Tete-a-Tete with Divyansh Mundra - A self-made author with many titles on Amazon

Why approach publishers when you can publish your own book? Divyansh Mundra’s self published book ‘The Secrets of Himalayan Treasure’ had crossed names like Chetan Bhagat, Amish, Dan Brown and JK Rowling in Amazon’s best sellers list. In this interview he shares his insights about how he marketed his own book.

Tete-a-Tete with Divyansh Mundra - A self-made author with many titles on Amazon

'Gangs of Bombay' and 'The Secret of Himalyan Treasure' is a crisp, amoral, intriguing work of Divyansh Mundra- a debut author but that doesn’t take away from the energy and wit that propels this immensely likeable books. Describing his writing process as gradual, he talks about  how budding authors can pave their own path with self-publishing and what encourages a CA enthusiast to publish his own books, write fictional crossovers and be a Quora top writer.

In my interview with Divyansh, he mentions writers like Savi Sharma, who inspired him to write and Dan Brown who has been a major source of inspiration. He was his candid best revealing how his Quora following helped him to get his books on Amazon's best seller list just beside J.K.Rowling and Dan Brown and how he proclaims to have invented the genre of 'fictional crossovers'.

What stirred the writer inside you?
I loved to dream up stories ever since I was young but never took it seriously. By the time I was 18, I started writing on the American Q&A platform called Quora for fun. As I shared more of my fictional tales there, saw my articles going viral on the internet, and started gaining a great following; the writer in me just wasn’t stirred but shaken and woken up with a jolt.

What convinced you to choose the unconventional path of self-publishing on Kindle than the traditional method in publishing?
Traditional publishers take an enormous time to revert to your mails if they ever do. Going through an agent is a way but there are many scammers who wait for gullible debutants and make them sign contracts with an absurd amount of terms. I spoke to Savi Sharma, the highest selling Indian woman author of last year, who had self-published her first book too and she inspired me and since I already had thousands of followers for my writings on Quora, I was more keen to self-publish, since I knew where my readers would come from.

How was the journey from a Quora Top Writer- turned- self-published author to actually getting an offer from publishers?
Gradual. I started out writing early on Quora and took over three years to build a following. Quora was the petri-dish where I played with my words and experimented with my fiction. Being read by millions gave me that confidence to self-publish on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). When the sales took off immediately and my first novel ‘Secret of the Himalayan Treasure’ got into the ‘Top 10 Selling’ titles on Amazon, I knew that it’d only be a matter of time before I would get the book out in paperbacks.

Tell us about the marketing strategy that you used for your book.
Social Media. I’m proud to not have shed a single rupee in ads or paid reviews. Since I built an organic following on Quora, I didn’t have to try to advertise much because the thousands of people on that platform were already aware about my writings and my stories and they became a part of my journey. I interact a lot with my readers and followers, sometimes replying to messages for hours, and that engagement really paid off. I also did book trailers, videos of myself, question sessions etc. which helped with the online visibility.

Tell us about the famous fictional crossovers of Divyansh Mundra, like Jack Sparrow meets Chandler Bing, Sheldon meets Sherlock etc.
Haha The ‘fictional crossover’ is a genre which I proclaim to have invented. These are short conversational pieces about two or more characters from different fictional universes. The first viral piece I penned was ‘Sherlock meets The Joker’. Followed it up with characters like Harvey Specter, Tony Stark, Sheldon Cooper, Chandler Bing, Tyrion Lannister etc. The Fictional Crossovers brought me my initial following and mild internet fame. You can find them at FICTIONVERSE

How would you define thriller as a genre and what avenues have you found that works best in your genre?
It is the best of genres, and it is the worst of genres. In the end, it all boils down to your stories. If you can pull off engaging tales with a fast pace and insane twists, you’re golden. Fortunately, both of my novels ‘Secret of the Himalayan Treasure’ and ‘Gangs of Bombay’; adventure-thriller and a crime-thriller respectively, have been received really well by the readers. The best thing which works here is to ensure an insane twist at the end which will make your readers hold their heads and leave their jaws dropping to the floor.

How does publishing your first book change the process of writing?
I think writing is an ever growing process. The more you write, the more it evolves. Since I have now been writing fiction online for over 4 years, my writing has changed like anything (and it still is evolving). Due to my expertise in those fictional crossovers, my dialogue writing improved by leaps and bounds. But given the quick nature of writing on the internet, I felt my character descriptions needed working when I started penning novels. It was a great challenge, and I think I nailed this aspect with my second novel, Gangs of Bombay.

What was your early experience where you learnt language had power?
I couldn’t even pique the interest of my siblings with my stories when I was growing up; have over 15 million views for my writing today and visitors from over 50 countries on my fiction blog. That’s the power of language for you, right there.

Tell me a quirky tip in writing.
I’m a fan of writing action scenes and battles are my favourites. Whenever I would think up an action scene like a face-off with assassins in Secret of the Himalayan Treasure or a gang-war in Gangs of Bombay, I would play a single song and make a music video out of the sequence in my head. Eg. the Prologue of Gangs of Bombay deals with the protagonist entering into the biggest nightclub of Mumbai with his gang and storming it down to hunt a rival gangster. So I played ‘Whatever it Takes’ by Imagine Dragons on a loop for a week and made a music video out of the gang-skirmish— matching the fires, the bullets, the chases, and the drama to the beats. A 2-minute video provides enough content for 10 pages and you just have to pen down what you’ve been imagining.

