Ravi Subramanian: shifting gears with his new best seller

Ravi SubramanianRavi Subramanian, an alumnus of IIM Bangalore, has spent two decades with global banks in India. Four of Subramanian's seven bestselling titles have been award winners. If God was a Banker, won the Golden Quill Readers' choice award. He won the Economist Crossword book award in 2012 for The Incredible Banker, The Crossword Book Award in 2013 for The Bankster and more recently in 2014 for his thriller Bankerupt.

For Subramanian, The Bestseller She Wrote, marks the new beginning of a new chapter in his writing. A significant departure from his usual fare, this is Ravi's book on romantic intrigue.  In this interview with Swetha Amit he discusses about the reasons to break out of his usual banking thriller genre, the importance of marketing and the future of bookstores.

The Bestseller She Wrote, which falls in the romantic thriller genre is different from your other books. What inspired you to deviate from your usual banking thriller and write this one?
There were actually multiple reasons.  One was the inherent thought which kept occurring to me that if  authors only box themselves to one particular genre, then they are not doing justice to what they can.  When you are a fiction writer, storytelling is seen as your biggest strength and I strongly believe that if you are a good story teller, then you must be able to write on anything be it romance or a thriller.  I wanted to demonstrate that skill.

Secondly, I felt that the thriller space in India has very few writers and also the size for thrillers was too small. The only way where you can be read more is by going overseas. However, there is a difference in the way thrillers are written in India and abroad. 

Globally, if you look at the thrillers, the authors stick to only one plot throughout the book whereas in India there are multiple sub-plots which will tend to confuse the readers abroad.  Therefore, the only way to be read more in this country is to reach out to a wider audience range and the way to do that is to break out of your comfort mould and venture into something different. So, the need to be read by a wider range of people is what propelled me to write a different genre altogether.

Getting out of your comfort zone to author a different kind of novel comes with its own set of challenges. what did you face while writing The Bestseller She Wrote?
Yes I did face some huge challenges. When I was writing banking thrillers, I could even do so in my sleep as I was very familiar with the nuances of banking, which was my area of specialisation.

Also, when you write this genre, it's all about money and transactions, and it becomes easy to maintain a particular pace. Also the aspect of characterization is not required here as thrillers are usually plot-driven.

However, when you venture into a genre like romance, especially when it's a cross-breed between romance and a thriller, then characterization becomes a vital part as it thrives a lot on emotion. This aspect of characterization became one of my challenges as I wasn't used to doing that in my earlier books. 

While I initially got the plot right, I had to go back and rewrite some portions, which took some time.  There were some places where the characters had been underdeveloped and other places where the character development was such that it started to drag. Bringing that right balance alone took about four months and that's why The Bestseller She Wrote released 14 months after my previous book, though I would have liked to release it earlier.

The First chapter in your book describes an interesting debate between the two protagonists about the need for marketing a book today. What is your take as an author on this?
Today with multiple choices and distractions around, unless readers see your book repeatedly, they will be ignorant about its existence. A lot of good books fail to get sold if not marketed well. Authors also have to ensure that they create a certain aura around their book to induce reader's interest in it, for which promotion and marketing become important.

If it's a book by a popular author, then it invariable gets picked up. However, if the author has net been heard of by the reader, then they will first look at the synopsis, the cover and then purchase it only if they like it.

Research has shown that customers takes typically about 20 seconds before buying a book. They spend about 12-13 seconds studying the back cover, 5-6 seconds on the front and if in those 20 seconds, they are not bowled over, chances are they will never take a second look at the book again.  That means, the entire package right from the cover page, synopsis, title and the placement of the book at the stores becomes critical. 

Your characters Aditya Kapoor and Shreya Kaushik are portrayed to be pursuing success. It is said that success always comes at a price. Being a successful banker-cum-author, how far would you agree?
I think the price that success extracts from you is the price you are willing to pay for it. A lot of the younger generation today is willing to pay any price for success and I think that's a wrong approach to success. 

First, you need to define what you want in life and then lay out a clear road map of how you are going to get there. Unfortunately, most of the younger generation lack that clarity today. For instance if they see someone getting all the media attention, they want to be that person and tomorrow if they see somebody else making the headlines, then they want to become that person.  I think that's where the confusion lies.

In writing especially such confusion can be catastrophic. You have to be clear as to what you want to write about. The moment you start emulating another person, you are heading for a disaster. Also what's happening today is that it's becoming extremely difficult for new authors to make a breakthrough. This difficulty has led to desperation for success and there is also this need to achieve success in a short span of time.

There are interesting shades of grey portrayed in the characters of your book. Where do you draw inspiration from while creating such interesting protagonists?
Most of them are inspired from real life. In fact the 1st chapter in my book is inspired from one lit fest discussion with authors Ashwin Sanghi and Anita Nair.  Long back I had received a feedback about my first book If God Was A Banker, stating that my two main characters were completely black and white. However, in reality, we humans tend to have shades of grey.  So after that I have ensured that most of the characters in the following books portray shades of grey.

 For instance if you look at my character Aditya Kapoor in The Bestseller She Wrote, you will find that he doesn't read but he claims he does to the media by citing a few quotes, creating that image of intelligence for himself.  It's similar in real life where I know of authors who don't read yet they claim that they do only because it's equal to blasphemy for authors to admit they don't read. So, that becomes an element of grey. What happens in Aditya Kapoor's life can happen to 10 different people in real life as well. So my characters are as real as they can get.

The main character, Aditya Kapoor wanted to have a launch at book stores to help in herding crowds back to stores fearing that the bookstores might otherwise shut down. As one of India's bestselling authors, how do you see the future of bookstores?
It troubles me. The other day I had visited three bookstores some time in the afternoon and I was pained to see them empty.

The point is that the bookstores are suffering and this is happening due to the huge discounts that are being offered online. In my opinion, if you are buying a book only because it costs less, then you are not going to read it. If a person wants to read a book, they will do so irrespective of the price.