Kiruba: Hello and welcome to the First Book Podcast, India’s first and only podcast dedicated to helping first time authors. In this podcast series we have conversations with bestselling authors and business leaders to understand how they successfully cracked their first book. This conversation helps us to get a sneak peek into their journey as an author. This podcast is done in association with Notion Press, one of India’s largest publishing ecosystems. In this episode, we have an interesting conversation with one of India’s highest selling English Fiction Authors, Ashwin Sanghi. He has written several best sellers like The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant and The Krishna Key. He has co-authored, a New York Times bestselling crime thriller with James Patterson called Private India. Forbes India magazine has ranked him in their celebrity 100 list. In his own words, Ashwin calls himself an entrepreneur by day and a novelist by night. He graduated with a BA. Economics from St. Xavier’s college and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. He is currently working towards a PhD. from the Bengoar University in Wales, United Kingdom. This is one of the most interesting conversations I had as part of this Podcast series. He stood out for me for his perseverance and persistence for not giving up in spite of being rejected by several publishers initially. Let’s now listen to this very interesting conversation with Ashwin Sanghi.
Kiruba: Ashwin, thank you so much for coming on the First Book Podcast it’s such a pleasure.
Ashwin: Its my please Kiruba. I am delighted to be here.
Kiruba: Ashwin, one of the first things that stuck me when I read your bio is you got rejected 47 times from publishers and literary agents. Talk us through that experience.
Ashwin: That was the best experience of my life. The truth is that sometimes you really need to go through that process of what is called trial and error and it automatically ends up in teaching you a lot about the industry you want to be in. Let me just take a step back, this is probably around 2005 – 2006 and I had completed writing my first novel the Rozabal Line and started a course. At that point of time when you are writing, you think the toughest part is writing. Its only later that you realise that writing is the easy part and the difficult part is publishing and getting the book sold. I started approaching literary agents first and unfortunately landed up with a string of no and thank you but no thank you type of stuff from various agents. Then I reached a point where I decided to start approaching publishers directly and that was the second face where I started writing to publishers directly. The vast majority didn’t reply because as you know the ability of publishers, the bandwidth of publishers to actually pick up a manuscript and read it is exceptionally low. So every manuscript that is read, they probably have another two, three hundred which are not read. So the net result of that was that I landed up with a large number of rejections and that’s when I actually decided to self-publish a novel. That was around 2007. The point at the end of the day is that, what is called in our part of the world as Agnipariksha, trial by fire. I think that’s very important because the toughest sword needs to be tempered over the flames for a long, long time. So it automatically takes you through a process where you realise what the agents are looking out for, what is expected from that runner you are writing in, what are the reasons why people are not accepting your work, at least initially. And then of course when you go into self-publishing you have no alternative, you have to become your own publisher in which case then you end up learning a lot more about the way the entire industry works.
Kiruba: That’s an excellent point. One thing that I’ve realised and I’ve seen many other people say is that, when you self-publish you actually get to understand the various aspects of the publishing industry. I have lots of question, and the first one is the most requested when I outsourced questions for you, when you got rejected so many times, why did you not give up? Because it is so easy to give up and what kept you going?
