Wednesday, April 23, 2014

All that jitters… doesn’t sell

Ok, first off – this isn’t a rant. It is an observation both from an author’s point of view as well as a reader’s. Both in this case being me. We’re talking about the book, obviously. The last six months or so have been nothing short of crazy for me, in terms of work, life etc. But more importantly, it has been an eye opener of sorts. And that’s just as well, because the wider one’s eyes are open in such cases, the better would be the (future) journey, wherever it is that one wants to go.

So, let’s talk about Frankly Spooking. Yeah, my first published book. Very special to me, of course. I’ve blogged earlier about the exhausting but satisfying journey from submission to print so I’ll not blah blah about that. What I’d like to do now is write down a few of my thoughts about the production and after-production of the book.

Right from childhood I’ve been a recluse when it came to showcasing my own work. Call it genes, call it nature or whatever, I’ve never been a good mascot of my own work. Class essay prize, a singing trophy, a recitation prize or even a rank in my earlier years in school. I’d always have a certain detachment to the entire process and never really got euphoric about any of those milestones. My mom, well, she’s a different story, but I think I picked this trait up from my father. Good? I don’t know. Bad… don’t know again. Relative, perhaps.

Anyway, coming back to the book. When it did go into print and right until it reached bookstores, I was bombarded with questions: When will it be available online? What is the response? How many copies sold? Etc, etc. And each time I’d hem and haw, smile and say – we’ll know soon. We knew of course. Many of you have read it, reviewed it, liked it, loved it, wanted more from it. So the entire gamut of post production drama has happened. Articles were written, a couple of interviews were given, and many more opinions, reviews and ratings later, one would think I’d joined that shiny brigade of authors who’d overnight managed to turn their bank accounts into a hefty bag of gold. Right?


While the book did garner good reviews and was appreciated by many, in terms of actual sales, it hasn’t managed to open eyes, let alone raised eyebrows. And this was precisely what opened my eyes to the strange world of publishing.

Best selling author of the banking thriller genre, Mr. Ravi Subramaniam, who also happens to be a good friend I made during these last few months, has very wisely written an article in his blog which talks at length about this phenomenon. It’s a text-book lesson for aspiring authors to remain grounded and continue writing that dream novel no matter what.

So what does best-selling really mean in our country? Does it mean the book has sold in lakhs? Does it mean it has broken a record of sorts in sales? Neither. It only means that within a stipulated period of time, it has managed to make a number which differs from bookstore to bookstore. And the time period also differs. It could be a monthly best-seller, a weekly best-seller, or an all-time best-seller depending on what the bookstore chooses to call it based on their internal algorithm. Whatever that means.

Coming back to Frankly Spooking. Many of you may wonder – “how? It was good, we all loved it, so why hasn’t it made a noticeable difference in terms of sales?” After all, a commercial book is written with the sole purpose of selling it, right? The answer to that isn’t all that simple or straightforward. Because a good book and a good ‘selling’ book come from two very different and distant planets. What is good, need not sell, and what sells, need not always be ‘good’. Again, I use the word ‘good’ for want of a better word. Sales of course is a beast that is not dictated by a book’s literary worth. It is dictated by a book’s brand value.

Yes, brand value. And by that let me repeat, I don’t mean branding in terms of the actual content of the book, but really, by the value or the ‘visibility’ it created for itself. And that’s where the post-production drama called marketing enters the picture.

And even then, what sells a book is not merely good marketing. It’s a coming together of a whole lot of things; kind of like 'stars aligning in space'. It’s only when all these factors come together, does a book start flying off the shelf in large numbers. Sometimes at a speed that’s difficult even for the publisher or the printer to handle. Yes, it has happened. We all know a few authors who’ve managed to pull off this literary magic, right? So are the rest junk? Do those books don’t deserve sales? Certainly not. They’re good, they’re all good in their own merit. But what probably didn’t happen in their favor was the coming together of all these factors.

So what DID go wrong with Frankly Spooking’s marketing? Bad marketing? No, there was sufficient marketing that happened in terms of promoting it online – Facebook/Twitter/Print, it was featured well in all these three areas. So then? In my knowledge, what did the book in was insufficient visibility and a proper projection of its real image. What the heck does that mean you’d ask. It means, something somewhere went wrong in the way it was presented and the way readers perceived it to be. Which resulted in reluctant sales. And by that I mean people almost reaching out for that ‘buy’ button on their devices and for that title in actual bookstores, but not actually rendering that action.

