I think writing a book is like founding and running a startup. Building the product (writing the book in this case) is only 20% of the hustle while the entrepreneurs think that they have cracked the million dollar code.
PHASE I: Leaving Wall Street, NYU MBA program and a lucrative post in a New York startup, I had come back to India to find life (figure out what makes me happy). I don’t know how I survived hundreds of ‘why don’t you take up a job?’ assault from friends and family. I was setting up some business that would give me financial independence and give me enough time to read, write and travel. It took me 6 months to write this book while I still tried to build a startup A (that eventually didn’t work out). While I had barely earned anything for a year now, I was on cloud nine for having written a book that I loved.
What’s a product if no one can use it, right?
PHASE II: Ok, so now I had a book and initial euphoria had subsided. What now? How do I get it in hands of readers! I had enough of reality checks those days when publishers rejected the book. What was painful actually was that they would sit on the synopsis for a month, then ask for the book. They would sit on that for 4-6 months then before giving a decision! You wish you could rip the band aid off but nope, publishing industry sucks! So, anyways, after having my first and frustrating encounter with the publishers, I finally found one who liked the book and wanted to publish it. Another temporary celebration. It had already took me another 6 months to find a publisher.
Then, the publisher took another 6 months to get it out 🙂 I remember days I spent with a designer to get the cover right! Yes, keep counting. So that is 6 months of writing and 12 months getting it published. You would think now it is time to sit back and earn royalties. I am sure you can see where this is going. Another dream burst (who wouldn’t want to be the rolling-in-money Chetan Bhagat and hey, I even share my last name with Meluha author!). At this point, I realized that no one gives a damn about the book unless you market it and get it actually read. Unless you have one of the Top 4 publishers, you need to scramble and market it yourself. I am sure entrepreneurs understand this. Unless you are incubated my Y-Combinator or Techstars, you ned to hustle to get that Techcrunch coverage!
What’s a book if the readers don’t know about it?
PHASE III: Thus, began another painful journey of getting the word out about my book. What kept me going was the fact that initial word of feedback from few people that read it were very positive. They told me they loved the book and this was one spiritual fiction they enjoyed after Alchemist or Monk who sold his Ferrari. I thought that was a good validation and decided to plan the marketing part myself. I really did not have loads of money to spend on this. So after few FB ads, I stopped when I was getting useless likes. I wanted audience who cared about the book.
So, I started using my FB and Quora profile to create interest in the book. Quora had anyways given me some encouraging response (I had blogged about that here). Additionally, I created Goodreads page and started engaging with people there. I ran a giveaway in which I decided out to give out 10 free copies of the book. It was a good way to get initial visibility and more than 180 people signed up for it and 4 out of the 10 winners left a review. Slowly, the numbers of reviews escalated and I have 30 unique reviews on Flipkart/Amazon/Goodreads with an aver rating of 4.5+
I sent out a free copy to people I thought would appreciate the book including Sameer Guglani, my mentor at Morpheus and even Ruskin Bond. As it happened, Sameer loved the book and asked for 20 copies to give away on Morpheus spiritual retreats. At this point, the 90% positive feedbacks on the book had buoyed my confidence. I am still waiting for Sir Ruskin Bond to reply 🙂
I sent out many review copies to bloggers and again got positive ratings from 80% of them. But still, I was not able to crack mainstream media. Moreover, people had discouraged me and told that the only way for me to get into good newspapers etc will be to pay for it. My publisher was not helping much, so I thought I will try that on my own too. I researched and spent time on twitter following journalists and authors (specifically in my genre) – created an interesting review pitch and sent out to journalists. Finally, some leads worked out and got through someone at Femina and DNA. She loved the book and decided to carry out a feature (still to be printed). But more than that, she recommended the book to another author Disha Chhabra who also loved the book and tweeted and fb’ed about it. This helped in creating some more traction. I got some nuggets of advice from Disha who had done a good job at marketing her book on her own too. All this eventually helped me getting this piece out in Indian Express featuring my Top 5 reads as an author.
This made me believe that unpaid coverage is possible although tough. Disha got a lot from her IIM alumni network in India and I wish I had something like that too. My problem was that I had spent last 7 years in USA but the book is targeted towards India. Slowly, I have started forging connections that will hopefully get Seven Conversations where it deserves to be 🙂
Understand that I never aimed commercial success from this book, it was close to my heart and I believed that it does a good job in guiding one towards inner happiness – a cause I strongly believe in. The book meant so much to me that I didn’t want a politician or some useless (not relevant to my book) celebrity to launch it (it made me feel that they would taint my book!). I tried getting Sudha Murthy and she was kind enough to reply but she is busy traveling. I realized that launches don’t matter that much, they are more of a vanity point, so although I was able to network to Prahlad Kakar and got him agreed to launch the book, I figured my time and money is better spent connecting directly to the readers.
On my startup efforts front, even my startup B couldn’t succeed because my partner was diagnosed with a serious medical condition and we lost the will to continue. BUT, my startup C finally is doing well and seems I am on my way to financial independence that was my goal. It gives me enough time to work on two other books I am now writing, traveling and enjoying coffee with my friends.
So, that was a long story of a long ride of book publishing and marketing. If you like spiritual reads, please check it’s reviews and buy links here – https://nisthaonweb.com Would love your feedback.
P.S. How can I mail a copy to Alok? 🙂
Here’s Seven Conversations in a book fair (I cannot describe the feeling this gives 🙂 )-