Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Vinay R. Kanchan, the author of (The Madness Starts at 9)
Hi Vinay, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I come from Mumbai. I graduated in Electronics Engineering from Mumbai University-Fr. Conceicao Rodrigues College of Engineering to be more precise. After that I majored in Marketing at the Narsee Monjee Institue of Management Studies. Post this I spent over a decade in the advertising industry, only to over the last few years decide to walk a completely different path. I am now a trainer in the art of creative thinking, and a consult on brand strategy.
I come from a typical middle class family with both parents working, and a very high value placed on education. Fortunately thinking was always held in high esteem at home.
What were you like at school?
I was most studious when at school. Subsequently I evolved enough to look more out of the window than at the blackboard.
Were you good at English?
Perhaps, I authored my first consequential work while in the ninth standard. It was a spoof on a then popular science fiction show on DD-the iconic Star Trek. Penning your own play also has the fringe benefits of landing you the lead part, as I discovered then.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
At a primary level I would like to explore my writing talents across many different avenues. Obviously books are one prime domain. I have a second book coming up-which is an adrenaline infused, inspirational look at what sport informs the corporate world about. This is diametrically different from ‘The Madness Starts at 9’. Within the world of books, I would like to pen works which span diverse worlds-from fiction to poetry to management to the absurd.
Film writing also interests me. I frequently pen columns at leading newspapers and industry websites. I am also taken up with the idea of trying to carve a niche of myself in the arena of training videos-especially in the realms of creative thinking.
I am really craving to write a book which combines science fiction with humor, have penned a few stories in that direction-but a book would be a major milestone.
Which writers inspire you?
To be frank I really took to reading rather late. But I’m trying to make up for lost time with a vengeance.
Obviously epics like the Mahabharat have had a great influence. Especially from the perspective that anything of consequence can always be communicated best, via an interesting tale. Ancient Indian sagas like ‘Vikram and Vetal’ also were fascinating in the way learning was delivered in terms of structure.
These days, from the world of nonfiction I admire Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. I was also hugely influenced by the epochal ‘Cosmos’ series, penned and presented by the late Carl Sagan.
From the fictional world, I like Douglass Adams, P.G. Wodehouse, Isaac Asimov
So, what have you written?
My first book is ‘The Madness Starts at 9’. It is a satire based look at life in the corporate world, and celebrates an irreverent perspective of events that normally transpire during the course of office life, through the lens of short stories.
Vision Impossible-is a humorous look at vision meetings
True Lies-is a mad look at the interview process
Wait Until Dark-takes a peek at how careers are made and destroyed at office parties
The modern day concentration camps-examines the inanities of focus group research
A myth called Performance Appraisals-well the name says it all
There are 25 such stories in all. Set around the same office, with the same primary cast of characters. They roughly trace a year in the life of a new trainee.
The book was a result of me winning a blogging contest at the famous website www.sulekha.com; I am eternally grateful to the team there. This story also merits a special mention of my publisher Cinnamon Teal for their efforts.
Where can we buy or see them?
The book is available online and offline
In stores it is at the Landmark chain, and additionally at Stand, Bookzone and Granth stores in Mumbai.
Online it is available on Amazon (Kindle), and at Flipkart, indiaplaza, booksadda and of course at the Sulekha website
It is priced at Rs.200 it makes for an interesting read at airport lounges, traffic jams and whilst waiting for people to land up for meetings.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
This idea assumed the proportions of a book, due to the popularity of these two in the blogging world.
Ram Shankar is a wide eyed optimistic trainee entering the big bad corporate world for the very first time. He is principled and believes that his work will do all the talking (poor misguided fellow)
Chai-La is the mystical Chinese tea boy. He offers Ram Shankar insightful advice, usually before an incident is about to occur, and disappears in increasingly dramatic fashions as the novel wears on.
In essence Chai-La is a metaphor for the flash of wisdom we all have, but never quite listen to.
What are you working on at the minute?
I have just finished penning ‘Lessons from the Playground’, which is slated to be my second book. It is my first attempt in book terms on a subject that is very close to my heart and life-the aspect of creative thinking
What’s it about?
‘Lessons from the Playground’ takes a lateral look at what the sporting world; in terms of all its aspects from its people (heroes), platforms (venues), processes and pinnacles (outstanding achievements), inform the management world about.
