Amazon India and the country’s ebook readers should be on your radar. Why? Sheer numbers and more. India has about 1.3 billion people, adding nearly one birth each second. Over 2/3rds of the population is under 35. It is also a nation embracing technology as you may know if you’ve ever had a technical support call for a computer problem.
“Yeah, but they mostly speak Hindi,” you might say. True, but English is the official 2nd language and dominates in higher education, national media, the judicial system and high-end business. English is extremely common in India with approximately 125 million speakers. The number of English readers is likely to be 2nd only to the United States and may become the #1 English reading nation in about a decade.
What’s a good way to network with India’s ebook readers? Get to know some book bloggers. I recently had the pleasure of asking questions to two bloggers from India: Dhivya Balaji and Shree Janani Sundararajan (pictured respectively below) of http://readmuse.blogspot.in/ and http://thepensivephoenix.blogspot.in/.
Dhivya and Janani are engineers by profession and book lovers by passion! Working as a software engineer and automation engineer respectively, we decided to do something we feel passionate about! Our idea started as a blog and blossomed into a complete review portal and it grew wings in various pages across various social networks. We are also freelance editors. Our blog features book reviews, author interviews, guest posts, blog tours and personal blog posts related to books.
How do you choose which books to review?
Dhivya: We review all books that have been requested. But personal reads are usually reviewed if only we have something to say about it. Or if the authors send us their ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) and ask us to review, we do it. But mostly our preferences are based upon our favourite genres and popular books. Occasionally people ask us to review books and we oblige.
Janani: The plot, the writing and the popularity of the book are the main criteria. Otherwise I choose reviews based on request.
What goes into the decision?
Dhivya: First thing to look for is the summary of the book in its back cover. If the author can impress us in less than hundred words, most of the time the book could be interesting. But real sure fire ways are recommendations from friends and requests for reviews by blog readers, or authors.
Janani: I read the book back summary and decide if I should read the book. I then read the book and decide if it’s worth to be reviewed. If it is, I do it. My books are usually recommended by friends or are popular in the book lists or are ones that catch my eye. I vary my reading base and experiment various genres and review them if I like them.
(We initially started this blog by reviewing our favourite books. As a platform for expressing our views about books that we have read. But as time wore on, we started reviewing books based on author requests and reader requests. This is how our dynamic has changed).
Do you have a Kindle or e-reading device? What do you read mostly, print books or ebooks?
Janani: I prefer print books and never let a print book pass by without reading. But due to convenience issues, I do read e-books. They have slowly started gaining my respect and though I miss the feel of turning the pages, it is equally good to tap to turn pages! And the weight is less, too!
Dhivya: I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7”) that I use to read books. I have the Adobe Reader app and Aldiko e-Reader app to read PDF or ePub books respectively. I also use Kindle app for android.
What percentage of the books you read are in English? What percentage of those come from authors in the US or UK?
Dhivya: Almost ninety eight percent of books I read are in English. But sometimes I read books in my vernacular language. (On rare occasions, I read printed books in Tamil.) My favourite authors are from both US and UK. (Jeffrey Archer features in my shelf side by side with Jeffery Deaver and James Patterson.) But I started my reading habit with UK authors, and am a bit partial to them. But all these books are from authors of the old like Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton. My current favourites are US authors in terms of latest books.
Janani: I read only English books. I don’t differentiate between UK and US writers. I have never bothered to note that.
Which genres are most popular in India? Your personal favorite genres?
Janani: Romance seems to sell well apart from thrillers. My personal favourite is mystery, crime and thrillers.
Dhivya: Romantic comedies, thrillers and practical day to day sort of books seem to be popular in India. Books written by young authors and about casual stories are also hot cakes. See Chetan Bhagat and his writing style for further elaboration. My personal favourites could not be more different than the norm! I prefer thrillers, historical mystery books, medical thrillers and self narrated stories.
Where do you post reviews?
Dhivya: I post in our blog, in Amazon and my Goodreads page and any other forum if the author wishes so. (Only for the ARCs)
Janani: I post in our blog, my Goodreads page and Amazon.
Where do you get most of your books?
Janani: I usually get my books from my local library, as loan from friends, ARCs from writers and the local book shops.
Dhivya: I mostly buy my paperbacks second hand from a local bookshop (I have even penned down my experiences about this in the blog). If not, my second best source of books is loan from friends (my friend and co author of the blog is one main source!). The third source is Advanced Review Copies from authors, and finally, I try to acquire popular books online too.
