Innovative Publishing

While you weren’t looking (or reading), Savi Sharma sold 100,000 copies of her romance

Meet India’s first woman writer of mass market fiction to cross that mark.

Is Savi Sharma for real?

Savi Sharma who?

Does the book title Everyone Has A Story sound more familiar? No?

The Indian publishing world is scratching its head over this phenomenon, and that’s when it isn’t trying to sign Sharma up for a multi-book deal. That’s because it took just about 100 days for a novel titled Everyone Has A Story, written by someone almost no one had heard of, to sell 100,000 copies. The maths is easy – an average of 1,000 copies sold every day.

The book was on Nielsen top ten for 24 weeks, seven of those in the first position, six in the second, and ten in the third. It has almost 1,500 reviews on Amazon. To call it the sleeping hit of 2016 would be an understatement.

It began life as a self-published book. After the first 5,000 copies were sold in quick time, established publishers began to chase Sharma. She went on to sign a two-book deal with Westland, for Everybody Has A Story and one more novel. This was followed by a second two-book deal, with advances reportedly based on print-runs of 100,000 copies each. Westland has already sold more than 95,000 copies of Sharma’s novel, and will launch her next work in February 2017.

Unusual beginnings

No matter how hard I try I just can’t get Sharma to tell me exactly when she decided to be a writer. “I used to contribute to my school magazine Abhisarg but that was just a once–a-year thing,” Sharma told Scroll.in. “My first piece was a poem about choices”. After finishing school, Sharma, like many small-town young women her age, started studying for a Bachelor’s degree in commerce at a university in Surat. At the same time, she began preparations for the gruelling and seemingly never-ending Chartered Accountancy course.

“It was in the first year that I started maintaining a diary”, she told me. (Maintaining a diary appears to be the first step towards writing a book. Ajay K Pandey, author of the bestselling You Are My Best Wife, also started pouring out his memories in a diary soon after his wife Bhavna’s untimely death.) Sharma started reading books in her first year in college, thanks to recommendations from her friends. “I started with Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Dutta and Ravinder Singh.”

Sharma recalls reading another book besides the works of the trinity: Mandar Kokate’s Oh Shit Not Again, a novel that exhorts readers to find out, among other things, a grandmother’s reaction when porn is accidently played in front of her, or the consequence of spiking the drinks of at least a hundred guests at a party. When I asked Sharma why she didn’t consider reading some of the more serious fiction in the library she said, “I was new to the world of books and so read what my friends were reading at the time.”

Before Everyone Has A Story, Sharma had written and abandoned another full-length novel, an undistinguished college romance titled Silent Love. A love story about a clueless playboy Atiksh and his long time friend Jianna, the plot, which involves mischief, a temporary parting and an epiphanic denouement, seems straight out of an Ayan Mukherjee film starring Ranbir Kapoor.

“Even though my friends liked it I didn’t,” Sharma said. “The only thing that worked for me were the names of the main characters. I am particularly fond of Jianna, which means ‘god is gracious’ in Italian. In fact, I am going to name protagonists from my future books after them.” What she did, though, as a precursor to her big hit, was to get 10 copies of Silent Love self-published so that she could test its impact on her close friends.

It was by reading pulp romances closely, even when in the thick of her two demanding university courses, that Sharma identified what she felt were gaps. “For instance, Nikita Singh put in emotions in her novel The Promise, yet it was not inspiring,” Sharma said. “I think love should inspire us to become better people.” And what made Sharma take upon herself the role of the universal messenger of inspiration? “It was something that came from within,” she said. “All writers should write things that they feel deeply.”

And so she began writing what was to be Everyone Has A Story, completing the draft in four months flat. She was so convinced about the book that she abandoned her CA course despite the years of hard work and study she had put in. “My parents wanted me to reconsider the decision and consult my CA professor and school principal, but I had made up my mind.”

