Chetan Bhagat has 3 Idiots to promote his novel cause. But other new-age
writers have to employ many a ploy ó from tweets to thematic discourse ó to
market their books, writes Chetna Keer Banerjee

w Panel discussions on monogamy, involving the literati, legal eagles and lovers of books, are debutante writer Himani Dalmiaís idea of promoting her novel that touches upon adultery and marital break-ups.

w A theme wardrobe of fuschia and black was young writer Tishaa Khoslaís signature style at the recent launch of the seventh edition of her book titled (what else) Pink or Black.

w The promotion of Chetan Bhagatís new book 2 Statesó The Story of My Marriage saw a debate on the state of Indian marriages.

I AM HERE: Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan moved from writing a blog to a book with You Are Here
I AM HERE: Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan moved from writing a blog to a book with You Are Here

LICENCE TO THRILL: The enactment of a crime scene set the stage, literally, for a recent launch of thrillers by UK writer Jake Arnott at the British Library, Chandigarh
LICENSE TO THRILL: The enactment of a crime scene set the stage, literally, for a recent launch of thrillers by UK writer Jake Arnott at the British Library, Chandigarh

Reading between the lines

With so many young writers zooming in and out of the capital of Punjab these past few months, does it mean that weíre more and more on the radar of the literati? And what are these visiting young novelistsí impressions of the regionís book culture?

"We got lots of footfalls at our book event in Chandigarh. The book culture here is very cosmopolitan and culturally close to that of the National Capital," says Delhi-based Himani.

"But Chennai and Jaipur have a book culture thatís more alive and happening. Nothing to match the participation we got from the book club of Madras," she adds.

Neena Kahlon, the US-based writer of Remembering the Juice Mango who studied at Government College, Amritsar, and also at Panjab University, Chandigarh, offers a comparative perspective. "The book culture here is more happening now. I donít remember any readings during my days at Panjab University in the sixties, save some by visiting Americans. But my recent book promotions at Chandigarh, Delhi, Amritsar, etc exposed me to a reading public thatís more active and alive. The downside is that though many people turn up for launches, but there are few takers for a book. Itís as if everybodyís waiting for you to gift them the book instead of them buying it".

Thatís an observation substantiated by Pankaj P. Singh, "Though a lot of book launches have been happening in Chandigarh, attracting good footfalls, it doesnít all translate into sales. A launch pushes a bookís sales by 30-35 per cent on an average". As for more and more authors and publishers converging on the region, he explains, "Writers are increasingly keen to look beyond the established Tier-I book hubs, at Tier II towns like Chandigarh and other places in Punjab, for they feel thereís a market to be tapped here".

NRI writers come flocking to Punjab for obvious reasons. "Many NRI authors from the state want to reconnect to the native audience, so the region figures high on their promotional tours," he adds.

Thence the return of the narrative.

CHETAN BHAGAT may have made his millions riding on the reel and real success of his earlier novel (Five Point Someone adapted into 3 Idiots), but not every young author hits the jackpot. Thereís much marketing savvy and strategy that new writers have to employ to push their plot.

From socio-cultural discourse to theatrical interpretations of texts to dramatic props, there is much innovation and promotional panacheí that young novelists have been bringing to literary events that may otherwise end up as boring yawn-between-the-yarn affairs or get typecast into another of those wine Ďní cheese outings, which often have the glitterati outnumbering the literati.

Zipping in and out of cultural capitals, our new-age authors carry not only an armload of their paperbacks but also a pout full of sound bytes and a perspective thatís refreshing even if raw.

Himani Dalmia, the 25-year-old Oxford-educated debutante on Indiaís bookscape who launched her Life is Perfect in Chandigarh sometime back, articulates this new vibrancy and verve at launches, "Our entire event had a very youngish 20sí feel to it. The guest speaker (Shruti Choudhry) as well as the publisher (Kapish Mehra) represented the face of Young India".

Himani hit upon an interesting idea to market her novel, inspiration for which came from a launch of the book In Search of Sita that saw a film on this mythological princess being screened to make the readers relate better to the character. "The run-of-the-mill book launches can be so boring. Thatís why I want to do something different. The secret is to go beyond the book". Hence the plan to make monogamy the talking point at her launches in Pune, Bengaluru etc. "Since my book delves into issues like infidelity that plague many present-day Indian marriages, throwing up a debate on the relevance of monogamy can help connect to a wider audience," says the Delhi-based novelist, who finds theatrical interpretations an interesting ploy for engaging readers.

Drama, in fact, isnít confined to the covers of all new titles crowding the cabinets. It is stepping beyond the printed word into its promotional space. Thatís the twist in the telling of the tale.

This was borne out by a recent event to popularise thrillers that found visiting British author Jake Arnott playing a protagonist in a staged crime. Hosted by the British Library, Chandigarh, the setting spilled the feel of blood and bullet from fiction into actual action. Says Bipin Kumar, manager of the library, "Book lovers want something beyond the routine events that just involve getting a celebrity guest to launch them. Thatís why we decided to add some real drama to our crime fiction launch by having youngsters stage an act. It looked so authentic that some visitors got all anxious on seeing a body lying in a pool of what they thought was blood!"

