When publishing house Westland offered Indian fiction author Amish Tripathi a jaw-dropping Rs. 5 crore advance for his next book series after his hugely successful Shiva Trilogy, everyone sat up and took note.
Interestingly, Tripathi's first book in the trilogy, The Immortals of Meluha, was rejected by Westland and 19 other publishers, forcing him to self-published it. After the book sold 45,000 copies in three months, Westland picked up its marketing rights and took on the publishing of the next two books in the trilogy, The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras. The three books have sold over 1.5 million copies.
Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO, Westland, said, "We are confident that Amish will justify the advance payment on his next series." He added that in the last three-four years, the benchmark of the bestseller has changed. "While earlier, the sale of 10,000-20,000 copies was considered big, bestsellers are now pushing for a million copies."
Kapish Mehra, MD, Rupa & Co., which publishes Chetan Bhagat's books, concurred: "Chetan's Revolution 2020 sold one million copies in 100 days. We are targeting two million copies for his next book."
Tripathi said, "People were always interested in reading about subjects rooted in India. It was a problem of supply, not demand. Today, such books are available."
About more Indian readers reading more Indian writers, Stephen Miles, COO - international, Harlequin, which has published the Mills & Boon romantic novels for 103 years, said, "Our Indian authors are selling much better than our imported authors. We've published six Indian authors by now."
Harlequin will translate its books to Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil. Penguin Books India is already printing books in Hindi, looking at translations, and at publishing books in local languages under its recently launched self-publishing banner, Partridge India.
Commenting on Partridge in India, Penguin India MD and CEO, Andrew Phillips said, "We think it is the right time to introduce this kind of a service. Many more people are writing books and looking to publish them."
Padmanabhan said that in the last three-four years, submissions for publishing by Indian writers "has more than quadrupled."
As more Indian readers read more books, there is bound to be experimentation. The Shiva Trilogy proved that no one can predict what will succeed.
Rashmi Bansal's books, published by Westland, are non-fiction and have sold well. "My books are inspirational stories of real-life people," she said. She believes the book publishing industry in India has reached a tipping point, with huge opportunities opening up.
Publishers are looking these opportunities seriously, and at their pricing to drive sales. While Penguin says it prices its books in India 50% lower than its UK prices, Harlequin keeps its pricing at Rs. 125-150 and is looking at lower-priced options.
The emerging breed of Indian writers is in the age band of 25-45 years, say the publishers, with several coming from established professions that have nothing to do with writing. Shoma Narayanan, 37, who has written four Mills & Boon books, two of which have been published, is a banker. So were Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi, till they quit to become full-time writers. Not all new writers are bankers, though - they are a diverse bunch, writing on diverse subjects.