Lakshmi Subramani Success Story Interview with Mark Malatesta  During this insider interview on our literary agent blog, Laskhmi Subramani, author of the memoir Lights Out shares his best tips for authors of all genres (at all stages of development) about how to write, publish, and/or promote their books. During the interview, Lakshmi also talks about how he worked with former literary agent Mark Malatesta to improve his manuscript and pitch materials, resulting in literary agency representation with his first choice literary agent, who then got offers from three major publishers: Penguin, Harper Collins, and Random House. Lakshmi signed a publishing contract with Random House and his book is now available around the world.

Scroll below now to: 1) Get instant access to both the audio and text transcript of the interview, 2) See Lakshmi’s success story about how he got a top literary agent and publisher, 3) See a description of Lakshmi’s book, and 4) Read the first chapter of Lakshmi’s book. You can also click here to get a copy of Lights Out (Random House) and you can click here to see Lakshmi’s blog and Facebook page.

Audio Interview with Lakshmi Subramani
Author of Lights Out (Random House)

Press the play button below now to listen or click here to download the file (left-click or right-click the link, then select “Save Link As”). This recording is 73 minutes.

Click here to view and/or download a free PDF transcript
of this audio interview!

Lakshmi Subramani’s Success Story

lakshmi-subramani“Within 4 minutes of sending out my query letter, a top literary called me on the phone. Less than 30 days later I had three major publishers making offers: Penguin, Harper Collins, and Random House. A few days after that, I signed a deal with Random House.

Your query letter did that.

Thanks to your tips and tricks, I got the #1 agent on my wish list. He’s done nearly 125 deals in just two years.  His literary agency, Writer’s Side, is the fastest growing literary agency in India. And he has a long list of accolades, including being talked about in the New York Times.

My agent talked about the query letter you helped me create for a long, long time. When he first called me on the phone, he hadn’t seen any of my sample chapters. It was just the query letter that did it. Communicating the right thing is so important.

I had been thinking about writing a book for nearly 3 years before finding you online. Because I lost my sight as a teenager, I had long wanted to write a book that would help some of the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from retinal disorders in India.

Book Cover of Lights Out by Lakshmi SubramaniInstead, you helped me see that my story could be bigger. By focusing on the broader, universal themes of grieving and loss (instead of just blindness and a rare eye disease), my book is now going to reach more people and make more of a difference. I’m also going to sell more books.

You are a wonderful medium helping authors find their voice and elevate their writing from just a hobby to a real business… a source from which they can both learn and earn. Writing should be both, a tremendous door that can open you to a lot of possibilities and a totally different life.

Mark, you are a man of precision and offer so many nuggets of valuable information. You know the publishing industry well, protecting authors from the pitfalls that can cause them to fail. And you summarize important learning lessons in a short amount of time. That’s not easy to do.

Why are some authors successfully published with traditional publishing houses, while others are not? I think it all boils down to one thing, the fact that we all need someone to hold our hand for a time… someone with the kind of credentials that you have.

My advice to authors is to work with you, 1-on-1, so they can go from having just an idea in their mind… to a clear plan of action. Authors are like seeds in the ground and you are helping them turn into flowering trees. I’m really happy to say that I am one of them.

Thank you for your support and encouragement.”

Lakshmi Subramani
Author of Lights Out (Random House)
Bangalore, India

Lights Out by Lakshmi Subramani

Lights Out deals with the six months of the author’s gradual, incurable and rather debilitating process of going blind (having seen the world normally until that point), the impact of slow loss of vision, the total cluelessness of the situation and how he overcomes the condition. The author suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that affects about one in 300 in india and other developing countries. Most patients experience blindness quite suddenly and reel from its impact. The book details the difficulties of explaining such a condition to a society that is ignorant of anything like that (despite the widespread nature of genetic eye disorders in india) and how such an unexpected limitation can be turned into an inspiration (the author went on to become a journalist).

