Saturday, 25 April 2015

Never trust a writer who smiles

One of the sessions I attended at the London Book Fair featured Mexican author Valeria Luiselli. She spoke about here new book Story of My Teeth

In this the protagonist Gustavo 'Highway' Sanchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. He has a few skills that might help him on his way: he can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums, he can interpret Chinese fortune cookies, he can stand an egg upright on a table, and he can float on his back. And, of course, he is the world's best auction caller - although other people might not realise this, because he is, by nature, very discreet. Studying auctioneering under Grandmaster Oklahoma and the famous country singer Leroy Van Dyke. 
Highway travels the world, amassing his collection of 'Collectibles' and perfecting his own specialty: the allegoric auction. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection: the teeth of the 'notorious infamous' - Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf et al.  I was hooked. What a cool and very different story. I also came away with some very interesting one-liners: "How the teeth are a window to the soul."
"How one should not trust a writer who smiles." And that was only the beginning.

I was also fortunate to hear from the electrifying Carmen Boullousa, a leading Mexican poet, novelist and playwright. Carmen writes about feminism and gender roles within a Latin American context. 
She spoke and the audience listened, enthralled.  Her passion for life—for living shone through. She talked about her love for cooking, and how for a long time she denied herself that pleasure, for she associated cooking with female subservience. 

Coming from a traditional Indian family where my mum spent the better part of my teenage years in the kitchen, whipping up freshly cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners for her family... I totally got it.  And then she delivered this stunning one liner: "If I talk about my current project it just gets putrid." That's my most basic fear right there.

Listening to these authors was like being afforded a peek into their soul, a teensy-weensy view of what inspires them, what they obsess about; about why they write on the themes they do. I am hungry for more.

I want to know about their thinking, how they feel, how they react to situations. About life and death, loving and hating, about lost loves, our fears, our secret obsessions. Just the many emotions we face on a daily basis and which we reflect in our books... Know what I mean?

It's why I write - to understand myself better. To find out more about my connection with the universe, to unravel the mysteries of time and space and why people do the things they do.

I acknowledge the importance of and indeed pursue my mastery of the every-changing Amazon algorithm for it is important to sales of my book. But I'd also rather spend a lot more of my time obsessing about the algorithm of life.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Why I became an AUTHOR ENTREPRENEUR (aka Authorpreneur)

Five exabytes of content were created between the birth of the world and 2003.

In 2014, the same 5 exabytes+ of content was created, each day.

Every minute of every day
      Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content. Just two years ago that was 684,478 pieces of content every day. Which is quite insane
      Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times.
      Instagram users post nearly 220,000 new photos.
      YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video content.
      Apple users download nearly 50,000 apps.
      Email users send over 200 million messages.
      Amazon generates over $80,000 in online sales.

So when I launched my little 82,000 word-novel, The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer, to join that 5+ Exabyte (equal to one quintillion 1018 bytes) of content out there... Then I knew I had to either  1) hope and pray that someone, somewhere will actually read what I am putting out.   Or 2) Do something a little more proactive about getting the message out.

Which begs the question, why did I embark on the insane task of actually writing a book? 

Well, I didn't have a choice. Ruby Iyer had a mind of her own. She led and I followed.

I wrote Ruby initially as a weekly web-series. From day one, people responded to her. 

Readers asked me in real time what she was going to do next. This was quite unusual, so I knew there was some traction, interest around her. It spurred me on, to tell her complete story in The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer.

Yet, all the time I was writing the story, the marketer in me continued to watch, and began crafting, the positioning of the novel to the world. What was Ruby's point of view? What set her apart from the millions of other novels out there. What was I trying to say? Why would people want to read Ruby Iyer's story?  You could argue I needed to answer these questions while resolving the plot. But it's almost like there were two of us writing the book. The author in me who was caught up in the antics of this hot-headed, kick-ass-character who had a mind of her own. Ruby led and I followed.

But at the same time the communicator in me kept looking for clues, kept trying to understand the DNA of this brand I was creating. Trying to understand what brand values she (and the book stood for), what would be her single-overriding-communication-objective. What did Ruby really stand for to the world. What did she mean with everything she said and did? It was pretty awesome really. 

Where else does one have the opportunity to both be the content creator and the content amplifier?

So when The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer was ready to launch, well, it was just natural that I was going to put the book out there and wait for people to find it. I had to increase its discoverability, to get in front of the right people. The interested readers.

What do you call someone who creates her own content, then proceeds to market it too. I call it being an Authorprenuer.

In my efforts of getting Ruby Iyer to her readers, I realised I had to treat this entire chain of events I was initiating like a startup. I had to create the platform for my author brand and at the same time, I had to also build the Ruby Iyer brand.

