“There are no strangers in this world. Only audiences you are yet to milk.”
My editor tells me India hosts approximately 133 lit fests annually, if you include the one in May in her native Rentachintala (which, FYI, was quickly discontinued when one obese, bestselling writer began sizzling in the 52° heat, letting off a buttery aroma that made the neighbourhood canines rush for their steak knives and bibs).
Alas, even then, Writer Friend, there aren’t enough seats on the stage for all of us.
But that’s okay.
Ever since the first prehistoric boy skulked off into the dark corner of his dwelling which had the cave-painting version of the Samantha Fox poster and decided to “find” himself, man has realised that, when all else fails, there is always the do-it-yourself option.
So why not, Dear Writer, have your very own individual lit fest?
After all, when there is self-pleasuring, self-harm and self-publishing, why not self-literature festiving?
What you need
- 1 moderator-cum-book-carrier-cum-cashier (should be strong of shoulder, thick of skin, possessing a quick pair of legs)
- 1 lightweight chair (the moderator can stand, okay?)
- 2 wireless mic
- Copies of your latest book
- Proper attire (Nehru vest, FabIndia kurta, ethnic footwear, cloth bag)
If you look hard enough, there are potential bibliophiles pretty much dying to read your book almost everywhere. Your job is to identify these unsuspecting clusters and turn them into paying readers. While the possibilities for your very own dedicated lit fest are as infinite as your creativity and shamelessness, I limit this piece to six venues/opportunities. Absolutely no sponsors required! (Cheap & Best, as we South Indians like to call it.)
Go to any hospital lobby, and what the average person sees is a large, mostly hopeless, bunch of the sick and their next of kin who are aren’t going anywhere any time soon. What I see is a lit fest that hasn’t happened yet. Seat yourself in front of the information counter and after your D-I-Y moderator asks you a couple of intriguing questions about the connection between character development and your bowel movement patterns, slip into a short, healing, reading.
Throw open the session for questions quickly. You are guaranteed to find several responsive members among your newly anointed audience who, as soon as they see a mic, feel compelled to share details of their gall-bladder removal or unplanned vasectomy. Simultaneously, a nurse or two carrying copies of your book will move around among the visitors who have been lulled into a stupor. Many will bite. Voilà.
This venue involves a slightly more delicate operation. Ideal for shorter readings and self-service as far as book sale goes. Get in, skip the Q & A method, do a quick personalised reading of not more than 100-150 words for each captive booth-user, and as the gent in question is grappling with existential questions like whether he is aiming right or if the perfect stranger peering over his shoulder is judging him somehow, offer the book to his free hand, pull out his wallet from his rear pocket, take your MRP less 10% and leave. Quick, germ-free session. Your new reader will never forget you as long as he lives. Everyone wins.
Natural disaster sites
Nature’s unfathomable power, debilitating fear, loss of property – an earthquake means different things to different people. But for any writer worth his Goodreads rating, it should mean bewildered folk gathering in large numbers in wide open spaces. In other words, a lit fest. If you think about it, a natural disaster setting is the ideal platform for the promotion of literary fiction. The would-be audience, having had their world shaken a few minutes ago, is pretty vulnerable. Therefore, like a skilled batsman using the pace of an opponent’s delivery to his advantage, employ a poignant passage involving loss and redemption from your book, read it with meaningful pauses in between, and move the audience further along the same tragic course till they all begin weeping and feel compelled to buy your book in bulk. With a tweak or two, you could do the same at tsunami-, landslide- and flood-sites as well.
Listen, Sonu Nigam has done it. So don’t let the airline staff tell you any different. When a fully loaded plane was buffeting about at thirty-thousand feet, Nigam used its PA system to sing Kal Ho Naa Ho, making three-hundred-grown men and women spontaneously soil their chaddis in unison whether they admitted to it or not. You have a precedent now.
Sit with your back to the cockpit, have your D-I-Y moderator stand in the toilet and question you about your writing habits, inspirations and favourite deodorant. Do select readings, co-opt the flight attendants (they anyway walk up and down the aisle endlessly) and have them take copies of your book to all the passengers. The people who need to use the loo will surely buy your book just to get your moderator out.
Unlike the previous examples, which were like ensemble films where you created an author-backed (see how clever that is?) role for yourself, a funeral already has a protagonist. A horizontal, presumably inanimate one, maybe, but a protagonist, nonetheless. The audience is basically coming for him.
Use the piggy-back technique here. Like a minor star uses a major star’s film to launch his trailer, lie down discreetly next to the body. Do your readings as and when a mourner approaches. Ideally, your moderator will be out-of-field, so to speak, making his questions look like they are coming from beyond. Don’t push it, though. Get out before they get to the cemetery/crematorium.
Non-fatal accident sites
Ever seen an accident site that doesn’t have a willing captive audience, armed with camera phones? Get into your car and drive around your city. There are lit fest venues waiting to host you in almost every street corner. Jump out leaving your car in the middle of the already chaotic road, take a few questions from your moderator (dressed like a cop), do a couple of peppy readings, a Q & A with the eager onlookers about similar gory incidents in their life, get into your vehicle, get out. Forget sales in this one. This one is all about awareness. You’ll be on more videos on FB and Twitter than you can count.
Krishna Shastri Devulapalli’s latest offering is How To Be A Literary Sensation: A Quick Guide to Exploiting Friends, Family & Facebook for Financial Gain. He has been banned for life from entering the city of Jaipur.