Few pointers, or like I said the ‘stars’ that unfortunately didn’t align for this book:

  • Delay in actual time to market. It was delayed by almost a month, month and a half. We started teasers, visuals and other things to increase the curiosity of the readers/buyers, but for a long time didn’t have the actual book in place to really sustain that curiosity. Many lost interest after a while. The first blow.
  • I was made to believe that online media and print were the way to go for first time authors, due to some internal stats the publishers had about first time launches not making a lot of difference to their bottom line, so there. Second blow. A launch might’ve created or at least built up a certain image in people’s minds. That didn’t happen. But honestly? This part I’m really not concerned with, and I personally know that a lot of launches haven’t done any good. But all the same, some sort of ‘introduction’ might’ve helped. And I being a novice, had no idea of going about it on my own - the cost it involved etc. So I left it at that. Plus the time, which I've listed below.
  • The cover layout & design. All hunky dory, it was liked by the editorial dept., the publisher loved the ‘different’, ‘hatke’ design of the book. In fact, a few readers too told that it had a certain eeriness to it. But, what we forgot was,  as a ‘shall I pick it up’ factor, the book wasn’t much to write home about. It looked very ordinary and also the quality of paper used in the cover wasn’t upto the mark. Nothing much could be done because I stay in another city so I have no control over this. I thought about this only after the book was printed and I received my copy. Too late.
  • Time/involvement – as is the case with anything in life, you need to invest time and effort (not to mention a fair amount of money as well) to make a difference. The timing somehow didn’t seem right. I was neck-deep in work and had a lot of other commitments to be really able to make time for my own promotional activity. And money, of course, much of it was spent by the publisher but I guess it wasn’t enough to garner enough visibility. My loss.
  • The genre. This actually came as a total surprise to me. While people love thrillers/comedy/romance/crime, when it came to horror, not many were inclined to spend their hard earned money on the genre. ‘Will borrow from somebody and read’ was an oft-unspoken vibe I got. I don’t know if it’s the age-old stigma our nation has, that anything spooky is inauspicious, evil or plain against their cultural religious sentiments, one thing was sure. Horror wasn’t a ‘yay, I’ll pick this book up today’ genre. Again, my loss.
  • Last, but certainly not the least, and this makes a huge, really huge difference to the sales of any book. The pricing. At almost 300 bucks, many felt the book was steep. And I don’t blame readers. I myself have many a time hesitated picking up a book of popular fiction that was priced above 200 bucks. Of course, I’ve made all the right choices when I did pick up books above this range. Thankfully. But more or less, this was a very prominent ‘concern’ many had. ‘Oh, it’s 300?’ Some were polite enough to change the subject, some were pretty forthright about it. Again, this wasn’t something in my control. Maybe the publishers saw some worth in the book to price it at that tag, or they did it to retain their own brand value, one will never know. And by the time discounts started appearing on online stores, I guess the initial impression was made. So, off went that click from the ‘buy’ button.

This is not to say that publishing a book should be seen as a nightmarish experience. Not at all. It’s a greatly satisfying experience. One that all writers should look forward to. I for one, am looking forward to the entire rigmarole again. I’ve already begun work on my next, and have ideas lined up for a few more. All I’m saying is, for aspiring authors out there, do keep these things in mind when you wish to ‘sell’ your book well. Critical acknowledgement, good reviews and ratings are all very good, and I must say, you guys and the many others who read the book have been really generous with comments. I’m humbled, thank you. But I’m also saying that while word of mouth is good, one must also keep in mind the above pointers.

And of course, you must have a good story to tell.



PeeV ee said...

Whoever didn't buy the book, lost out. Their problem, their loss.

Anyway, hitching of the belt and moving on has happened and I'm proud of you for that and so much more :)

Red Handed said...

I am glad you gave out the pointers and also did not stop yourself from writing your next!!

Anonymous said...

You have talked about these pointers at length. I noticed in my review too that horror was not something people were keen on which to me is a surprise.

But all said and done, the book is good and I am glad that you have already diverted your energies to the second one.

Tarang Sinha said...

