What Makes Sudha Murty Tick? | Bookselling Reimagined

Ajay Jain, founder of Kunzum, with Sudha Murty

“Sudha Murty will be visiting Kunzum. Tomorrow morning.”

After requesting sessions with the popular author from the day we set up Kunzum, the publishers finally confirmed her visit – the afternoon before the day she was available. One of the most important events for us, and we had only one evening to have everything in place. How will we do it?

Turned out to be a frantic afternoon. Invites took time to design – word could go out only after four. Parallelly, we rushed team members to our other stores and publisher warehouses to pick as many books of hers that we could. Fingers stayed crossed till the time of the event; we did not want the embarrassment of any empty house.

How was the audience turnout? Beyond our imagination. There was no standing room in Theatre Kunzum; we counted attendance of over 125.

We have had other popular authors visit Kunzum, but none have attracted such a crowd unless the hosts had invited their larger circle of friends and acquaintances (some of whom can out of a sense of obligation rather than any literary fervour). Other interactions had been promoted for days, or weeks – they may have had a full house but not a frenzied one.

Fans of Sudha Murty at Kunzum’s GK2 outlet in New Delhi. We have two floors dedicated for events and branded THEATRE KUNZUM.

What makes Sudha Murty tick in a way no other author does in India? Other than Bollywood-linked stars like Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi and Gulzar, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a name as popular as Ms. Murty. What could be the reasons? The product (a.k.a. the books she writes)? The marketing? Her charming personality? Her oratory skills? The children (who she writes for) more prone to hero-admiration?

I would not agree with those who would credit her pedigree – the family billions, the Infosys / Murty name, the political connect in the UK. While these can make you known, and attract the curious or the favour-seekers, it cannot generate the genuine love and warmth the fans express for her. You have to have that extra in you. In any case, there are many an author who do not lack for wealth and fame, but they may still not generate such a buzz.

And this is where publishers and their authors need to reflect. What are they missing in marketing and personal branding? Why can’t those with excellent books to their credit, having likeable personas, and resources for marketing attract such adulation? Sudha Murty may have her privileges and advantages, but others have their own. Let’s give credit where it is due.

It is time for publishers to show greater ambition and imagination – the industry needs more heroes to popularise reading.