My book Anywhere But Home has just got its third edition out in less than 12 weeks of release. I am told this is a bestseller number (although Anushka Sharma talks very loudly in my head when she says, “Our standards are so low that anything sells.”). Unlike a New York Times bestseller list, which requires a sale of 7,000-10,000 copies in a particular week, I certainly hope we don’t think that 5,000 copies sold over several weeks makes a bestseller, but that was the number I was given at the start of this very wild ride as an author.
In writing my first book, I thought I had done a good job, to the extent my talent allowed me, at least. Memoir is one of the weirder genres. I did not know what the word “genre” meant until the beginning of this year, 2016. Of course, once I did, I wondered who in their right mind would commit genre-suicide. Why can’t we just let it be and call it “writing” instead?
Being a half-decent wordsmith is quite difficult as it turns out. Finishing the last round of edits damned near killed me. I will not blame anyone for it. Frankly, life could not have been better at that point in time. What was difficult was the writing itself. Trying to describe something, anything, in the most efficient way is not easy.
I cannot say I did the best job even with the final draft because my lovely editor Karthika VK still found that I could do away with several thousand words. Another amazing writer asked me how I type so much (probably implying the unuttered end-phrase “without making much sense”) but there I blamed my gender for my prolific dexterity. My publishing house gave me the best editorial support they could. The people I tried to surround myself with set the bar high.
That’s done. Now how to sell it?
As with any first-time author, once the close-to-final draft was submitted I started obsessing over sales. I read everything there was to read about the publishing industry, the game, the stakes, how Indians in India don’t read, how publishers do nothing to help authors, how social media is your go-to weapon, the who’s-who of sales pundits, etc., etc.
I read everything Tim Ferris had to say about the four-hour work week because I seemed to be left with just that time for real work. Having a secret crush on him did not help. However, in reading how to work out, cook and make a million dollars in four hours each, I thought Man, this guy now has a full-time job again. Added to this, most of his wisdom did not work for me anyway.
Details apart, I thought, as with everything else, that if I worked hard enough I could crack the code on marketing and selling a book. Back to the sales and marketing, in reading about the many ways to sell a book, I was more and more amused with what I found. Positioning the work (and yourself) is important, even noteworthy. But imagine my headache when I was told that several top authors not only buy their own books to boost numbers but spend a packet on online reviews, definitely a new concept for me and completely unacceptable.
What if we just approached the people who do the job, the bloggers, and asked them directly? Spending money on PR, while not entirely new given that I have worked with some of the best retail products in the country, also seemed difficult. Who can represent your work better than you? Of course, there are people who hesitate to write about anything if you are not important enough (or simply don’t have enough friends in the right places). It is what it is.
So, how about spending a little time and a little money on better storytelling. Illustrations maybe? Wait, there is an idea. My advance definitely could cover that. While most of the stuff one reads is centered on the typical bestseller in publisher-speak, many said bestsellers leave me scratching my head after the first page.
Almost all of them are soon to be a feature film, which I can believe for some reason after I watched a movie abbreviated PRDP. Bollywood is the new benchmark for literary genius, it seems. Details aside, benchmarks are purely a personal thing. To tell the story – that should probably be the only aim in life even a once-in-a-lifetime writer has.
Nope, that’s now how it works
Social media doesn’t really work beyond a point. When there are so many titles every month, even the best publishing houses scramble to shine a beacon on each work. What might work better is for the author to identify who their intended audience is and, after the editing is done, try to find out how to approach that audience.
No one said writers are in it for the money. If you are then think again. Really understanding what the sales and marketing team puts up with, day in and day out, is a good place to learn. The news is not all bad, but the sales and marketing team does not make or break the book – it is not a reasonable assumption that the last straw will crumble the cookie (or vaporise it entirely).
Writing by itself is a pretty lofty goal. Who gives a crap about rewards? Much like sport, with writing, the buzz is in the work. The rest – marketing, greatness, self-portraits, social-media, cheese-off sessions, etc., are a mood-kill if sustained beyond six weeks (yes, that is your magic number – ask me. I damned near died at week seven). Stop obsessing.
Anu Vaidyanathan is a lost sole and author of the book, Anywhere But Home. She tweets here.