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Amish Tripathi: I have enough story ideas to keep myself busy for the next twenty years

Author Amish Tripathi’s family background gave him the material for writing his books, while his education and work experience helped him market them

Published: Jun 8, 2013 06:56:55 AM IST
Updated: Jun 3, 2013 05:03:35 PM IST
Amish Tripathi: I have enough story ideas to keep myself busy for the next twenty years
Image: Prasad Gori for Forbes India
After IIM Calcutta, Amish Tripathi spent 14 years in financial services. Around 10 years ago, in his spare time, he began working on a book, which came out in 2010 and quickly hit the bestseller charts. The Immortals of Meluha was followed by The Secret of the Nagas (2011) and The Oath of the Vayuputras (2013). Together, the books are known as the Shiva Trilogy and have sold over 1.7 million copies. Meluha’s film rights were bought by Dharma Productions in 2012, and in 2013 Tripathi landed a r

I grew up in a very religious family: my grandfather was a pandit in Benares and a teacher at the Banaras Hindu University; my parents are very religious. But it is also a very liberal family, which in traditional India is not a contradiction. By ‘liberal’ I mean the ability to accept an opposing point of view, to question. The word ‘Upanishad’ means ‘sitting at the feet of your guru’. You’re supposed to listen to someone and ask questions, because that’s what deepens your understanding. Because we were allowed to ask questions, I understood our philosophies at a much deeper level.

We are a family that is obsessed with knowledge, and I’ve always been a voracious reader. As an author, you need all that knowledge, you have to draw from so many sources. One of my favourite subjects is history.

I come from a middle-class background, so I had to make decisions that would lead to a good job. And there was peer pressure too—you know, if you chose X, people would say, ah, he didn’t have the grades to do Y. So while I was deeply interested in history, I didn’t take it up as a subject. Being a historian in the India that I grew up in was a path to starvation. Doing an MBA was an obvious choice.

I never wanted to be an author. I dreamed I’d be an industrialist; for some time I thought I’d be a scientist. But since I was passionate about history, I kept reading it.

Life followed the path that I thought it would: MBA, fourteen years in financial services. My last job was as national head of marketing and product management at IDBI Federal Life Insurance and a member of the senior management committee.

And like my family background helped me as an author—I already had all this knowledge—my degree, my work experience helped prepare me for the business side of my books.


The Shiva Trilogy began as a philosophical thesis, around nine, ten years ago. My family and I were watching TV, and discovered something interesting: For Indians, gods are devas and demons are asuras; but for the ancient Persians—the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian Persians—gods are ahuras, and demons are daivas. Which triggered an interesting debate: If ancient Indians and Persians had met, they’d probably call each other evil. Who’d be right? The obvious answer is neither; they’re just two different points of view. So, if neither of them is evil, then what is evil? Evil is something that exists beyond this.

An answer occurred to me, partially inspired by what I knew of the Katha Upanishad, but largely my own formulation. I discussed this with my family, and they said it was nice, why don’t you write it down? Which I did. Then, at my family’s prompting, I converted the philosophical thesis into an adventure story, a vehicle to convey that philosophy.

I had written no fiction before that, ever. I first tried to write it in an organised way, which didn’t work. But when I surrendered to the flow and let it emerge, the story started flowing. It took me some five years to write the first book. But before it was released, I had the entire story in mind for the second and third. In my mind, they are not three different books; it is one continuous story divided into three for convenience.


The ideal role model for creative people is Aamir Khan. From all I’ve read of him, when he makes his movies, he makes them with the full courage of conviction. But once he’s finished the movie, he becomes a practical marketer: How do I sell this thing?

You have to work that way. The business part comes once the book is finished, you cannot allow that to interfere when you’re writing. I believe a book is a blessing that has come into an author’s life for some purpose. I was writing for myself and my family, which, I think, is the best way to write.

For six or seven years, I did nothing except work at my job, write the book, and spend time with my family, nothing else. No parties, no television, no time-wasting; writing in the back seat of the car (in Mumbai’s bad traffic, the work commute gave me an hour, hour-and-a-half of writing time). If you want to find time, there is more than enough time.


I didn’t even think I would get published, let alone sell so many copies. Now it all seems like a good ride, but at that point, it was a struggle. I got rejected by every publisher (I stopped counting after twenty rejections). Most of them didn’t tell me why.

One who did said, “Your storytelling skills are good, but you picked a bad topic: It’s a religious book, which won’t do well with the Indian youth, the primary market today, who aren’t into religion; it’s a different interpretation of religion, which older people won’t like; and since it’s in modern easy English, and you don’t want to change the style, the literati won’t like it. You’ve effectively alienated every possible reader segment.”