What genre are your books?
On the surface, my first ‘The Madness Starts at 9’ was fictional while my second ‘Lessons from the Playground’ is nonfiction.
What unifies both these papyrus attempts; is the use of humor and a lateral perspective to make hopefully interesting points.
What draws you to this genre?
If there is any common aspect to my work it is humor. I am the sort who is always inclined to see the lighter side of things. Humor I think allows us to make really serious points without directly confronting them. And this nuance makes for a far more persuasive argument.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
At this point it would be rather presumptuous for me to answer that question.
How much research do you do?
Depends on what I am writing. I do tend to use the internet for stimuli. I find reading completely unrelated stuff a great way to trigger ideas. I also try and explore many creative concepts before ending up with one. For these calls I usually trust my own judgment.
Have you written any other novels in collaboration with other writers?
No. not yet
When did you decide to become a writer?
Perhaps I was interested even as a child. Then I got swept away in other things. Five years ago, I decided to give it a whole hearted shot.
Why do you write?
It makes me feel great. The sheer joy of completing a sentence which makes me smile, those are still the little nuggets which keep egging me on. I think I have always been a story teller of different sorts. And while conducting training workshops is one aspect of my life, writing books has assumed importance as another avenue for this kind of exploration.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
I had this idea for ‘The Madness Starts at 9’ in bits and pieces over the last several years. I used to write one story every two months or so initially, without having any idea that it would one day become a book. At that time, it served a great way of purging my own frustration with the corporate world. Over time I really began to enjoy it. These became my own therapy sessions. From there to a book concept was a short jump.
The second book, ‘Lessons from the Playground’, stems from my lifelong love affair with the sporting world. This is an attempt to show that sport can give us so much more, especially in the realms of serious thinking. Also after the first book which was a fictional one, I deliberately wanted a nonfiction book idea on my roster.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
As of now, part time. I am otherwise training, and consulting on brand strategy.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I find mornings great. Or evenings, especially after I have managed an afternoon siesta
Do you write every day, 5 days a week or as and when?
Nothing really fixed, I write when I am in the mood. Sometimes that could be daily, at others it is far less frequent than I would like it to be
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
I think it is more about capturing the concept or the situation than number of words or pages. Again I have no fixed targets usually. Though when I am facing a deadline, I try and have some milestones along the way, if only to give the entire project a sense of movement.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
For all my writing I use a laptop. Sometimes I return to a blank paper pad for exploring ideas.
Where do your ideas come from?
I would like to believe from everywhere. Henry David Thoreau had said something wonderful, ‘It is never about what you look at…it is always about what you see’. And true enough there is writing material everywhere for the curious mind. It might emerge right from the waiting period at a bus stop, to a sporting or a news event, or even a casual comment made by someone.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I like to experiment with both at times. If there is something in the management sphere that I am writing, then an initial outline helps the cause. But if it is in the realms of pure humor, sometimes just writing ahead to see where an idea can take you is often desirable. One really has to transition between the closed mode and open mode in any writing effort.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I would consider myself a work in progress. Still not found the niche I enjoy the most in terms of genre, but that diversity perhaps has added to my writing vitality. My other life as a brainstorming consultant and a trainer; also has provided me interesting perspectives to borrow from, for the written word. So in essence the process of learning is still on, hopefully never to end.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
I think the discipline and hard work involved. It is one thing to have an idea, quite another challenge altogether to capture it on paper, in a manner that no flavor of the original concept is lost.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
As far as ‘The Madness Starts at 9’ goes, the challenge was to find newer aspects of corporate life that could be satire, especially ones that were relatively speaking ‘under the conventional radar’.
‘Lessons from the Playground’, presented a completely different problem. It was to sift through the diversity of sport, to unearth different nuggets which could be extrapolated to learning beyond the field.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
The easiest thing is when the idea or characters are so clear in your head-they begin to write the story themselves. Sometimes one is in the mood, or more accurately as the legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would state, one is in the ‘flow’ of things. At such times few things are more blissful than writing; it is almost a spiritual experience. But such states of mind are rare, and extremely difficult to attain.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
There are no perfect answers to this question. It would really depend on the subject matter and how clear one is in the mind about what has to be attempted. In the case of my endeavors right now, I would probably say a year is a rough benchmark.
Do you ever get writer’s Block?