Ashwin: Well, I must tell you, I had a little trick which was that, I had a bulletin board in front of my desk. That board in front of my desk basically had a series of numbers on it. Like 12, 18, 30, so on and so forth. Anyone walking into my study would wonder what those numbers were about. Actually there was a purpose behind those numbers. The number 12 for example represented the number of times J.K Rowling was rejected, for that very first novel Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. Number 18 was the number of times Jonathan Livingston was rejected. 30 was the number of times Stephen King’s novel was rejected. So when you put up all of those numbers in front of you, you realise you are no different to the pack. And in fact in a certain perverse way, I was actually competing against those numbers. So it became a situation where once I reached 47, I said I’ve beaten the pants of all of these guys. I know it sounds ironical in that sense, but you need to find ways to keep going, you need to motivate yourself to keep going, that is one. And the second important thing to realise is that rejection is not a reflection of your writing. There are many great novelists, who did not become best sellers because they gave up too soon. So, a couple of years ago I wrote this little book called 13 steps to bloody good luck. In that I narrated a story as to why that particular title contains the words bloody good luck. And when I had gone through many many rejections, I remember I was sitting in my house, in my parents’ living room. My father was sitting with a family friend and this person was a Punjabi gentleman who was very fond of his whisky, and he was enjoying his drink. And he looked at me and said beta you are looking very depressed, what is the matter? I said, I’ve just been rejected and just receiving rejection after rejection. So he asked what’s the problem why don’t you apply to a few more. And I turned and said there aren’t any people left to apply to. Whichever publisher there was and whichever agent there was have already been written to. He lifted up his whisky glass and he said to me beta, remember one thing. In life 99% is about good luck and I asked about the last 1%. That 1% must be talent, hard work, efficiency, time management, networking and so many other factors. I remember him downing that whisky in like literally a couple of seconds and then he slammed down the glass on the table and he said that 1% is known as the bloody good luck. So just wait for that bloody good luck to kick in. I realised at that time that everyone has luck and everyone is also entitled to bloody good luck. The problem is many people don’t wait for the bloody good luck to happen. So just remember that, those of the audience who are listening to this and are looking to be writers just wait for the bloody good luck to happen, because if you don’t, the way I see it is everyone has the same opportunity, everyone has the same amount of luck in their lives, it’s only a question of timing. So you will get it now, maybe someone else will get it 5 years from now.
Kiruba: The straw I am assuming is after the 47th rejection and you decided to hell with the publishers and you decided to self-publish your book. Tell us how you did that.
Ashwin: It was the year 2007, whatever rejection had to happen had already happened. It was the start of the sector in the publishing face known as POD or Print On Demand. Please remember that in 2007 no Kindle existed. So you had multiple formats which started coming up in the e-book space, but nothing like a standardized reader or those formats. So you dint have a huge ecosystem in terms of self-publishing. At that point of time, a couple of small companies had started up POD. At that time what POD really meant was, if you had a book, then you went and published it through a POD company. The POD company would lift it on Amazon and WH Smith and what have you and if you looked at the item you know, the number of items stock would be showing one book or two books in stock or more on the way. What it basically implied was that it was a 0 inventory policy. They would not print that book until there was an order on Amazon or online or any of the other retailers. It did not imply any inventory cost or upfront carrier cost. So I published that first book called Rozabal Line in one of these POD companies and you know the statistics for the self-publishing are very scary, Kiruba. You have a situation where literally millions of books are self-published a year. But if you look at the law of averages, the average self-published book will sell 57 copies during its lifetime. So just imagine how long the long tale we talk about Amazon, just imagine how long that long tale must be. Because there are millions and millions of titles which will probably sell even in the single digits. So I try and put in my entire force to make that self-publish book sell. And at that time Amazon wasn’t in India, so I was talking about selling in Amazon, I was talking about selling in the US market, Canadian market and so on and so forth. During that first year, I ended up selling like 800 or 900 copies.
Kiruba: Is that good or bad?