Selling techniques

How did this novel ratchet up the kind of sales it has? The plot features a dreamy Meera who is desperately in search of a story, right from the start of the book:

“I guess, having stories stuck in my own soul was the reason I needed to hear other people’s stories. But I didn’t just want to hear stories; my heart was aching to tell a beautiful story which would change people’s lives, or at least mine.”

Her search ends when she comes across a young corporate executive named Vivaan, who is also in search of something ( although not a story!), at a cafe where a well-known author is launching a book. The novel follows the story of these two characters, told from the alternating points of view of Meera and Vivaan. Far from featuring the racy, colloquial prose that commercial fiction in India adopts, the writing appears dense and meandering, often bogged down by passages like this one:

“It’s not a story and maybe it’s not love. It’s about something more real than stories and more powerful than love. It’s about you. Yes, you. Real and powerful. I have never been happy with someone. I wanted to be with different people at different places with different  feelings. I wanted to explore everything, know everyone. But then I explored you. And I found you are not just ONE, you are an infinity. An infinity of love, care, trust, respect, understanding. A universe of inspirations, aspirations, hope and happiness. Maybe you are the universe out there which I explore. Or the universe in me that I seek.”

Not surprisingly, critical reviews of the book were less than laudatory. In a Goodreads review, author Madhulika Liddle called the book “tiresome”, writing, “It lacks depth, the characters are one dimensional, and the story reads like a very predictable Hindi film.”

Did Sharma ever worry about losing out on her readership because of her turgid style? “No, I knew I had written something meaningful that would resonate with people.” Perhaps it was a combination of this confidence and of the stories of tardiness among publishers Sharma had heard that made her bypass conventional publishing. “Not even a single query was sent out to any Delhi-based publisher,” said Ashish Bagrecha, Sharma’s marketing manager and partner-in-crime.

As his day job Bagrecha runs a mobile app-maker start-up. Also a writer, Bagrecha self-published a short novella several years ago, and is planning a full-length novel in 2017. “Savi’s first draft was in pretty good shape and I only gave her a few minor suggestions regarding the plot,” he said. Bagrecha drafted the selling strategy for the book, keeping the target audience in mind.

The self-published book – printed at Thompson Press, with the cover designed by Bagrecha himself – was put up for pre-order on Amazon “We set up a seller central account to keep track of the sales and rankings on Amazon,” he explained. A Facebook page was set up for promotions, with the strategy of using “inspiring” quotes from the book. Examples?

“Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is a writer. Some are written in the books and some are confined to hearts.”

“ If emotions were colours, I know I would have witnessed a beautiful piece of artwork in a few seconds.”

“Yes, you can still love more, learn more and love more than you’ve done so far.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Wake up and run towards the beautiful life you deserve’.

Soon after the first run of 2,000 copies sold out – it took 10 days – and 3,000 more were ordered, both Westland and Penguin Random House India responded to the numbers they were seeing on the Nielsen charts. “Both of them wrote to me at the same time,” said Sharma. “The mail from Penguin Random House landed in my other inbox so I didn’t see it for a while”. She chose Westland because she felt an immediate connection with the editor.

Why didn’t she continue to self-publish? “The book was not available in brick and mortar stores and it would also help to have a good marketing budget from a major publisher,” Sharma said.

What publishers wanted

In one crucial respect, Sharma represents the trophy that publishers in India have been looking for: a seriously bestselling woman writer of romances, a yin to the yangs of the Ravinder Singhs and Durjoy Duttas. Said a publisher specialising in the genre: “Savi’s story is remarkable because no other Indian woman commercial fiction writer, be it Anuja Chauhan or Nikita Singh, has crossed the magic sales figure of 1 lakh.”

It isn’t with a female equivalent of the male perspective love story, though. Whether by accident or by design, Sharma is probably India’s first writer of inspirational romance, an offshoot of conservative Christian writing in the West that has dedicated readers and publishers. She said, “I didn’t call it inspirational romance with that intention, but just because I felt like it.” Quite.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.