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Sunday, July 25, 2010
Gouri Dange : So who's launching your book?
“If you want the media to show up, you must have a celebrity inaugurate it.” Seasoned boutique and jewellery store owners have always known this.
Someone innocent once asked, “Why? Do the media buy a lot of clothes and jewellery?”
“No, dummy, the media come marching like a row of ants to a lump of sugar when the celebrity shows up, then buyers come to gawk at who the media is gawking at, and this is how people come to your store,” the seasoned merchant explains.
And the same thing applies to selling books too, now. Books, baubles, blouses...same difference. Beautiful people have to launch them, more beautiful people have to write about them, and only then is a book officially born. Writers may kid themselves, like I once did (albeit briefly), and say “Hello,I am the celebrity at my own launch, aren’t I?” But that attitude just won’t get the three-ringed circus going. So get with the program, you writers, musicians and artists who think your job’s done once the creation is done.
Where and how does one find a willing celebrity? Well some people went to school with someone who then became a big noise. That helps, if the big noise has remained your friend. Some people tackle it from the other end of the tunnel. They first identify a celebrity and become his groupie. Then they go home and write (it’s usually poetry) for the soul/sole purpose of having the celeb launch their book. Once that evening is done and friends have been bludgeoned on FB with pictures of the event, the poetasters swoon in satisfaction and (unfortunately) begin to think of their next outpouring for yet another diva or dude to launch.
Then there are writers who refuse to be drawn into the melee. Meera Godbole Krishnamurthy (debut novel Balancing Act) called two respected but not Page 3 people, “who are both celebrities in my eyes” as she puts it. Meera says, “When I wrote the book, I never expected that I would have to "sell" the book too. In the currently celebrity-obsessed India, you can't sell anything without a famous - and in Mumbai that usually means Bollywood - face. I was shocked by the book launches that were happening all over the country where the celebrity - and not the author - was the focus of the evening. I was lucky enough to find two wonderful women for my book launch who valued the book and graciously made the event about the book and not about themselves.”
I too have three such people. They’re friend-celebs who also like my writing (or are kind enough to say it), and so the whole thing is not stressful and fake. This time round, for my second novel The Counsel of Strangers, I thought I would get 6 friends to read little excerpts (there are 6 characters in the book) at my launches in this city and that. I may still do it, but I’ll have to hedge my bets by throwing in some celeb power too, the bookstores tell me firmly. It’s like that, this whole launch business.
Manu Joseph, who recently launched Serious Men, says he didn’t have any celeb at his launch because he didn’t know any. If he knew Kareena he would have called her, he clarified! (Come on, Manu - you're a big draw yourself,
I am told.)
Vikram Sampath (recently launched, already in reprint My Name is Gauhar Jaan) planned a multi-city tour. He was very clear that he needed celebrities to be there. His process of sifting through names, contacting them, hearing a no, or being asked for fantasmagoric ‘appearance fees’, detailed instructions on how they would need to be received with pomp and splendour – everything short of 21-gun salutes – when they arrived at the launch venue, and other such demands, would make a riotously funny story in itself. But sometimes Vikram struck gold, and found veteran musicians or seriously senior government people, who were secure, generous human beings, who arrived without a fuss, spoke eloquently about the book or read beautifully from it.
That’s the other thing. I call people to read, sure, for the attention it gets, but also so that it’s not me yammering on about the book at my own launches. Already you’ve been writing the book in your head, then crafting-drafting on your comp or on paper, then reading proofs...so sometimes it’s nice to hear it being read out in another (far better) voice!
This whole business is not easy on some celebrities either – especially the ones who are on high rotation at book launches because they have that perfect combo of being from the entertainment industry but seen as ‘thoda intellectual-sa’ as they say in Bollywood. I know a few who groan to their seccys: “Please, not one more book launch.” But there are many others who would love to acquire that ‘intellectual-sa’ wash, and I’m thinking, as I write, that perhaps someone needs to start a kind of agency that matches celeb with book. Imagine the call (translate into Hindi in your mind) from middleman to the celeb: “Madamji, there’s a book launch to be done, it’s perfect for you, something on Partition-wartition...Your connection with history and tragedy can be shown if you launch this book. No, no, don’t worry, you don’t have to read the book. Writer will write down your lines for you.”
Then he will call the anxious writer: “Got it, got it sir, ekdum perfect personality. Tragedy-expressions are very good of this lady. Date is not free, so you can change your launch date, but guaranteed newspaper and TV channels will come.”
And you thought books were about readers.
(The writer is a columnist and novelist. Her second novel The Counsel of Strangers is on a 6-city tour with or without celebrities.)
This piece first appeared in the Times of India, Mumbai, 25 July 2010