Ashwin: Brilliant. Not just good. Because when you looked at the average self-published book even at that time, the numbers were really sort of flimsy. This happened primarily because I was doing a lot of logging, in case anyone had read the book, I would immediately find a way to reach out to them and ask them to please go put up a review on Amazon and so on and so forth. I was very much into that, but frankly it was an uphill battle because it was a big deal. After doing all of this and you end up selling 900 books and that’s lot of things to write home about. That’s the time I realised, hey all of this is very well but ultimately I need my book to be sold to an Indian audience to Indian bookstores. So I started doing the rounds of Indian bookstores and said I have this Indian book out there, it’s a self-published title. I am willing to import the book in my own cost, I am willing to maintain inventory and will you please keep the book on consignment basis. In other words, I would go to crossword and say will you keep 20 books, I am not going to be asking you for upfront payment. Only if you sell it will you pay me. The problem was that the bookstores were not even willing to pay that. Because they are so used to dealing with best-selling authors. I mean if you are a Dan Brown or a Jeffery Archer, there was no issue, instantly those books will be stocked. And the second part of it is that they are used to dealing with distributors, they are not used to dealing with individual authors or publishers. They want to deal with distributors who will give them 300 titles. So I realised that I eventually need to line up a distributor. So a good friend of mine at that time was in a small company which did distribution of text books. So he told me I can’t distribute your book. But I can guide you and point you in the direction of distributors. So he gave me a list of 85-90 distributors based in various parts of India. He said why don’t you send them a letter and maybe a copy of the book, which is what I did then. These kinds of talks about systems and glutens for punishment. I mean here is the person that has already been rejected by the whole world and he is now reaching out again to distributors with the same rejected book. That’s precisely what I was doing. So I sent out a covering letter and frankly the response was no and no better than the first time that I had with agents and publishers. But one out of those distributors actually got back to me and that was a company based out of Chennai called East West Publishing. In fact, it was called East West Books. They have book old time publishers. East West Books at that time just ventured into a retailing arm called Landmark and Landmark had just come in to existence around then. So Landmark’s CEO got in touch with me and said he had received this book and he read it and it is outstanding. So why hasn’t it being published? Why have you gone through self-publishing route? And I said tell me about it, it’s a really long story. So that itself will deserve another book. So she said she thought its really worth publishing, but the problem is that you want us to behave like distributors. But the American price of $16 even if you import this book at half the price and then when we add the retailer margins and distributor margins, we will not be able to give you a competitive price in the retail sale. So what she said is that in my opinion we try and publish this ourselves. That’s when she got in touch with Gautham Padmanaban who was at that time heading Westland which was a sister company of East West. So Gautham said I won’t promise you anything Ashwin but I will put out the book to 10 people as a sort of a target group and let all of them read it and come back to me with their feedback and then let’s take a call. So that whole process took another month. And then a month later Gautham called and said the feedback has been very positive, so we’d like to go ahead and we’d like to send you a contract.
Kiruba : Wow.
Ashwin: I don’t think anything is easy Kiruba, frankly. So whether it was getting rejected by the agent, getting rejected by the publisher, getting rejected by the distributor and then even after finding a publisher the process of eventually getting published and contracting and re-editing, Westland was very clear that they wanted the entire book to be edited again and even after the first edit they wanted a second edit so that entire process ended up taking another 8 – 9 months.
Kiruba : Wow. So very important lessons I am getting out of this Ashwin. Number one is if you would have not gone ahead and getting the book out on your own there is nobody for Ramaya or for Gautham Padmanaban to really read through the book and to share it around. So I think that was a critical step you took. The second one, you had oodles of patience and perseverance. I think aspiring authors should have bucket loads.
Ashwin: Absolutely. Regarding the second point, I would say that today’s environment is a lot easier on new authors than it was 10 years ago. What I am talking about is 2007, 1 decade ago and today you know at that point of time in the Indian publishing space or even for that matter for the western world, if you were an Indian who was writing a novel, you were expected to be writing a literary fiction because they were looking for people who would compete with Salman Rushdie or Arundhathi Roy or Amitabh Ghosh. They were not looking for people who could write stuff which would be similar to let’s say Frederick Forsyth or Robert Ludlum, because there was enough of those around. You know Indian publishers in India had been selling books of Ludlum and Forsyth Jeffrey Archer and Brown for a long long time and they were quite happy doing that.
Ashwin: So such situations have been changed by commercial fiction which has become hot, where Indian publishing arms have realized that they need to have stories which are written by Indian authors and are commercial in nature. We need to have mysteries and we need to have romances and then we need to have mythology. We need to have all of these individual sub genres. That was not the case in 2007. So to that extent you are right. Even today you need patience and perseverance, but probably you need a little lesser.
