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The Art Of Story-Telling And Story-Selling: What Makes A Bestseller In India

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Each month in India about 2000-5000 book titles are released, most of which end up failing because of poor marketing/selling strategy, poor quality/content or just because it failed to reach its target audience or any audience at all. The bookselling competition in India is getting tougher each day, with so many people exploring their instinct at writing, you see every other person struggling hard to make their name in the Indian Literary Industry. What changed with Chetan Bhagat entering the scene was the ease with which one could become a best-selling author. The definition changed from selling a number of novels to an author selling the maximum number of books in a go. Extensive marketing came into the scene with social media taking a toll on those who did not have enough following. Many started to believe that it wasn’t about the quality of narration or storytelling anymore, it was about how well you manage to sell your book and convince the Indian audiences of its ‘Indian-ness’.

A layman who probably earlier wouldn’t bother to read a book, or visit a bookstore, began their reading habit with Chetan Bhagat. With the use of Hinglish, sharp/blunt tone of the language of the book, simple English and a storyline, though already seen in many movies/daily soaps, Bhagat managed to capture the audience that wasn’t targeted before. What was unbelievable and worked in his favour was his books capturing the youth and middle-aged generation alike. The commonality of characters, uncomplicated sentence formation and ease of understanding made people read his books. This style of writing paved way for many like him.

Among the recent best-selling novels are Chetan Bhagat’s “One Indian Girl”, “Our Impossible Love” by Durjoy Datta, “This Love That Feels Right” by Ravinder Singh, “She Swiped Right Into My Heart” by Sudeep Nagarkar, “Everyone Has A Story” by Savi Sharma, “Forget Me Not, Stranger” by Novoneel Chakraborty and many others.

What brings an Indian book and an Indian author into the best-selling category is tough to say but what definitely helps in giving a little leverage in their success is following the trend. There can be many reasons behind the success of a book but when a similar set of books with similar kind of storylines are written within a period of time, they help each-other work. People get addicted to the same kind of content in the book – from romance, college love, insecurity, jealousy, youth life, etc – these themes or set of emotions are more easy to connect with and in return connects a writer to a larger Indian base. How many Mythology writing Indian writers do we read? Or how many Indian literary novels do we know? How many crime/thriller Indian writers do we see on bookshelves? With the growing trend of writing stories about the everydayness of the life, or capturing emotions that we all experience, or writing about things that we all want to know in depth and read – the Indian book industry is banking on a few who might write basic but capture what I call the “Me”.

For all Indian bestselling or successful authors and books in the last five years, marketing indeed has played an important role, many writers are now choosing to invest in their own books to have the right of being able to sell through a two way promotion strategy- i.e. self-promotion and paid promotion through the help of the publishing houses. Authors like Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi are said to have invested a good amount of money in their own books, in fact in many of his interviews Ashwin Sanghi while talking about his book “The Sialkot Saga”, promoted self-publishing a great deal, mentioning how a book’s potential grows many-folds when an author is equally involved in the promotion of their books. With a variety of publishing contracts doing the rounds, many writers are bending towards a half investment strategy where the price is shared equally between the author and the publishing house.

Paid promotional ads on Facebook, Instagram, Google, author pages, paid book reviews, paid magazine interviews, book events/launches’, college fest talks, motivational speeches, writing competitions, big associations, T.V interviews – good PR for a well-established author can do wonders with the book.

There is never a set strategy, one just has to go on talking about the book before and after its release. With Chetan Bhagat’s “One Indian Girl”- the hype around a man writing from a woman’s perspective did the job, in Rupi Kaur’s case, “Milk and Honey” became a New York time bestseller in no time because of the idea of a woman of Asian origin writing in a foreign land about the complexities and hardships of being an Asian woman. Creating a pre-buzz around the book really works. Just after the release of the book, Rupi Kaur was seen travelling to various cities in Canada to give talks and promote her book. Karan Bajaj’s “The Seeker” was a widely successful novel because of the wait, the novel being his third, came out 5 years after his second novel ‘Johnny Gone Down”. Nikita Singh manages to become a bestselling author each time by giving her writing, tone, language, composition an emotional/touchy element. People want to read the obvious.

Attractive and catchy titles also generate an interest in the audience to discover the book further, because from personal experience, good sounding, confusing, abstract, blunt titles catch a reader’s attention in the bookstore. Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s  2017 release ‘The One Who Swam With The Fishes” is one such title. Her innovation of taking the essence of Mahabharata and connecting it to one big broken Indian family, her different take of taking away the larger than life caricature of the Mahabharata from the novel’s storyline is what makes it worth the read.

By having their official websites, these authors are already mini-celebrities. Authors like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy on the other hand are among the elitist book writers, whose books reach soaring success also because of their international presence. Arundhati Roy’s “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” became an international success because of her effective media presence/TV interviews. These are ways to reach out to a larger audience.

Chetan Bhagat began getting involved in the T.V industry to promote his book, Amish Tripathi was seen in one of the promotional “Book Lovers” video by Timeliners – a YouTube channel with a great following. YouTuber Lilly Singh did a tour to many countries to promote her book “How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life”. Similarly, people like Girish Karnad, Chef Vikas Khanna, Devdutt Pattanaik are often seen promoting their books in Literature Festivals, say Jaipur Lit. Fest- these type of events have a huge crowd gathering of literature enthusiasts. Publishing houses like Penguin help already established writers to conduct talks where both the publishing house and the author benefits.

Along with many other things, the recent idea of converting novels into movies is also trending. Filmmakers are constantly in need of good scripts and novels are their latest go-to options. From historical books to Chetan Bhagat’s books, the possibility of converting an author’s book into a movie is fascinating.

Another important factor that helps in the success of a book are literary agencies. Although there are hardly any literary agencies in India, the few known have managed to capture the trust of publishers and the Indian reading market. Literary agencies benefit all the parties, by providing readily edited/proof-read manuscripts to publishers, having a commission of their own and giving writers/authors an easy platform to publish their books. Not to forget, they also help in the marketing of the book – charging a bit less than what the publishers usually charge. What adds to the selling capacity of the book is also the name of the publisher – a good,well-known publishing house’s name adds value to the author’s name as well.

In the end, I would still like to mention, that a book no matter how well-marketed and targeted would fail to perform without proper conceptuality, basic writing skills, audience connect, and a need to be read. Even though many publishers are now being choosy keeping in the mind the business possibilities of the book, there are books and Indian authors who might not market themselves as widely but are still around and successful because of the way they write their novels, quality indeed is important. Authors like Anita Desai, Vikram Seth, Aravind Adiga, Kiran Desai, Basharat Peer, Devdutt Pattanaik, Tarun Tejpal, Jhumpa Lahiri, etc. Hence there are endless factors that might work in making a book and an author successful but one thing that definitely works in the author’s favour and helps them stay in the long run is the language itself. Setting of tone is important to understand the context of the book. Books with minor details do well because they remind you of things and people around you- Anita Nair is one person who is my favourite when it comes to detailing.

The authors today know the art of telling and reaching out to the masses not just with their books but also by being actively involved in their own promotion. People now know what a Chetan Bhagat book sounds like or how a Nikita Singh book attracts the women audiences. It’s not just books people look forward to but also books by certain authors. This is called brand creation, a constant need for books from these authors is generated through this brand creation, the idea of an author being able to come out with a book almost every second year is what maintains this need. The tongue-in–cheek tone, upfront written sentences with no language barrier and a hit and trial method of writing reflects today’s world and authors.

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