Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Value of Mentorship

Bhav Mehta, founder of Saadhak Books (, was one of the first SYP members to undertake mentoring within the SYP scheme. He has written about his experience of being an SYP mentoring student.


'Two years ago I knew nothing about Publishing, didn’t know anybody working in the Industry, had no relevant work experience, didn’t have a clue about how books are made or sold, and certainly had no idea of how publishing works in an international scale! Since that time, I’ve written a series of children’s books, started my own small publishing venture, been a part of many interesting publishing projects and initiatives, and met an enormous number and variety of the great folk in our industry! I owe much of this to the SYP, and in particular to the SYP Mentorship Scheme.

Since graduating in Biology from Queen Mary College, I had been working in a science research group at University College London, where I’d been for over 8 years. I was desperate to leave the research field and get into a more creative industry. At this time I had been writing a series of children’s folktales from various regions of the Indian Subcontinent. These were stories that had never been presented in picture books to appeal to children, schools and libraries in the UK. I was surprised that major children’s publishers hadn’t developed a catalogue of Indian tales, other than a few independent houses like Frances Lincoln and Barefoot Books. Had these books been tried and tested, and failed? Or was there a massive gap in the market?

I grew up listening to stories from my grandparents, and wished these tales were available as picture books that I could buy for my nieces and nephews who are in the 4-7 age group. The only books available to this group were European titles or non-illustrated collections of Indian stories, published for older children in mind. Every time I went to India, I would look out for good local picture books, but all I found were either rally cheap computer-generated products or anthologies of tales for an older readership – nothing for younger children. It became quickly clear – there was a gap in the market that I just had to fill! But how?

I went on a fast-track business course at Central Saint Martins College and within six months developed a business plan, set-up a basic website and registered my company with Companies House. “Saadhak Books” was born. The word “Saadhak” is an old Sanskrit word that translates to ‘one on a journey.’ It best describes my own view of life and the aim of the business: to take children onto an amazing journey of Indian folktales!

A large part of any journey is in its preparation. To set up a publishing house needs an incredible amount of research, understanding and networking. I spent hours at the British Library using their Business & IP Centre, and read books about the industry. And all this was done while still working full-time at UCL.

Becoming a member of the Society in early 2008, allowed me to quickly learn about the various aspects of publishing - from Marketing to Editorial, from how to make the most out of Book Fairs to how to use Social Media sites in the best way to sell books. I also started to meet some incredible people and learnt that despite the often cut-throat nature of the industry, the people working in Publishing are extremely friendly and helpful, something I still believe today.

Another important factor in any journey is to have guides, role-models and helpful friends who can provide the advice and support you need as an individual. I realised that without any work experience or internships under my belt, and without studying Publishing as an academic course, the only way I’d make any kind of progress was to find myself a mentor. It was quite timely that as these ideas were churning in my head, the SYP launched its inaugural Mentorship Scheme, which I applied for immediately.

Since its inception in 1949, the SYP has been an organisation centred around fellowship and support, and as the Society approached its 60th year, the committee at the time, and in particular Jason Mitchell from Oxford, felt it was time to start the scheme. The basic idea was that students and young professionals would have access to publishers with significant experience in their sector of the industry. Through building a confidential one-to-one relationship, participating SYP members would outline their mentoring goal; ask for advice; learn from their mentors own career path; and apply that knowledge to their own publishing sector.

I remember feeling very excited and fortunate when Jason, who is still the Mentorship Scheme co-ordinator, sent me an e-mail to say I’d be selected. My Mentor was going to be Ruth Logan, the Rights Director at Bloomsbury. Ruth not only treated me to a nice lunch (in a private members club in Soho of course), but also provided support by e-mail. She recommended people I should speak to, websites I should visit, gave me a crash course on how book rights work, and answered so many of my questions.

Ruth continued to be extremely encouraging of my ideas and future plans and offered her help far beyond the 6-month mentorship period. She helped with the contract I drew up with the illustrator for my first book, “Laghu the Clever Crow,” and also introduced me to her colleagues in the Production Department at Bloomsbury for their informal advice on the design and production quality of the books first proofs. This kind of advice is invaluable when you’re starting up a publishing venture from scratch all by yourself.

Along this process, I also found mentors in other friends, SYP colleagues and professionals working in Publishing, both in the UK and in India. When my first book was finally printed and copies landed on my doorstep, I was pleased to send Ruth and all my other mentors their very own copies. I was further pleased that they all actually liked it.

As my own journey continues in (hopefully) becoming a successful publisher, I will always remember those that gave me help and advice, and I hope one day I too can do the same for others. I recommend anyone new to the Industry to find a mentor. Watch out for the Scheme in 2011… it could make all the difference.'