Kiss the Frog: Preethi Nair
Faced with a lack of interest in her debut book, Preethi Nair did the less than obvious - set up her own publishing company, create an alter ego and keep the whole thing a secret from friends and family. It worked.
Most aspiring authors suffer frustration in their first attempts to get published. The majority of publishing houses receive around 100 book manuscripts a week, with a hefty chunk of these hastily returned to their disappointed creators with a ‘thanks but no thanks’ note attached.
JK Rowling and Roald Dahl are among the famous literary names to have their work pulped before it was published. Persistence is a vital trait in any budding wordsmiths, with genuine talent often only shining through with the aid of a dollop of elbow grease.
While tales of such tenaciousness are not unusual, the story of Preethi Nair most certainly is. Frustrated at being rejected by publishers after giving up her job as a management consultant to become a writer, Preethi took extraordinary steps to ensure her book, Gypsy Masala, hit the shops.
Not having enough money for a PR agency, Preethi set up her own publishing company in her bedroom and ‘hired’ Pru Menon to hype the book. Pru, however, was a figment of Preethi’s imagination, an alter ego used to give her publishers the appearance of respectability.
Preethi created a second double life for herself by pretending to her potentially disapproving parents that she still worked as a management consultant. She would leave the house in the morning and return in the evening, as if she’d completed a full day’s work.
“I couldn’t call up journalists and say I’m Preethi Nair, I have a fantastic book by Preethi Nair which you must read,” she explains. “I didn’t want to tell friends or family as it seemed a ludicrous idea and as long as I didn’t voice it, it didn’t sound so ridiculous.
“I also believe that the less you talk about an idea and just get on and do it, the more possibility it has of working because no-one doubts you and ultimately you are unable to doubt yourself.”
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Through the efforts of Pru, who was bizarrely shortlisted for Publicist of the Year, Preethi gained press coverage of her book, which was published using the money the budding author had earmarked for a deposit on a flat. But Preethi’s problems were not entirely behind her.
“Things went wrong that I could not possibly account for,” she says. “My first print run came back with a page missing a week before the launch date.
“There was no way the printer could print and bind books so I asked him to print and courier down 3,000 copies of page 179 and I sat prit sticking the pages day and night just so the books went out to the journalists on time.
“There were no books in stores as I had overlooked the whole distribution chain – I didn’t realise that the big publishers had sales reps who sell in titles at least six months in advance of publication.
“I had no such force so I literally had to go door to door and plead store managers to stock my title.”
Bizarrely, the fuel crisis of 2000 also threatened Preethi’s fledgling literary career, with the lack of petrol due to protests stopping vans delivering her books in their tracks.
Despite this, Preethi managed, through Pru, appearances at book fairs and begging book store owners, to get Gipsy Masala on sale and in the public consciousness.
Going through these hardships have paid off for Preethi – she’s now signed up to top publisher HarperCollins and has released a number of titles, such as Beyond Indigo and 100 Shades of White.
Aside from a BBC radio presenter remarking that she sounded remarkably like Pru, Preethi’s double life was somehow maintained up to the point where she didn’t need to lie any more.
“I am not deceitful by nature, but circumstances were such that I couldn’t be any other way,” she says.
So what would Preethi’s advice be to someone caught in her situation, other than create an alter ego and attend a phantom job to maintain the deceit?
“Believe in your work,” she advises. “Find an agent, exhaust all possibilities before going down the self-publishing route as it guarantees no success.
“If you decide to self-publish, do as much research as possible.”