interview conducted by Rrashima Swaarup Verma
In this interview series we ask questions to people who are making a difference in our society, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.
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 BOOK BAKERS, through which he has worked on more than 1000 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.
His name has also been listed as one of the ‘Top 51 Indian Writers To Follow’ by EBooks India and called ‘India’s JK Rowling’ by Enewsroom.com and ‘India’s Rick Riordan’ by ED Times.
He has sold several Book To Screen deals, worked with several actors, cricketers and bestselling authors apart from having written and worked on web series, TV shows and animated series. He has worked in a leading General Entertainment Channel on new show development and the acquisition of international animation shows & movies, and Indian live action content.
- Your literary agency represents hundreds of authors across the world and works with all the major publishing houses. How did the idea of starting The Book Bakers come to you?
We are fortunate to have represented authors from 37 countries thus far. The idea of the agency germinated around the time I brought out my first book, The Bhairav Putras. I genuinely felt that a lot of literary agencies back in 2014-2015 were not giving enough opportunities to new authors. These authors were very talented with compelling stories to tell, but weren’t getting the opportunities. Fortunately, I was in a position to change that. I happened to know a lot of people in the trade since my book had done well. Most importantly, I had a desire to bring about a change. That is how The Book Bakers was started and I am happy that we have been successful in our endeavour and have placed 1031 books till date and counting.
- What were the challenges that the publishing industry faced during the pandemic?
I think the publishing industry faced a lot of challenges during the pandemic but things have become a lot better now. However, it is a process that will take another 6-8 months since several publishers still have a backlog of books that were signed prior to the pandemic and are still awaiting release. Fortunately, the pandemic did not affect us personally because we work with so many publishers, many of which were publishing books at that time too. Those books also did very well and several of those authors are doing 2nd and 3rd books with us now. So adapting is very important. And of course, we came up with The Book Bakers Online Literary Fest which had over 600 authors participating over 8 days and 91 sessions. It was the largest and longest online literary festival that had ever happened anywhere in the world. We could pull it off because all of us, including our authors, had a very positive mindset.
- That brings me to my next question. Undoubtedly, The Book Bakers Online Literary Fest was a brilliant platform for literary minds at a time when we all needed something positive. How did the idea of this online fest come about?
So the lockdown had been announced and I was sitting in my room at 1 am one night. I took a look at all the books in my library and I saw the works of all my authors. That helped me create those 91 sessions with 6 authors and a moderator per session and it didn’t take me long. And this is something that my father is very proud of.
I do feel that if you are well versed with the books that you have represented and with the strengths of your authors, it isn’t difficult at all.
- A literary agent plays several roles in the life of an author, including a mentor, friend and guide. How do you strike a balance between all these roles?
I honestly don’t try hard at being a mentor, a friend or a guide. It’s just who I am as a person. I’ve always believed that a collaborative process is better. I don’t believe in one-upmanship because that will benefit no one. It’s also very important to respect an author’s thought process and expectations. That helps me in advising them correctly. One of our authors, L Aruna Dhir, always calls me Sarathi. In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna is the Sarathi and he is the advisor but the doer is Arjun. In no way am I comparing myself to the great Lord, but the process of going about things is like that. I use my expertise, I am the advisor and my authors are the doers. If that tuning is there, then you’ll definitely win the war.
- What is your advice for emerging authors who dream of getting their books published?
The advice is very simple. Please write to us at [email protected] and we will turn your dream into a reality. Please send the first two chapters, synopsis, an author bio and the word count and we’ll do the rest.
- The Book Bakers recently completed 10 years in the industry. Tell us a little about your journey.
It’s been a very fulfilling journey, one that has brought immense happiness. With each book that we have sold, the happiness only grows. I’ve also written two bestselling books and the second one, The Hunt for Rama’s Bow, won the best mythology book of the year award at the Lit-O-Fest in 2017. Somebody asked me a few months later about what gives greater satisfaction, seeing my own books do well or when I get my authors their publishing contracts. My response was that when my book does well, I’m happy, but when an author of mine gets a deal, the happiness gets multiplied. I treat every book as my own. We’ve been able to work with young authors, older authors, bestselling authors, the biggest film stars, sports people (the Great Khali was our first celebrity author), politicians. My father, Mr. Sanjeev Mathur, has played a great role in all of this because he was very supportive of the idea of the agency. When I started the agency I was in the final year of law school. I discussed the idea with him and he and my mother were very supportive. We did our research and started, but we were able to do this because we had passion. If you do good work, people will definitely acknowledge it and that happened with us. It’s been a rewarding journey but I’m not someone who likes to rest on my past laurels. Yes, it gives me great satisfaction and the last ten years have been wonderful, but with the support of our authors and the blessings of well-wishers, the coming years will also be great and we will definitely achieve all our goals.