Kiruba: Hmm I agree. So I would like to quickly jump into your writing pattern Ashwin. You focus on mythology and history. Those are your trademarks. So how do you go about picking up your genres and how do you go about with the research? Do you hire people to do research for you? Do you do that yourself?
Ashwin: No Kiruba. As far as the process of writing a book is considered, as you know I had 3 types of books that I currently write. The first is my Bharat Series in which till now I have written four books, The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna key, The Sialkot Saga. Then I have written the books which James Patterson which are the private series in which we have currently done two books Private India and Private Delhi. And then I have the 13 step series which is my nonfiction self-help genres of book where we have currently published two books 13 steps to bloody good luck and 13 steps to bloody good wealth. Now each of these requires a different approach in terms of how the book is eventually developed and written. As far as the Bharat series is concerned, it is a labour of love. So those are the books which I do entirely on my own. I will take help where I require from. For example, I don’t understand Sanskrit, so where there is a book involving ancient historical material or whether there is a pathological material or let say I need help in the language front, I will go to a specialist to help me with that. But it’s not as if I will have a team of people looking into documents and collating that and giving it to me. That’s not the case. Typically for the Bharat series book I am looking at anywhere between 18 months to 24 months in terms of reading, in terms of researching, writing, editing and finally of course pre-publication. So all of that entire process is anywhere between 18-24 months. So that’s one part of it by which the Bharat series books are done. As far as the private series is concerned, those are much shorter. Typically the Bharat series book would run to anywhere between a hundred and twenty thousand to a hundred and fifty thousand words. A private series novel will run 60,000 – 80,000 words. Typically there isn’t that much research into let’s say documents or historical archives or any of that. There is a certain amount of research involved in terms of feet on the street in terms of the ground. Whether it’s in terms of police procedure and so on and so forth. But it’s literally a fraction of what goes on with the Bharat series. So the private series books can be completed anywhere around 6 months or so, whereas the 13 steps series, only the first book 13 steps to bloody good luck was entirely written by me. Those books are typically around 30,000 words and now the reason why we have developed the series is because when we came out with the first book, we never expected it to do so well. A lot of people came back and said you have justified the whole idea of luck. So isn’t there a way you could demystify other subjects? So I realised there would be a lot of people who would have a vertical domain knowledge in what they specifically do. For example it could be a banker who is very knowledgeable in financial matters or it could be a doctor who is very knowledgeable in health matters, or there could be a teacher who is very knowledgeable in how to study. Different people have different areas of expertise, but what they don’t necessarily have is the flair for writing and maybe story telling. So that is where I combine with them in order to make sure that we are able to deliver a book which not only has the right domain knowledge but also reads very well. It’s very statistical but the average they’ve made is up to page 18. So getting someone to turn the page is very difficult and that is really where my expertise comes in. So all the books that I am doing, the 13th series are typically co-written by someone else. But I ultimately bring in my editing, storytelling and marketing skills to actually make that book work. So currently we have about 3 or 4 titles which are being developed in parallel to the 13 steps series. So typically a book in the 13 steps series you’re talking about takes roughly 3-5 months.
Kiruba: Excellent. So this brings me to the next important question. What is your writing pattern? How do you sit down and write? What time of the day really works for you? And how do you focus? These are some questions a lot of people asked, Ashwin.
