Sunday, March 1, 2015

Does a book benefit when launched by a film star?

Does a book benefit when launched by a film star?  The answer is Yes.  Here's why:-

1) So that people attend.
Sad but true, people make an effort when stars are present.  You may post an event on Facebook and get innumerous confirmations.  But on the actual day, only few of those attend.  However, when a star is present not only do the confirmed ones attend but there are many walk-ins as well.

2) So that the press picks it up.
The press follow stars.  So if you have a star at your event, you will surely find press there as well.  The press has options for events to attend every day, so your star has to be the bigger one else the press will go to the 'other' event where there are bigger stars present. 

So, does your book actually benefit with the presence of a film star at the launch?  

A year or so back, I attended a book launch at Landmark Bookstores at Infiniti Mall in Andheri (W).  I lived in the vicinity at the time so happened to wander in towards the end of the event.  The event saw the presence of a movie star.  The venue was filled to capacity.  All in all, it seemed like a successful event and that the journey of the book seemed to have started on the right note.

However, once the star left (before the book signing by the author) more than half the people disappeared just like that.  The line queued up to the get the book signed by the author had barely fifteen people.  When I glanced at the side table where the books were stacked, it looked barely touched.  The book-signing was over in less than fifteen minutes after which the event immediately packed up.  Out of curiosity, I followed the book's journey and unfortunately, despite the grand launch and subsequent press, the book did not take off.  So basically, most of the people in attendance were there to see the star.  In addition, the book was a serious fiction and not a mass/popular fiction.

Having a film star at a book launch event has its pros and cons:-

PROS: With a film star present at a book launch, people attend as do the press (as I mentioned before).  People instantly become aware of the book (if the press features pictures of the star holding the book) and it definitely arouses curiosity.

CONS: While the press may pick it up, they may not feature the star holding the book.  At most, they may mention that so and so star was seen at a book launch event, without even mentioning the name of the book unless you're a journalist/author yourself or the book is authored by a reputed name or if you have enlisted the services of a reputed PR agency who can push the publication to position your book appropriately.  But, even if the press does feature the star with the book, it may not really help unless the star personally endorses your book the way they endorse products (which they get paid for).  So they would need to talk about your book in the press and social media platforms.  They need to say that they are using your product.  Will they do that?  The answer is mostly, NO.  

You need to have a close association with the star for them to do you that favour.  I learned that companies pay stars to endorse their products on Twitter and Facebook, so why would they do yours for free?  The answer - if they know you really really well and so they personally want to help you.  

Another CON is related to the connection between the star and the subject matter of your book.  If you're writing a mass fiction, it would help to have a star endorse your book.  Otherwise, if you have written a literary fiction or something more 'meaningful,' it could go against you.  There are serious readers out there who have drawn a fine line between Bollywood and books.  And if a star (who they know isn't a serious reader or doesn't have an 'intelligent' image) attends your launch, they may not take your book seriously.  Mind you, this is not based on presumptions but on feedback from 'serious' readers.

There are roughly 50 fiction books (conveyed to me by Late R.H. Sharma - Ex Editor-in-Chief at Jaico) that release EVERY WEEK.  This figure is from a few years back, so the number may have gone up or down.  The book will have a shelf life of 3-6 months, maybe longer if the book is successful.  Most of these 50 books don't make it to the bookshelves of reputed stores though all books (including self-published ones) are available online.  So there's a lot of competition to garner attention for your book.  So what is the right thing to do?

A book launch definitely helps.  But the right celebrity is important.  One should invite a celebrity/known figure based on the subject matter of the book.  For example, (ideally speaking) if it's a book on crime I would like to see a known person attached to the Police Force at the launch.  Would  the book get press?  It might but definitely not as much as a Bollywood star.  But it would get the right readers.  Now, when I mean press I'm referring to write-ups and pictures of the book launch.  Book reviews are separate which are handled by the publishing company.  Now, there's a tradeoff - immediate press or targeting the right readers?  Which is more important?  For immediate sales, it's obviously press.  

