Let us join hands to welcome R.T. Manu Ramesh, author of the book – The Sales Room.
BNI: Tell us something about yourself and your background.
MR: I grew up changing schools every few years as my dad was in a transferable job. I completed my undergraduate degree in 2006 specializing in Mechanical Engineering following which I worked at Dell-Perot Systems as a software engineer for two years. I then switched to a sales role and continued my climb up the corporate totem pole. I worked for a software product start-up for three years and played a part in its expansion in India. I moved to the bay area after that to work for a midsized IT services firm. This book was authored during a six-month sabbatical taken before I headed to the US.
BNI: So, What all you have written / published till date?
MR: “The Sales Room” was the first time I decided to write and followed through. I grew up reading a great deal and the thought of writing a book always intrigued me but never got down to writing one.
BNI: What inspired you to write your first book and or this book?
MR: I had spent about three years working for a software start-up. One evening over a cuppo with a friend, I joked that I could write a novel about a failing software start-up. This innocuous statement got him interested and he insisted that the idea was unique. I dismissed the thought, as I had never written before. However, after some introspection I chose to spend the few months writing full time. My family was extremely supportive of my endeavour, which helped.
BNI: A 30 word tagline for your book
MR: “The Sales Room” is hilarious journey through the topsy-turvy world of software start-ups. The narrative is informal and feels like a conversation. The characters are lifelike.
BNI: How did you come up with the title?
MR: “The Sales Room” is the room in the swanky Oregon office out of which the salespeople work. Apart from being the place for checking mail, making calls and performing chores, this room doubles up as the scene of office gossip, politics and banter. The plot unfolds in this room and hence the title.
BNI: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
MR: The book has a little in it for readers from all backgrounds, nationalities and professions thanks to the humor and cultural idiosyncrasies that have been woven seamlessly into the plot. Those working in the corporate world will relate the anecdotes to the rigmarole of their day-to-day life. International readers will appreciate the funny side of life in India. For the rest it’s a story that will tickle their funny bone.
BNI: Who is your favourite and least favourite character? What makes them so?
MR: The ‘Vastu Man’ is an interesting addition. His cameo is entertaining and unique, as only a company in India would consider Vastu to be the panacea during its downward spiral.
Sonal , the pretty girl in the marketing team is a fun character who comes into the picture at the end of the book. I retrospect I should have given her a more prominent role by facilitating an early entry into the plot.
BNI: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?MR: The main character is Rajesh Iyer who humorously narrates the story. He is single GenY male and an ambitious salesperson. He recounts the story of Oregon Software Technology and his futile efforts at damage control.
BNI: What was the hardest and easiest thing about your latest release?
MR: I realized that writing a humorous work is quiet challenging. It becomes particularly so when you read it over and over again while editing the book. A passage that seemed funny when it was conceived all of sudden ceases to be so. This often caused me panic attacks as I began to wonder if it was because I was had read it several times or because it just wasn’t funny. I was pretty relieved when readers unanimously endorsed the humor.
The novel was based in a milieu that I was familiar with. The plot is based in Bangalore that is a city in which I grew up. A story revolved round a startup and its sales team. The fact that I had worked as a salesperson most of my career made the rendition simple.
BNI: Share some interesting story about the book writing/cover development.
MR: The first draft was completed in four months. During the process I was affected by writers block that fortunately lasted for just four frustrating days at the end of which it disappeared as suddenly as it manifested itself. The process of getting the draft proof read took two months. I had to wait for two years before I could find a publisher.
BNI: Is there a message in your book/novel that you want readers to grasp?
MR: There are two messages that the book alludes to. The first is that those at the helm of companies have to listen to their teams and take into consideration their perspectives. Employees of all ranks will have inputs that are unique and can impact the performance of the organization as a whole. The second is that one of the most important traits of an entrepreneur is integrity. Start-ups don’t have checks and balances in place and founder’s rectitude is not negotiable.
BNI: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions or similar events? Any plans in relation to this book?