Ashwin: So I must say most people have the 9-5 day. I have what is called the 5-9 day which means I start at 5 in the morning and typically my writing is done by 9 o’clock. So during those 3 or 4 hours in the morning, most of my writing for the day is over. So the rest of the day is purely either in the count of research or in terms of reading or in terms of meetings related to books. Because as I have always mentioned there are 2 separate things as a writer that you need to focus on. One is the book and second is the business of books and the 2 are exceptionally different. While you are working on a manuscript you think like a writer, you think like a story teller, you try and come out with a perfect story and not worrying about how you will sell it. And then once you have done that, you take of your writer’s hat and you just become a marketer and you try and figure out the best way to sell that book. At any given point of time, you will find that you are writing one book and you are marketing another book and both those things will occupy a substantial portion of your day. The evening hours typically from 6-10 in the night is usually the golden hours in terms of my reading and in terms of my ideation. Typically those 2 or 3 hours are entirely devoted to research and to reading. So I follow a fairly hectic schedule so I tend to be rather introverted than to be to myself. I don’t end up socialising because frankly given the fact that I start my day by 5 in the morning and end my day around 11 in the night, I really don’t have a chance to do any of that.
Kiruba: Beautiful. I love the way how you compartmentalized it, early mornings for writing, middle hours during the day for business of books and the evenings for reading and idealisation. I just love that compartmentalisation. The next one Ashwin is, are there any specific software, apps, tools that you found useful?
Ashwin: There are a few things that I use. One of which I have to tell you is the simple email app which is for ideation. So I have my normal email id which I use for communication, but I have an independent email id which I use only for emailing myself. So what happens as a result of that is, during the course of the day I may be struck by 2 or 3 interesting things. I may be reading a book and I may find any particular line very interesting. Or I maybe passing through a street and I may find a particular visual image very interesting. So I have a tendency to immediately record it and email it to myself, which eventually becomes my idea bank. So in the old days people used to maintain journals but there were limitations of journals in terms of being able to read the material or being able to store multiple types of material. Sometimes for example you could come across some interesting YouTube video that you need to simply store the link to. Or you come across a PDF document that you need to retrieve and make sure that it is available in your bank. So these are important things that I continuously do. Over the years I must have emailed myself at least 8000 times.
Kiruba: That is awesome. Like they say, I was tempted to tell you that there are beautiful apps that does it but what really matters is just getting the work done. Because sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of gadgets and apps. That’s an important one.
Ashwin: This is one part of it, Kiruba. The other part of it is when I’m actually doing my research and once I start the process of plotting the software that I tend to use most often during the plotting stage is excel. Because all my plots are written up like a spread sheet. Let me give you an example, the last book in the Bharat Series was a book called the Sialkot Saga which covered the journey of 2 boys, Arvind and Arbagh on the set of independence, 1947 all the way through till 2007. So we were talking about roughly describing their lives over a 70 year period. So if you look at my excel spread sheet related to the plot of that book you find that the first column would mention the year 1947, 48, 49 and so on. The second column would actually plot the age of those 2 characters. So that we know they are 12 years old, 18 years old, 25 years old, what age group they are in at that particular time. The next columns describe what they would have been doing at those ages. So for example, would the boy have been in school or would he been enjoying his first kiss with his girlfriend or would he be setting up a business or would it be nearer to the time where he falls ill as an old man. So what was happening in his life at that point of time? And then there were additional columns for what was happening historically in India, what was the political scenario, what was happening culturally, which particular movie was updated at that time. If a youngster is listening to a record, which number will he be listening to in that particular year. So all of this was plotted out in a massive spread sheet before I actually started writing. So excel for me is exceptionally important when it comes to plotting. And then of course once I start writing the pro program I use most often is Scrivener. Because Scrivener allows me to take all of my plot points and convert them to index cards on line of course and use each of those index cards to move them around. Eventually write up the chapters within those index cards. It’s almost like being able to write your entire manuscript in the form of a series of cards. And have the flexibility of being able to move them around depending upon what the situation demands. Once I’ve done with all of that I convert my scrivener file to a word file because that’s what publishers are used to but my actual writing happens on Scrivener.
Kiruba: So Scrivener is a beautiful tool, so incidentally 80% of the people, global authors that I have interviewed recommend Scrivener. So that’s a good one. My next question is, now that you have 3 series do you focus on one book at a time or do u focus on multiple books?