In Ruby's case is that she was such a strong persona that people automatically expected her to have a voice of her own. They expected her to have an opinion. And so from very early on, even before the book was complete she had her own twitter handle @RubyIyer and her own Facebook page.
It grew from there.

Initially Ruby Iyer quoted from her own life and her book. But as she grew in confidence she began to have an opinion on world events: When the Taliban massacred the children in Peshawar; on #JeSuisCharlie... On these it seemed natural that she wanted to comment, to take a stance.

But more than that, her voice grew to the everyday confusions a eighteen-year-old faces. Surviving social media, getting through a break-up, the angst of falling in love with strangers, her pizza fixation, her frustration with the cheeriness of the festive season, trying to figure out what to do with her life. As readers responded to her, Ruby's voice amplified, it became larger than the story-arc in the book.

So it was that I found myself with a little marketing machinery in place of my own, PR, social media, editorial guidelines, graphic designer. Looking at how much I was making from sales vs. what I could spend on building the brand. Trying to keep track of the break-even point.

Somewhere along the way I had become a business. An Authorprenuer.

For any author to survive to make sure her book stands out among the 90,000 books published each year in India, and the she will need to do the same. Become an Authorprenuer... Or be resigned to see your book consigned to the post-apocalyptic toilet paper stockpile.

Note: India is one of the few (if at all any) major markets in the world which is still seeing growth in both print and digital publishing. The value of the Indian publishing industry in 2012 was estimated at USD 2 Billion with an overall growth rate of around 15% (conservative estimates) One-fourth of the youth population of India, a staggering figure of 83 million, identify themselves as book readers. About 90,000 titles are published in India every year and India ranks third behind the USA and the UK in the publication of English language books. UK tops chart of publications per million inhabitants (184,000 titles in 2013) by a huge margin, with only China and US publishing more titles in absolute termsIn total I estimate 2.4m books were published last year worldwide.

Thanks to following articles which aided my research

About the author

Laxmi is the creator of The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer which debuted #1 Hot New Release on Amazon Asian Lit. She has been a journalist with the Independent, and a global marketer with NBCU and MTV during which time she helped launch fifteen TV channels across fifty countries. Laxmi also blogs for Huffington Post among others.
The Many Lives of Ruby is available here 
Download The Ruby Iyer Diaries, free here on Amazon US
Follow Laxmi on Facebook | twitter | Newsletter | Instagram

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Batman vs Superman

I don't do this often, but this one deserved its own short post

Great piece of marketing - they are teasing us in mid 2015 for a 2016 release. It looks awesome. Everything rocks. Except that last combined logo. Nope, doesn't work for me. If you combine yin & yang you get anarchy. You have to keep them apart, on opposite sides. Agree?

Friday, 3 April 2015

How far will you go to share?

Today, a piece I wrote was published in The Guardian. For those living in the UK -- you'll know it's a big deal. To be writing for a mainstream, respected daily is huge (for me.)

I woke up to my twitter timeline pinging with shares where people had tagged me. 

Ruby was out there. Seriously. She really was out of my hands.

Adrenaline cresting I jumped out of bed, my first cup of coffee still in hand—normally it takes me two cups to even open my eyes—and hopped on board the social media train. 

I reached out to friends, family, my blogging community friends and asked them to share. 

One part of me kept saying: you are a marketer, be shameless, get people to like, share, comment. 

Just as I was about to email an acquaintance, who I confess I didn't know that well to ask her to do the same—share—the writer in me finally cringed. I looked down on myself from outside. 

How far would I go to tell the world about what I had done?

By pushing the boundaries and reaching people and asking them to share... was I taking away from the pure intent of what my writing was about? Wouldn't it be more valuable for people to discover Ruby on their own, rather than me pushing her in their face? 

But, what about discoverablity and algorithms which rule the world we live in today? To be found it isn't enough just to write, you need to have it found by readers. You do have to go to them.

Don't you?

The irony was—I was writing in a mainline British daily about why the hero of my YA novel had to be an Angry Young Indian Girl. So here I was pushing the agenda of diversity in books, specifically within the Young Adult space in order to have this piece published.. when my entire life I had seen myself as mainstream.

I've never felt that being Indian or brown or being a woman has ever taken away opportunities for me. It's because I grew up in India, in the contradictory environment of a society pushing its way into a new millenium while grappling to hold onto its individuality defined by its culture & history, that I write the way I do.

And it's because I am a woman, that I am able to play multiple roles in this lifetime. It is because  am still that conflicted girl growing up in a society that was struggling to find itself, that I felt compelled to rebel, to push boundaries. Its why even today I feel the highs and lows in my life magnified; most of the time.  

