‘I’m not afraid to say I make money’

Preeti Shenoy. Photo: Narasimha Murthy  

Preeti Shenoy’s latest book Why We Love the Way We Do is already raking in figures and readers, and no one is surprised. Shenoy has consistently maintained her position in the bestseller’s league and, according to the Nielsen scan, has earned herself the unique position of being the only woman on the list in India. If there is a code, Shenoy has cracked it and in this interview she analyses a little bit of her success story.

Tell us something about how the journey began? How did a blog lead to books?

I started my blog in 2006, and my first book came out in 2008. Before that, I had always written, but never thought of writing professionally. I started my blog to get over the grief of losing my father; to cheer myself up because I was in a dark place. Death was something I hadn’t faced before and I had been really close to my dad. I started posting anonymously. Slowly my posts became popular. Surprisingly my early readers were outside India, from places like Argentina, Sao Paulo, the UK. Many of them are still very good friends.

Then, in January 2007, I won the Perfect Post award and one of my posts got picked up by a radio show host in the US. Slowly, my blog started growing in popularity and everyone wanted to know who P.S. was. I put my name and then even a small picture on it. I started writing for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Writing was therapy and if I was getting paid for it, why not? The final result was a book in 2008, a collection of my blog posts. It was moderately successful. After that I shifted to the UK, and wrote Life is What You Make It, which became a bestseller and is still on the bestselling list. After that, my other three books, The Secret Wishlist, The One You Cannot Have and It Happens for a Reason have all stayed on the bestselling list.

What was it like to move to fiction after blogging for so long?

I didn’t want to write what everybody was writing, and back then, that was IIT-IIM love stories. I felt the insights and experiences I had were very different. Each of my books contains a central idea. In Life is what You Make It, I write about a girl with bipolar disorder. When I went to the UK, I came across a Bipolar Artists’ Association, and went for an exhibition. I was blown away by the paintings. After that, I [found there were] huge numbers of people with bipolar disorders in India and China. The disease has a stigma and it largely goes untreated. Similarly, I knew someone who was a single mother in the US and got snowed in one day with her little daughter. So, just to pass the time, she made a wishlist and then forgot all about it. After 11-12 years, she saw it again and discovered that nine of her wishes had come true. That was a wow moment, and formed the core of The Secret Wishlist.

So your own experiences form the basis of your books...

Swati Daftuar
You’ll see that most of my books are based in Bombay, Pondicherry, Kerala, Chennai, Bangalore and Pune. These are all the places I have lived in, and I do dig into my own life experiences. I don’t actively seek these experiences to find plots but I write journals, so the material is all documented in vivid detail. I also get many mails from readers who write to me and tell me their stories, ask me to write it.

Your readers seem to really relate to your books and the characters you create...

Today, I get mails from so many people who say that my books have changed their lives. Many husbands write to me after reading The Secret Wishlist and say they had never looked at their wives that way before.

To be honest, I used to wonder. Over the years, I have gotten used to it. When I analyse it, there are a few reasons. First, my books are page-turners. For example, Prahlad Kakkar, whose opinion I really value, picked up my book at the Agra Literature Festival and told me later that he just couldn’t stop reading it. Secondly, you will feel everything that my protagonist is feeling. And the third point is ease of reading. I deliberately keep it simple. I write a newspaper column where my language is more complex, but in my books I keep the language simple. My writing is not pretentious because my characters aren’t pretentious. At the end of the day, it is the word-of-mouth publicity as well as the fact that something has made my books cut across several countries to reach all types of readers. An older lady read my book in Sao Paulo and she sent me a scarf and a knitted hat, which I treasure to this day.

You are very active on social media, and of course you still maintain your blog.

My blog readers are different from my book readers. I get offers from many companies, but I have never monetised my blog. It is a sacred place for me, a virtual home. I am also very active on Facebook and Twitter, and it is all organic. I have not bought a single Like.

I must tell you, when I am writing I don’t take feedback from readers. When I am writing I will cut off, I will be in my cave. After the book comes out, I do respond. Once in 15 days I will clear my mailbox, and commenting on Twitter and Facebook takes such little time it isn’t hard at all.

So, how does it feel to be the only woman on the bestselling list?

It feels nice but at the same time it makes me wonder why there is only one woman there. I have analysed what I’m doing differently. The one thing is, I’m not afraid to go there and market my books. You have to be a bit aggressive about marketing; you can’t be too sensitive and wonder if it's going to look bad. I’m not afraid to say that yes, I sell in huge numbers, yes, I make money; I’m not afraid to be proud of it.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 12:21:08 PM |

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