I'm reading this currently! (I love horror/paranormal fiction!). I must say, your writing is smart and interesting. Will write the review soon.

But yes, I also felt the same about book cover and price.

Nice thoughtful article!

Looking forward to your next book. Best wishes...:)

phatichar said...

PV: Yes, KP..thanks :)

Red: :)

GBTP: Thanks, J..yeah, I noticed that in your comment box as well, but yeah..moving on. Thanks for the lovely review. Touched. :)

Tarang: Thanks for the wish - Hope you enjoy this one :)

Anonymous said...

My opinion is it was great but I guess as you said, it slipped up in reaching bigger audiences. It's great that you have taken such insightful lessons from your experience and shared it for other aspiring writers to know about.

Good luck with your future endeavors, let's break the record this time :)

Keirthana said...

I loved that book to bits. However I guess when it comes to reaching far and wide, you need a combination of so many factors in the right proportion. Even when one goes wrong, something like butterfly effect starts off.

It's so inspiring to see you learn these as lessons than ranting about them as pain points. And you are already on the next one.. You rock, All the best for the next works.

Privy Trifles said...

Hey Sri, this sounded more like some of the discussions we have had sometime during the initial days of your book and yes you had me nodding here with you.

However harsh but this is THE truth... and yet this should not deter some wonderful authors like you from writing for after all you write coz you and we both love what you write.. right ?;)

Looking forward to your next soon.. and yes I hope you remember the deal?

phatichar said...

BeeplessThoughts: Thanks, friend :)

Keirthana: Glad you loved the book. Yes, every setback is after all a stepping stone. Looking forward to completing my second one some time soon, if not later.

Privy: Ha ha..of course I remember the deal, N. :) And thank you, you've been such a rock during all those discussions. Lucky to have you as a friend. And you know I owe you for that and more, right? All the best for your book as well. I want to see a full length novel, no less. :)

Wings of Harmony said...

I can't believe that horror is a not-so-picked up genre. I am not saying people didn't make right choice, but missing out on Frankly Spooking is their bad, since it's in my fav. stack. Also, the pointers that you gave about first time authors, is such a great insight! I will be eagerly waiting for your next venture. Go, Sri! :D

Khushboo W said...

Let's call your book one of those critically acclaimed books. It's okay if it didn't sell. It received a lot of positive feedback from many people I know.
hell, I couldn't look at mannequins or earphones without being scared for days.
Much love to your book. All the best for next one. :D

the little princess said...

when things don't go the way one expects them to go, either one can resign to fate or like you, do this in depth analysis of the hows and whats...but you know what? most things were totally out of your having a launch or a formal introduction...delay in bringing the book to market.. designing the cover..etc...

but i don't think people have reservations when it comes to picking up a book in this genre...otherwise horror shows or movies wouldn't be happening, right? as far as the book was concerened, it was superior in all aspects, quality of writing, language, and the shock factor... it is more about not enough visibility, and getting more people to read it...all lessons for the future.

this is such an honest post, and specially for those who are looking forward to their first published book...

phatichar said...

WOH: Aww, thanks so much for the confidence :)

Khushboo: Thanks! That's precisely what my wife said as well :)

Princess: You're just being nice - I know first hand a lot of folks who didn't buy the book simply because they didn't do horror. And I learnt about it from other sources as well. See, there are two types of horror lovers 1. Conventional horror (the gore, witches, chudails etc) 2. Subtle horror (Silent ghosts lurking in people's closets, scaring people by just doing things around them, like the ones in FS). Unfortunately, I discovered that lovers of the first far outweighed the other type. If it's horror, it must be full-on horror, with haunted havelis, accursed idols, bats, vampires and such. The concept of subtle-horror is yet to find a foothold.

And the pointers I mention - that's true as well. I arrived at these after much discussion with other authors and people in the business, based on actual findings. It's not just hearsay.

But it's ok, really. I've already moved on. For me, at this point, it's important I spend my energies completing the next one. :)

phatichar said...

Oh, and Princess, what you said about horror shows/movies? It just reiterates my point about the first kind, which is more appealing visually than mentally - that's the reason it's more popular :)

Who knows, If Frankly Spooking were a TV series instead of a book, it might've gotten a better response. Just saying..

the little princess said...

there's a first time for everthing....and people's tastes keep changing, and those who like in ur face horror now may like subtle horror with better shock value, its just a matter of time! and who knows, by the time your second or third book is out, these very publishers will be going all out to promote ur book....

of course, now that the dissection's done, its better to move on...way to go!

