Part 2: The Publishing Journey
Let’s talk about your publishing journey, once you had this first book written, how did you go about trying to publish it?
My agent and I sent it to a lot of publishers. It was rejected by every single one. Essentially they said that it’s a religious book, it doesn’t appeal to the main market which has no interest in religion at all, so it has no hope of selling. So, we had to self publish it first.
And how did you go about getting your agent?
I had called up various agencies and asked them to give me an honest opinion, if you thought it was crap just tell me its crap and if you thought it was good, then they could give it a recommendation. So I talked to a gentleman called Sandipan Deb, I cold called him and he was the ex editor of Outlook magazine. He was very sweet, took my call, he read the book and liked it and he introduced me to my agent with a strong recommendation. The agent was Anuj Bahri, he came on board, and he worked on the book very diligently and valiantly but it was rejected by everyone. Anuj had committed to me that if everyone rejects the book, he will invest in the printing and he asked me if I would invest in the marketing, so that’s how the journey began.
So here’s where your MBA really kicked in, right? Tell us about that and your marketing strategy.
There’s a very childish outlook in the publishing industry that they think that marketing is not important and that’s very immature. To be honest, a good book doesn’t sell itself. You have to market it.
And many of my advisors were not from the publishing industry and that was a blessing in disguise because many times the really innovative ideas come from the people who are out of the industry, right? So, we did a lot of innovative marketing work. We released the first chapter free of cost. We made a live action trailer that went really well for us.
The chapter distribution idea was very simple. We thought we would give people a sample of the book and hopefully if they liked the first chapter they’ll come back and buy the book. So we put the first chapter on my website for a free download and we also printed the first chapter along with the cover and we distributed it free of cost at various retail stores. And this idea had not been done before, so we made presentations to book stores, the bookstores were very supportive and they displayed the free booklets on the cash counter, which when you think about it prime real estate. And if you are a first time author, usually your book is a well kept secret. It’s hidden away in the seventh or eighth row somewhere – forget about the customers, even the staff wouldn’t know where the book was lost. And here I was not backed by a publisher and our book was given prime real estate space, at the cash counter because it was free and that really worked well for us.
Now so many people are doing this, bookstores actually charge for that display space, which then defeats the purpose because the cost is so prohibitive that it doesn’t make sense.
How did you get the word about your website out, did you do anything to you get traffic?
The website essentially picked up on its own and that actually came from the trailer film. The trailer film was on youtube and it did well and that had the address.
There was no money for advertising, which was a good thing. When you don’t have a lot of money for advertising, you are forced to depend on ideas. So not having too much money was a blessing in disguise. If you have too much money to do your advertising, you just become lazy, you don’t have creative ideas.
Once people got a taste of the book, obviously, something about it hit a chord with them, which is why the book did so well. What do you think it was that struck a chord with people?
Some people say that the story was very fast paced so that was what worked, some people say the philosophies were amazing and that’s what worked. Some people say that it was the marketing. My honest opinion is that it was the blessing of Lord Shiva.
If you analyze it, pre the release the book had everything going wrong for it. It was on a subject people were apparently not interested in. It was a longish book, it wasn’t a love story or a college romance. It was set four thousand years ago. So really it had everything going against it. And frankly I don’t blame the publishers who rejected it, because I didn’t think the book would succeed.
Was there a difference between writing the first book and the next two, since you wrote those two under contract?
When I decided to go with the publisher, I insisted that the editor for my first book continue to work with me on the other books. I requested that and the publisher very kindly agreed to that. So the editor was the same for all three books. So there was no difference.
The publisher just took on the editor. So for me there was no difference in the experience writing with a publisher and without.
So there was none of the classic second book dear-in-headlights syndrome?
No. Quite honestly, while writing I don’t care about anyone’s opinion. I start feeling the pressure while marketing. At that point I start thinking that the publisher has invested so much money and I start thinking about wanting him to recover his investment. But while writing I don’t really care.
Writing has to be a completely lonely and positively selfish process. You should listen only to your opinion and maybe your family members and your long term editor, that’s it. You can’t do market research and write. That’s a terrible way to write.
How do you feel about reviews, do you have a favorite review, or one that hurt?
No review really hurts. There are positive reviews and negative reviews. It’s part of life. The way our field is, there’s no point for any author to get emotional about it.
There are reviews that you should try to learn from. There’s no need to let it get to your ego. Business Standard had written a review, for example, calling me India’s Tolkien. Business World wrote a very kind review. There are reviews that attack my language, very few have attacked my philosophies and the stories. Few reviews have said that my language is very Indian English not very literary British English. There are some reviews I see as an opportunity to improve, others don’t make sense to me so I respectfully disagree and I refuse to incorporate that feedback.
That is what I feel – reviews are essentially feedback for you. If authors agree they should incorporate that change, if they don’t agree they should not.
I don’t know about there in the west, but in India reviews don’t really impact sales at all. At all. I’ve come to the conclusion that most readers don’t really read book reviews. They buy books based on recommendations of friends, which you can’t really control. So as reviews don’t impact the sales of your book at all, there’s no need to get emotional about them.
Use the review as a feedback mechanism. Someone has taken the trouble to read your book and write their opinion down. So read it and some of it might make sense to you. Then either incorporate that feedback or ignore it. It’s your book.
It’s like your child. You send them to school and there are other parents who have some views your child should do this, your child should do that. Some of it makes sense, so you learn some of it doesn’t make sense so you say thanks for the feedback, but I will do what is right for my child. It’s exactly the same way.
First step is to not get emotional.