Ashwin: You know unfortunately I wish I could focus on one book at a time. If you look at it in terms of a given date, you will find that on that particular day I am working on one thing. But it’s very possible the next day I will put that down and will be working on something else. So I will always have open projects, multiple open projects at a given point of time. What you will not find me doing is working between 5-6:30 on project A and then putting down the pen and the word processor and shifting down to another project on the same day. But now what I don’t have is the luxury of being able to live with the project for a few months and complete it and then eventually start on a new project. That luxury is gone.
Kiruba: That is the price of popularity, Ashwin.
Ashwin: I would imagine so, and it also to a certain extent, imposes the discipline on you because you realise your most precious commodity, most valuable resource of your time. So it just forces you to start looking at the plot much more closely and ensures that you have an output. So unlike a lot of writers, who say, I don’t like to set writing targets for myself, I am one of those who believe we should set writing targets for ourselves.
Kiruba: So what sort of deadlines or targets work for you?
Ashwin: If I am in the research phase of a particular book then the question of output doesn’t arise, but once I actually start writing something, even books in the Bharat Series and the word count will go high. Sialkot for example, was hundred and sixty thousand words. The Krishna Key was about a hundred and thirty five thousand words, Chanakaya’s Chant was a hundred and ten thousand words. So these are all hundred thousand plus novels. Typically, what I try and do is the minimum output which is two thousand words on a given day. It may not happen necessarily; sometimes you may end up in a situation where it only turns out to be a thousand or sixteen hundred. But there will always be days where you will go up to three thousand.
Kiruba: That’s good to know. Now that you have gotten your book out, what marketing strategies have really worked for you?
Ashwin: I would say that one of the key things is to realise that there are two factors that rise. Those two factors are equally important, both with the online as well as offline scenarios. When I had come out with my first book, the Rozabal Line, eventually Westland went ahead and published it, at that point of time, I remember visiting various bookstores and I remember finding that my book was not on the bookshelf. So no matter how good your book is, if it is not there it can’t be sold. So the first big challenge is availability and I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t have a publisher who is going to focus on distribution, there will be a problem in terms of sales. So you, as an author, should not take it to heart that it reflects on your bad writing. It could possibly reflect on your bad writing, but that’s not always the case. And I think the second part of it is that, assuming that the book is available, the second question is, is the book visible? Just because you may have five copies lying in some corner of the store, that may not be sufficient to drive sales. Availability and visibility, are the two critical factors that needs to be looked at. And that is where I find traditional publishing wins hands down over self-publishing. Because those two things unfortunately, as a self-published author, will always come up as a road block. So to that extent, if you are being published by a traditional publisher, you already have a bit of a head start in the publishing phase. You also need to continuously monitor as an author. There are too many authors who think that I have finished writing this book, now my responsibility ends and the publisher takes over. But it doesn’t work that way.
Kiruba: I think the biggest myth, is the one that you just stated, there is so much of fatigue at the end of writing, that people leave a huge sigh of relief saying I am done and now over to the publisher. You can’t get far off from this truth. So Ashwin, now that you’ve become very well-known, I am guessing you have a lot of negotiation power with the publishers. How different is the popular Ashwin compared to the newbie Ashwin?”
Ashwin: “I think to a certain extent, you evolve as you go along, I would say that when I had just started out, I had a lot of bachha (child) authors, a lot of first time authors who write to me and ask me what the royalty percentage should be for my book and I am so surprised when they ask me that question, because to my knowledge, if you are a first time author, the last thing on your mind should be royalty. Let’s imagine if I was to tell you that normal royalty will range from 8% to 12%. But you can negotiate with the publisher and get it to 15%. Well, the important thing to understand here is, 15% of 0 is 0. If that book is not going to sell, it doesn’t really matter as to what royalty percentage you are going to get. I think as a first time author, it is very important to understand that your responsibility is to make the book work. And once you make that book work, maybe by then, you may be in a slightly better position to write your second book from a different perspective. I would say that it is definitely part of the learning process. But the most important thing my grandmother always used to tell me was that, it’s much easier to deal with failure than to deal with success. It’s so true; I have found this in my life. But when you have suffered through failure, in any case, you know that you need to try harder, it’s as simple as that. Or that you need to motivate yourself, to keep you going. But when you have succeeded, then, to be able to keep your foot on the ground, to remain humble and to continue to remain appreciative of the people who helped you get there, is so very important and that is something a lot of people tend to let go off. So to my mind that is the real critical element. I am a very strong believer of, “what you give out to the universe is what you get in return.” This is a huge issue because it’s very easy to say I wrote a book and it worked really well and I am a best-seller. Yes, you wrote a great book, but ultimately there are many great books that didn’t get sold.”
