A blurb "simple, honest and touching" attributed to Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy features prominently on the cover of Ravinder Singh's debut novel I Too Had a Love Story published in 2008. The "accidental" writer has written three more since then. The Gurgaon-based author, an Indian School of Business alumnus who worked for Infosys and Microsoft, is considered to be one of the prominent faces of new age writers, who are credited to have created a mass market for English fiction in the country.
He claims to have sold nearly two million copies of his first three novels. In fact, his second book Can Love Happen Twice? was an instant hit with more than 100,000 copies sold in less than a week. Coinciding with the launch of his latest book Your Dreams are Mine Now (YDAMN), his official Facebook fan page has launched a read and review YDAMN contest wherein readers have been asked to post a 100-word review along with a selfie and nominate three others to join the contest. The best reviewer each day has been promised a signed copy of the book with a special note from the author.
Ravinder Singh is one of the many engineer-MBA turned writers. They are young, prolific, know how to connect with young readers and command a significant fan following. The new group of writers, many of them from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), include the likes of Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, Durjoy Datta, Christopher Doyle, Nikita Singh and Preeti Shenoy.
Most of them are in their 20s and 30s and they took to full-time writing, mostly romantic and mythological fiction, after working with the corporate sector. Chetan Bhagat, for instance, an IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus, was an investment banker; Durjoy Datta, an engineer from Delhi College of Engineering and MBA from Management Development Iinstitute, Gurgaon, worked for Siemens and American Express; Amish Tripathi, an IIM-Kolkata alumnus, worked in the financial sector for 14 years and Christopher C Doyle, an IIM-Kolkata alumnus, runs a strategic consultancy firm.
They are credited to have expanded the readership base of English fiction. Chetan Bhagat has reportedly sold a million copies of each of his seven books. According to Amish Tripathi's website, his Shiva Trilogy has sold 2.2 million copies since 2010. Durjoy Datta has cumulatively sold two million copies of his ten titles.
What explains the success of these authors? Affordability of the books written by them perhaps, as most of these titles are priced below Rs 200. "The kind of language they use may not appeal to experts but it certainly connects with the young reader. Most of these books are read by people in the age group of 15-25," says Ajay Mago of Om Books. Om Books published Christopher Doyle's The Mahabharata Secret that, as the publisher claims, has sold in excess of 100,000 copies in the last two years.
These authors use their lessons learnt at B-schools to market their books differently. They seem to follow the basic marketing principle of better after-sales services. "They are not just writers, they are also go-to guides on relationships and various issues for their young readers. It helps that they have a great online presence," observes Vaishali Mathur, executive editor, Penguin Metro Reads. Penguin Metro Reads, an imprint of Penguin India launched in 2010, is focused on mass market fiction.
They use social media both for promotion and connecting with the readers. "I spend at least an hour everyday on social media sites interacting with my readers and try and guide them on their relationship status," says Ravinder Singh. Singh's official Facebook fan page has more than half a million likes. Durjoy Datta's Facebook fan page has similar number of likes. Chetan Bhagat's Facebook fan page tops the list with more than six million likes. "You have to have a significant online presence. You have to be available for interaction with readers," adds author Nikita Singh. Nikita is currently pursuing Master's in creative writing in the US. The 23-year old writer has already written seven books and the eighth one is about to be launched in April this year.
Social media gives these authors a chance to interact with the readers. And at the same time, they get valuable feedback on kind of things readers expect them to write about. "I always write what I want to. But it helps to know the kind of issues readers discuss on social media," says Ravinder Singh. This group of authors also keep track of how their books are priced, how they are displayed at bookstores, whether these books are getting sold online or offline, and whether the book cover is attractive enough or not.
What has helped these books at the sales counter perhaps is their unconventional titles. Some of the titles of contemporary English fiction are Now that You're Rich, Let's fall in Love; Love@Facebook; The oath of the Vayuputras; and Oh yes, I'm single and so is my girlfriend. "I wrote four of my books, while I was still in college. That is why you see such titles for my books. But then it became some of sort of a trend," says Durjoy Datta. Other than writing books, Durjoy has been associated with two television shows Sadda Haq for Channel V and Veera for Star Plus.
Another trend that has recently begun is of co-authored fiction. Durjoy has written six co-authored books of fiction with different writers. "It is both a challenge and very helpful too. You tend to complement each other's strength and what comes out is a much better product," observes Nikita Singh.
She has co-authored two books with Durjoy.