MR: I am planning on a book signing soon.
BNI: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
MR: I welcome inputs from readers and often reach out to them proactively. As I have mentioned earlier the humor has received unanimous appreciation. The other interesting observation is that they believe the entire book feels like a conversation and hence not a drag.
BNI: When and how did you decide to become a writer? Do you write full-time or part- time?
MR:I decided to be a writer after a chat with my friend during the coffee meeting which I have spoken about. I took a six month sabbatical to author‘The Sales Room’.
BNI: Which writers inspire you?
MR: Joseph Heller , Richard Crasta, Salman Rushdie, George Orwell
BNI: What draws you to this genre?
MR: Many of the books I like are funny . I believe humor is a great way of getting a serious message across.
BNI: According to you, What is the hardest thing about writing?
MR: Keeping the momentum going for days at a stretch. Ensuring you draw from your reserves and weave several ideas into the central theme without seeming to drift.
BNI: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
MR: I would like to ‘The Sales Room’ to become a popular novel. I think it has the potential to become a movie as well. I have a couple of other ideas that could become interesting reads. I am not sure if I would have the time to pursue these ideas. However, both of these ideas have very little to do with startups and sales and hence belong to a totally different genre altogether.
BNI: What has been the toughest criticism and best compliment to you, as an author?
MR: The humor has received unanimous praise. Some readers have observed that the book takes a serious turn in the last chapter. Since they enjoyed the humor they wanted it to carry on till the end.
BNI: What will be your one favorite tip to get through the writer’s block
MR: Plenty of coffee although you risk an acidity in the process. Reading your favourite author’s book. If both don’t work take short a break and stop thinking about the book for a while.
BNI: What are your thoughts on book series? Would you like to have one for your latest book?
MR: While a book series can be interesting it is essential for the author to ensure he lives up to the expectations created by the first book in the series. There have been instances like with I Robert Ludlum’s Borne Identity when I enjoy the book so much that I avoid reading the sequels as I am afraid it will dilute the experience. I have no sequels planned for ‘The Sales Room’.
BNI: Any advice for writers budding or established?
MR: It is important to be original and authentic as it comes across when one reads the book. Stick to your gut. Consider the inputs of other but remember you have the power to veto. Always try to write when you are in a state of inspiration.
BNI: Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
MR: As this is the first book I have written I had to endure a frustrating wait until ‘The Sales Room’ saw the light of day. I had to ensure I take rejection in my stride and not let it cloud my judgment vis-à-vis the book.
BNI: What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?
MR: The chapter ‘Marketing team Quits’ was my favorite. Writing this chapter was a fun exercise, as I had to radically change my style. I had to sound like the well-read and suave Girish Reddy and not the boisterous Rajesh Iyer. I was amused when some readers of the readers thought that chapter had been ghost written.
BNI: Did you learn anything from writing your book? What was it?
MR: I learnt that I had the ability to write a two hundred-page novel. This is significant as the closest I had come to writing was the random musings I put down in my dairy. I realized that nothing that I have read is a waste be it classic or a phantom comic. All material serves as arsenal that can find a place in the narration.
BNI: What do you think about – What does your protagonist think about you?
MR: While Rajesh Iyer is a figment of my imagination there are certain idiosyncrasies he shares with me. He is extremely fussy about his coffee. He is out spoken.
BNI: How about a snippet from your book that is meant to intrigue and tantalize us?