Sample Chapter – Lights Out (Random House)

ONE

A Trip to the Doctor

Madras on an August morning—there is nothing quite so energetic. And there is no city quite so resistant to that inhumanity typical of urban life. It is August 1988. I have turned 15 just a few weeks ago.

I am now heading to my new school.

The wooden door of my house lets out a mild squeak as I open it to stare at the busy street lit up by the bright sun. I step out and walk the length of just one house, before turning left into Wall Tax Road that will take me to the legendary Madras Central Station. Here, the road from Pallavan House meets with Poonamallee High Road, forming a perfect perpendicular. A torrent of traffic gushes in from all directions, churning and swirling like a whirlpool. Thank God, I do not need to use the zebra crossing here since my bus stop is close to the underground walkway. I just follow the pavement above Cooum river, a handkerchief clamped over my nose, of course, and descend the wide steps of the underground walkway to emerge on the other side of the road.

 * * *

Three months ago, I cleared my SSLC. I would like to add ‘with flying colours’ but no, my 70 percent was a reinforcement of my status as a barely above average student. Having no appetite for science or engineering, I am happy to take up the commerce stream in my higher secondary. My new school is just a bus ride away and I am still warming up to the new campus.

I’m one of the three or four boys in my class who wear spectacles, and all of us are nicknamed ‘Four Eyes’. While the other bespectacled boys have rid themselves of their ‘nerd’ image by playing cricket or football, I have no such redemption. I stay away from the sporting arena, and feel content to stick to the confines of my classroom.

That’s why I am surprised when Geeth, my classmate, walks up to me to ask if I can be a defender in the football game that evening. Geeth is assembling a group to play against Johnson and his boys, also from my class.

‘Why don’t you play with ten? It’s just an informal practice match.’

‘That’s right, but we need to strategize and that means all positions have to be filled. Why don’t you help us out?’

I could have, if for no other reason than to put an end to the taunts of ‘Four Eyes’, but I have an appointment with my ophthalmologist scheduled this evening, and I know I can’t miss it for the world.

Geeth is unhappy, but I’m sure he will eventually understand. I watch his tall, lanky frame disappear amid a sea of white shirts and khaki trousers. From the back, you can’t tell that he wears glasses—not even a bit of the frame is visible. Maybe it looks like that for me too, I hope.

I’ve discovered now that these guys are nice and friendly, but I am still not completely over the embarrassment they had caused me at the first physical education class. It’s hard to forget the day when we squirmed under the harsh sun without refuge. The playground was broad, the canopy of trees lining the compound wall looking far and distant as an oasis in a desert. A few of us used our handkerchiefs to wipe our sweaty foreheads while our physical education teacher, Mr Sami, helped separate us into six different groups. Some boys were welcomed into their group with a pat on their back, while the others were picked more randomly, less enthusiastically. Finally, I was the only one left standing, alone, not chosen, with absolutely no one wanting me in their team.

It didn’t take long to realize why. Besides the spectacles, I didn’t fit in the ‘sporty’ image and was taking time to warm up to my new environment. I may be a recluse who often kept his face buried behind books, but I was still a boy who wanted to be a part of the group; who wanted to belong. That morning though, I came to the shocking realization that the shy hesitation was being met with a cold indifference I had never experienced before. My spectacles, more than my attitude, was creating a fence which no one wanted to breach. The world, after all, can’t be equal or even friendly for everyone!

This fence started to envelope me from the age of 5, when I fixed the thick black spectacles frame over my nose for the first time with considerable struggle. The idea that the glasses I wore was more valuable than the urge to run around with other boys or kick a ball was drilled into me from then on. I have grown up thinking that wearing glasses precluded my doing the most natural of things. A covey of over-protective elders did little to change this impression. I remember the humiliation of having to play cricket with a football, and I still had trouble seeing the ball because my aunt removed my glasses for safekeeping.

‘Don’t run around and break your glasses!’ elders in my family would scream. ‘Don’t walk alone at night!’; ‘Don’t chase after your brother!’ ‘Don’ts is all I have heard since childhood. There’s little wonder that fear has become a part of me like the spectacles I have grown up hating.

