A finance company CEO by day, a compulsive and prolific writer by night, Ravi Subramanian has authored a book every year in the last seven years, collectively selling nearly a million copies, putting him in the league of the country’s best-selling authors in English. His biggest seller If God was a Banker alone has sold more than 3,00,000 copies. It also won him the Golden Quill reader’s choice award in 2008. The Incredible Banker (2011) was the recipient of the Economist Crossword Book Award, and The Bankster (2012) won the Crossword Book Award. Last July, he made headlines in the publishing industry when Penguin India offered him Rs 1.25 crore for a two-book deal, the highest advance the publisher has given to any Indian writer.
An alumnus of IIM Bangalore, Subramanian has spent close to two decades in banking industry with stints at Citibank and HSBC, and is currently the President and CEO of Shriram Citu Union Finance Ltd. Not surprisingly, all his books are set against the backdrop of foreign banks and bankers. He is also one of the savvy modern-day Indian authors who places great emphasis on marketing his own books. No wonder then that pre-orders for God is a Gamer has hit record numbers (in the thriller space). MW caught up with him recently.
What made you tackle bitcoins for If God is a Gamer?
The announcement of WikiLeaks accepting anonymous bitcoins donation caught my attention and triggered me to take it up as a subject. There have been books and articles on the same, but no fiction. Five years from now on, this virtual currency will drive the world into the future. It doesn’t need any gateway, government, central bank and regulator. It gives you anonymity. It will drive banks out of business. People don’t know that Amazon and US Subway accept it. Amazingly, there’s no information on Satoshi Nakamoto, who invented bitcoins. There’s so much curiosity about him.
Do you possess bitcoins?
I bought three bitcoins [online] from the US two years back for experience. It was worth $10-12 back then. It’s worth $512 now. Recently, Bitcoins Center from New York City invited me to come and give a talk on bitcoins.
Most of your books are set up in the backdrop of a foreign bank. Do you do it consciously or subconsciously?
When If God was a Banker turned out to be a success, I realised there was a market for books based on banking. But, off late, I am trying to move away from banking. Bankerupt was based on academic frauds and gun controls. With God is a Gamer, I am trying to tap a younger audience by introducing them to bitcoins and the gaming concept.
You put a lot of emphasis on social media interaction and marketing strategies. What are you doing for God is a Gamer?
To me, a book is a package you offer to reader. You have 20 seconds to get his attention to buy your book. As a result, you have to invest money to build your own brand. Eventually, retailers also back authors who are willing to partner with them with book sales. For the launch of my new book, Crossword employees will be wearing T-shirts with God is a Gamer printed on it. I also gave a talk at Crossword, educating their staff on bitcoins. There’s also a display contest for Crossword branches across the city to find out who will sell more books. I have also devised a Litcoin Facebook game, in which participants collect litcoins by sharing, and liking my posts. They can redeem coins for book-related merchandise.
Penguin India had given you an advance of Rs 1.25 crore for two books: Bankerupt and God is a Gamer, putting you in the league of the country’s richest authors.
This puts pressure on me as expectations are high and I am accountable at the end of the day. If the book doesn’t do well, they will recover the money they have spent on me. At the end of the day, relationships work if they are mutually beneficial.
How has your association with Penguin India been so far?
When Penguin India came to me last year back I was Rupa’s largest selling author next to Chetan Bhagat. I had a say in everything. I was apprehensive whether it will be the same with Penguin India. They even inserted a separate clause in the contract in which I have the final authority on the cover, besides the book. I must say they have been flexible to accommodate all my quirks. They even sent an email saying it’s the best written ending for a crime novel in India. That was very kind of them.
Your thriller has 324 pages and 100 chapters. Why 100 chapters?
Well, it keeps the excitement going and makes it unputdownable. Also it’s convenient as the book has multiple plots.
When do you get the time to write, given you are a CEO?
I am an owl writer. Given that I have a day job, night is the only time I get, particularly on weekdays. I sleep late, well past 1 am. Most of my writing and research related to my work, happens after dinner. Thankfully, I do not need a secluded environment to write. I often sit in the living room and write. It makes sure that my writing career does not come at the cost of family time. How much I write every day depends on what stage of writing I am in. At an exploratory stage, when I am thinking of plot angles, researching specific points etc, then it could be as low as 500 words a day. When I am in the flow, I have even written 7000 words a night. It all depends. I believe in the concept of maximising when the thoughts are flowing.