Finally, my agent, Anuj Bahri, and I quasi-self-published the book. He printed it, through his label, Tara Press, and I invested in the marketing.

Except for Anuj, all my advisors weren’t from traditional book publishing (my wife, Preeti Vyas, was from the book retail space). Their only interaction with books was that they were readers. This ended up being an advantage. Often, out-of-the-box ideas come from people outside an industry, and we ended up doing a lot of innovative marketing.

For example, Preeti’s idea was to give buyers a ‘free taste’. So we printed the first chapter, with the same cover as the book, and distributed it, through retail stores and the web, as a free sampler. This had never been done before, and the retailers decided to try it out. Copies were placed at cash counters. That’s where people have given in their credit cards and are waiting for their bill, and there it was, free, take it home if you want. Normally, any quasi-self-published book by a debut author would be a well-kept secret from the staff themselves, forget the customers. Yet we were getting prime display space!

Many customers went home, read it, came back and asked for the book. And this was ten days before the launch. The stores wound up increasing their orders. And when the book came out, we hit the bestseller charts in the first week itself. It worked because it was a new idea. Now if you go to a retailer with the same proposition, they’ll charge you for the space.

The second idea was from a friend, Abhijeet Powdwal, a marketer. He said: Your writing had a very visual feel; could we convey this? From there, the idea for a trailer film emerged. We made a live-action film that we released on YouTube. This worked really well, getting a huge response, being shared a lot.

The third thing we did was focus a lot on the cover. I have come to understand now that, regrettably, there is not enough investment—in time or resources—in the cover of a book. I was shocked to discover that, more often than not, the person designing the cover hasn’t even read the book. It’s like making an ad campaign for a loan product without knowing the product. In a bank, that guy would be fired. I was very closely involved. I got in a very good friend, Rashmi Pusalkar, who was a designer (but had never designed book covers). She read the manuscripts, and the covers were both attractive and very well thought-through.


Even when the first book started doing well, I didn’t think of myself as an author. I was earning enough at my job to meet my responsibilities. I thought I’d work at my job and write as well. I was thinking like a risk-averse banker: What if the next book doesn’t work?

For the second book, 100,000 copies had been printed and we had pre-orders for something like 90,000 copies. A reprint had been ordered even before the launch. By then, the royalty cheque had become more than my salary.

Even then I have to admit it wasn’t me, it was my family who encouraged me to take the plunge: Specifically my wife and my older brother, Anish. They could see that I was burning the candle at both ends, balancing a demanding job with the writing. They said, you’re one of those lucky guys who has been given an opportunity to make a living out of something he likes doing; what’s holding you back? Anish said, “Yes, there’s a risk in a writing career, but what’s the security in a corporate job? Your foreign investment partner could exit, you could be fired, anything can happen.” In short, what they were telling me was that I was an idiot, and I should commit to this full time.

So I quit my job, very amicably. My boss threw me a party and gave me a huge Lord Shiva idol as a farewell present. I think that my boss, my colleagues were happy that I was doing what I wanted to, and that they wished me well.

I have enough story ideas to keep myself busy for the next twenty years. But who knows? Maybe the next series will flop and I will have to go back to banking! But whether the books succeed or not, I know one thing for sure: Even if the only readers are my family and close friends, I’ll keep writing.

 (As told to Peter Griffin)

(This story appears in the 14 June, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Abhilasha Umahiya

    Dear Amish First of all my NAMASKAR to a person endowed with an exemplary richness of thought and imagination, that is YOU. In spite of having watched people worshiping gods and deities, I always had a belief that the Almighty God is someone else, high above the capacity of a human being to imagine, leave alone knowing Him(or Her). The invincible curiosity that compels me to write to you is about the source or inspiration that made you create these three books. somewhere deep in my heart , I believe that it cannot solely be your passion for writing and an urge to pen down your imagination that made you write these fabulous pieces.I\'ll be deeply obliged if you reveal the secret of the depth of contemplation,limitlessness of imagination and precision of thought that you possess. I have not read your books, I have lived them. I have cried and laughed with the people portrayed, have gasped and sighed, have lived and died. regards Abhilasha Umahiya

    on Oct 1, 2014
  • Moti Lal

    Being a book lover, I have come across many time4s the book titled, \"The Secret of the Nagas, but all the time, ,I ignored it. As I could not attend the JLF, I read about many authors\' short description, I have come to know about the book written by AmishTirpathi. The short biography of Amish Tirpathi has certainly inspired me and reminds me the lines of Francis Bacon, \"History makes a man wise\" of his famous essay \"Of Studies\". The story and personal; life of Amish Tirpathi, no doubt is very fascinating. If I had attended the JLP 17-21 Jan.,2014, I would have certainly got a chance to meet him in persons. Anyhow my best wishes.

