that naturally interest them to create compelling narratives that endure.

Frontlist: Mental health is a prevalent issue in the creative industry. Are there specific practices or strategies you employ to maintain balance and manage stress that might also help people with creative pursuits? 

Suhail: In the creative industry, particularly writing, mental health plays a critical role due to its intimate connection with the mind's creative process. Whether facing writer's block, seeking literary representation, securing a publisher, or navigating the marketing and sales journey, the process can be daunting. However, maintaining self-belief is key. Writer's block is natural, and ideas will come in due time. What matters most is the quality of the work, not the timing of its creation. Authors, especially first-timers, may doubt their work's appeal, but trusting in their own judgment is essential. Bringing their book to market allows for validation or learning from feedback. Criticism, both genuine and fake, is part of the journey. While negative reviews can sting, it's crucial not to let them overshadow achievements or deter progress. The industry demands resilience and a forward-thinking mindset. Moving past setbacks and not dwelling on past successes is vital for growth.

Learning to differentiate between constructive feedback and baseless criticism is key. While negative experiences may arise, focusing on personal and professional development while maintaining mental toughness is crucial for success. Encouraging authors to persevere and continue advancing despite challenges is essential advice for navigating the unpredictable landscape of the creative industry.

Frontlist: Your agency, The Book Bakers, has been instrumental in shaping the literary landscape, having worked on numerous successful books and Book To Screen deals. Can you share some insights into the process of bridging the gap between authors and publishers, and navigating the ever-evolving publishing industry? 

Suhail: We've been fortunate to receive numerous scripts from talented authors, resulting in close to 1300 book deals and several book-to-screen adaptations. Working with a literary agent offers advantages, especially when many publishing houses face overwhelming volumes of submissions. Often, manuscripts are rejected without being read, as automated systems dictate responses after a set time frame, leaving many deserving books undiscovered. However, with a literary agent, submissions are targeted to specific departments and individuals within publishing houses, ensuring faster responses based on fair judgment. Understanding the nuances of the publishing industry is crucial. For instance, a rejection from one department doesn't necessarily mean a rejection from the entire publishing house. Recognizing this, we navigate submissions strategically, capitalizing on opportunities within different departments. This approach has led to successful book deals, proving the importance of persistence and adaptability in the publishing process. Despite setbacks, it's essential to remain resilient and seize opportunities wherever they arise, underscoring the indispensable role of a literary agent in guiding authors through the intricacies of the publishing world. 

Frontlist: As the festival director of The Book Bakers Online Literature Festival, you've spearheaded one of the largest online literary events. What challenges and opportunities arise in organizing such a festival, and how do you ensure it remains engaging and inclusive for participants? 

Suhail: Organizing the Book Bakers Online Literature Festival presented numerous challenges, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic's first wave. Despite the bleak circumstances, we saw it as an opportunity to innovate and bring authors directly to their audiences' homes, creating a unique experience. With 600 represented authors, the task seemed daunting, but we embraced it as a chance to showcase a diverse range of voices and ideas. Being pioneers in the online events space in India, we aimed to set a new standard and provide a platform for authors to engage with their readers in a virtual environment. Despite initial uncertainties, we remained determined to make the festival inclusive and impactful. Thanks to our perseverance and belief in the project, we overcame technical hurdles and launched the festival smoothly, offering 91 sessions over eight days with participation from authors across 31 countries. The festival's success was evident in its widespread appreciation, garnering over 1-2 lakh views and receiving organic coverage in newspapers nationwide. By staying committed to our vision and making inclusivity a priority, we were able to host the world's longest and largest online literature festival, showcasing the power of innovation and collaboration in overcoming challenges.

Frontlist: With World Book & Copyright Day approaching, what advice or message do you have for fellow writers and readers regarding the importance of respecting copyright laws and protecting intellectual property rights in the digital age? 

Suhail: I think copyright laws and intellectual property rights have become easier to secure, you know, in the digital age because if you look at the Copyright Act earlier, what used to happen was that you had to print your script on paper and send out the hard copies to the publisher. But over the last five, six, seven years, with a strong push towards online submissions, it has become very easy for people to retain their IP and you know, copyright because the moment you send out a script, the moment you send out a script to someone, the intellectual property rests with the sender, so the author always has that  And now, if you're sending it out on an email, you'll always have a record of sending it out with the date and time you sent it on. So that protects you. And as far as copyright laws are concerned, copyright laws are very strong and watertight in our country. Every publisher will send out an agreement where it would be mentioned that the copyright rests with the author, and even on the first page, you'll see it says copyright at so and-so and the year. So I think the literary industry fully endorses the importance of copyright. With the advent of the digital age, intellectual property rights have been secured like never before. So I think it is a great time for people to write. It is a great time for people to write without worrying whether the ideas would be stolen or not because it is really difficult to do that now. And if someone does it, then they will definitely be punished because there will be records, there will be checks and counterchecks, and trails to figure out whose idea or whose line was it.

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