Five hundred thousand visitors every festival, over 250 speakers in 15 Indian and 35 international languages-including Nobel Prize winners for this year, dedicated PR teams of over 50 people, not counting individual author publicists and affiliates; the Jaipur Literature Festival, held every January is simply the biggest such event anywhere in the world. Bigger than even CES, in terms of visitors.
The show's success runs parallel with another achievement. The growing confidence of Indian authors in communicating about and marketing their work. And this applies not only to writers in Indian languages but also those writing in English.
The PR playbook of authors
Best selling author Ashwin Sanghi told PRmoment India that his reasoning is, "If one can spend two years researching, plotting, writing, rewriting, polishing and editing a book, there is no reason why one cannot invest another 3-4 months in making sure that it reaches the widest possible audience. Authors need to put on their writing caps while writing and their marketing caps while selling. The objective should be clear during those two distinct phases."
Sanghi who has also co-written a book with crime noir bestseller James Patterson, being visible as an author has its own PR challenges.
He said, "We are living in a world that is very different from the one of two decades ago. At that time, the authors remained faceless. You may have loved their books and often picked up their books from the store because of the author name on the jacket but you still had no clue what they looked like, their mannerisms or how they spoke. This has changed entirely due to lit fests, social media and press. Increasingly, readers want to connect with the authors they love. Unfortunately, this also means a drain on one's creative time. In some ways, it also makes the writer less mysterious and results in readers identifying him or her with political, social, cultural, religious or social issues."
Interest in books rising beyond English speaking audience
Interest in books has increased recently with social media offering fresh channels of communications for authors to showcase their work.
Preeta Singh, president, 'Teamwork Arts' that organises the festival says that "In the last 5 years, readership has changed across the board. It's not just the English language readers, but regional language readers as well. In fact, translations of Indian language authors into English and other languages are going to be the cornerstone of this growth in readers. Put is at all together and you have a large audience that is now engaging with literary content."
And many of these readers are discovering authors and books online, creating, for the first time, what Singh calls, "A level playing fields for readers."
In order to tap into that and conscious of books being consumed in various formats, Singh says that "In the last 3 years we have beefed up our digital teams. Apart from traditional media, we have to add digital media to the communications mix as there is a large group of readers folding in from the bottom who are also very connected on social media."
The Jaipur Lit Fest uses blogs, podcasts, live video. The festival sub-brand, 'Jaipur Writers Shorts' is also available on OTT platform Hotstar. Singh believes the growing popularity of streaming content will further help authors leverage good stories as marketable web content.
Independent communications strategist Anup Sharma, who has attended the festival for ten years now says, "Over the last few years the authors are now moving from just writing a book to adaptation for web series to more. If earlier a book from R K Laxman was made into a movie Guide today a web series Sacred Games brings to notice a novel by Vikram Chandra. Today authors like Shuma Raha (fiction - Swap) and Mihir Dalal (big Billion Startup) get contracts for a web series even before their books hit the stand."
Sharma adds "From customised private book launch to a public debate to chat show to book signing to tweet chat, webcast, selfie to write a story contest events the publishers and authors promote their books like any FMCG product and try to stand out."
Sharma says, for example, Stand Up artist Papa CJ launched his book with a selfie from the stage:
Mita Kapur, founder and CEO of Siyahi, a Jaipur based literary consultancy says that the persona of the author plays a big role in how much they put themselves out there, " The author's personality is the most overlooked aspect of the exercise for book promotion and has a direct impact on not just the strategy but also the kind of communication that goes out."
The personal author connect
Singh agrees that readers also want a personal connection with the author, which they seek through social media. Singh points out that younger writers are savvy about this. But she feels even older writers such as politician-author Shashi Tharoor and India's Jackie Collins Shobhaa De are effective communicators about their work.
Ashwin Sanghi believes that "Among Indian authors, I believe that Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi are examples of good marketers. Internationally, I think that James Patterson is probably the best marketer."
Sanghi himself has borrowed from Amish's communication playbook, creating catchy video trailers for his latest book, "The Vault of Vishnu."
Interestingly, Sanghi instinctively shares what is a maxim about PR, that PR cannot cover for a bad product. He says, "Good marketing can only get you the initial push. Sustaining that initial push depends on whether the story resonates with your readers... there is no substitute for positive word of mouth."
Sanghi signs off sharing what drove him to put himself out there and communicate about his work, "I come from a non-literary background. None of my family are journalists, writers, poets or intellectuals. I had no option but to put myself out there and have myself get heard!"
From a book consultant's point of view Kapur sums up succinct advice for new authors planning their PR, "Sustain engaged social media activity, persist in keeping your book alive - this too becomes storytelling in one way or the other."