For many people across the world a candle is a romantic symbol. It conjures up an image of a fine restaurant, a romantic evening, a bottle of expensive wine, the company of a soul mate of the opposite or same sex and finally, the prospect of having sex. The sex could be a fall into any of the categories — plain vanilla sex, break up sex, makeup sex, Bondage and Discipline (B&D), Sadism and Masochism (S&M), Dominance and submission (D&S). However for most people in India, a candle would bring back memories of terrible nights when power cuts made life living hell. For the geeks, it would be the night the power cut caused them to score two marks less than their only other geek friend, who did not incidentally experience power cut. Damn it!! Murphy’s laws. The dim light of the candle would have distracted the geeks momentarily causing them to miss problem number 5 on page 321 (boy, I usually never got to page 321), the very same problem which appeared as a two mark question. For others, the candles would trigger memories of that sleepless summer night. Sleepless, not because they were having sex all night, but because the power cut had left them swatting the ubiquitous mosquitoes which descended on them, smacking their lips as they looked at their sumptuous dinner. The reasons for these power cuts are the classic third world issues: the perennial shortage of power, the inept government officials, the odd thunderstorm, the transformer next door which gave out sparks and exploded all of a sudden.
On the positive side, the frequent power cuts or rather the not so frequent power supply provided a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs to demonstrate their creative genius. Candles were always in demand from people of every socio economic background because of which the candle industry flourished. When I say candles, I refer to the thin, white, odourless pencil shaped ones, not the multicoloured, heart shaped, scented ones which come in every imaginable colour, be it ocean blue, salmon pink, mild lavender or polka dotted and when placed in toilets makes our poop smell nice. The scented candles are a luxury an Indian could do without. She/he is accustomed to the omnipresent stench of shit and piss on the streets, so smelling it in the toilet, where these bodily wastes rightly belong, isn’t such a big deal. The more affluent invested in kerosene lamps, torch lights and another contraption termed emergency lights. The last one was a glorified torch light except that it gave out bright white light instead of the dull yellow one. It is ironical that it was called an emergency light as it was used most of the time. It would be more apt to call the regular light the emergency light and the emergency light the regular light! And finally people selling Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) and generators aggressively targeted the really wealthy. They had their sales pitches ready “You will always have power.
Your fans, TVs, grinders, microwaves, hair straighteners, hair curlers and vibrators will almost always work. You will forget what darkness is. You will never have to think ‘Oops! Did I hit the save button’.”
Of late, owing to a combination of the power shortage in India, the furore about global warming and the fear of having to swim for our lives carrying a male and female of each species, generating power by eco friendly means and selling it to the government proved to be a very lucrative business model. The methods to generate the power were several. The simple, time tested hydro power, where the kinetic energy of water falling from a height ran a turbine, inundating large swathes of land in the process and providing plenty of grist to Arundhati Roy’s mill. Wind power, which involved erecting gigantic fans which gyrated to the blowing winds. Solar power, which captured the abundant energy emanating from the sun using mirrors and lenses. Many of these companies, flush with funds from the US Venture Capital (VC) firms, were run by enterprising, young, Indians who had graduated from US B Schools and knew how to navigate the corrupt Indian political system. The companies saw impressive growth and what they experienced was considered just the tip of the iceberg. Two such companies were AUM Power and Olive Green Power. Oregon was wooing these companies, trying really hard to squeeze itself into their supply chain.
BNI: What are your expectations for the book?
MR: I am hoping it will be a popular novel and a major motion picture .
BNI: Do you think book cover an important role in sales?
MR: Absolutely. The cover is the book in a nutshell. It should not only summarize the content of the book but should capture its mood as well.
BNI: According to you, what is the top most advantage / disadvantage of self publishing?MR:
Advantages: It is an empty canvas. The book need not be modified as per the whims and fancies of an editor. All writers may not have my good fortune; my editor was very co-operative editor and discussed his inputs at length before effecting the changes. A self published book can be published the day it is completed and edited.
Disadvantages: Getting the book to various brick and mortar and online stores can be a challenge. Publishers are well networked in this ecosystem. Good publishers come with in house editors and designers thereby improving the quality of the end product. If a book has been vetted by publishing house it serves as an endorsement of its quality.
BNI: ebook, pdf, mobi, kindle or printed hardcover book, what’s your pick?
MR:Printed hard cover book ( call me old school).
Dear Ramesh, many thanks for accepting to be interviewed and taking out time to address the interview questions. Books News India wishes you the best for the success of your book.