    on Jan 19, 2014
  • Madhav

    At last I managed all three books. 1 and 2 are great and they took me to some thing different world. Half of 3 is boring

    on Dec 8, 2013
  • Urmila Naidu

    Amish Sir, you have written this blog in such a simple tone that it conveys the passion to scale your potential to fullest. Even I am in a corporate career and have a inclination to write. Would it be possible for you to guide me? It would be a priviledge to get your valuable inputs. Sincere thanks, Urmila

    on Oct 29, 2013
  • Varun Shukla

    Sir amish is the greatest author I have ever seen. All his books are really amazing and are beautifully written. Please accept my request and please make meet this great author.thank you

    on Sep 11, 2013
  • Sachi Mohanty

    The great thing about \'life\' is that it ends. Steve Jobs of course alluded to that. And a corollary to the fact of the impermanence of life is that our work careers last about 20/30 years ... except of course pop stars or movie stars or players. If a writer can fool \'some\' of the people \'some\' of the time ... and if those people are Indians numbering in the millions and the time can last for about 20 years, then Voila! You may well be able to mint 100 crores. But then no point in being too snotty towards the Chetan Bhagats or Amish Tripathis ... worldwide it\'s the same thing, isn\'t it?

    on Jun 8, 2013
    • Ashish

      I would like to make a humble attempt at what you are thinking - The current crop of top writers and their creations are by far very rudimentary in terms of scope, depth, the language and the tone employed at writing is also quite basic. This might give us an impression that they are pretty average writers kept afloat by a very average reader group. And this is true. What you might not be liking is the fact that such writing is getting these guys fame, money and what not. I also agree till this point. However, i would beg to differ from hereon. Given that English happens to be an aspirer\'s language, we tend to value it a lot. therefore, those who aren\'t brought up in an environment where English is not familiar, for them these books are boon. Not just because it is in English and hence a trump card, but perhaps it also opens up vistas of enjoying storytelling told in simple language. On the other hand, those who know the language very well, tend to be snobbish about such writing styles. They feel an apparent itchiness towards the simplification and elemental nature of language employed. But the point is this - such books have the possibility to begin the opening up of closed doors for our citizens who are less comfortable with English. If they start reading such stuff more, then there exists a very good possibility of them graduating to English books with better language usage and greater depth. \"And if it those people are Indians numbering in the millions and the time can last for about 20 years, then Voila!\" We could have a great population with a terrific sense of literature emerging in next 20 years. Who knows, that for such evolved reader group, Amish and the current crop of \'popular\' writers would themselves graduate to writing a higher form of literature (not that i doubt his ability to write it even now!) New seasoned and mature writers would emerge to the satisfaction to all of us. But for all that to happen, we need a beginning. And guys like Amish are providing exactly that. Since commerce determines success, we see today these kind of writers and books. Let us wait for a few years and we sure would see a more mature market emerging that would satisfy all. A market big enough to cater to all tastes. Till then. lets support every small step. For a journey of thousand miles begins with one small humble step. P.S.: I have read only Amish amongst the current crop of \'popular\' writers. And i really cannot sustain holding those books around love stories and office space and colleges and what not. But that said, i do gift these books to my friends back in town and they love it! Some day, these friends of mine and me sure would be discussing how indeed Velutha was the God of Small Things!

      on Jun 14, 2013
      • Jai

        With all due respect, I do feel that we as readers are being too kind to Amish simply because he is writing in English. Just for the sake of analysis, lets assume he was writing in Hindi, or Tamil. Would such glaringly poor writing have been lauded, or even accepted? Why should the rules be any different for writing in English? Somehow this debate gets reduced to a binary argument--with supporters of Amish (and Amish himself!!) arguing that he need not write in a flowery style. But for God\'s sake, good writing does not mean one has to use terribly long sentences with ornate, archaic words. It simply means crisp, well thought out dialogues, usage of correct syntax, grammar and sentence construction. And yes, I am one of the many people who object to the needless usage of management jargons and curse words. If one has set one\'s novel in the second millennium BCE, one should have at least taken the trouble to use language appropriate for the setting. Why did Amish have to use highly jarring terms like \"orientation executive\" and \"single point of contact\"? Why have highly venerated characters like Shiva, Kali and Ganesh spouting unnecessary profanity? Amish\'s next series--on Shri Rama\'s life--is soon going to be out. The tragedy is, given the brazen nature with which he and his supporters seem to bat away any critique that he improve his writing skills, this series is also going to be a shoddily constructed potboiler. Immense potential for a Karan Johar remake into garish celluloid, with little real quality.

        on Apr 4, 2015