‘Kagaz Ke Mahal’ is Ravi’s first book and we recently got a chance to speak to him about it and a lot more other things. Excerpts:

The Bookoholics: Is there any inspiration or a particular theme you follow in ‘Kagaz ke Mahal’?

Ravi Kumar: The book derives its inspiration from the complexities involved in various relationships that surround us throughout our lives. As humans, this is something critical to our existence. And it requires constant efforts to maintain the way any relationship should be. The book describes complex human emotions of pain, longing, loneliness, and unfulfilled dreams through a series of poems that are composed in a similar format to maintain continuity throughout the book. The book happens to be the first one in the series of the three poetry books based on different themes that connect with every age group across geographies and with people from various socio-economic backgrounds as well.

How long did it take you to write it?

Honestly, it’s been a few years since I have been writing, though only a few of my creations were made public. While most of the poems and verses that you find in the book are composed quite recently, few of them have been added from my earlier collection as well. However, I have been extremely picky about the ones that I have published in this book to ensure that they stay relevant to the theme. Considering the recent ones it almost took me a year to complete the manuscript including the editing and conceptualisation of the book.

self-doubts are essential for an author to analyse his work closely

How did you deal with the self-doubts a writer goes through?

When it comes to poetry, it becomes relatively easy to deal with the self-doubt scenarios, as compared to a novel as one can rely on instant feedback. Besides writing, I have been performing at various reputed platforms as well where I present my creations before a live audience. It helped me in getting instant feedback. Besides that, a lot of my well-wishers and friends who follow me on social media handles were extremely helpful by sharing their thoughts on my poetry. In some way, self-doubts are essential for an author to analyse his work closely and bring out his best as one tends to fall in love in with what he writes and get possessive about it.

In your book, you have bared your soul. Do you feel vulnerable?

A good poem is indeed an extension of one’s soul. This is one form of writing in which the writer’s emotions and thoughts are woven with every word that he writes, leaving no chance to hide beneath the layer of thousands of words that he can do while writing a story. The vulnerability factor gets knocked off on its own as I have always been very expressive about my emotions in general through my blogs and my live performances as well. In fact, it is hard to fathom being a poet while worrying about getting vulnerable.

What was the most common response you got from the readers?

I got almost a similar response from the readers that I usually get from the live audience as well. Most of them found their own emotions in my words which resonated their innermost thoughts. The fear of being categorized as right or wrong in whatever they say is so engrained in their minds that most of them usually stay away from saying a lot of things especially when it comes to sensitive issues like dealing with a relationship. My poetry gives them a welcome respite and helps them find a voice to their thoughts. The book is a gift to all my followers who have been requesting for the curation of my work under different genres for quite some time now. 

How was the journey from finishing the manuscript to publishing?

The journey was exciting but very tiring as there are numerous little things that one needs to take care of. Scribbling your thoughts and getting them published are two very different things. When you are getting your work published, it becomes extremely important to follow a blueprint of the concept that one must prepare before going ahead with the publishing of the book. The most difficult part is to go through your own work over and over again to critically examine any grammatical error or mismatch of words. There is a very high possibility of blind spots happening while doing so because at the back of your mind you are almost sure about what you have written. Getting your work proofread by someone who has a command over the language becomes crucial to the success of your work. Besides that, a lot of time goes into the cover designing and internal designing aspects of the book as well. Thankfully being an artist myself, I have a fair sense of aesthetics which helped me massively while directing the designing part of the book. Strategic inputs were given at various stages by my wife as well.

What’s your favorite piece from the book?

One of the pieces from the book which I love the most and has got some wonderful reviews from the audience as well is –

Ummeed ki zameen pe basa
Vaado ka ek basera tha
Vaheen kone mein chota sa bana
Kagaz ka mahal mera tha

What publishing advice would you give to new authors?

Self-evaluation is the first piece of advice that I usually give to any new author planning to get his or her work published. Writing is all about creativity, which is the most subjective thing in the world, therefore what looks amazing to you might not be as good for others. It is important to understand the merit of your creations before qualifying them for publishing. What a stage is for an actor, publishing is for a writer. Just like an actor rehearses multiple times before getting onto the stage before he performs his best to leave a lasting impression, the same should be followed by authors before getting their work published. Test the water first by sharing it with people who would give you honest advice. Once you are all set with your manuscript, chalk out a plan as per which you want to get the book published. It is always advisable to be clear about the format, interior and external designs and above all the objective of getting your work published before you approach a publisher.

