You would have never come across a Chetan Bhagat advertisement on television or on the road on your way to office. You would not have found him gracing many literary functions. Yet, he sells. More than the so-called best-sellers, which start off with a few thousand copies in the first couple of weeks and then settle down to 10,000 copies over a year or so! Such is the confidence in the man who gave us “Five Point Someone” that sold around a lakh in no time of its launch that his latest book “Two States: The Story of My Marriage” is all set to meet an astronomical target of 10 lakh copies in ten weeks. A little earlier “Three Mistakes” sold 10 lakh in 10 months. Make no mistake, the bar just got higher. Almost like Ripley’s “Believe it or Not”, Chetan Bhagat sells more than a daily newspaper in a city! Purists might call his writing a dumbing down of literature, but then as his publisher, Kapish Mehra of Rupa and Co. says, “There are only two kinds of authors. The successful ones and the rest. Chetan is obviously successful.”
Why Chetan’s books sell
Is there a marketing mantra at work in the success of his low-priced, quick-read books?
“There is originality of content. When Chetan writes, people feel as if it is their story. Then there is smartness of marketing. For instance, for “Two States”, we released the book simultaneously across the country. The book was available at the same time in Delhi and Dibrugarh, Mumbai and Bhubaneswar. We have defied the publishing mindset, thought out of the box. A lot of Chetan Bhagat sales come from smaller towns, people who have been introduced to books beyond school and college by Chetan Bhagat. He is a phenomenon that has affected everybody, touched everybody’s life. Indian publishing shall now be divided into pre and post Chetan Bhagat. He has created those kinds of landmarks. We are already on track to touch a million copies in 10 weeks with “Two States”. The book has sold almost four lakh in the first four weeks of release,” says Mehra, adding, “there is more to come”.
It was more or less the same with “Five Point Someone”, a book that has loosely inspired Rajkumar Hirani’s “Three Idiots” that is likely to release this winter. It was more of the same with “One Night at a Call Centre”. That book too inspired a Bollywood flick, “Hello”. The film sank without a trace. The book is still in demand.
So, just how does Chetan Bhagat click? “He clicks across the spectrum. He connects immediately. He stays with you all the way,” says Mehra. . Chetan has a website. He is on Twitter. He answers his mail. He projects his readers’ viewpoint on the site too. “My website attracts a lot of traffic, and readers can share their views with me, and even have their views displayed for all to see. I am also on Twitter. The idea is not to sell or market, but remain connected with my readers,” says Chetan, now in Hong Kong. Well, as far as connecting with the masses is concerned, Mehra and Chetan went to the stores themselves at the time of the launch of Chetan’s first book. “We worked hard and jointly. From the manuscript to the time the book landed at the bookstores, we planned each step.”
Of course, the fact that the books are priced less than a hundred rupees helps. “It makes them accessible to all.”
Mehra shares, “Yes, these books are a case study in logistics. But at the end of the day, no matter how you price your book, how easily available it might be, it is the content that makes it a success. Chetan scores well.” Chetan feels, “I think a writer’s first job is to strike a chord, and not please elitist circles. I do it by caring for my readers and listening to them. It can’t be just the language, as it is simply the common language of the people. It is more about what is being said and communicated that strikes a chord.”
Striking a chord. That is what Shobha De too did some couple of decades ago for the first time. Then repeated it many times over. Her success story too has few parallels. Though she later switched to non-fiction, she still sells. Is there a marketing mantra at work here too? Penguin that publishes her, promotes her work very differently from say an Ali Sethi or Siddhartha Shanghvi, among the two better fiction sellers this year. “Shobha will be promoted differently. Her appeal, her personality is different. She is not just an author. To promote her book, a multi-pronged strategy is adopted involving various media elements,” says a Penguin staffer. With great usage of Internet promotion and blogs, Shobha is another success story. Her “Superstars India” sold around 1.25 lakh. Where does her appeal lie?
“She reinvents herself periodically. She started off as an attention-grabbing writer; then settled down to be the top-of-the- line author whose name sells.”
The floodgates opened by below-hundred-rupees books of Chetan — a little window was opened much earlier by Shobha — are benefiting many others. Many authors are easily crossing the five and even the six figure mark. Among them Ravi Subramanium who gave us “If God Were a Banker” (the book sold over a lakh copies), Tisha Khosla with “Pink or Black” (again, the book has sold more than a lakh copies) and Varsha Dixit with “Right Fit”, “Wrong Shoes” have raked in the riches. As have the likes of Ali Sethi and Shanghvi. Read on.