Trade books aren’t necessities so it’s all about creating demand for them
Avanija Sundaramurti, head – Marketing and Consumer Insight, Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt Ltd. As the head of the marketing team at Hachette India, Avanija Sundaramurti is responsible for planning and execution of the end-to-end marketing strategy for all Hachette books published in India which includes publicity, social media, co-op with retail, advertising across channels and events. From starting her career acquiring books as a commissioning editor at Penguin India over 10 years ago to her switch to marketing books, it’s been quite a journey for this alumna of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
Q: What do you like most about your work?
Avanija: One of the great things about publishing is that each book is a new project and is in many ways a blank slate – your marketing plans have to be tailored to it. In other industries companies have a limited catalogue of products in a year which are often models of the same product. In a book publishing company, each book is different, the author is different, the appeal is different and to take all these hundreds of books to shelves and then into hands of readers is a role with few parallels. You can’t get bored, there is a lot of room to experiment, and at least for me, it’s a real treat because I am a total bookworm. Working with a product that I love – books – is a reward in and of itself. Specifically, one of the reasons I love my role at Hachette India is that we have spectacular authors both globally and in India. Getting to work on marketing books by authors like J.K. Rowling or John Grisham or Anuradha Roy or Roopa Pai is a privilege and a treat.
Q: What do you aim while marketing books?
Avanija: Book marketing is all about creating demand. Trade books aren’t necessities in the strictest sense and so one has to create interest and curiosity about them. It’s about connecting book buyers to books that might interest them and then nudging them to read through different channels. Each book appeals to a different kind of readership so finding those niche readers and getting the book in front of them is the main focus that animates our work.
Q: As a leader you believe in…?
Avanija: Attitude is everything. The importance of your skills change with time – how an industry evolves and other market forces will decide how important or unimportant those skills are and you can always learn new skills to perform better at your role or skill yourself for a different role. But your attitude towards your work, towards learning, your career, peers and stakeholders and on an emotional and moral level – your attitude towards integrity, towards success and failure, and how you define your work ethic, these are the things that actually define your career and your reputation.
Q: How do you motivate your team?
Avanija: My team is small and very-tightly knit. I think just the fact that we all work closely together ensures that motivation is actually a continuous process and not a deliberate act. We communicate very freely and every ‘win’ is celebrated and every ‘miss’ is dissected. I’m generally someone who focuses on positives and tries to get people to play on their strengths instead of harping on their weaknesses. I am always honest with my team and I’m very supportive. When you are working with people who are just a few years into their career, you have to have their back and allow them to try and sometimes to fail. Whether it was Ravi Singh who was Editor-in-Chief at Penguin when I joined & who was my first boss or Thomas Abraham, MD of Hachette India now, I’ve always had great bosses who gave me a lot of responsibility and set a high bar but who also gave me a lot of support. I try to do the same for those who report to me.
Q: What are the challenges you face in your profession?
Avanija: The publishing industry is going through some challenges with the shrinking of retail space for books. This is a key concern area because as publishers focus on consumer communication, it’s going to become essential to also have a sustained retail presence for every book to reinforce that messaging. With bookstores shutting down or stores devoting less space to books, getting books displayed in stores across the country for a substantial period of time is a serious challenge. The other challenge is simply the overcrowding of the publishing space – there are so many new books coming out every day from different publishers that it is a serious fight for consumer eyeballs and attention as well as shelfspace in stores.
Each book has its own target audience. Hachette publishes books for little children (board books) to Colouring Books for adults, to award winning novels to blockbuster business books and each of these books reaches a different reader.
Q: Your favourite hobby?
Avanija: I’m a pretty good baker and I dabble with art & design (sometimes its watercolours, sometimes its playing around with digital art, sometimes its colouring books).