Romancing the market

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By Today's new writers - many of them from a corporate background - are coming up with innovative ways to market their books, finds Smitha Verma
  • Published 28.08.11

Author Amish Tripathi has put his management degree to good use. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, Tripathi knew what marketing was all about. So when he wrote his first book, he put theory into practice by zeroing on ways to sell the book. And his strategies paid him rich dividends.

“My management background along with marketing experience helped me devise effective strategies for promoting my book,” says the Mumbai-based author of The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas.

Authors are debuting in the market by the hour. And they are coming up with innovative ideas to sell their own books. “They know they have to shout to get noticed,” says Gautam Padmanabhan, chief executive officer, Westland Ltd.

In a cluttered market, where a dozen titles come out every week, the writers now know that their job isn’t over with writing. Time was when authors — grateful after finally finding a publisher ready to bring out their work — would hesitate to ask questions about its marketing, let alone make suggestions.

But the times and the authors have changed. For one, writers have an ever-growing number of publishing houses to choose from. And two, many of them — including novelists — have a corporate background and are thus armed with marketing skills.

The changing market trends, says Kapish Mehra, publisher of Rupa & Co, is reminiscent of the changing industry. “Now we have niche books with exclusive readership. So different kind of marketing strategies are required and an author knows best how to market the product.”

Blogger Parul Sharma, author of Bringing up Vasu and By the Water Cooler, wrote about her writing experiences on her blog, and immediately connected with readers. When her second book was launched, she asked her readers to write their water cooler — the fabled spot in an office where exchanges take place — moment. The winners were given free copies of her book. The word of mouth publicity helped in online reviews and increased sales.

Rahul Srivastava, director, sales and marketing, Simon and Schuster India, agrees that publishers are now working along with authors to devise effective methods to reach out to readers. “The authors don’t want to be a cog in the wheel. They get involved in the entire process of marketing.”

Social networking websites, lit fests, blogs, newspaper columns, talk shows, elaborate book launches and readings in bookstores are just a few of the methods adopted by the literati. Author Nirupama Subramaniam, who is also a freelance corporate trainer and consultant, put up a Facebook page for her book.

“About 30 per cent of the sales happen due to effective marketing,” says Subramaniam author of Keep the Change. Book reviews alone won’t increase the sales figures, she argues. “So it helps if authors invest some time in marketing as well,” says Subramaniam, who has been nominated in the popular category of Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2011.

“Every author or publisher has to fight for that limited shelf space,” says Lipika Bhushan, senior marketing manager, HarperCollins India. “Self-marketing therefore becomes more important.”

Of course, not every publishing house encourages the trend. Penguin Books India, for instance, refrains from associating itself with an author’s marketing initiatives. “We may not discourage them but then we don’t encourage them either. We have a dedicated marketing team to do the job,” says a Penguin employee.

But for authors who are given a go-ahead by their publishers, self-help is the name of the game. Tripathi realised that when it took him two years to find a publisher. “So I printed the first chapter of my book and displayed it at cash counters in bookstores and distributed it free. It gave the book unprecedented visibility,” says Tripathi. He made a trailer film with a background score and uploaded it on YouTube and also aggressively targeted social media sites.

“I also made presentations to big retail chains, visited smaller retailers, met local distributors and even sent everyone updates on emails,” says Tripathi. The hard work paid off as The Immortals of Meluha hit the bestseller listings within a week of its launch. The book which initially had a print run of 5,000 was picked up by Westland in its second run and sold over 45,000 copies within the first four months of being launched.

“It’s not true anymore that a good book sells by itself; you have to market it,” stresses Tripathi, who has been also short-listed in the popular category of Vodafone Crossword awards.

Sivaraman Balakrishnan, marketing manager of the bookstore chain Crossword, says the trend reflects the new profile of the author. “Today, there are bloggers, corporate honchos, college kids, homemakers, professionals and others writing books. And they are trying their best to sell.”

Rashmi Bansal, an entrepreneur and consultant, is a case in point. Bansal, who narrated the stories of 25 management students who left lucrative jobs to follow the rough road of entrepreneurship in her first book Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, knew the need to connect with her target audience. She visited colleges, corporate campuses and bookstores to create a buzz.

“It’s about building your own brand,” says Bansal, an alumna of IIM, Ahmedabad, who now has three titles to her credit. “In the last five years, I’ve spoken in more than 200 colleges. I reply to every single mail and would have written to 5,000 readers by now,” says Bansal.

It’s not just new authors who are indulging in self-marketing. “The difference between a debutant and an established one could be of urgency. Debutants have greater excitement and urgency to get immediate results as they have to work harder to establish an identity with the readers as compared to those established,” explains Bhushan.

Besides ideating, authors sometimes even fund their own marketing ideas. “I spent a lot of money in the marketing of my first book,” says Tripathi. He does not divulge figures, but says he “recovered” the cost in the first few weeks of the book’s launch. Debutant authors are known to spend anything from Rs 20,000 to Rs 5 lakh on marketing.

So who says an author’s role ends with just putting words to paper? Now he has to go and sell those words as well. And he is happy to do so.