That afternoon, I leave school earlier than usual. Stepping out of the corridor, I turn around to see the vast playground behind the main building where Geeth, Johnson, and their respective teams swarm around the football, eager for the first dribble. I mumble ‘good luck’ to them as I hurry out of the gate.

The appointment with Dr Rakesh is a joyful yearly ritual, almost like my birthday. The reason? It usually results in a new pair of glasses. With each passing year, I am more determined to convert these glasses, my object of weakness and impairment, into a fashion statement—something that might make me look intellectual, even attractive. The idea brings a smile to my face and I notice a man in the aisle of our almost-empty bus, giving me a perplexed look. I quickly adjust my demeanor with a faint nod and a sweet smile before moving further down the aisle.

* * *

The sun has almost dipped below the western horizon, as I enter the familiar gates of Dr Rakesh’s clinic. From a distance, the place looks like any other posh residence on this side of the city—compound walls painted greyish white and a small portico lined with decorative pots containing slender plants. The waiting area with a row of chairs arranged along the creamy white walls clearly indicates that this indeed is a clinic. Patients, occupying most of them, lean their heads on the small headboard fixed above the chairs to save the walls from oily imprints. Tears are rolling down their cheeks, but they make no effort to open their eyes. With enough experience of subjecting myself to dilation, I know what it feels like when the liquid is poured into the eyes—the burning sensation—as if acid has touched its sensitive surface.

I enter the semi-lit consultation chamber and stretch on the reclining chair. I bite my lip and with little desperation, try to stop the tears from rolling down when the scorching beam of light from the ophthalmoscope pierce my pupils. The examination is as painful as half an hour of dilation that preceds it. Even as the probing of my eyes’ interiors continue, I notice Dr Rakesh lingering over his ophthalmoscope a tad longer than usual. His smiling face goes taut with anxiety as he continues the examination. He doesn’t exactly say that something is wrong with my eyes, but he looks concerned. He asks us to come back the next day. This is not unusual, given that filling out the prescription form usually takes a day, but this time the doctor has asked us to fix an appointment. ‘I have a few more tests to do on his eyes,’ Dr Rakesh tells mother in an even voice. She usually escorts me to these eye tests.

I feel impatient. The glasses—that’s all I want right now. I’ve already checked out a beige, slim frame for myself, which I think would look really nice with photo-chromatic lenses that turn a sophisticated brown in the sun.

The next afternoon, my mother and I are back at the doctor’s. My eyes are still reeling from the previous day’s dilation, and the bright afternoon sun doesn’t help. I don’t think about the tests that the doctor wants to run. Instead, I focus on the beige spectacles that I have set my mind on. I can’t wait to get this over with.

‘We don’t need a dilation today,’ Dr Rakesh dismisses the suggestion of his clinical assistant, and watches me as I sigh in relief. ‘Why don’t you lie down on the couch?’ he tells me. ‘I need to give your eyes a good check.’ He gestures towards the couch that almost fills the far end of the room. This is definitely odd—I’ve been coming here for nearly three years, and not once have I been directed to the couch.

The doctor stares down at me with a bright instrument strapped to his forehead. He asks me to keep my eyes open, but the beam of light hitting my eyes hurt and pierces my pupils with the force of a bullet. I gasp. The examination is an unending torture that makes dilation seem like a pin-prick. The pain is continuous, unrelenting, and it almost pushes me to the threshold of tolerance. Just as my head starts to shake in pain and tremendous discomfort, a sharp snap of a switch puts out the source of my agony. A minute of blissful darkness follows, and I take a series of deep breaths to relax my stiff muscles and joints. I find it difficult to get up for a few more minutes, lying on the couch, unable to shrug off the paralysing effect of the examination.

Dr Rakesh usually smiles when he speaks to me. He asks questions about a thousand trivial things just to divert my mind from the impending pain or the intensity of the test. Why didn’t he try any of these today, I wonder? Even now, as he is looking down at me, there’s no trace of a smile on his face.

