Saturday, 9 May 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey and Still Counting…….(Part 1)

Finally, after twenty five years of intense struggle, I managed to make my debut as a novelist. My first book “The Cinderella Jones Affair” has got listed at Amazon.  The next challenge, for me, was how to market my book and create awareness around it. Being a new author, it is a real daunting task for me. But, then the best-selling authors of today --- EL James, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi --- also started as newbies and made their name as prolific writers. How did they do it? I started doing a research to know the secret of their success.

A very interesting case study is that of “Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy” written by EL James. The genesis of the book started as a story posted by EL James in Internet under Twilight Fan Fiction. She gained good response from there and put up the book on her website. The trilogy was then picked up by an Australian publisher, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, who released them as e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks. The book started gaining in popularity when, in January 2012, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, formally published the trilogy.   

Why was Fifty Shades of Grey so successful? Well, the Twilight series had already prepared the fertile ground for popularity of books on romance with a dash of erotica. While, most of erotic novels published till now, were more or less targeted to fulfill the male fantasies, this series of books  talked about BDSM and kinky sex from the women’s perspective.  Very soon, it became a topic of discussion among women readers and the sales sky-rocketed accordingly. Another master-stroke of EL James was to publish the book first as an e-book. Readers might feel embarrassed to be seen around with an erotic novel, but they were more or less comfortable to buy an electronic version online and read it in privacy. The biggest lesson that the case study of EL James teaches us --- if you want to make your first book popular, offer it for free, get a fan following and then get it published under a reputed publishing house.

The next well known author that I want to talk about now is JK Rowling. She is already a household name for her Harry Potter series. The first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, got started when she wrote her Harry Potter ideas on a napkin, while traveling in a train from Manchester to London. The book was subsequently typed on a typewriter, mostly in Edinburgh caf├ęs, where she used to go with her baby daughter, Jessica. She was a single mother suffering from clinical depression and insomnia. Twelve publishing houses rejected her initial manuscript of Harry Potter, before Bloomsbury agreed to publish it. She was given a small advance and a condition that book would mention the author name as “JK”, because a book written on wizards by a woman might not be accepted widely. This book went on to become the best-selling book of all times.  JK Rowling went on to become a billionaire and was honored with the OBE(Order of the British Empire).

How did JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series achieve such skyrocketing fame? First of all, it had innovative ingredients like Hogwarts and Quidditch.  The central character, Harry Potter, is an orphan and vulnerable to the evil designs of Lord Voldemort, which makes the reader develop an immediate fascination and liking for the child protagonist. The concept of wizard classes and magic spells became a rage among young kids.  And then, there were the brilliant marketing efforts.  The personal life of JK Rowling, who was single mother struggling to survive with government support, drew many readers towards the book. There were rumors that the book was promoting witchcraft among children. The rumors only succeeded in increasing the sales of the book.  Bloomsbury did two different covers for the same book, one for children and the other for adults, thus creating curiosity among both segments. There was a frenzy created around Harry Potter through midnight releases and pre-order bookings. Fan blogs were created to make the readers discuss the books and create viral interest among others who had not read them.   The result of such innovative and diligent marketing efforts was that more than 400 million books of the Harry Potter series has been sold till now making JK Rowling a billionaire and the Harry Potter brand reach the $15 billion valuation.

The third author who has created stratospheric waves with her “Twilight” series is Stephenie Meyer. She got the idea of Twilight in a dream in 2003, when she dreamed of a vampire who was in love with a human girl but also thirsted for her blood. Subsequently, she converted the dream sequence into a novel. She was writing for her own enjoyment and never intended to publish the book. It was her sister who finally persuaded her to seek a publisher. She wrote fifteen letters to different publishers and literary agents. Five of them were unanswered and nine people rejected her manuscript. Only one person, Jodi Reamer of Writer’s House, gave a positive response. The manuscript was put up for auction in 2003, and she got a three book deal from Little, Brown & Company for $7,50,000. Twilight was later expanded into a series with three books named New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.  The series has sold 100 million copies worldwide with Stephenie Meyer breaking JK Rowling’s record by remaining the bestseller for 143 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. She has an estimated net worth of $125 million.

How did the Twilight series create the rage among the readers and fans? First of all, it created a frenzy among the teenagers as the main characters in the book are themselves teenagers. Also, it created a nostalgic feel among the adults who pined for their teenage days. The experimentation with the girlfriend-boyfriend issues and the insecurities attached with it in the teenage years are beautifully portrayed in the book. The characters — Bella, Edward and Jacob – look much more lively with their vulnerabilities. It appealed very much to the teenage girls who fantasized adventure and thrill in a love affair. And it was backed up by very strong and innovative marketing.  Stephenie Meyer connected directly with the Twilight fans through the social media platform MySpace. She also communicated with the readers through her own website, social networking sites and fan created sites. Her marketing team worked hard to connect the fans to share Twilight related news. And finally, the movie starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson made the books a household name all over the world. The lessons from her book --- create a plot that can be identified easily by a particular section of populace and build excitement around it.

In the second part of the blog, I shall be exploring how Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi are using innovative strategies to make their books the best-sellers in Indian market.  
                                                                                                           (To be Continued……)