Lipika Bhushan: ‘The Toughest Challenge Is To Manage Creativity’

An award-winning publishing professional, Lipika has worked as head of marketing at HarperCollins India, consulting head for Pan Macmillan/Picador India and led publicity for Juggernaut. With this rich work experience in publishing, she set up MarketMyBook in 2013. MarketMyBook handles publicity and digital marketing for writers and publishers and Lipika works closely with leading writers, politicians, business heads and sportsmen in India and across the world.

A Bajaj and IIM(A) alumnus, Lipika is also a creative writer; her poems have been published in the NavBharat Times and Amar Ujala, and one of her essays was published in Global Pandemic Crisis: A Series of Literary Essays on Quarantine in 2020. Her first short story has been featured in the anthology When Mommy Was a Little Girl, which was published in January 2022. Here, she talks to us about the business of publishing in India, the ways in which things have changed in recent years and the importance of a strong marketing and PR effort for new book launches.

After doing an MBA in marketing, how / why did you decide to work in the publishing business? What is it about this business that fascinates you most?

To be honest, it wasn’t a conscious decision to work in the publishing business. I was working in white goods and consumer durables and was exploring shifting industries while contemplating a job change. It was purely a fluke that I landed at the HarperCollins India office instead of the venue that I was to be at for another India Today vertical. (HarperCollins India was in a joint venture with the India Today Group then.) I was so excited to see Agatha Christies, Sidney Sheldons and Paulo Coelhos in the conference room where I waited for the next half hour, sensing which I think the interview took off with a conversation about my favourite writers and why I liked reading what I did.

About an hour into the interview is when both the interviewer, who was the CEO of the organisation and later my boss, and I realised that I had been sent to an incorrect address. But as Paulo famously said, ‘When you want something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen.’ The universe conspired to make me land up in publishing.

There is immense creativity that thrives in the publishing business, the humongous amount and variety of content that it generates, the most brilliant minds that titillate your thoughts and ideas are a few of the many things that fascinate me about publishing.

In the time you’ve worked in publishing, how has the business of publishing evolved in India? What are they key changes that have taken place over the years?

I have been in the publishing industry since 2007 and I’m delighted that I have been witness to its evolution. Publishing, at its heart and soul, still remains very traditional and yet has taken some great strides forward in the kind of content that is generated and how books are marketed in new and different ways. The publishing industry works at its own pace, different from the rest of the world, and has a lot to do in terms of new marketing ideas and initiatives.

What has changed over the years is the kind of content that readers demand from publishing houses. There’s a growing hunger among Indian readers for stories from the Indian subcontinent. Indie brands are doing a much better job in keeping pace with the changing demand and distribution requirements. Indian readers have taken to self-published books with enthusiasm. There is a lot more self-publishing happening on Amazon and other platforms, and bestsellers are emerging from some of these self-published books. Unfortunately, the big publishers are risk-averse and are very cautious about coming out of their comfort zones, especially in terms of marketing innovations and sales risks.

Today, will a really good book from a new, unknown author sell on its own merit or do all newly launched books need a significant marketing/PR effort to kickstart sales? In this context, are things different for established writers?

At any given point in time, any good product needs marketing. So it is incorrect to think that a good book will sell on its own merit. A good book will get appreciated on its own merit but if it needs to become a long-term success and help enhance the author’s personal brand, it is imperative to invest in marketing and PR efforts. This doesn’t change for an established writer. His marketing and publicity requirements may be different from that of a new writer, but for an established writer to continue to command attention and flourish his brand, marketing and publicity is definitely needed. Why else would you see all the bestselling writers continuing to invest so much of their time, energy and money in publicity campaigns? Over the years of their writing experience, they have realised that it is important to continue to invest in sustaining the brand and growing it further. 

Coming to the marketing effort itself, what works best these days – offline, online or a mix of both?

