Saturday, May 19, 2007

How to pen a best seller?

Recently I read 3 books which have been on the New York Times bestseller list. All 3 have been authored by Ben Mezrich and all of them are nice quick reads, but nothing so fantastic as to be a must read for everyone. But reading his three books I sure can make out a formula for penning these best sellers. (though they are classified as non fiction, I am sure one can write fiction with the same formula) The books:

  1. Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions
  2. Ugly Americans : The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions
  3. Busting Vegas : The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees

Have some of the critical ingredients, like smart Ivy League students from a middle class back ground, all of whom might have struggled hard to make through to MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Yale. All of these with a engineering, computer science or mathematics as a major. the main protagonist is invariably a hard working smart guy (Kevin Lewis is the half Asian Black Jack whiz who can count cards, Seymon who is a son of Russian immigrants has techniques much more powerful than card counting and brings down Casinos around the world, John Malcolm is a son of a working class mother who goes to Princeton on a football scholarship, and moves to Japan to trade derivatives on the Osaka exchange)

The second major ingredient is money, and lots of it. Betting worth a few hundred thousand dollars on Black Jack, or arbitraging the volatile Asian derivative markets for a few hundred million. Come on every one is interested in making money. The more the better.

The third ingredient is the underworld. Come on, the main protagonist has to be in danger for his life (else the book wouldn’t be interesting, the risks taken by him would be trivial) From the casino bosses in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to the Japanese Underworld the Yakuza. Guns, beaten up people, death threats. Surely it gives cheap thrills to the readers.

The fourth ingredient is sex. (by far the most important one) In the book, throw in references about Lap Dancing in Vegas, strip clubs, Geisha bars in Tokyo, prostitutes, and surely it will get lot of people interested in the content. And I am not counting alcohol and drug abuse. Come on they are now expected to be there every where.

This combination surely doesnt fail. For most Americans (Ben Mezrich's target audience) would have aspirations. Every one would wish to go to MIT (or Princeton or Harvard or Yale ... for that matter even CalTech and Stanford) . If they were already not there, then at least wished they were there or wish their children will be there. Again every one would want to make money. The idea of smart middle class bunch making easy money compared to the big bosses who control the casinos or the mafia surely seems fair. And add to that, people buying Ferraris and Ducatis and rolling in cash, lights up the imagination of readers. The underworld being portrayed as the bad guys. Come on, this is the oldest formula right from the Hindi Movies. The essence of a good story is a powerful villain. Imagine Ramayana without Ravana (or even Kaikeyi) or Shakespeares Merchant of Venice without Shylock. Damn there would be no story. And coming to sex, need I say anything? the thriving pornographic industry, tells us that there is a market out there. Show me some one who wouldn’t be interested in those high class hookers, with sculpted bodies and experienced in the most exotic forms of carnal pleasures and I will show you some one who has a difficulty in expressing their inner thoughts. Deep down inside most people are perverts and though not many have the courage to do so, (damn those moral, ethical, and social dilemmas) every one would want to be in that position, and surely would nt mind that in form of entertainment. (print or electronic media)

This surely makes me think about writing a book. So what if the American market is big, the Indians with 1 billion are an even bigger audience. With rising incomes and aspirations, more and more will be reading such books about other middle class people who made it big, in the bad bad world. Similarly other authors have written about the Big Bad world of Investment Banks (Monkey Business, Liars Poker ) I am sure now there is a market out there for Desis. I am not sure when would i write some thing, and even more skeptical if any publisher would be in their right frame of mind to publish the trash that I dish out, but then hope is ever eternal. Also I am sure one of these best sellers would surely leave me with enough royalties to retire.
Hopefully in the Bahamas.

On another note even Chetan Bhagat followed a similar formula for 5 point some one. Middle class boys going to IIT Delhi. There is not much money involved but the villain is the head of the Mechanical Engineering department, and there is a short love story with the main protagonist and the villains daughter and smoking grass, drinking vodka on the roof the hostel. I dunno about One Night @ The Call Center (link), but I am sure though most Indians are employed in Call Centers (after agriculture and shopkeepers I am sure Call Centers are the third largest employers in India) no one aspires to be a call center employee. Damn when did you read a book on life of a grocery store owner? (though most people, Gujarati Banyas especially end up becoming one).

That way I am a little late. In this day and age everything is electronic, and some one has beaten me to this idea by having a blog on this. Leveraged Sellout is written by a Princeton graduate who ends up in the M&A division of Goldman Sachs in New York.

Thats true we all are selling dreams. I hope I can sell some more. Surely there is a market for the story of a Middleclass Gujarati of conservative Brahminical upbringing in the fixed income division in a Bank in the City of London :)


Neeti said...

you like every other blogger too wanna write a book... You've hope, after all Opal Mehta... did get published!!! But do you have the time for it???

MODIfied said...

Hi dildo,


Nirav Kanodra said...

@Neeti, only time will tell whether i have the time or not

@Muli abbe naam mera Nirav hai, nevertheless thanks for visiting my blog