Kiruba: “Excellent point. It is about ensuring that the book sells well and that could be one’s source of income, Ashwin. But it’s also the responsibility of the author to open multiple other streams of income. What stream works for you and what is your advice for other authors.”
Ashwin: “One, ofcourse, is typically when you sign up your agreement with your publisher, a lot will descend in terms of what has been included in that agreement. Basically, nowadays publishers will sign up with you, not only for the paper back or the hard back, they also sign up with you for the – e-book. Because now e- books have started to constitute a significant chunk of your earnings because there are none of the additional costs involved in terms of printing and distribution or inventory management. So to that extent e- book revenues currently constitute less than 10% in terms of volume of your books sold. But they can constitute to a significantly larger quantum of your overall revenue because you are receiving a larger amount. That’s one. I would say, incase your story has worked; probably nowadays we got a situation where there used to be a time where you only think of a company. Today that is no longer the case. Today there are movie rights, television serial rights, digital series rights, and the world of Netflix. Amazon has changed a lot of things. So those are additional streams which can come in. Then, within the books case itself, nowadays you have multiple formats on which even e- books are made available, so those become additional streams. Translation rights are an important part of it, because to my mind, a story is just a story. So whether you tell that story in any language, the story remains the same. And then you end up reaching a wider audience. So I would say as an author, your focus during the first couple of years should just be on making the book work and not worry about many of the ancillary things because the ancillary stuff can only follow provided the basic product. After that you need to start looking at all of those alternative streams. Nowadays for example, incase your book has worked well; you will normally find that a couple of years later, you could end up doing like illustrated novels or a best- seller. Or for example you could do a video game based on a book which has been very popular. So all these options now are available but all of these ends, making sure that the book works.”
Kiruba: Got it. Also you are a speaker; you have spoken at corporates and organisations. That could be revenue as well.
Ashwin: Absolutely. But you know all authors can’t be a good speaker. So I would say that’s the reason I don’t treat it as an offshoot of your book because the way it is seen, it is quite possible that to have a day job or something else and you could be writing in your spare time. Infact, to most positive authors, my sincere advice would be not to quit your day job. Keeps the day’s job going. Frankly, it’s very difficult to write when you are worrying about where your next pay check is going to come from. This old proverb says that publishers write checks slower than authors write their books. There are practical issues involved in terms of feeding your family. So I though always found that it’s better to have an income available to you which is steady and then if you are writing bit takes off, then great, if it doesn’t, then you have something to fall back on.
Kiruba: Two last questions Ashwin. One is, you have really branded yourself very well online. Your website is the best I have seen among the Indian Authors. So tell us about what have you don’t write when it comes to just branding yourself both online and offline.