- How important is it for authors to build a brand for themselves? Can you share some marketing tips for authors?
It’s very important for authors to create a brand for themselves and I always encourage authors to do so. One thing that I’ve maintained is that I do not just work on a book, I work on the author. A book will be one but an author will write several. It’s also important in today’s day and age to be savvy in terms of promotions because with so many books coming out, the market is a fiercely competitive one. How you stand out and create a niche for yourself depends on how you market yourself. I’m assuming that if a traditional publisher is bringing out a book, the book is anyway good. Then you also have to make people aware about your book and about your own writing skills. People will then look forward to your next book.
Speaking of marketing, we help and support authors in that area. Several of my authors used to wonder about the best ways to market their work and I took the initiative of connecting with a lot of collaborators. These collaborators have a wide variety of options to choose, like book trailers, celebrity endorsements, author interviews, media coverage. The market is great and we do AV representations too and have in fact, sold 43 book-to-screen deals including the very successful Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway which released recently starring Rani Mukherjee.
Also, as far as marketing is concerned, we are open to help all authors, even if we haven’t done the pitching for their books. Aditi Banerjee for instance, did her first book with Bloomsbury and she then connected with me for the marketing. And we developed such a strong rapport that not only did that book become a huge success, she and I also collaborated on 4 other projects thereafter. That is just one of the several achievements that we have had of working with someone who was originally going solo but then collaborated with us. And of course, for our own authors we are always happy to advise and guide them. You yourself, Rrashima, have created a great standing for yourself in the literary world and that is something that we and everyone else in the literary fraternity knows and acknowledges so it makes me very proud when authors from The Book Bakers are looked up to and are regarded with respect. I hope several others take a lead from your example and we’d be more than happy to assist in any way possible.
- Do you think authors should write on subjects that interest them or focus on what readers demand?
I think it’s very important for an author to write something that he or she is comfortable with. It’s a tricky issue to be honest, but you have to be true to something that you’re doing. We’ve seen cases in genres where the market is great but a particular book does not turn out as good. Leave aside the success or failure, I’m talking about just the quality in terms of story-telling. This happens because one is catering to a commercial market and not necessarily to their own strengths as an author. So my advice is to always do something that you can do justice to.
Of course authors also have to adapt to changes and to the times, and a successful author is one who can make that adaptation process. In any case, I feel it isn’t difficult because while there are certain authors who like to write in particular genres and that’s fine, I personally feel that most authors in India are very creative, talented and have diverse skill sets. They can catch the pulse of the market and merge it with their strengths and go from success to success. There have been several authors from The Book Bakers who’ve done that, who’ve not only made a slight shift and got great publishers, but who’ve also received movie deals because of that shift. So it’s important to know your strengths and also know the market. If you can do both, then you can come out with winning content.
- You’ve also written 2 bestselling books. When can we expect to see your next book?
Yes, I have written 2 bestselling books. To be honest, I had the storyline for all the three books in the Vishnu Chronicles trilogy ready even before I started writing the first. It’s just that it all needs time and when you are working with others, I think as a literary agent it is your moral responsibility to focus on the books that you represent. I do plan to come out with the second part of the Vishnu Chronicles because just two weeks ago I got to know that the second print of the first book was also sold out and the book is now going into its third print. In fact, one of our authors, Rasika Bhatia, was having a book launch recently and there were actually 3 ladies who came up to me and told me that they had read my first book in the series and wanted to read the next one. So I do plan to do it. “When” is a good question but hopefully soon.
- Apart from the world of books, what are the other things that you’re passionate about?
I’m passionate about a lot of things. I’m passionate about singing, watching movies, creating songs. A lot of people don’t know this but I’m very good at creating tunes and lyrics. In fact, a couple of my songs were also shortlisted by a major TV producer for a mythological show. In fact, he was amazed that I created a song in 2 minutes flat!
There are many other things that I really enjoy. I love spending time with my family, going on vacations, enjoying good food and leading a happy, content life. It’s very important to lead a content life but also be ambitious. I think it has to be a perfect amalgamation of satisfaction and ambition.
I like to keep life light-hearted and humorous and I never give up. A lot of people have said this about me, that I have a “never-say-die” attitude. While I am a realist, if something goes wrong I might be upset for an hour or at the most for a day, but the next morning I’ll get up with a brand new plan of action. I’ll chase it and I’ll see to it that it materializes.