For a product to be a success, you would need the right mix of different marketing activities. There has to be a mix of both online and off-line marketing. Yes, the ingredients of this mix have changed considerably from the times when we started marketing books about 16 years ago. There is a lot more importance now on creating a solid online mix, consisting of influencers, bloggers, new media, for a strong social and digital footprint. This needs to be backed up by strong off-line marketing with the writer’s presence – through networking, by being on the right speaking platforms, and representing his/her work on the literary platforms that allow you to connect directly with readers. Of course, there can’t be a standard mix that will work for every book and every profile. One size cannot fit all. 

In the world of great distractions and short retention, there is no one place where audiences are most receptive which is why it is essential to be wherever the readers are.

What’s your take on book fairs? Are there any book fairs that you attend regularly?

For as long as I can remember, I have visited the World Book Fair in Delhi, first as a child with my dad, then with friends and thereafter as a professional. Book fairs are a great place for a bibliophile. They provide an immersive experience. Have heard of several great book fairs where I have had my writers featured. Most of these are supported by NBT but I also know of a few private book fairs that do a wonderful job. The most recent one I got to know of was Lock the Box that hosts book fairs in several cities throughout the year. For the ones focused on children, I love the Bookaroo which brings a festival and fair together. Schools host book fairs regularly, though I think they really need to focus better on this activity.

I also feel that instead of one large-format book fair, there should be smaller moving book fairs within a city or state, focused on specific genres and reader age groups. That way it may make more business sense.

Tell us more about MarketMyBook? What encouraged you to set up a book marketing company? What are some of the toughest challenges you face at work? What are some of the biggest opportunities?

MarketMyBook was born out of writers’ and publishers’ need for long-term focused marketing, new ideas and alternate marketing vehicles, in order to create more bestsellers and establish more brands. A typical day at MarketMyBook starts with a team meeting where we decide on a day plan for each title and chalk out individual to-do lists for that day. This helps us remain focused and achieve more in less time.

The toughest challenge is to manage creativity and not let your personal biases influence your decisions. You have to fall in love with the product that you market, so you have to accept its flaws as well. One has to work across ideological spectrums, especially in the current charged environment. While it is easy to take sides, it is the publicist’s job to ensure that their commitment is to the job at hand and not to their personal ideological and political inclinations. 

The role of a book marketer has expanded and evolved to that of someone who will help build personal brands and therein lie immense opportunities. Personal branding has become extremely important for any professional, in order to explore more than one source of recognition and revenue. Having clear-cut compartments – book writers, content writers, screen writers etc. – doesn’t work anymore because the world has opened up immense opportunities for them. Profiles need to be built up for speaking platforms, writing for OTT platforms and big screens.

Do you read a fair bit yourself? What are some of the most memorable books you’ve read in the last 2-3 years? Any favourite authors? Any favourite Indian authors?

Oh, I read a lot when I wasn’t publishing. And I tried to read 6-8 books a month then. Today, it’s an occupational need for me to read a lot more and that leaves very little time for leisure reading. I have developed the habit of speed reading as I like to know my product well in order to market it, but it does leave me wanting for my time with books where I swim into deep seas, climb  mountains, face man-eaters, fight wars, solve a murder and grow old with the protagonist. But the fact that I work with several writers whose work I absolutely love reading makes up for that loss, as the conversations with them lead to gaining so much knowledge and insight. But I do go back to my Rankins, Larsons, Lee Childs whenever I can. 

I can’t pick favourites as I have worked with almost all of them but I do pick Ruskin Bonds and Sudha Murthys for my children. I look forward to books from J Sai Deepak, Vikram Sampath and Sanjeev Sanyal. I do binge on business biographies like those on Jack Ma, Ratan Tata, Narayanmurthy, Elon Musk and those on Indian entrepreneurship like Karan Bajaj, Ashneer Grover and Raj Shamani.

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One response to “Lipika Bhushan: ‘The Toughest Challenge Is To Manage Creativity’”

  1. Lipika ji I have gone through the entire interview very consciously. You are a versatile personality, handling every section of publishing with equal efficiency.
    Your endeavor of establishing MakeMyBook is flourishing. Wishing you excellent success in this and any other endeavor that you undertake. Dr


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