Saturday, 20 June 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey and Still Counting…….. (Part 2)

My first novel, The Cinderella Jones Affair, finally got published in USA and UK, at a listing price of $17 and £12 pounds respectively. The book is now available at as an e-book as well as paperback edition. The initial sales have been quite low, but it was heartening to know that a few people in those foreign destinations were actually reading my book. While I am eagerly waiting to get their reaction and feedback, the next challenge before me is how to market my book in my home country, India. And therein, I started looking at the strategies employed by the best-selling authors in India --- Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi.  Of course, Durjoy Dutta, Ravinder Singh, Bhaavna Arora, Preeti Shenoy and Sudeep Nagarkar are also making waves in the Indian literary field, but I would like to confine my discussion to the first three amazing authors, just to keep the article brief.

Chetan Bhagat is perhaps a phenomenon who has equal number of admirers and criticizers. On one hand, his die-hard fans swear by his easy-to-understand language, the very lovable characters with their queer vulnerabilities, the hush-hush titillating sexual innuendos, and of course, the unexpected twists and turns that makes the heart beat faster. These mostly young readers, who come from small towns as well as the big cities, might have heard about the award winning authors like Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Vikram Seth, but never dared to pick up those voluminous tomes written in a high-end English dialect. In comparison, Chetan Bhagat was the crisp fast food that you could gulp down without bothering much about understanding the meanings of the words. It was food served on a platter that was easily digestible. Most of the books are between 200-300 pages with price tag between Rs 100 to  Rs 200 that is within the reach of the masses. The critics like to lambast him for the lack of literary depth but it is actually Mr Bhagat who is laughing all the way to the bank, with a 5,00,000 average print run of each of his books.  

But Chetan Bhagat also had to go through a struggling period. As many as nine publishers turned down his manuscript before it was accepted by Rupa. But the best part was that he was also ready with a marketing plan that would compel the masses to go for his book. Being an IIT-IIM grad, Bhagat understands quite well how to leverage social media to reach out to the masses. His Facebook page gets around 2.5 million likes while his Twitter account has 1.2 million followers. He has also launched T-shirts that incorporates famous quips from his books. He writes columns in English and Hindi dailies, hosts TV shows and delivers motivating talks across the country. All these activities have culminated in making him a cult figure and ensuring that he remains the best-selling author.
The second high profile author whom I was studying closely was Amish Tripathi. Amish became famous with the Shiva Trilogy --- The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras. Collectively, the three books sold 2.2 million in print and grossed over Rs 60 Crore in sales. His next trilogy --- The Ramachandra Series --- is slated to hit the stands on June 22 with the release of The Scion of Ishvaku. A common thread between Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathy is that both are IIM Alumnus and both worked in the financial services industry for a considerable period before venturing into fiction writing.   

The Shiva Trilogy, which tells the tales of Gods in an interesting and riveting style, captured the imagination of the readers who were always fascinated with the stories of gods and goddesses and supernatural beings that they had been hearing since childhood. The conflict between Suryavanshis (The Meluhans) and Chandravanshis (The Nagas) and the good overpowering the evil with the help of larger than life Lord Shiva did create the ambience for a fascinating story.

The other common factor between Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi, being IIM Alumnus, both are terrific marketers. Before the release of his first book, Amish Tripathi approached bookshops and asked them to give a free sample copy of the first chapter of his book to anyone who approached the cash counter. This was a form of buzz marketing to create brand awareness. He also used social media effectively by making a trailer film with a background score by Taufiq Qureshi and released the same on YouTube. The interest in the book increased manifold and the book became a bestseller. For his second book, he created a video trailer that was shown at all major multiplexes. For the third book, he created a music album with soundtracks by well-known singers like Sonu Nigam, Palash Sen and Vickram Ghosh. These were very innovative strategies to market a book which ensured a sure shot success for all three of his novels.   

The third author who has made a significant impact in pulp fiction has been Ashwin Sanghi. He has made a significant impact in the literary circle with books like The Rozabal Line, The Krishna Key, Chanakya’s Chant and Private India. He is called the Indian version of Dan Brown for creating suspense by espousing conspiracy theories built around ancient legends. He does extensive research before writing a book. For writing The Krishna Key, he read more than 50 books, hundreds of research articles and traveled extensively to gather the facts. He also has the rare distinction of co-authoring with James Patterson, to write a book called Private India. For the uninitiated, James Patterson is the author of the world famous Alex Cross suspense novels, and holds the Guinness World Record for selling 1 million e-books. 

But even Ashwin had his share of struggles before he stablished himself as an author. He self-published his first book , “The Rozabal Line”, and wrote to 40 bookstores to stock his book. Only one bookstore replied positively. One day, on a visit to the store, he found his book gathering dust in a corner of the store. He dusted the book and put it back on the best-seller rack. Such persistent efforts finally paid off. The book was subsequently published by Westland in 2008 and went on to become a national bestseller.  His second book “The Chanakya’s Chant” won him the Crossword-Vodafone Popular Choice Award and the third book “The Krishna Key” became the AC Nielsen No 1 bestseller within a week of release. 

The mantra he gives to the young aspiring writers is “Write when you are drunk and market when you are sober.” The writing has to come from a passion for the plot and the marketing has to be done in a systematic and methodical way to achieve success.   

The six authors that I have profiled in the two-part blog emphatically show that with an interesting content and innovative marketing styles, it is not that difficult to establish oneself as a writer. But how effectively I can implement these learnings for a successful Indian launch of my book The Cinderella Jones Affair is the biggest challenge that is going to unfold in the days to come.                                                                                               (Concluded)