So this is my strength. And I was making it a perceived weakness and because I know this will interest people enough to get them to read and share. 


I tend to overthink these things.

What is clear is that writing a YA thriller, set in Bombay with an Indian girl as its hero ... is different. Really different and challenging in terms of getting a mainstream audience intrigued enough to read the book.

So I have to take my ego out of it.  I gotta do what I have to do to get Ruby in front of more people. I owe her that much after all she has given me.

Read the Guardian Piece about why the time of the Angry Young Indian Girl is now

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why seek the approval of others?

It's counter-intuitive.

On one hand I think am a rebel. I've learnt there are some ways I want to live life which does not conform with society's conventional idea of how a person should.  And how is a woman / a middle-aged woman  / a woman who writes YA fiction / a woman who hasn't had any children yet / a married woman / a career-woman /a woman of colour in the western world to live her life?

I am yet trying to work that out.

As I write The Second Life of Ruby Iyer, I felt the need to deep-dive into Ruby's character to explore her motivations. It's something I never paused to do with The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer. I did write Ruby's diaries, but Ruby's story itself gushed out so fast I never really paused to unpack a lot of what Ruby was about.

An interesting exercise I am working through - is to understand my own fears and trying to see where they fit in with Ruby's deepest fears.

And what I found was that my deepest fears is of not being liked; of not being accepted by people. By my family, my friends, those closest to me .... In fact I have a real terror of being abandoned by the world.  Of being judged by the faceless public who then find me wanting - that is my worst nightmare. Its an exhausting way of living, this constantly trying to figure out if people like me and what I can do to make them like me.

Being rebellious by itself is also a means of trying to get approval -- from the peer group where I want to be seen as cool. And perhaps all along by calling myself rebellious I have tried to gain the approval of myself. Does that make sense....?

Being an author means having to strip bare and lay my deepest emotions out there for people to judge. Readers know when I am not being genuine. And critics can be really harsh. So just by writing and getting my books out to be critiqued ... well by doing this am I diving into the well of my deepest fears?

And if so how am I doing at confronting my fears?

Not that well.  It's terrifying putting my emotions out there, facing what I fear, what I loathe, what makes me hurt ... its tougher still to layer it over the life of my protagonist, to subject her to these torturous situations.

Yet, by doing so I feel calmer. As if I am wrestling demons and putting them to rest. Perhaps that is why I write. To find a slice of stillness.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Follow your passion

I often look at successful actors, directors, writers, poets really anyone in a creative profession and envy them. When I read their life-histories what comes through is that they had no option but to follow their heart. They never had a choice, did not need to consider a choice. Not all of them had money, or came from privileged backgrounds.

But what many have in common is knowing what they wanted to do pretty early in life. And they followed their intuition. Yes they wanted to be successful and be famous and make a lot of money. But that wasn't the driving need. Foremost in their mind was the need to be fulfilled. To simply do what made them happy.  Its taken me most of my adult life, but I finally get it.

Just follow your passion.

It really is as simple as that.

But for many of us it wasn't. There were too many other people who told us we couldn't. And we were impressionable enough to believe it. I wasn't one of those who was able to look beyond the immediate chatter of my peers and parents. I believed them when they told me I had to conform. So I never tried my hand at the one thing that would make me happy.

But now I know better.

And I also know the myth— that if you do follow your passion, you will end up poor —is just that. A myth.

I am far poorer if I don't try. If I don't follow my heart then what is there to life. And no I may not be successful (by the standards of the world) but for me all there is ... is to keep coming back to the red thread in my life.

That, which fires me up, makes me feel more alive than ever before.

That, which makes me in sync with the world around me.

When I feel like this I know its the truth.

And I will keep chasing it, and keep coming back to it.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

What about me?

From the day we are born we compare ourselves to our neighbours, friends, cousins, siblings.

She is taller than me, fairer than me, has longer hair than me, gets better grades than me, her boyfriend is better looking than mine; she was awarded a scholarship to study at an Ivy League university unlike me, had kids before me and now has more money than me.

In all this what’s lost is the me.

What do I want to do?

Where do I want to be?

What drives me?

What makes me … Me

What am I passionate about?

What is it that consumes me, so when I step into its circle, it makes me happy.

Is there that one thing I can do today … So if I were to die tomorrow, I would die happy.

Easy to ask.

Difficult to answer

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Pi day

Today is Pi day.

The 14th day of the 3rd month of the year 2015


How cool is that?

And this year, at 9:26:53 we'll even have a Pi Second matches up to the first ten digits of Pi.