I think everyone does, it is a normal human condition. Just as every batsman, however great he might be, has to go through a lean patch at some time, so also is the case in all other aspects of human exertion. But what is life without overcoming such hurdles?
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
My personal feeling is that too much is made out of it. Firstly one has to consider it as the normal ebb in the cyclical nature of things. Having confidence in one’s own ability to get out of the situation is also important. Discipline and tenacity to keep taking a crack, at the task at hand, even when no progress seems apparent is critical. Using creative thinking techniques also help considerably to unlock the mind-especially the use of humor. Find something, however outrageous, which will make you see the funny side of the situation, and once you begin to smile, all your barriers will begin to recede in a while.
If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about it?
Both my books (the one already published and the upcoming effort) have the potential of extensions. Usually any idea has possibilities of being taken further, in terms of either more stories along the same theme, or more concepts around the same principle; soon I will be attempting both.
What are your thoughts on writing a book series?
I have been grounded in the field of branding, and for me a book series is nothing but a ‘continued pleasurable experience’. It also gives a loyal reader base another reason to revisit your work. So I think penning a series works for both the author and her audience.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Yes I do read. There is nothing better in terms of mind travel. As I had touched upon earlier Gladwell, Sagan, DeBono and Dawkins in nonfiction, and Douglass Adams, P.G. Wodehouse and Joseph Heller are my favorite fictional authors
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I love the touch, feel and smell of traditional books, they are such sensorial experiences.
What book/s are you reading at present?
I am reading ‘The paradox of choice’ by Barry Schwarz and ‘Luck’ by Ed Smith. Both I must say, present exquisitely crafted arguments.
Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
I do a bit of my own checking, but eventually getting professionals to do it is always more desirable.
Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
To be honest on my first book that was not the case. The second has been a bit more like that, but not all intentionally. It does help to come back at times, because you can see the same thing differently, and sometimes in a more evocative manner.
Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?
My first book was via Sulekha. They were in partnership with Cinnamon Teal Publishing. I am in talks with publishers for my second. Here the final decision is likely to be mine, depending on a host of factors, like how passionate they seem to be about the book, and how are they viewing the challenge of promoting it.
Tell us about the cover/s and how it/they came about.
The title came first ‘The Madness Starts at 9’. After that was shared with Sulekha, they rendered a portrait of sorts which captured the cacophony and chaos of the modern day office environment. I must say they did that in a really colorful manner.
Who designed your book cover/s?
Sulekha and Cinnamon Teal
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
I think without a semblance of doubt. In these days of clutter, confusion, crunched times and conflicting priorities; I would rephrase the old adage by saying, ‘people do judge books by their covers, and even back covers’.
How are you publishing this book and why?
My first book is available in both traditional and digital form. So I guess will be the second. I think this is important because there is a different new generation, whose reading habits and venues are distinct from their predecessors.
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
The advantage of self-publishing is that you retain more control over the content. The disadvantage is that promotion and distribution become increasingly difficult.
How do you market your books?
I have the experience of only one book in this regard, so my perspective is limited. When my first book released, I tried an innovative tactic. I wrote to people I knew at several organizations, describing the book and using its cover as a lead in, to try and see if they could get other colleagues interested in the same. These resulted in some 700 books being sold. Also I used to ensure they got delivered at the office, ensuring good visibility and interest amongst others. That created some salience. Sulekha also got it reviewed and covered in quite a few newspapers many of them had extremely kind words to say. I entered stores quite late, but still people (especially my core group) were aware of the book by then.
Why did you choose this route?
I was not with a traditional publishing giant, so one has to be a lot more like an upstart and think differently.
Would you or do you use a PR agency?
If you can, you definitely should. They can do a great job of getting you covered in media. The write ups and reviews Sulekha got me, were also courtesy their excellent PR agency.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
As the iconic Apple brand advises us, ‘think different’. It is a crowd out there, and even if you don’t have the marketing muscle, you can find other ways to get your book noticed. It is important though to recognize that ‘books need to be promoted and sold’. Don’t ever believe that myth that if your writing is great, people will beat a way to your door. Can happen, but you need extraordinary twists of fate for that to occur.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
I think I would first write the book completely then think of marketing it. That way one has a far better idea of what to say. It also signals distinct activities for the brain i.e. a transition from the ‘creation’ mode to the ‘promotion’ one.
