For marketers and especially book lovers, there is probably no other industry as exciting as the publishing industry, thanks to its extremely diverse and vast collection of stories and genres !

Lipika Bhushan, our next pathbreaker, Book Marketing & Publicity Professional, is Founder of MarketMyBook, a consulting firm exclusively for writers, publishers, creative people and organizations.

Lipika talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about taking up a career in book marketing as an extension of her love for books and working with writers from diverse fields such as sports, politics, business, fine arts etc.

For students, strive to be the best at what you do, because the quality of your work should speak for itself, and define your uniqueness !

Lipika, can you take us through your background?

I was born and brought up in Delhi. I did my schooling from Birla Vidya Niketan, Saket with Science in class 12th. Mathematics used to be compulsory for us in the late 90s when I completed my schooling. My dad was a bureaucrat (a 1976 batch IAS) and my mother is a classical vocalist, so there was always a lot of focus on overall development by balancing studies with co-curricular activities.

For some reason, there were only two things I always dreamt of becoming, a classical dancer and a business woman. In those days, entrepreneurship wasn’t heard of, especially in service class families where the entire focus was on becoming an engineer or a doctor. 

So, post my results in class 10th my dad sat me down and asked me what I wanted to be and I very forthrightly shared what I wanted to do. 

Quite like a typical parent of 80s and 90s and with goodwill behind his suggestions, he insisted that I also explore Engineering or Medical, as middle class families can only do well if they got into professional fields available at that time. I asked “But why not a dancer?”, to which he replied with a very heavy heart, “okay but then you have to be the best in it and be prepared that it won’t be easy to earn a living”. Though I was the best in dance in school, I went on to take Biology with Mathematics in class 11th and 12th. Post my schooling, we again came to a point where I had to choose between taking entrance exams for engineering or medical, but this time I insisted on taking up business administration and entrepreneurship and took admission in the EMPI Business School. I wanted to definitely explore being a businesswoman, I guess, if not a dancer.

And I think it is the best choice I made as it allowed me to explore my creative side as well. A lot of our personality traits as a child define our future and more than children, parents and teachers need to identify those traits to give children the right advice at the right time.

What did you do for graduation / post graduation?

I went on to do a BBA from EMPI Business School and an MBA from JDBIMS, Mumbai. Post that, I did a MDP from IIM-A that was sponsored by the organization I was working for, in 2011.

Tell us, what were some of the influences that led you on to such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

My career as a marketer is influenced by the advice my dad gave me, that of being the best in what I do. I wanted to be the best marketing professional and I still strive for that. It has always made me think out of the box and beyond the existing norms, which means continuously working on innovative ideas. My initial career in White Goods and Consumer Durables influenced me to have a very consumer driven approach. 

My entry in publishing and the love for books gave a further push to being the best marketer of books. Even after close to two decades of my career, one thing that remains is the drive to be the best and that drives me to continuously learn and improve my skills.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I think a formal education helps get a perspective in life and therefore I suggest that everyone complete their formal education. I ensured I completed my formal education with post graduation. 

For the first few years of your career you try to find what you like and what you enjoy doing. But once you have found your profession of joy (as I call it), you advance and grow in it. My first job was in a consulting firm. We were working really long hours. As a trainee, we only had to do all the basic filing work and it wasn’t something I saw my career in, though those experiences exposed me to various aspects of business, like quoting a due price for rendered services and also trained me to have a more holistic view of things by not restricting my vision to my domain expertise. 

My initial role in the white goods and consumer durables sector prepared me to be on the ground, working closely with the sales team and the distribution channel thereby allowing me the ability to gain better insights into what influences buying decisions at the counter. I traveled to remotest parts of the country and gained a fairly good understanding of how different regions influence buying decisions.

I kind of appeared on the horizon of publishing, as my boss, the former CEO of HarperCollins India stated. It was meant to be. I had been scheduled for an interaction with the Harvard Business Review (which was distributed by the India Today Group at that time) who gave me, instead, the address for HarperCollins India (that was a JV with India Today Group in those days). 

Coming from a family of readers and writers, entering a conference room full of books, some of which were of my favourite authors, got me really excited and it was only after an hour and a half of discussion with my ex-boss, on books and writing, that he and I realised that I was infact called for an interview for another vertical. 

So finally when I settled in Publishing, I could use all my knowledge to build book marketing campaigns that helped get better reader attention. We have had some award winning campaigns in HarperCollins India which was my alma mater in publishing. These have gone onto become case studies for many writers and publishers who then used similar tools to achieve success. I would have worked with over 500 writers in my role there and while we helped market their books, the fact is that there was and always is so much to learn from these wonderful people, some of whom are achievers and stars in their respective fields of writing, sports, politics, business, fine arts.

It’s been 15 years since, and I still am very much in publishing, flourishing and learning. The joy of being with books and being surrounded by books is what keeps me going. Starting from reading only thrillers to now having grown up to read varied literature, ideologies, perceptions has only enriched me as a marketer.