In the West, when it comes to a book, it's the author and only the author who is the star.  But in our country, nothing seems to be above Bollywood, which is sad but true.  Bollywood has taken over the advertising world as well.  Around 70% of ads feature film stars, which in turn pushes sales of the product.  But does this translate into the reading world as well?  The answer - as I said before, only if the star is shown using your product.  And the flip side to that is, many of the star fans may not be readers themselves.

I think it was the big authors who started inviting stars to their events.  And that has set the trend for book launch events.

Publishing is a serious business.  When books don't sell, it's a loss for the publisher as the books gather dust in the warehouse.  From the publishers' point of view, a star is essential as it could ensure the sales of at least the first print run and kick in word-of-mouth publicity immediately.  But without a star, your book may sail through if you do your bit to promote the book in print and on other platforms.  But if you're book is really good, it will sell regardless!

All in all, if you can get a Bollywood Star to attend your book launch event, you're golden and your book will draw attention all over India immediately!  But make sure that the cons don't work against your book.  

HiFi in Bollywood - It's important for film aspirants to have a backup plan

Bollywood is a hot topic and there are many books out there that try to cash in on the same. And they always start with the typical dream, and end with the protagonist achieving that dream with struggles in-between. They always end with somewhat of a fairy tale ending. But the film industry is actually far from that.

Having worked in the film industry for many years, I decided to reflect on my own journey while trying to keep it entertaining at the same time. In actuality, the struggle is immense and most of the time people don't have a backup plan which is very imperative when one deviates from the 'safe' route. I have seen many people getting thoroughly disappointed, becoming cynical and even misusing their positions to demoralise others. The film industry is mostly full of people who are stuck in the jobs that were never on their list, just because they didn't plan sensibly. 

I subtly tried to highlight the backup plan part and I hope that you catch it. During my career, this is something that Salman Khan had actually told me - it's very important to give yourself a timeline and have something to fall back on before you enter the industry. This is something I kept with me while writing my book. .

Despite the opening up of career avenues, most parents insist on their children taking the safe route (I don't blame them for that) as it is important to hit milestones at the right age. We realise why only when we grow older. So parents are not wrong. However, kids do absorb a lot from the media and environment which exposes them to a lot more of possibilities that their parents may not be aware of. I feel that it's important to somehow realise that you're talented at and passionate about something before treading on the untoward path towards it. But more than that, it's important to give oneself a timeline and know when to call it a day. In my eyes, that doesn't make one a quitter. But a true winner.

Vanita (one of the man characters in the book) chooses the medical profession also because of the money part.  And there's nothing wrong in being honest about what you want and why you want it. She is a level-headed girl and probably defines the woman of today - practical, intelligent, but yet thinks with her heart. I feel that it is very important for a woman to be financially independent, which is why I took care not to portray Vanita as one of those pining and heartbroken women, who is totally dependent on a man for her journey. She is a woman of substance who though doesn't appear much in the book, is actually the driving force of this story. I believe that women are superior to men in every way. And the reason, why our 'progressive' nation lacks in many ways is because men either don't realise or acknowledge this fact as they do in the west. The progress of our nation lies in gender equality.

On a different note, my first book - Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai - has a strong-willed, independent female character who is suppressed in every way because of the traditional society she lives in. I do hope that women all over, find their own way to break from the meaningless shackles of society and find their own place in the world. And I strongly believe that only education can do that. Education is in a sense, freedom.

I have attempted to write the book in an entertaining way so that it is lapped up by more readers. But more than that, I wanted Rayhan's journey to be inspiring and hope that it inspires you as well to follow your dreams.  It's never too late.

It is very helpful for an author to know how readers take to his/her book, so please do write in. HiFi in Bollywood doesn't follow the conventional commercial fiction format but I'm sure you will enjoy it!  At the end of the day, it's all about entertainment!