What do you do to get book reviews?
Sulekha used their PR agency.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?
No I never really looked into that aspect, maybe for the next one.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
For a new writer the very fact that his book is getting reviewed is a huge boost. Reviews are an extremely subjective process, and people are entitled to their own opinions, so neither should sway one too much-though a good review always presents promising avenues for more promotion.
Is there any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?
Don’t know whether this exactly qualifies, but once a friend called me to tell me that my book was being peddled on the streets of Churchgate (a place in Mumbai) and at traffic signals, that really gave me a high. And I cite that story almost as proof of having made it
What’s your views on social media for marketing?
I think in the world of books, social media perhaps is the most influential medium.
Which social network worked best for you?
I did use a bit of Facebook (though it was not a very concerted effort). Hope to use more avenues the next time around.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Don’t try too hard-on any media, it shows.
Did you do a press release, Goodreads book launch or anything else to promote your work and did it work?
The book was launched at the Sulekha website, there were also articles on it at sites in the branding world like www.afaqs.com and some newspapers. Some reviews also happened at the same time. Yes all this unquestionably helped immensely.
Did you get interviewed by local press/radio for your book launch?
I did a few press and online interviews.
Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?
To be honest the one direct marketing technique that I used at inception was the only strategic effort on my part. It did give me sales, and perhaps more importantly a sense of momentum going forward.
Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future?
Not that I can think of. I think books are so under promoted in our country that almost any activity will help. It will have to be a woefully ill-conceived plan that actually might deter sales.
Why do you think that other well written books just don’t sell?
This is maybe a case of ‘not well distributed and not well promoted’. The average reader has more things on his mind than to figure out who is a great new writer, it is in our interests that we are more aggressive when it comes to putting ourselves in his consideration set.
What do you think of “trailers” for books?
Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book/s?
At present I don’t, but hopefully nearer the launch of ‘Lessons from the Playground’.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
In my experience (and I have tried it) it doesn’t. Somehow we tend to undervalue anything that is given away free
Did you format your own book?
In what formats is your book available?
Traditional (paperback) and Digital
If formatted by someone else, how did you select them and what was your experience?
That was entirely Sulekha’s call
How do you relax?
Other than reading I love playing football. I run a footballing organization called Juhu Beach United which celebrates, ‘the unfit, out of breath, working professional of today’. Weekends are usually at the beach kicking off some frustration and stress with my friends.
What is your favorite motivational phrase/quote/positive saying?
Considering I am a freelance resource these days it probably is, ‘Ah! There’s my cheque’.
But on a more serious note, Carl Sagan’s epic thought ‘To make an apple pie, one must first create the universe’. Always inspires me to look at the larger picture.
There is another from Asimov which I adore, ‘the most frequent words heard before any great inventions are not ‘eureka’, but ‘hey that’s funny’’. This dwells on looking at the lighter side of things, and how this is seminal to the process of innovation.
What is your favorite book and why?
Either ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ or ‘Catch-22’
Because they really make very important points about the human condition, in a disarmingly funny manner
What is your favorite film and why?
Guru Dutt’s ‘Pyaasa’-for its sheer craft of magnificent storytelling and film making
Also ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’- Perhaps Bollywood’s best socially satirical comedy ever
Where can you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
I really don’t fancy that question. I think it is a huge fallacy of human nature to try and predict a future, we have no clue about. So I try and live in the present, every single day. Though it is tempting to say, ‘Making a Booker or Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech’ at this moment.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think inside I am still a child, so the advice I give myself is ‘never grow up, there are just too many bills to pay.’
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Einstein-because I would like to know, how in the world can you possibly imagine yourself travelling on a beam of light, and conceptualize the universe around. I would also love to ask him if he ever had some normal friends
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, that’s exactly the kind of book I would give an arm and a leg to write-though don’t tell that to my insurance agent.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
When in doubt-write, when in despair-write some more
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
I see it doing very well, the forms might change, but the human mind will always need the written word to inspire it to greater heights.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
No. You have included one heck of a lot
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Other than my book ‘The Madness Starts at 9’
Please lie in wait for my next one ‘Lessons from the Playground’
I write a blog at www.afaqs.com, you could follow me there
I have a blog at Sulekha as well
You are also welcome to connect with me on Facebook
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