Tarang Sinha said...

Frankly Spooking as a TV series? That's a wonderful idea! I won't miss a single episode!! :)

Ridx said...

I think this is the first time I am here in this blog. and thank you for this post. I needed it. I have completed half of the novel and I was terribly confused about how things work in a publishing house. I got a lot of answers reading your post. I saw some of the bloggers appreciating your book and I wanted to buy it but I don't think its available in Pakistan. Our of all your points, I can say that the major flaw must be the genre you have selected horror. I don't really know how you have written it but since I get scared and stuff, I don't prefer horror. But I would like to read your book since lots of good reviews and stuff. I think price is okay. Anyway good luck for your next book. I am looking forward to read it. Also, I would like to ask you a few things regarding the submission and stuff but not now, once I am done with my exams. :)

B. said...

hello sire .. how you doing and remember me :)

so i missed this whole episode of you writing and publishing a book, and also on buying of the book, i was in india last month could have bought it .

first of all congrats and well done sir.

regarding what happened and what not well , that comes with experience , look how much you learnt from the experinece , well all that can be put to good use when the second one is published :)

so when and where do i get hold of a signed copy of the book :) after all I do know the author albeit just through this lovely blog ... now that is only if you remember me he he he hehe :)

All the best and please dont say your loss .. as i am sure you have learnt a lot .. and monetary loss can be made up next time :)


phatichar said...

Princess: :) yep

Tarang: Haha... hope someday I'm able to do that.

Ridx: Welcome! Thank you for the encouraging words. Well, you certainly won't be the first one to say you get scared, so it's ok. And since you say the book has good reviews, chances are it just might succeed in scaring you :D. Your call on whether or not you want to pick it up. All the best for your exams!

B: Of course I remember you! How've you been? Long long time. I did see your comment on GBTP's review. Sad, yes.. you could've picked up the book when you were here. Koi Nahin..soon. Thank you for the confidence, yaara. Take care, all the best. :)

Kanthu said...

There are books that you read, feel happy, sad or other emotions, keep it aside and then completely forget about it. Then there are books, that you read and feel, 'Ok, that was unusual', then read it again after some time and then go 'Wow' and then read it again and wonder, 'How did they do this?'. It never gets old. It never gets boring. And that is what is your book and your stories are for me. I just can't get enough of it.

Yes, books like movies or any other mass media product are done with a monetary aim. It's business. Yes sometimes it can go bad. And the probability is all the more when it is first. Also there are too many things that are out of our control. But that doesn't mean the book is bad or we should be disappointed. We just go at it again better and wiser. To quote a dialogue from the 'Batman Begins', 'Why do we fall, Master Wayne? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.'

Here's to more that is to come. And we, your readers, will be always by your side. :-)

phatichar said...

Kanthu: Thanks, bro :) You have a way of making me smile..always.

ashley said...

Thank you for sharing this! I'm sure your book is wonderful, and I'll check it out. Thank you, especially, for the advice :)

phatichar said...

ashley: Thanks for dropping by; you're welcome :)

mihir shah said...

I usually stay away from everything horror. If you could imagine a early 30's average built guy, slowly closing his eyes during a third attempt of watching excorcist; that's me.

my general tendency is to gravitate toward PG Wodehouse. But just recently, having stumbled on your twitter and read the little snippets had me started saving enough courage to look towards Horror genre. just came across this blog and before i finished reading this post, i found myself already purchased the book.

If i survive, i will let you know what i thought about it. But don't give up.


uhh! just heard some noise...who's there? hellooo...

phatichar said...

Mihir: Welcome here, friend. :) Hope you like it.. do return here for more.

Erratic Thoughts said...

Hmm...Well put Sri!
I loved your book and I am sure this being your first might take time to register with the readers, but with time you will evolve as THE have nothing to worry, really :)

And with your writing and narrative style, I am sure the genre will be accepted as well...You have That effect on readers, you know :)

Yes, I know this is the first time I am telling you about me reading the book and loving it...n well, better late than never :D
No seriously, I was off the blogging and mailing circle for sometime...But I am back :)

Good going Sri, we readers are by your side :)