MEET THE WRITER

Can a start-up strategy sell a book more successfully than a big publisher can?

An interview with Vineet Bajpai, who not only self-published his novel but is also marketing it as a start-up would.

Here’s a new model for self-publishing. Picture a writer bringing together resources, after a book is written, to market, promote, talk up, use social media, manage retail and tackle every aspect of business after a book is published. That’s exactly what Vineet Bajpai – a serial entrepreneur – is doing with this first novel, Harappa: Curse of the Blood River.

It’s early days yet, but the novel has already broken into the top 100 on Amazon and the top 10 in the historical fiction category (where Amish holds five spots). In an interview with Scroll.in, Bajpai talks about why he decided to self-publish after successfully publishing three books traditionally, why self-publishing is like a creative start up, and the important dos and don’ts for aspiring authors.

You’ve already published three books through traditional channels that have collectively sold some 50,000 copies. You also share a very good rapport with your publisher. Then why did you decide to self-publish your first work of fiction?
You are absolutely right. My first three books Build From Scratch, The Street to the Highway and The 30 Something CEO were published by Jaico Publishing House. Jaico is a sought-after, grade-A publisher (and the promoter Akash Shah is an excellent human being.)

But when it came to fiction, there were several considerations that were different from management or non-fiction writing. The first and the foremost was the scheduling of publishers. In a genre as competitive as historical and mythological thrillers, waiting for several months for your turn in a publisher’s long list of books for the year was something we were not prepared to do. We wanted Harappa to be in readers’ hands as quickly as possible, given that it is the first in a series. Now we will be releasing the sequel Pralay: The Great Deluge by the time Harappa would have been released by the publisher. So we gain speed.

The second aspect of this decision was purely commercial. Harappa was a winning manuscript, according to whoever read it. We knew it was going to be a mass-market seller. Without going into details, it made much more financial sense to become an independent publisher for my work rather than going with a publisher.

This is a good time to ask you about the book itself.
Harappa takes you on a journey spanning 3,700 years, right from 1700 BCE Indus Valley to modern-day Delhi and Paris. It spins a thrilling tale around some of the unanswered and haunting questions of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Was there an Aryan invasion of white-skinned riders galloping into India through the Khyber? Did the Saraswati river really exist? Why is the Harappan script undeciphered till date? What was the truth behind the fall of the mighty civilisation?

But, more excitingly, the story traces the bloodline of the greatest man of Harappa. There is a deeper, darker conspiracy around the fall of the civilisation, which connects several dots from Harappa, to Kashi, to 5th century Constantinople, to 16th century Goa, to the Vatican. The story oscillates from history to mythology, from occult to religion, from exorcism on one side to gunfights on the other, from tantriks to warriors, from love to ambition.

The research was long and arduous. It ranged from beautiful, old NCERT books to long hours on the web. But it was also most gratifying. It took me about two years to complete Harappa.

You have compared self-publishing to a creative start-up enterprise. Why?
Let us first clearly separate two kinds of structures here. First is self-publishing understood in the conventional sense. Which is where an author either goes to a service-provider who offers a turnkey solution to produce a book, or the author goes directly to a cover-designer and a printer and churns out copies.

What we are doing is completely different, and we like to call ourselves an independent publisher. We have brought together a massive team which comprises editors, creative artists, typesetting experts, production specialists, PR, marketing, retail consulting, distribution and social media marketing. This large and cohesive team works together towards the success of the book. We look at Harappa and its sequels as a beautiful, gratifying and creative enterprise – which we will build over the coming years. The excitement is similar to the teams that would have made Game of Thrones or Baahubali! This confidence has also grown after the tremendous love Harappa is receiving from all quarters – from its readers (most importantly), from the media, from the trade and more. And believe me, we are having a lot of fun!

Harappa is already a bestseller on Amazon and you expect to sell out your entire first print run of 10,000 copies within two months. How are you handling the distribution of books to brick-and-mortar bookstores?
We have partnered with an excellent distribution company, Prakash Books. They are one of the largest distributors of books in India, and they are driving the distribution nationwide. We are delighted to be working with them. We are also getting rich support from the wonderful team at Amazon India.

You will be happy to know that within just 20 days of launch, we have sold over 2,000 copies. And this is when the books are still in transit for distribution and have not reached all stores. We hope to accelerate significantly by mid-July.

Most of the major self-publishing success stories such as Amish Tripathi and Savi Sharma went on to sign with established publishers. Do you plan to do the same thing?
We are open to all possibilities, as long as they boost the franchise and help bring the books to every Indian home and reader.

You have the advantage of having published traditionally and earning goodwill and credibility. What about authors who are compelled to consider self-publishing for their debuts?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Most publishers today, barring the really big ones, outsource most of the value-adds. Editing is outsourced to empanelled freelance editors; creatives are made by freelance designers; even distribution is outsourced by most. So if a first-time author has the wherewithal and the energy to envision this project herself, bring a team together and execute, why not?

The bigger issue is the prejudice of some sections of the media and retail, who look down upon someone who has self-published. This is bizarre! Supremely successful authors like Amish Tripathi started-out with self-publishing. And yet, there is prejudice.

Having said the that, here’s a word of caution for debut authors. A publisher is a great filter, a primary monitor of quality. All authors believe their work is brilliant, which is unfortunately not the case for 90% of them. So publishers bring in a wonderful screening intermediation that filters out poor quality content. I could take my decision [to self-publish] because I had three successful books behind me. But for a debutant, I would recommend extra caution.

A majority of self published authors don’t have the kind of access to resources and networks that you have. Would you still recommend they go down the self-publishing route?
Most certainly not. It would be a big mistake and a sureshot way to kill the potential of your book.

Please please do not make the mistake of undermining the publisher’s role. Publishers are the lifeblood of books, and I repeat – I am a publisher too! I am not self-published. I urge you to understand the difference carefully. So please do not try and emulate this model if you do not have all the resources I have described in the previous answer. Publishers remain your best way forward.

How important is marketing for a self-published author? What is your marketing budget for the book?
In today’s competitive environment, where a very large number of books hit retail every week, marketing becomes critical in the initial days of the book. You may be an excellent writer. But if your book stays hidden in one corner shelf of bookstores and reaches no readers, how can you hope to achieve the true potential of your work?

Some very mediocre writers have become big names simply because they pump in millions of rupees every year in promoting their titles. That is a sad thing to happen to an intellect and creativity based ecosystem, but it is a harsh reality. Yes, in the long-term it is only the merit of the book that will make it sell. But the initial impetus is important.

As for Harappa, we have not fixed any budget. We will go along as time progresses. I am getting many messages and mails from. Interestingly, a lot of female readers are telling me that they have fallen in love with Vidyut (the main protagonist), that they are unable to get him out of their minds. What more marketing does one need?

In your opinion, is there any genre that self-publishing is best suited for?
Not really. It will depend on each project, the author, the target market etc.

Are you planning a sequel to Harappa? If so, will that too be self-published?
Yes, the sequel of has already been announced. As for publishing, we have not taken any decision so far.

As a successful entrepreneur, what do you make of the publishing business model?
It is most challenging. While it is creatively very gratifying, financially it is a hard business to make money in. Which is why I have immense respect for publishers. The cost of production is increasing, digital content is challenging book-readership numbers, retail prices are not going up significantly…so generating profits is a hard thing to do.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.