What do you look for when you proofread your own written work?
Make sure that ‘their’ isn’t written as ‘there’ and ‘then’ isn’t written as ‘than’.

‘Selling your book is harder than writing your book’. Elaborate.
Since publishing with mediums like KDP is so easy now, every other guy with a story can be a writer in a few days. So when it comes to selling the book, you’re not just competing with beginners like yourself but established giants who sell more in a day than what you might in a month. As a storyteller, writing is the easiest task for me. But when it comes to selling? Every time my book crosses those of names like Chetan Bhagat or Amish Tripathi or Dan Brown or JK Rowling in the rankings on Amazon, I cry.

What inspired you to become a novelist and who are your favourite authors?
When I realised that people whom I have never met on the internet are loving the awesome stories that I weave in my head, I was more than inspired to write novels. Dan Brown is a favourite, who was my inspiration for Secret of the Himalayan Treasure, along with Ashwin Sanghi. For Gangs of Bombay, I sought inspiration from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, along with the British TV series Peaky Blinders. Sir AC Doyle, Tolkien, Rowling, Tripathi, Devdutt Pattnaik… every writer brings a different flavour with their stories. Everyone’s my favourite.

How has writing changed you as a person?
My parents are deeply spiritual and I’ve been asked to meditate since I was 5. But in the past few years I’ve realised that writing is my meditation. It has made me more aware, given me confidence which I never had, and pulled me out of my little shell of comfort to give me an identity. It’s a sacred ritual for me.

 What are your books about?

1.Secret of the Himalayan Treasure is the biggest Treasure Hunt set in India. A blood-pumping, keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seats adventure thriller about the oldest secret society in the world, slew of ancient puzzles, a mystery spread across South Asia, and a treasure chase that brings a nation to halt.

2.Gangs of Bombay is the story of brilliant IIT-B grads, who tank their million dollar startup and turn to selling drugs to pay off their debts. It’s when they apply their startup strategies to expand their drug empire like a startup, that they realise that they can be gods. What happens when they interact with the 5 historic gangs of Bombay? It’s a gritty crime-thriller with twists & action that would make readers  turning pages.

Some tips to pitch your book to publishers?
Don’t beat around the bush and get to the point. At this time, you don’t have to convince them that you’re the best writer in the world, but prove that what you’ve written would sell. The first novel which I wrote was an epic-fantasy tale— a brilliant work which I started writing after binge-watching Game of Thrones, but it never heard from publishers because the epic-fantasy market for Indian authors is non-existent. After publishing on Kindle, I approached publishers with my book’s sales figures and the number of my followers on Quora, and I heard back from most. Publishers chase work which would sell, that’s it. The piousness for literature, unfortunately, doesn’t hold for new authors generally if their marketing teams think it won’t sell.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
The biggest names of the literary world buy their own books in bulk to come on the top in the Bestselling charts as soon as their books release. #1 on the shelf = more eyeballs after all.

What are your current reads and who according to you is the most understated author or book?
Current reads - How To Get Published In India by Meghna Pant (recommended for debutants) and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (recommended for peeps who dig thick books).

You’ve been writing about treasure hunts and secret societies. Is it similar to Dan Brown series? And what amount of research goes into it?
I won’t say it’s similar, but Secret of the Himalayan Treasure is a great treasure hunt story which India deserves. Dan Brown’s plot is formulaic but his strength is in penning descriptions— the churches, the buildings, the architecture etc. Since most of my readers are picking up novels for the first time, that’s the stuff that would bore them to death. So I have crafted my stories in a way where the plot moves at a breathtaking pace and won’t give you a breather till you’re 5 chapters down. Lace it with insane plot-twists and the beautiful history of our nation (which requires more than a Google search to research), and you have a thriller which is hard to put down.

How does it feel to have over 15 million views on Quora and over 200 reviews on Amazon on your debut novel with rankings in the Amazon Bestseller lists along with J.K.Rowling, Chetan Bhagat and Arthur Conan Doyle?
Humbled. It’s all been possible because of my awesome followers from Quora. In fact, I dedicated my first book to them.

What is Divyansh beyond being a Quora writer, novelist and an analyst?
A dreamer. Nah! That’s a cliche. He’s just a normal guy, who has more awesome stories to write and aspires to be among the biggest names in the world of Indian literature. Currently, he is on a hunt to catch the attention of some of the biggest publishing houses of the country for his second book, Gangs of Bombay, which in his opinion, is the most amazing thriller that the world has seen.

How would you define your literary success?
I won’t say I have achieved that yet. Miles to go before I sleep… or celebrate.

Give us 3 ‘good-to-know’ facts about you.
~ I locked myself in my hostel room for the last 30-days of writing Secret of the Himalayan Treasure.
~ I wrote most of Gangs of Bombay on my phone, because I was preparing for my CA Final exams and couldn’t take out my laptop before parents. Thankfully I cleared that group and Gangs of Bombay was received incredibly well when I published it on Kindle, so it was a win-win.
~ I have been hit on by more girls on the Internet then the other way.

What are your tips for aspiring authors?
Don’t think that your first work will be your magnum opus so you have to nourish it and craft it like you’re making a baby. No. Write. Write. And write some more. Self-publish your first book and you’ll learn about the art of selling which you won’t if you get traditionally published. Leverage the power of internet and build a following for your writings. Share your Quotes on Instagram, write your fiction on Quora or Wattpad, and gain visibility. Don’t rely on publishers to spot you from the slush-pile of mails that they get. Get out and try stuff— write, publish, market, repeat.

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