LEISURE Over a dozen book launches in a month? ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY on the growing trend that’s keeping attention-seeking authors and autograph-seeking book-lovers happy

These days, it would seem that every individual is a potential subject for a book. And it is such stories that are making it to print and being launched before a huge crowd of book-lovers. Sometimes, the crowd at a book launch is so thick that you have to crane your neck to spot the writer in the middle. And it’s not just veterans who attract such a following, but first-time authors writing across genres as well.

In March 2013 alone, Landmark Bookstore played host to five book launches, Penguin Books India launched four books, while the Madras Book Club helped launch three others. “We host around 35 to 40 book launches a year and the trend only seems to be growing,” says Lijin Thomas, head of Marketing and Communication, Landmark. “The focus is on providing authors an opportunity to interact with readers and for readers to meet their favourite writers. This month, we launched Jeffrey Archer’s new title and for people who grew up reading him, it was a great platform to interact with him.”

Surge in attendance

V. Sriram, historian and a member of the Madras Book Club, believes there’s a sudden surge in the numbers attending book launches. He says the club has had at least two programmes a month over the last five years. “Biographies and profiles (of people and cities) seem to arouse more interest than fiction. Sometimes, it’s the personality — a historian or a sportsperson — that draws a crowd,” says Sriram.

But this doesn’t necessarily translate into numbers, feels Kamini Mahadevan, consultant editor, Penguin Books India. “There’s a lot happening but I’m not sure that a book launch increases sales these days. It’s ultimately through word-of-mouth or reviews that a book sells,” she says. She also believes that with young authors and readers being tech-savvy, a lot of the promotion happens online and also through social networking. “But with big writers, a launch usually is a celebration of their books, rather than being mere promotional events. And such events draw a sizeable crowd.”

Social media too sometimes helps draw a crowd for a launch, says Lijin. “A few years ago, you mostly had the likes of Ramachandra Guha, Amitav Ghosh and Kiran Desai coming out with their books. But now, pop fiction is starting to become big here,” he says, adding, “look at what Chetan Bhagat has managed to do! There’s a new audience and new writers to write for them. Many authors of the current generation also seem to come from a popular social media background — like bloggers, for instance. They bring their own crowd along with them.”

Choosing books

The Madras Book Club, in that sense, has become a great launch pad for authors. “We have an idea of the kind of books we wish to promote. If it’s an author we’ve already worked with, we go ahead with a launch. Otherwise, some of the members sit together to decide whether a book merits a launch. So, even if we might not accept some, by and large publishers and authors have come to view the club as a good launch pad for their books because it has around 300 members and, on an average, at least 100 turn up for a launch,” says Sriram. “At the end of the day, we choose books that entertain our members who come to have a nice evening.”

“Book launches are rather old-fashioned,” says Kamini, adding, “we’ve consciously tried to cut back on the number of launches because we feel that they don’t always serve the purpose. After a point, you begin to see the same faces at every launch.”

Launches, of late, though, seem to have kept up with time with trailers announcing the release dates, a couple of chapters being published online for readers to get a feel of the story and pre-release booking discounts. “It’s a good time for the publishing industry,” says Lijin “and for a new generation of writers who want to realise their dreams.”

There’s a new audience and new writers to write for them. Many authors of the current generation also seem to come from a popular social media background