As yet another book is banned, and everyone writes furious columns about the lack of respect for free speech in this country, I find myself awestruck by the fact that a five-year-old book has shot to the top of bestselling lists.
Wendy Doniger presents to all writers an excellent lesson in marketing – put naked people and Hindu gods on the cover, wait for the right people to find it (oops, pun happened), and have a mostly uninteresting book that exotifies India and makes sex sound like the driving force behind the country’s economy reach the bestseller list.
Of course this is a case of sour grapes. I was told my book, which has the prettiest cover I could have wished for, was a bestseller when it sold 5000 copies in roundabout four months. I’m fairly sure Doniger’s sold that many in the hours after it was banned.
I have spent an evening, night and morning making a list of marketing strategies to ensure that my next book makes me enough money to go on holiday every other week. Here are my notes to myself:
Piss off some religious group: Be careful about your choice, though. Christians won’t really bother, except for a couple of churches in Texas, maybe. There is a natural sympathy for Jews because of the Holocaust, so don’t go there. And, oh yes, no pictures of the Prophet, because, you know, you’re sort of screwed if you go against the world’s most persecuted minority. According to Pew Research, Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with a quarter of the population following it, but remember Salman Rushdie and his unfortunate translators? Yeah, that’s all the ‘but’ you need. So, stick to pissing off Hindus. It will get you the most mileage.
Put Hindu gods and naked people on the cover: Ideally, they should all be feeling each other up. Or, better still, engaging in bestiality. That’s a great way to win the support of liberals. That way, if you’re forced to choose between arrest and going abroad, you’ll be referred to as having been ‘driven into exile’. You’re free to take up citizenship in a country that may be spearheading the draft of the International Blasphemy Law, under which you can be hauled to court irrespective of which country you blaspheme in, but you’ll be hailed as a campaigner for freedom of expression.
Write about women wanting sex: One cannot stress this enough. Sex sells. It sells better when it’s about India, which is most famous in the West for being the land of the Kama Sutra. It sells even better when it’s about Indian women wanting sex, and the older the women are and the more ancient a period they belong to, the happier the sales team will be.
Ideally, don’t have Indian roots: If possible, pass off for Hispanic. India isn’t particularly kind to people of Indian origin. Again, Salman Rushdie. And also M F Husain. If you’re using the term loosely, throw in Taslima Nasrin in that list of unfortunate artists. It would be a good idea to pass yourself off as Oprah. Oprah can get away with anything in India.
Include homoerotica where possible: Nothing appeals to the Liberal Brigade like exotic homoerotica. So, ideally, the cover should have a lot of naked women feeling each other up, and maybe throw a god or two in the mix, to more effectively annoy the right wing.
Get your publishers to reach an out-of-court settlement and then blame the courts: Some of my most-liked articles have been the ones in which I raged against the judicial system. Since very few people have bothered with amending the antiquated laws Victorian Britain passed down to us, it’s rather easy to take issue with the legal system. Even if your publishers reach an out-of-court settlement with the folks who have a problem with your book, make sure you speak about how distorted Indian laws are. Actually, it would be an even better idea to speak about how distorted the laws have been since the Manusmriti. Winning feminists over to your side can only be productive.
For now, I watch with admiration and envy as Doniger’s book climbs by 558,970 percent, to go from No. 335,442 to No. 60 on Amazon, and then a further 96 percent over a day, to go from No. 65 to No. 33.
Here’s hoping my next book gets banned. Or, just maybe, the Liberal Brigade will take offence to a book on arranged marriage. Someone protest, please. I could do with a vacation.
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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on www.nandinikrishnan.com