Not many people in the corporate sector can boast of having written fictional books that fly off the shelves. Christopher C Doyle, author of the bestselling The Mahabharata Secret and The Alexander Secret, is also a successful businessman who has worked in companies like The Economist group, IBM and Hilton Hotel. His books have sold over 100,000 copies and have frequently been on the best-sellers list. Christopher runs his own consulting firm. He talks to Forbes India about how he straddles both the corporate and the literary sector. Edited excerpts:
Q. Do you see your books as meeting a market demand?
I think so. I seem to be the only author who is writing thrillers which are based on mythology, history, and science. I haven’t seen any author consistently do it. Every book I churn out has exactly the same format - the readers know what to expect. I think there was a gap in the market that needed to be filled. I take constructive feedback from my readers which helps me meet their needs better. For example, one of my readers recently wrote to me about how I incorporated some of his feedback on The Alexander Secret into The Secret of the Druids. I listen to my readers.
Q. What do you do apart from writing?
I have my firm which is called the The Growth Catalysts. I work in the area of growth management for corporates. It’s a rather unique area because I haven’t seen any other firm, at least in India, doing this. We have consultants come in and advise companies on how to grow with strategies and suggestions. What we do is we come in and make it happen. We stay for about 12 to 20 months with the organisation and hand-hold them through the change process. We leave when they’ve achieved their 200 to 300 percent growth.
Q. How does that translate into being an author?
It has no connection. A lot of people when they hear that I write, they think that I write management lessons from the Mahabharata. But no, it’s fiction - you aren’t going to get any leadership or management lessons there. I do enough of that in my work anyway, helping people to perform and get results. Writing is a passion.
Q. Can you talk about the organisations you have worked with over the years?
The Economist Group was my last professional assignment. I started off with Coats Vieyalla. Then I worked with EBC Battery company - they launched Energizer in India. Next, I worked with Hilton Hotels in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and India. Then I’ve worked with IBM where I was heading the India business of the BPO (business process outsourcing). Then I joined the Economist Intelligence Unit as the CEO and that was my last job. From 2010 onwards, I have been an entrepreneur and running my own firm.
Q. Does your experience in the corporate world help you market your books better?
Definitely. I actually work on change-management. If a company has to grow exponentially, it has to change a lot of things within the organisation. When I’m looking at marketing books, I look at non-traditional methods of marketing. For example, what you’re seeing tonight is unique - I host these author/reader interaction sessions based on a reader community called The Quest Club. I have about a three-and-a-half thousand members across India and it’s growing at a thousand members getting registered each month. This helps me connect with my readers and engage with them on a personal and intimate basis. This event is not so that I can launch or sell my books - it is to build a relationship with my readers. I am doing it this way because that’s how you would do it in business. You build relationships with your customers and keep them engaged - that is when they become repeat customers. You provide them quality which is the content, the product has to be good but the after sales relationship is also very important. These are examples of how I apply what I do in my professional work to writing.
Q. Could you talk more about your interaction with your readers online?
I have a blog that is part of The Quest Club. I put up a lot of information about my research. Readers are very curious to know how I get my sources together. I don’t put up the scientific white papers but I simplify it for my readers. I visit a lot of the locations that are featured in the book and I take photographs and videos which I post. It becomes very interesting for the reader to see it. It becomes like the “making of a film” feature for my books.
Q. You also put up free chapters on your website?
Yes. I even put up an entire novella - I gave it away for free. Again, it’s part of my business philosophy - if you value your customers (my readers are my customers), you need to give them something apart from what they are buying. That’s where value is generated.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who works in the corporate world but also wants to write?
In some ways, I am able to do what I do is because I run my own firm. I can take my own decisions on my time. I have the choice whereas if you are in a 9 to 5 situation, you do not have that choice. Having said that, anyone in the corporate sector would tend to travel quite a bit - spend a lot of time in cars between meetings and commuting to work. I use that time to write. What I would advise people is to not sleep in the car - write in that time. On planes, I write - if I am in a two-and-a-half-hour flight, I get in about six to seven pages of a book or I can research. I write in the hotel rooms in the evening after coming back from work. My way of unwinding is by writing or researching.