What Makes an Indian Bestseller? Secrets Beyond Chetan Bhagat & Co
What makes Chetan Bhagat a one-man industry in the book world? And what, really, makes a bestseller in India?
I had only been four months into the launch of my first novel, The Recession Groom, when my aunt said to me: “Ah, you must have sold 20,000 copies by now.” It felt as if someone had punched me in the face. The moment she saw Chetan Bhagat posting his selfies with Arjun Kapoor from the sets of Half Girlfriend, she suggested that I send my novel to Bollywood producers. The other day she conjectured that I was making more money than Amish Tripathi – for how else could I afford to sit at home and write all day.
“She is so naïve,” I thought – but so are countless others who think bestselling authors are created overnight.
“Well, that takes time,” said the marketing head of one of the top publishing houses of India, pointing at the ubiquitous “clutter” of books at bookstores across the country. “There are 2,000 to 5,000 titles released in India every month. If you want to be a bestselling author, get past that clutter as fast as you can, and you could join the party too,” he said to me.
His observation piqued my curiosity and I set out to deconstruct an Indian bestseller.
Is a Bestseller All About Sales?
“A bestseller is a book that sells the maximum number of copies,” said Vinita Dawra Nangia, Associate Editor, The Times of India.
A decade ago, a novel had to sell a minimum of 10,000 copies for it to be a bestseller. Not so now. If we plot sales in terms of a pyramid, the bottom rung is occupied by Bhagat and Tripathi, both of whom have sold more than a million copies of their novels.
“My four books have sold 3.5 million copies generating Rs 100 crore in revenue,” Tripathi revealed to me.
The next rung is occupied by those authors who sell between 1,00,000 and 2,00,000 copies, and then the sales taper off. At the very peak of this pyramid are the one-time-one-book wonders, some of whom struggle to even sell a 100 copies, and get so frustrated by the end of it, they never write another book.
However, sales are not everything – what also matters is the rate of sale of books, insisted Vaishali Mathur, Executive Editor & Head Language Publishing and Rights at Penguin Random House India.
Is Content Important at all for a Bestseller?
On a trip to Daryaganj in Delhi, I asked the secret of a bestseller to book retailers.
“Write something Bhagat-ish,” felt some.
“Why not write in a genre that is trending?” opined the others.
Anand Neelakantan, bestselling author of Asura had a vehement “No!” to both of these assertions.
How many mythology books become a bestseller? How many romance novels sell like Bhagat’s? There is no short cut for writing a bestseller. It is like a hit film. It happens. An author can only give his/her best.Anand Neelakantan, bestselling author of Asura
Elaborating on the statement, Dawra Nangia opined that a book that sells well has a combination of things going for it. “The story, the writing style, the marketing, and lastly, a contextuality, either in the matter of the times or general societal trends, which helps readers to relate to it,” she said, and added:
“You cannot ever write a bestseller. You can only write a good book. A combination of smart marketing and a stroke of good luck take care of the rest.”
Is Marketing Push Required to Create a Bestseller?
A publicist would have you believe that you are in a battleground and unless you engage with your readers, there is little chance for your book to sell.
“Internet and social media have decreased the attention span of the readers and increased competition manifolds,” opined the marketing head. “It is impossible for a publishing house to promote everybody – which is why authors are expected to be marketing savvy.”
Adding another dimension to marketing are the movie and TV adaptations of books and there is a reason why producers or film makers are drawn to them.
There is a tried and tested vibe around books, which movie producers love. They find an assurance in the fact that the story has worked for readers.Sudip Sharma, screenwriter of Udta Punjab.
Sathya Saran, Consulting Editor, Harper Collins Publishers India opined that a book is only as good as its content:
“The author’s identity, the endorsements on the back cover or inside can help commercial success. But unless the book is able to enthral the discerning reader, it is not worth reading, even if TV or film versions make one believe it is extraordinary.”
Still wondering what the secret of a bestseller is? Get your book ready. Submit it to a publisher. Be practical. You can’t be a Bhagat or a Tripathi in a day. Know what you want to achieve and be aggressively at it.
(Vani has worked as a business journalist and is the author of ‘The Recession Groom’.)
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