“Anything is possible if you believe hard enough.” Preethi Nair gave up a high-flying job to publish her first novel. She created her own publishing house and promoted her work under the guise of fictitious PR woman Pru Menon. A few months after hitting the bookshops, Gypsy Masala is already on its third print run!
Andrew Gallix interviews Preethi Nair / Pru Menon
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3AM: Had you written anything before embarking upon Gypsy Masala? How did you get it published?
PN: No, not for publication. Ever since I can remember, I have written. I was a closet writer, stabbing out poems and autobiographies at the age of 6! I sent Gypsy Masala off to two publishing houses. The first manuscript got buried in corrugated heaven and the second response came in a heartwarming letter—a thanks but no thanks but to persevere as "good writing will always out in the end.”
I have a very inquisitive mind and I wanted to know how books were published, why certain books made the bestsellers lists and some underground, obscure books that were brilliant never saw the light of day. Anyway, I found out an awful lot and there were so many factors based on luck and chance (if someone came across it in the "slush pile,” if a publicity budget would be allocated, if the publishing company were on the same wavelength etc). I decided that only I could do the best job publishing and promoting it. Primarily because no body could possibly believe in its potential like I could, and at the end of the day I just didn't want to leave it to chance. I decided to self publish. Gypsy Masala was already written, I was so passionate about it and had spent three years pouring my heart and soul into it and ultimately what I wanted was to share my story with as many people as I could. At the time, this felt like the best route.
I set up NineFish in Northampton (where the printers were based) and also to give it a different PO BOX number so it was no way associated by a London address. I sat with the printers and spent a lot of time with them on design work etc, etc. My first print run was 3,000. I told nobody, not friends or family, that I was going to do it this way.
3AM: How did you manage to write a novel while working as a management consultant?
PN: I look back on this and I too think how? But then I look back on a lot of things and think how? But if you really want to do something, you find a way. I worked 10 hours a day in a proper job but woke up every morning at 5.00 to write and most weekends. I was a social hermit for two years but I was completely driven by the need to tell the story.
3AM: How did you come up with the idea of promoting your own novel under the guise of Pru Menon of "the multinational PR firm Creative House"? Were you influenced in this by other writers (Joe Orton, for instance, who wrote letters to the papers about his own plays under assorted pseudonyms)?
PN: As I said to you, I did a lot of research but I also did lots of practical things. I asked authors if I could work for them on a no fee basis helping them promote their books so I could get to know how the promotion aspect worked and also so I would get a name in the industry for promoting books. I knew at some stage I would promote my own book so I couldn't use my own name. So I used Pru (this is what my brother calls me) and Menon (my mother's maiden name). The Creative House because it is such a small bedroom but so bright and filled with ideas.
3AM: How difficult was it to juggle constantly with the Preethi / Pru identities?
PN: It was a nightmare. Two of everything. Phones, emails, voices, attitudes, personas. You have to remember, people always thought that they were speaking to the PR woman and they can say things to her that the PR chooses not to relay to the author. Sometimes very hard stuff.
3AM: Did you see this promotional campaign an extension of the fictional process?
PN: No, I saw it as a necessity. Something I had to do to get my book out.
3AM: Aren't you afraid that you may be remembered for your original promotional campaign rather than for the novel you were promoting?
PN: I don't really care what I am remembered for as long as I have an opportunity to share my work.
3AM: How did the media find out about all this? Did you tell them eventually?
PN: Gypsy Masala hit number one in Books etc [a chain of bookstores], Finchley [London]. It was surreal, there it was sitting amongst two of my favourite authors Isabelle Allende and Paulo Cohelo. People in the industry began asking a lot of questions and The Bookseller approached me to write an article for them having tracked me down as being the source of all contacts. From there, it hit the national press.
3AM: What has this campaign achieved?
PN: The campaign has helped me overcome my worst fears, it has definitely made me a stronger person. As a writer, I think one of the worst fears you have is criticism, fear of rejection and a need to have your work validated. Almost proving that you are good enough (I don't know if I am explaining myself) but the way I did it, I was exposed to all these things. Self publishing is still a dirty word—why would anyone want to do it ? Is the manuscript not good enough? (I actually believe that you have to have 100% belief to self-publish as it is not an easy road and not one that I would recommend ( do I have some stories on self publishing!) Promoting myself in the way I did, I heard some wonderful comments about my book but I also heard some really hard comments—it's weird, it's like your soul and your ego are both out there: a wonderful comment caresses the ego and a harsh one rips into you and in the midst of it, you realise what is important, and that is what you think, the belief and energy and passion you have, the very same things that wrote the book in the first instance. I have learnt an awful lot through doing this but above all, it has strengthened my conviction that anything is possible if you believe hard enough.
I know that is not the answer you were looking for but this is what I really feel it has achieved. In terms of sales. I'm on my third print run, eight weeks later it is still number one in that same Books etc store in Finchley and spreading all around the UK. I'm looking to take it to the States and I believe that the right opportunity will present itself as has always been the case.
3AM: Who is in charge of your promotion now?
PN: There is not an awful lot to be done in terms of promotion. I think there comes a point where you work as hard as you can and then you just have to let it go and trust.
3AM: Have you already started working on your next novel?
PN: I have my ideas together but I just haven't sat down. I don't think I am still enough.
3AM: Could you describe Gypsy Masala and tell us where the inspiration came from?
PN: Gypsy Masala is a story about dreams about going to wherever your heart may want to take you. It is about daring, daring to believe that there is something more, daring to face your fears. The narrator asks three members of the same family to tell a story about their dreams and asks if they have followed them (following a dream often means encountering your worst fears).
The family recount a story of dreams but from their own perspective (and you get a narration of what happened to each member). What the reader finds is three different, interwoven perspectives of the same story. In the end you realise that there is no such thing as objective reality, that you and I could experience the same things and have two different interpretations. Who is right? Neither of us or both of us as we choose to see the world through the realities that we create and the realities we create are often full of paralysing fears.
My inspiration comes from being still and seeing for a spilt second the best of me, a huge limitless potential of energy, emotion, enthusiasm and passion, and then for that split second trying to extend it to a word, a phrase, a paragraph that may touch and inspire another in a way that it has inspired me.
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