‘Do you mind stepping outside for a while?’ I’ve never heard him sound so plain and cold.

‘You mean…outside this room?’

‘Yes. I’d like to have a word with your mother alone.’

The initial confusion gives way to shock and anger. What does this doctor think of me anyway? I’m 15, sport a moustache, and I am perfectly capable of being present in the room to listen to my own diagnosis. I have to blink many times before I can see the door to the waiting hall and pull its handle. The blast of light from the well-lit waiting room is enough to drive back the pain. Eyes firmly shut, I breathe deeply once again to relax my stiffening joints and trembling hands. Thankfully, I don’t spend too much time in finding the nearest chair.

 * * *

It is almost five in the evening. The perfectly square waiting hall appears smaller, as a stream of patients walk in through the portico and mill around the reception desk to announce their arrival for an appointment. Before my thoughts drift in the direction of the eye problems that has brought so many patients to the clinic, I feel Dr Rakesh’s hand pressing on my shoulder. I tilt my head up to listen to what he has to say. ‘Just the usual tests my boy’, or ‘Nothing to worry about, or ‘Here’s your prescription, now go and get your new glasses,’ might have been nicer to hear.

But instead he asks me, ‘So, ready for school from tomorrow?’

There must be something more than that… I watch his face expectantly.

But the doctor merely pats my shoulder, mumbles a weak ‘good luck’, and walks back into his consultation room. I turn towards mother thinking that she has got a prescription for new glasses. It’s already past five and we must hurry to the optical stores to buy my favourite frame and place the order today. However, one look at her face, and I freeze in cold terror.

She’s crying. Tears stream down her cheeks. She’s crying in the full view of strangers, I realize with shock, something I have never seen her do before. ‘God, Ma! What happened? What did he tell you?’ I ask, unable to control my horror.

I shake her shoulders, ignoring the several heads that have already turned in our direction. ‘What’s happened? What did he say?’

‘He says… Oh god, what will I do?’

‘Ma… Please. Tell me what happened!’

‘He says you’re going blind.’

‘Blind? How? I can see now!’

‘He says you have a condition that will gradually make you go blind,’ she tells in a wheezy whisper, the shiny tears still rolling down her cheeks.

‘What!’

She wipes her eyes with a handkerchief, draws a deep breath, and says, ‘It’s a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. It’ll eventually make you blind.’

It is my turn to take a deep breath. ‘Okay Ma, okay. Let’s find out if there’s a cure for this condition. We can still do something about it,’ I say in a weak, unconvincing voice, and immediately receive the second blow.

‘Cure? No… He says there’s none.’

Lakshmi Subramani – Biography

Lakshmi Subramani is the author of Lights Out, published by Random House. Lakshmi is based in Bangalore and he is only one of two totally blind, full time journalists in India, working with the most well-known and well-respected English dailies. As a writer for the newspaper, Lakshmi has covered disability issues, affairs, and technology, among other things.

Lakshmi lost his eyesight due to a progressive, degenerative, retinal disease, called Retinitis Pigmentosa when he was just 17, which is the subject of his book. Despite his loss of his sight, Lakshmi earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Arts and Literature, and a Master’s Degree from Loyala College, a Jesuit Institution in the south Indian city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras. He then went out to do post-graduate work in journalism and mass communications.

Lights Out has been well-received by readers, as well as popular newspapers and blogs, but also by doctors, counselors and not-for-profit organizations. Lakshmi has been interviewed at Radio City in Delhi, a popular FM radio station. He has been invited to speak at events such as the Access Indian Convention, a bi-annual summit of blind persons. And, most recently, he spoke to members of Microsoft. Lakshmi has worked with organizations such as the World Blind Union, and Retina International, and he recently helped set up an association of persons with rare eye diseases, APRED, in India. The website for that is http://ordindia.org.

Lakshmi is passionate about helping others with vision conditions, which are often incurable, to get back on their feet and carry on so they can lead healthy, successful, and dignified lives. He even has a blog dedicated to this, at www.grapplingwithrp.wordpress.com.

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