When Pan Macmillan was looking for a Marketing head, I offered my services as a consulting head of marketing to manage their overall marketing and build their team. It was almost 3 years of a wonderful association with them. 

I had heard great things about Chiki Sarkar and grabbed the first opportunity I got to work with her in Juggernaut. Again it was an absolutely enriching experience.

I have had the great pleasure and honour of working with some of the leading names in the world of writing, media, sports, politics, business etc. It would need an entire book for me to write about the kind of writers and celebrities I have worked with while in publishing, though of course, all publishing houses have some of the most celebrated writers who are also great sportsmen, business tycoons, politicians, actors, artists.

When I founded MarketMyBook in 2013, all my previous experience enriched the entire process of setting up a consulting firm exclusively for writers, publishers and creative people and organizations. The strong bonds that I created and nurtured in my years in publishing houses helped me get the right projects initially and the required word of mouth needed for any such firm. It’s been 9 years since and over 250 writers and about 5 publishers that we have serviced since the inception.

How did you get your first break? 

Well my first break in my career as a marketing professional was through campus placements, but my first break as an entrepreneur was through networking. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Competition: It’s always a challenge as there are equally bright (if not more) students one is competing against in campus placements. As you grow in your career, things may take a positive turn if you have a thorough grip over your subject/domain.

Challenge 2: Being shy of calling in favours: this is a big challenge especially if you have to call in for favours for yourself. But it can be overcome if you learn to extend favours even though at that point in time you feel there is nothing you may want to seek in return. Always extend help and value relationships more than anything else. The day we learn to value relationships more, we stop considering any call for help as a favour. And whatever help you extend always comes back to you when you need it.

Challenge 3: Quoting a price: it is difficult to first ascertain what your true value is, and secondly, to quote a price. Though one should keep in mind the market rates, if you are damn good at your job people will pay a premium. Today MarketMyBook services aren’t cheap or competitive. We are proud to have a hundred percent strike rate with happy clients and thus quote a premium because we are the best in the business of book PR and marketing.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I work at MarketMyBook, a company I founded in 2013. 

Almost all major publishing houses publish hundreds of new titles every month. It’s humanly impossible for them to be well equipped to dedicate their marketing efforts to all their titles equally, as the same is driven by print runs and budgets.

That’s where MarketMyBook comes in. We give the required marketing support to books and writers that can do really well with a little more attention ! We focus primarily on publicity and digital marketing for publishers and writers.

I also run “Between the Lines”, which is a YouTube video/audio podcast that was launched during the first lockdown to provide an alternate space for writers to talk about their books. It has grown since then and while there’s been a slight gap, we will soon be back with the season 3 of the same. It has had tremendous reach and the questions are both from a personal as well as professional standpoint. The programme breaks away from the usual “why did you write this book” kind of conversations and gives a sneak peak into the personal lives and personalities of writers. 

There are operational problems related to day-to-day work with respect to team management, resource management etc. 

For our job of a publicity and marketing professional you need the following:

  • People management skills: as you are dealing with very bright, highly creative and emotional people
  • Patience: as marketing is all about timing things well. And what’s timed needs to be patiently rolled out.
  • Agility: Always be ahead of changing times. Keeping close watch of reader choices and changing market trends and changing your campaigns and plans to match it with the changing times, quickly.
  • Developing skills to execute plans well.

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day starts with a team call where we identify our goals for the day for every title. We reconvene in the afternoon over texts and calls to see where additional help from a colleague would be required to get a better response. During the day there are additional meetings with existing and future clients.

What do you love about your job?

The freedom to work on my terms and the ability to create jobs.

How does your work benefit society? 

If you love reading, publishing is the place to explore your career options as it gives you ample opportunities to do what you enjoy doing. Especially for marketers it can be extremely exciting and invigorating as no other industry has such a varied product line, with each book being unique.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Each of the several hundred writers I have worked with are close to my heart, so I can’t really pick one. But if I have to, I would say marketing Aravind Adiga’s “The White Tiger” was special as the campaign won an international award of excellence in marketing for this region; marketing Dr. Kalam’s two books will always be special for the enlightening conversations with him; marketing political biographies and books by Somnath Chatterjee and the more recent one called “The Rise of BJP” by Bhupender Yadav and Ila Pattnaik will always be memorable for the sheer energy that these seasoned politicians and achievers bring in, teaching you a lot about multitasking and focus; working with sports stars like Abhinav Bindra and Shoaib Akhtar will always be special for the sportsmans spirit that these stars bring to book marketing too! There are many more such names and the list would be very long if I continue as each has added something positive, the impression of which will remain till I’m alive.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Strive to be the best at what you do. As my dad often said, ‘Kaam dekh kar pehchaan honi chahiye ki kisne kiya’

Future Plans?

Continue to grow and strive to be the best at whatever I plan to do ☺