All credit to some students of the Inter National Institute of Fashion Design, Chandigarh, who conceptualised the props for the act. "The guest writer Arnott, too, played his part by releasing not just the book but also the Ďactorsí from the clasp of handcuffs," informs Christina Singh, deputy manager, who was part of the promotional planning.

Somewhere itís a scene that can chill, somewhere itís dressed to kill. Take the launch of the seventh edition (or even earlier editions) of Tishaa Khoslaís Pink or Black, that saw the young writer in frill and fuschia, denoting the colour scheme of the bookís title.

Call it the Ďtheatre of the wordí or whatever, the idea is to grab eyeballs for a cover in the crowd on the bookshelves.

"A lot of writers are themselves taking the initiative for book promotions," says Pankaj P. Singh of Browser bookstore. "Like US-based Punjabi writers Neena Kahlon and Ratanjit Singh got in touch with us directly, asking if we could host their book launch".

Another author with initiative is Neeraj Chhibba, who has also taken the now-famous route to fiction: Inspiration IIT. But unlike Bhagatís Five Point Someone, Chhibbaís maiden foray is not about the winners of the IIT dream, but the losers. Hence the title: Zero Percentile---Missed IIT Kissed Russia. Says this software professional-turned-novelist, "Writers have to take a lot of initiative themselves to market their books that may otherwise get lost in the maze of titles making it to the marts these days".

"To grab mindspace for the book, a writer has to adopt all sorts of strategies and tap all kinds of spaces to connect with the readers," he elaborates. He has, on his own, been doing the rounds of cultural hubs like Kolkata, Jaipur, Delhi and, of course, our own Chandigarh, to reach out to book lovers.

But his promotions are not confined to the cultural circuit, they also cross into cyberspace. Twitter is one medium where heís pretty proactive for connecting with prospective readers across the globe. Interestingly, the blurb of his debut novel even mentions his Twitter address. Says Chhibba, "Through tweets I spread word about my book and Iíve been getting good feedback too".

And why not, Twitter is one medium thatís been actively employed even by Chetan Bhagat, who is believed to have connected to another noted IIT alumnus and roped him in for a review of his book through cyber networking.

So, are all these writers taking on a role thatís essentially that of the publishers: book promotion?

"Publishers are more concerned with pushing sales, for which they may hold a tour of some cities. Beyond that, itís for the writer to reach out to a wider audience, be it through blogs, tweets or media chats," says Chhibba.

Whether it is theatre or Twitter, does it signal a maturing and a moving of the Indian literati beyond wine-and-cheese author events? "Ah, those cocktail launches are nothing more than media events. The younger audience needs something different to connect. Our young demography and writer profiles have to be reflected in the literary events too," feels Himani, who has a Masterís in South Asian Literature. Not only are the book promotions stepping beyond the stereotypes of wine Ďní shine, the young writers, too, are defying definitions. While the likes of Advaita Kala and Rupa Gulab may have become the poster girls of Indian Chic Lit, some new kids on the bloc are steering clear of such constricting classifications. Himani, for one, vehemently refuses to be slotted. "The issues that Iíve dealt with in my novel are serious, examining the dark side of adult life. It straddles the genre between general fiction and Chic Lit. But itís definitely not Chic Lit, for there isnít a single shopping scene or any groom-hunting!"

Says blog writer-cum-journalist Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, who also came calling to Chandigarh to promote You Are Here, a girlís search for spouse and sanity in the age of blogging, which touches more upon concerns governing Chic Lit: "I don't classify myself, that's the publisher's job. I want to continue exploring our urban youth. I like dissecting people whoíve grown up here and are battling two worlds".

So, whilst these new authors bring a perspective thatís young, their plots are adult in range and reach. Writing thatís youthful in expression but grown-up in its engagement. All this rushing around to woo readers is fine, but with this rapid rush of young blood into Indian Writing in English, are we producing literature in a hurry?

Says Meenakshi, "There is definitely a large market for books in India, but I'm not sure if Ďwriting in a hurryí is happening...I believe there can never be too many books. But I also dread the day when there may be more writers than readers...And while I'm not a huge fan of the cellphone novel, in this age of new titles rushing at you from all directions, books do have a hard time holding attention".

So, in this tweet-and-blog-powered bookscape with blurring boundaries, the authors rush in where the publishers fear to tread.

Charge of the write brigade

English literature student Himani Dalmia made a foray into fiction with Life is Perfect
PERFECT START: English literature student Himani Dalmia made a foray into fiction with Life is Perfect
Marketing mantra: All the wordís a stage

Neeraj Chhibba, a software professional, turned writer with Zero Percentile
ZEROING IN: Neeraj Chhibba, a software professional, turned writer with Zero Percentile
Promotional philosophy: Roam tweet roam
Tishaa Khosla came back from the US to Chandigarh recently for the launch of the seventh edition of her book Pink or Black
RETURN OF THE PINK PEN-PUSHER: Tishaa Khosla came back from the US to Chandigarh recently for the launch of the seventh edition of her book Pink or Black
Selling strategy: Clothes maketh a man-uscript