Ashwin: Frankly, I have not attempted to brand myself; I have just simply made myself available and accept to as many people as possible. So for example, the primary objective when I look at a website, I am really not interested in the bells of resources in a website. For me, as long as the website is able to convey its reflexes of hypothetically someone who wants to interview me, that goes to my website and to be able to download my narrative CD, they should be able to do it efficiently and quickly without having to go through a series of hoops. ‘O’ for example, if someone wants to go through my website inorder to be able to see where I have given lectures or what is the forthcoming event where they may able to find me, then it should all be there. So I have generally found that what happens is whether it is authors, whether it is speakers and so many others. They will end up spending a lot of time when they are developing the stuff. But they won’t keep it fresh or updated; they won’t invest the necessary resources in terms of making sure that the information is absolutely relevant and up-to-date. That is what I atleast do as far as the website is concerned. As far as social media platforms are concerned, I have a Facebook page, I have a twitter account and I am also available on Instagram and Linkedin. So these three or four platforms are there and I try and keep them as catchy and fresh as possible. So on twitter I have around 8-10 tweets a day. Some of it will be motivational quotes, some of it what I read the previous day or the previous week where I feel that, this is an expressing article I want to share. I try and stay away from discussions, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, I don’t want to get into discussion of politics and religion and all of that. Because nowadays it seems to me that a large amount of time on social media seems to be spent on this negative sort of chat on. The way I look at it is Social Media is something that I don’t want to spend more than half an hour to 40 minutes of my day on managing. So I do have a team that helps me manage my properties. For example, let’s say the Indian festival of Holi has gone by and I need to wish people on Holi, that’s not something I should think of on Holi. That’s something that has been planned 365 days in advance. The required graphics and all of that have been planned well in advance. That will be posted by my team according to the schedule that’s already been established. But on the other hand, if you were to write to I on twitter, that will not be replied by my team but that will be replied directly by me because otherwise I lose my personal touch. So balancing those to separate elements is very critical. Either you tend to become too mechanised or you tend to become too personal.
Kiruba: It is important to draw that balance. And the last question is what is your long term goal, your twenty years, thirty years look into the crystal ball. As an author what are your big goals?
Ashwin: I think John Menak said in the long run, we are all dead and I keep that as my mantra. Frankly, you don’t really know in how many years you may have a productive life in front of you. So whatever waking hours you have I want to go on telling stories, I mean I have never treated myself as a writer Kiruba. My entire view has been as a story teller by heart and I love telling stories and I want to tell as many stories as possible. Because the way I see it is when I pass onto another world, the only thing I will leave behind is a legacy of stories. So If I can get more stories done which excites people, I mean for me, the greatest compliment is when someone appreciates me, frankly at that point of time I really couldn’t care to who such royalty I get or not. That’s the greatest reward. So from my perspective I simply want to carry on churning stories. If I am around for a long time, it will be a large number of stories, incase if I am around for a lesser time, it will be a little less. But one thing that I hope that I will end up doing is, I will continue to excite people with my stories which I think is very critical. I’ve always felt that stories are something, people always ask me. What will you talk about story telling? What does it really mean? I said, the great Alfred Hitchhock said ‘the length of a movie should be related to the endurance of the human bladder’. Think about it, Kiruba. It’s so true and at the end of the day everyone needs to take a bathroom break at some point of time. So what I visualise when I am writing a book is that, there are ten people sitting around me in a circle and I am telling them a story. They don’t want to get up in between. Let’s say there are three out of the ten, who really need to take a rest room break, but they don’t because they want to hear the story. Those are the sort of stories that I want to narrate. I don’t care about the vocabulary or the grammar; there are enough editors who can do that but not everyone can tell a story. That’s what I want to do.
Kiruba: You are not only a good story teller but you are a wonderful communicator, Ashwin. I planned this for twenty minutes and we have touched an hour and I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. One of the best interviews I have ever done.
Ashwin: As they say, it needs two hands to clap, so when it comes down to me answering questions, it all depends on how the other person had thrown the question and what are the questions that have been thrown. So thank you for doing this interview in such a nice and warm-hearted manner. Thank you.
Kiruba: Thank you so much, Ashwin.
Kiruba: You were listening to the conversation with Ashwin Sanghi, a popular author and the best among India’s highest selling English fiction authors. I hope you learned something useful from this podcast. To listen to the rest of the episodes with other bestselling authors, please visit notionpress.com/podcast. I look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Until then, take care. Bye.