How much is the Indian market embracing eBooks? Is Amazon the most popular source for online books in India? If not, tell us a bit about the others.
Dhivya: The Indian market has started gravitating towards eBooks. It has become fairly easier to read and more convenient to store many books in digital memory than carry paperbacks of the same titles! Also, the integration of reading apps in mobile devices means that you do not have to remember to carry the books with you! (How many times have I been frustrated after leaving a book back home, paused just in the most important point of the story? Nowadays that doesn’t happen!) Regarding retailers, Flipkart and Amazon seem to be doing well nowadays. (Amazon India, its advent was a real boon to Indians… They no longer have to worry about inflating dollar exchange rates!)
Janani: eBooks are catching up fast. Flipkart seems to be a major choice. After Amazon introduced Amazon India, people have started using it! The main reason being increasing dollar exchange rates. (Our answers are similar here because this is one thing we feel strongly about. And we are giving a fair market analysis based upon many experiences from our friends!)
What social media sites are most important to you?
Dhivya: Facebook, as it helps us promote our blog and spend our time with fellow readers of the world. Twitter (@ReadersMuse) because it gives us an opportunity to tweet our updates. Goodreads, since it helps us learn about new books and helps us connect with authors, and also keep track of the books we have read and are worth reading. Finally Google+ as it helps us connect with people in similar circles.
Janani: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads. These are platforms that give us a chance to be heard and for others a medium to contact us!
Is the “Indie author” revolution affecting India like it is in the US?
Janani: Indie authors aren’t exactly the most popular folks in India. The reason being really simple. Various writers prefer to be publish their books for a publishing house which means better marketing and sales of their books. The promotions are more professional and the reach of the book is better. To quote a personal experience, I reviewed about 8 books of Indian writers in last 6 months. 7 books were published by some publishing house. 1 was self-published. The writer of that book personally contacted me to review her book. That review got the maximum hits in our blog. Reason: She used to heavily for promos. But we found that the book could have been better packaged and publicized well if she had published it via a publishing house.
Dhivya: Indie authors are not quite popular with real book connoisseurs. And people who take books seriously. In our self experience, such books were not up to the standards. But the authors indulge in heavy promotions and though initial sales will be good, the book will not receive many recommendations. Therefore these are flares which burn bright but short.
What is the best way to request a review from you?
Dhivya: We give first preference to authors who send us paperbacks for review! It shows the dedication and the involvement of the author. We are also open to eBooks if this option is not possible. But the initial contact may be either via a personal message in Goodreads, or in our personal mail IDs or common ID. A comment/message in a Facebook page is also considered! But it must be noted that not all requests are turned to reviews (except for sent books. That time we make it a point to review it as soon as possible). And not all reviews are honey coated.
Janani: A PM in goodreads or a mail will do. Though I can’t assure I would give ‘good’ reviews or ratings! We would like to be point blank honest though we both have our own ways of putting things in perspective! We have a time constraint and try our best to review all books possible. But it is a tough task managing popular books, user requests, and author requests and juggling our freelance editing work in addition to our day time jobs. So we have a pipeline schedule for posting reviews and interviews. We are also open to participating in blog tours and that consumes time too!
What should US authors know about India that they might not know?
Dhivya: Authors from the US make some clearly unintentional mistakes. No one holds these against them unless they are downright offensive or way off the facts. But what they must understand is, India is a vast country and is the most culturally diverse country. What is common practice in the northern part of the country will be a rare chance in the southern parts and vice versa. We also have many languages and many dialects coexisting in the single geographical area. Hearing about the country from a third person or even seeing one part of the country will not reflect on the rest of the nation or its people! Much like how an Indian will not be able to understand the nuances of US or the difference between California and New York, US authors must accept that Chennai is different from Delhi. (Plus there are the linguistic differences).
Finally, credit must be given to the technical advancement of the country. With the advent of computers and smart phones, and jobs across borders, Indians have started understanding and appreciating other cultures and are pruning their age old practices. This is, sadly, not noted by authors based in US. Regarding the market in India for their books, long drawn action books, or books with all blood and gore and very less story will never work well. What work best are books with more story and facts placed in the right order!
Janani: Showing India in a bad light or putting down things without verifying them will not help. Too much of boring action sequences or sci-fi stuff doesn’t see that well.
Thank you, Dhivya and Janani. I learned a lot from your responses and hope to hear from more India bloggers and readers. Please leave comments below.