Just for that infinitesimal point in time, I will be filled with Pi.

One with Pi.

I am Pi.

And I feel the possibilities.

The finite within the infinite.

I will be at the juncture of time and space.

The meeting of the real with the virtual

At the centre of the universe.

It's the origin of what is to come, when I turn my back to what has past.

And I feel alive

Which of course I am - I just don't often acknowledge it.

(Thanks +Seth Godin & +Joseph Stromberg for pushing me into my pi-self)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

It's not about India's Daughter - It's about India's Sons

Events so far—

India's Daughter is a documentary commissioned by BBC Storyville, meant to air on International Women’s Day

It traces the brutal gang rape and murder of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh on a moving bus in Delhi in 2012, and the unprecedented protests and riots, which this event ignited throughout India.

The Indian government obtained a court order banning the screening.

Taking no chances, the BBC brought it forward to air in the UK.

The Indian government have since, successfully ordered the removal of a number of versions of the video from YouTube.

I knew it was going to be a disturbing watch, but nothing prepared me for the terror I felt at the re-enactment of the crime. I already knew the horrific details of what was to come, yet was unable to tear my eyes away. All the while inside I was screaming with fear for Jyoti, begging her not to get on the bus, to run, run, run as far away as she could. I watched helpless as she did and the tragedy unfolded, again.

Then, one of the convicted rapists came on screen. He shared the details without wavering. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” He declared, before adding, “A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night ... Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.”

I know it's not just him who believes this. I have heard this sentiment expressed in many different ways growing up in Bombay.

It's why my mother stayed up at night unable to sleep until she had assured herself that I had reached home safely, after a long day at work. It's why I was admonished for wearing tight jeans. Why it was drilled into me that it was dangerous to stay out after dark, and definitely after 9 pm. Precisely because there are people like him out there.

The rapist speaks about the youngest of them ramming an iron rod into Jyoti, and pulling out her innards, as if it was an everyday incident. There is no hint of having done anything wrong. "If she had kept quiet" he says, if she had not screamed, had given them what they wanted, they would have only raped and gone their own way.

It brought to mind the number of times when travelling by bus or train in my home city of Bombay I have been felt up by men; been commented on lewdly or just been stared at hungrily as if they'd like to ... rape me. It's difficult even admitting how scared I was then. And yet, everyday I went to work, despite the nightmare commute, despite what lay outside the safety of my home, because I knew I had to first overcome that fear to make something of myself.

I knew I couldn't stand up to them. I knew if I confronted my tormentors it would only have made it worse. For me. And so I kept my head down, put up with it, got on with life. While all the time inside, I was yelling at them to keep their hands to themselves, to keep their gaze averted, fuming with fury at what gave them the right to do what they did?

It's unreal that a crime like this can take place today - in the new millennium, in the capital city of a country that's in the race to become a global economic superpower. It's even more inexplicable that this man can air his distorted views to camera without fear. It's because he believes he is right, because is secure in the knowledge that there are millions of them who agree with him.

When did this happen? That there are so many in my home country who think basic human values don’t apply in everyday life and certainly not to women.

Watching India's Daughter, I realised with even more clarity there are many different India's. There is the relatively safer India I grew up in and then there is the other everyday, dystopian one that lay beyond my doorstep, beyond the air-conditioned circle that my extended family live in. 

The film may have set out to examine the values and mind-sets of the rapists. It revealed the complete lack of.
This is the face that will haunt me from India's Daughter - Jyoti's grieving mother
Has my birth country become such a merciless society where most men don't acknowledge the existence of women, or if they do its only as an object to be bullied, groped, raped, beaten, tortured and killed?

I refuse to believe the faces of those men are the face of all Indian men. I am married to one, and know many others, and I know they can be kind, gentle, patient, creative, artistic, caring.

Yet, when I hear the policeman in charge of the investigation guarantee that Delhi is a very safe city “even for women" I know he is one of them.

When the government is more worried that the documentary might taint the country’s image abroad and take away tourism dollars, than about it depicting a horrific truth, I know there are many of them in power.

When the first defense lawyer tries to show how much of a humanist he is by comparing women, to flowers and diamonds, and other things that can be plucked and owned and thrown, I know even education doesn't change their mind-set.

And when the other lawyer says confidently that if his daughter had pre-marital sex, he would burn her, I know he is only voicing the thoughts of millions of them.

I always suspected most men in my home country were like him but now, hearing him speak, I know they are.

Perhaps what one of them declared is true, "We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no space for a woman.” And no, he wasn’t joking.

Or perhaps it's time India took a good hard look at her sons and figured out how so many of them turned out so wrong.