Ashwin Sanghi, an entrepreneur by profession writes historical thrillers to satiate his soul. He has two books to his credit ‘The Rozabal line’ and ‘Chanakya’s chant’. He has been educated at Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He holds a masters degree from Yale and is working towards a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Wales.
Recently, I received a complimentary copy of ‘Chanakya’s Chant’ from a book reviewing site. This is good news but I was pleasantly surprised to be able to ‘connect’ with the author ‘Ashwin Sanghi’ on twitter! This probably has been enabled through social media tools but the fundamental principles of connecting and engaging still remain the same in any kind of trade.
In an interview for Lighthouse, Ashwin Sanghi provides us with an excellent case study for using social media tools. So here goes…
1. You strived hard to get your first fiction ‘The Rozabal Line’ to see the light of day. How was your experience with your second one, ‘Chanakya’s Chant’ in terms of promotions?
The struggle that I experienced with The Rozabal Line was extremely important in my learning process. With The Rozabal Line, I not only had to self-publish the book after having been turned down by well over a hundred publishers and agents, but also had to self-market the novel when it became available on international book retailing sites such as Amazon, B&N, WHSmith, Borders etc. Self-published books are rarely accepted for reviewing by mainstream press and media and hence one needs to perpetually seek blogs and online media that are willing to review such novels. It is precisely because of these difficulties that I became savvy with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. These were zero-cost marketing options that allowed me to gradually build up a target readership. With Chanakya’s Chant, the struggle was non-existent. I already had the advantage of a brick-and-mortar distribution system that was supporting me via the publisher. Hence everything that I did on social media for Chanakya’s Chant was simply awareness creation rather than direct sales.
2.’Chanakya’s Chant’ is in the top-selling charts of Indian fiction thrillers. Did you imagine this or was it a result of your conscious effort, given that you are an entrepreneur by profession?
It is impossible to predict whether a book, movie or CD album will become a hot selling product or not. No amount of planning, foresight or astrology can ever tell you what the public sentiment will be. Having said that, however, it is also very important to make sure that one creates the right environment in which one’s novel is received. One cannot simply sit back and hope that the vagaries of the marketplace will determine everything. In India, online retailing of books is yet in infancy and accounts for less than 10% of sales. Thus one needs to ensure that the brick-and-mortar shops have availability. A customer only buys what he or she sees… if your book is not visible in a shop, how can you expect a customer to buy it? Social media is important to the extent that you can create enough awareness of your book prior to the store visit so that a customer buys it upon seeing it because he/she is already familiar with it and hence is predisposed to buy it.
3. What drives you to social media – is it the engagement with your community or following the bandwagon or one more avenue for sales?
Both. Your question is a little like asking whether sales turnover is more important than customer satisfaction to a hotel. Well, without customer satisfaction the hotel is unlikely to have a healthy sales turnover. But which hotel runs solely for customer satisfaction? Customer satisfaction is a means to an end i.e. higher sales. Similarly, in my literary world, engagement with readers is vital and critical for higher sales.
4.You seem to be almost ubiquitous on the internet—Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. Can you share how you manage to engage with your community and the ceaseless enthusiasm for it?
Well, I think that one should look at social media as a large party in which one is circulating and meeting many new people, exchanging visiting cards. Obviously you need to introduce yourself, but after that you cannot expect to keep talking about yourself to the exclusion of everything else. Social media only works if you are willing to embrace it entirely and not use it simply like a megaphone from which you routinely shout out your promotional messages. If you do that, you will be ignored—a little bit like a TV channel which shows too many ads. On the other hand, if you use social media to share interesting information, entertain and educate; if you use it to build friendships; if you use it to promote not just yourself but also others, then you will discover the true value of it.
For example, whenever I launch a book, I create a simple 4-5 minute video that highlights the story and what it is that a reader can expect to find in it. I don’t see this as promotion… I see this as a valuable tool for a potential reader to discover whether the story is appealing enough to warrant a purchase. Similarly, I use Scribd to make the first 10-20 pages available as a free preview. How can I expect my customer to buy unless he gets an option to try? Whenever I hold events in various cities, I make sure that I announce it via Facebook and Twitter… I have gone to so many places and ended up people that I only knew in the virtual world. It’s almost like meeting a global community of friends!
We are grateful to Ashwin for sharing his experiences with social media as an author and providing gems of advice for budding authors. We hope that it helps our readers get a clearer understanding of the social media juggernaut! You can know more about him at http://www.ashwinsanghi.com/or on twitter at http://twitter.com/ashwinsanghi/favorites or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/shawnhaigins
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