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‘I Don’t Want Bookstores To Die’

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What are your views on Bitcoins? And its acceptability in India?
I simply love the concept of Bitcoins and often wonder why no one thought about it earlier. It has everything that a regular currency has, with an added advantage of anonymity. Though in the current form, it is not without its challenges. Easy to hack in, security is one of its biggest drawbacks.

Bitcoins today are at a stage in evolution where internet was 15 years ago. At that time, life was absolutely fine without internet, but today you can’t imagine life without it. Similarly 5-7 years down the line, you just won’t be able to imagine life without Bitcoins (or a form of virtual currency). Acceptability of Bitcoins in India is almost negligible. But a number of Indians do own Bitcoins. We are the first to embrace technology.

You are perhaps one of the first few authors to write a book around bit coins. What kind of research did you put into writing bitcoin related portions in your book? And how long did it take to complete the book?
When my publisher read the manuscript of ‘God is a Gamer’ and told me that it would be the first thriller to have ever been written in the world of Bitcoins, it surprised me. I would have expected Bitcoins to be every thriller writer’s delight. Not many have embraced it because to understand it well enough to write about it, and write about it in a manner that even the layman on the street understands it, the author needs to be comfortable with the world of finance and technology. I guess, not many authors are.

Ever since Wikileaks tweeted to the world in June 2011, that they have started accepting donations in the form of Bitcoins, as a response to the blockade by the US government, Bitcoins have not looked back. They have always been in the news. Often for dark reasons. Every article about Bitcoins would get me curious. How can one currency get so much attention? How can one currency hold in it the potential to redefine the way the world does business? How can one currency drive large financial services giants out of business? And yet, how can this one currency have only negative things being said and written about it. As a thriller writer, this was enough to get my curiosity going. I read six books and numerous articles about Bitcoins, and its impact.

Bitcoins gives you the backdrop to build an intriguing thriller. And that’s what I did. It took me over a year to write this book, primarily on account of the intense reading I had to do. In fact, when I was promoting my previous book, ‘Bankerupt’, I was already on to writing this one.

Bank/Banker and related words features a lot in your titles. Is there any particular reason? Or is it just a brand recall strategy?
A title has to serve two objectives. First, it must be intriguing and must interest the reader enough for him to pick up the book. And second, it must communicate to the reader what the book is all about. Given that my stories thus far have been set in the amazingly intriguing world of financial services, it comes out in the title as well. It is not a conscious strategy. The day I write a story wherein the bank/banker does not form the backdrop, the title will change too. My latest book does not have Bank in the title simply because it’s very different plot as compared to my earlier ones.

You have a website and we do see you promoting your work on social media. How has it helped in books sales?
Promoting and engaging with the readers are two completely different, often confused, aspects. Yes, I do actively engage with my readers on social media. It helps me understand them better and connect with them. I actively solicit feedback and social media helps me in that. It helps me improve with every book. Yes, I do promote my work on social media, for it is the most cost effective means of promoting wherein you can target your promotions to a specific audience. But that is only closer to a book launch.

How important is it for an author to be involved in marketing/promotions of the book in today's connected age? Can you measure it in tangible growth?
This is a very hotly debated topic. The entire author community has extremely polarised views on this debate. I believe that an author is the CEO of his book, and must take interest in everything which relates to the book. His job does not end with the manuscript submission. In fact, it begins with manuscript submission. Editing, cover designs, marketing and promotion: nothing is complete without the authors involvement. Author and publishers need to complement each other in their efforts. I have seen excellent books fail because they haven’t been marketed well. Because readers don’t even know about it. Also, if an author believes in his book, he must have the conviction to stand up and recommend his book to the readers. It is important to remember that readers are more open to reading books from authors who they have heard of. Marketing helps in this too.

Measuring the impact of this in tangible terms is a bit difficult. But yes, the increasing trends of books sales is a definite indication that the marketing efforts are working.

Tell us about your writing schedules. How do you juggle work and writing?
I often call myself an Owl-writer. I sleep very late. Often well past 1.00 a.m. on working days and even past 2.00 a.m. on weekends. Most of my writing happens after dinner. I do not need a secluded environment to write. I often sit in the living room and write. It makes sure that my writing career does not come at the cost of family time. My organisation too, is a lot supportive of my work as an author. I have never felt that my day job was interfering with life as an author. If at all, my day job and writing have fed off each other. One would be incomplete without the other.

Who is competition for you in fiction writing in India at the moment?
We have a number of talented writers in India. Each one of them excelling in their respective fields. And everyone has his or her own loyal reader base. Hence, the competition is not with anybody else but with myself. Whenever I write a book, I always compete with my previous one. I try very hard to make sure that my new book is better than all the previous ones, in terms of content, style, pace and thrill. As long as I consistently manage to do that, I will be happy, irrespective of the competition.

Flipkart recently posted a full page ad on Chetan Bhagat's new book. Online book retailing is affecting sales at physical book stores. Should the stores go online like how they did in the US?
I am a big fan of bookstores. Brick and mortar stores are a lot more relevant from a discoverability perspective, particularly for a new author. A book shop for me is a place where one can go on a lazy evening, hang out, browse, hold conversations and come back. But it’s also a fact that today online is stealing a march over book stores. I seriously hope and pray that publishers and authors do what it takes to protect the bookstores. There is a certain romance about bookstores, which online will find it difficult to replicate. I don’t want bookstores to die.

How can we encourage innovation in the publishing industry?
Before we innovate in the publishing industry, we need to get a few things right. Prices of books, e-books and paperbacks need to go up. Authors and publishers need to make more money than what they are making today. A book at less than $3 apiece does not make sense. Look at the battle that Hachette is fighting with Amazon. The latter wants all e-books to be priced at less than $9.99. In India, one won’t have that challenge because not many e-books are priced more than $3.99. It’s a ridiculous scenario in India, wherein everyone in the value chain is out to slit everyone else’s throat and as a result no one makes money. The publishing industry (Fiction + Non-Fiction, excluding educational publishing) is not as big an industry in India as people make it out to be. This industry has to grow. For that distribution is the key. Any innovation has to be targeted at evolving new non-standard channels of distribution. Monopoly in the hands of one channel will only kill this trade.

The recent thrillers you have read....
‘Six Years’, ‘Missing You’, both by Harlan Coben, ‘Invisible’ by James Patterson and David Ellis, ‘Target’ by David Baldacci, ‘60 Minutes’ by Upendra Namburi and ‘Flash Boys’ by Michael Lewis. In the midst of all this, I also managed to read the romance masterpiece, ‘Bridges of Madison County’, by Robert James Waller

Ebooks or print?
Why can’t it be both? For me, e-books serve as a complement to the traditional paperback and not a substitute. While I prefer reading paperbacks, at times when I want to continue reading while the family is asleep and the lights are switched off, an e-book reader comes in handy. When I am travelling, an e-book offers greater choice, and instant gratification. That said, there is something about a nicely printed, colourful and tightly bound paperback, which makes it difficult for me to discard it completely and pick up an eBook reader instead. Yes, one category of books I often wonder why people buy them is the hard cover. It is neither sexy, nor romantic not convenient.

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