Banker on sabbatical, and bestselling author now riding the wave of success, Amish Tripathi is disarmingly honest when he says he still gets up in the middle of the night wondering “how did this happen?” The ‘this’ of course is the massive success almost all his books have had, the sheer reach computable in the number of copies to the number of language translations, and a dedicated readership that awaits the next title almost as much as the author himself.
After Amish Tripathi’s first book was rejected by publishers, someone advised him, ‘you should instead write a love story from your IIM days!’
And all in just seven years, after self-publishing his first, The Immortals of Meluha, back in 2010, after many in the business rejected it, because ‘who wants to read any mythology?’ Turns out, many did! Then came the remaining two from the Shiva Trilogy, The Secret of the Nagas (2011) and The Oath of the Vayuputras (2013). And now, it’s the Ram Chandra Series with Scion of Ikshvaku which topped charts recently and of course, the second in the series, Sita, Warrior of Mithila (2017), which has just hit book shops and Kindle stores.
Despite 3.5 million copies in print and sales of Rs 100 crores and counting, Amish still does not take his success for granted. After his first book was rejected, someone even advised he should instead, ‘write a love story from your IIM days’.
Amish of course listens only to the voice of his soul. “If your purpose is to make money, become a banker! But things like writing, films, sports, are high risk, high return games. Most people in these fields don’t even make a proper living. There are a few lucky guys who make more money than they could ever have imagined. Get into writing (only) if you are deeply passionate and have something to say.”
Of course there are bills to pay too!
‘Writing and selling are two different things. If you want to just make money, there are better ways to do that!” According to him it is important to define what your core is, and stay focussed. “My core is reading and writing. Any time I spend doing something else, I better have a damn good reason for it.” From a middle class family, he still lives by those values, quitting his bank job only after his second book was successful. His faith in God, and a childhood spent in a family of devout Hindus, some of them scholars and pundits, adds to his respectful storytelling, of tales from Indian scriptures and mythology. He keeps the stories engaging, and visual, gods come alive as strong, well-defined characters and with some very complex and often surprising connections.
Meet the demolisher of myths!
“Did you know there is no Lakshman Rekha in the Valmiki Ramayana?” He’s surprised most people don’t know that. Many remember Ramayana from the 80s TV serial or
theatrical enactments from festival season only.
Even fewer would know of Sita more as the goddess and wife of Lord Rama and revered for her virtuosity than for her skills as a warrior princess, the topic of his latest book. “My books have always had strong women characters, this is the first as a title. This is not Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. It is ‘Sitayana’ as it were, it is her story, her life, and her journey, she meets Ram only in the last one third of this book.”
I’ve left clues for all my (forthcoming) books in the Shiva trilogy. I have ideas for the next 20 years!
In the Adbhut Ramayan, there are two Ravans, and one was killed by Sita.” He adds, “I realised that most didn’t (know this story)…In the tradition of Indic storytelling, there are lessons, from Lord Rama, from Sita, from Ravana, too.” Amish’s Sita is complex and multi-layered.
He clearly paid attention at IIM!
Lessons from his student days at IIM have branded themselves into his brain. He goes under the radar while writing a book, and only surfaces when it is time to sell it. He uses the coolest and most eye-catching marketing tools, has pioneered the use of video trailers for books, and used both traditional and social media as a marketing and publicity tools before most others did.
Amish explains. “You must answer three simple marketing questions. 1: What is my target market, 2: What is my message to them? and 3: How do I reach them?”
The answers come to Amish from intense market research, with the help of a dedicated management team on his payroll. “My rule is, for every one page I write, I read a 100 pages.” Having a team dealing with other crucial things gives him the bandwidth do do that.
Coming soon: Film Producer Tripathi!
“I have a contract, where I have negotiated a producer status for the Shiva trilogy. We will announce this soon.” According to him a book still has an advantage, as a writer writes the scene, and each reader sees it with his own imagination, based on his own life experience. For his fans, a film version of his books will be another cool edition. Nope, he is not even thinking of switching gears. He is a writer. Period. “I’ve left clues for all my books in the Shiva trilogy. I have ideas for the next 20 years.”
Any fear of failure?
What would Amish do, if his books no longer sell? “‘I’ll go back to banking. I left my last job on very good terms. I never burn bridges,” he laughs. “I told my boss I’ll come back if things go south!” It is unlikely to see this guy in a boardroom anytime soon, though. There are just too many stories waiting to be told.