There was once a girl who didn’t read books, till one day, she began reading. She read a few, and then she read some more; and then she decided to write her own. It could be an extension of her notebook, she thought, where she jotted down her thoughts and observations about her life. The protagonist, Meera, could also be a fictional version of herself, a girl in search of a story to share with the world. It would be a love story, of course, but the budding writer wanted to do more — she wanted to inspire her readers and make them believe that inside each one of them is a story; all they had to do was find it. Less than a year after it was published, Everyone Has a Story (EHAS) has sold 1.6 lakh copies; and spurred a quasi-sequel this month — This is Not Your Story (TINYS) — that is poised to set new records in the Indian publishing industry. The author of these books is Savi Sharma and this is her story.
Sharma, 23, shoos her neighbour’s young son out of her room before she sits down for a chat over Skype. It is Monday evening and in 24 hours, on Valentine’s Day, her second novel will first be launched in her hometown, Surat. “For the next three months, I will be travelling to 28 cities in India to promote TINYS,” says Sharma. The launch and the book tour are the perks of signing up with Westland, the Delhi-based publishing house that was purchased by Amazon last year, and is known for delivering commercial hits with authors such as Amish and Ashwin Sanghi.
Last year, Westland beat Penguin Random House to sign Sharma, after the self-published first print run of EHAS (5,000 copies) quickly sold out online. With the firm’s distribution network, the book swiftly crossed the 1 lakh mark. Some industry insiders have expressed doubts about the veracity of those figures, but this has not stopped Sharma from snagging a multi-book deal with Westland. “Now, my first book has been translated into Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and Telugu,” says Sharma, who teamed up with a friend and mentor, Ashish Bagrecha, last June to start a motivational blog, Life and People. It features articles written by them on love, friendship, positivity and travel. With Sharma’s rise to fame, and in the hurry to release her second novel, blogging, though, has taken a backseat. Westland has issued a first print run of 1 lakh copies on the basis of the success of her debut work.
Depending on whose review you believe on Amazon, EHAS is either “an enchanting tale of friendship, dreams and love” or “Worst story line. 1 star is for her confidence”. Sharma welcomes the criticism; she views all her readers in a singular vein — “You” — to whom her novels are dedicated. “The only difference between animals and humans is that we can help each other. If you can give something to people and there is ‘you’ in it, they feel more connected, and I can inspire and motivate them better. It’s my dream to touch millions of hearts. And if they are giving three hours or three days to reading my book, they should get something in return,” says Sharma.
In the early days, she even came up with a marketing gimmick: to personally call each of the book’s reviewers after they posted on the EHAS Facebook page. “I did call some of them. But what worked better was to chat with my readers over email and Messenger, to clear their doubts. Then they truly feel that they should drop a review for the book on Amazon,” says Sharma. It worked, the
number of positive reviews rose steadily, spurring the massive sale of the book, and making the publishing industry sit up and take notice.
Sharma speaks the language of her role models, Paulo Coelho, Mitch Albom and Robin Sharma. Like them, she peppers her novel with plenty of platitudes, all of which stress upon the idea that “life is a story” and that every person can alter their narrative to improve the quality and purpose of their existence. The former CA aspirant chose to forego that career path to become a writer; this allows her to delve into her personal experience while writing. “I read a lot of books on positivity, spirituality. It’s hard to write these stories because you have to make it true, from your heart and without clichés,” says Sharma.
Sample this: “If two points are destined to touch, the universe will always find a way to make the connection — even when all hope seems to be lost… Across space, across time, among paths we cannot predict — nature will always find a way”. Coelho says it a bit more succinctly in The Alchemist: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
For the bulk of her readers, most of whom are first-time readers in tier two and tier three cities, the quotes act as a quick fix to dealing with the fast-changing world around them. Inspiration and aspiration go hand-in-hand — the need to shake off parental pressure and pursue one’s dreams, to see the world (which, unsurprisingly, is always the West), and find a saccharine mantra that will guide one’s path. In Sharma’s multiple view-point novels, boys and girls do meet, but love is a bonus — a reward for opening themselves up to the positive vibrations of the universe. “For now, I am happy to stick to the romance genre, but in the future, I might write non-fiction on positivity and spirituality,” says Sharma.
“I think Savi’s strength is in knowing what young people are looking for in their own lives. Her stories are simple, yes, but it can be very difficult to write a story that is simple and yet engaging; with ideas that inspire readers,” says Deepthi Talwar, Sharma’s editor at Westland.
Sharma is single and receives a steady stream of proposals from her male readers. “I remind them that they are in love with my characters and not me. I tell them to wait for my new book so that they have new characters to fall in love with,” she says.
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