How did you market your book?

In the age where we live almost a parallel life in the virtual world, it is natural to harp on various digital marketing platforms to market the book. Tracking is the best part about digital marketing which is not possible when it comes to on-ground promotions. While at a later stage, on-ground marketing does play a major role in personal branding of the author, digital marketing takes the front seat when it comes to nudging the readers to buy the book. A lot of authors believe in posting pictures of their readers with a copy of the book, which I am not very comfortable with. For me, it is forced marketing at the cost of your reader’s right to privacy. Instead, I rely on unbiased reviews about the book that give the readers a perspective of the book and entice them to buy the book.

How did your book affect your personal and professional life?

The book helped me in a lot in decluttering my thoughts and recording my feelings about whatever I saw around me. When you continuously scribble your thoughts and introspect, it evolves you as a person. Indeed it did impact my personal life as I could not devote as much time as I should have to my family. All thanks to my wife and son who ensured that I get all the time in the world to give wings to my dreams. Without their support, I could not have come this far. It’s very easy to grab the limelight being the author of the book, but their contribution to the book has been equal to my efforts and I am proud to accept that. In the professional space, I did not notice any impact as I only used whatever free time I could get. However, I did utilize the commuting time to my office for scribbling as much as I could.

Did you ever face the so called writer’s block?

If one calls himself a writer and claims that he doesn’t face writer’s block then he is lying for sure. Even in this digital age, there are server downtimes, then why not our brain? The best way to counter a writer’s block is to let your brain recharge instead of putting extra pressure and leading to an average outcome. Thankfully since I have been working on two books simultaneously that too in two different languages and different genres, I could divert my mind to the other one for some time before coming back to the first one with a fresh approach. Singing or listening to some classics also helps me overcome such challenges. I believe writer’s block is a blessing in disguise which helps in defragmenting the brain to churn out something extraordinary every time.

How did writing happen while you were more passionately involved with Music and doing pretty well in it? 

I don’t exactly remember how this shift from Music to Writing happened. In fact, there was no shift at all since I am equally passionate about music even now. However, it was relatively difficult to follow my passion for music along with a regular job as it required regular riyaz. On the other hand, writing was already a part of my job and was relatively easier to follow whenever I could get some spare time. Having said that, I still sing and practice whenever I can, but find solace in writing more often.

Even though you are a student of English Literature, what made you fall in love with Hindi/Urdu language leading to ‘Kaagaz Ke Mahal’. 

Just as it is important to listen to good music to sing well, it is extremely important to read quality material to write well too. This led to my deep interest in literature since my school days which soon became my favorite subject. My attachment to literature grew many folds leading me to do my advanced studies in English literature as well. Even though I was born and brought up in Delhi, my family roots from Lucknow. The language that we usually used to communicate amongst us was Hindi with a heavy influence of Urdu, which made Urdu and Hindi my mother tongue. Thus, my fluency in all three languages grew almost at the same pace. When I started writing poetry I found that I am able to express my emotions better in Hindi and Urdu as compared to English. However, when it comes to writing fiction, I am comfortable with English only.

We have heard that ‘Kaagaz Ke Mahal’ was supposed to be your second book, while the first one was supposed to be a mythological fiction in English. What made you change your mind and when do we get to read the Mythological fiction book? 

Yes, it is true that ‘Kaagaz Ke Mahal’ was supposed to be my second book. I have been working on a mythological fiction in English since last few years, which is near completion now and was supposed to be launched first, but as the poetry collection was ready much before the expected deadline, it got to see the light of the day earlier. Some of my friends did suggest me to launch the mythological fiction first, but I still went against the advice as I felt that the audience for both the genres is very different and there is no way they will clash with one another. Especially when there is ample amount of time between the launches of the two books. In fact, I am proud to claim that I am a writer who is equally confident in writing poetry in Hindi and Urdu as well as fiction in Hindi, which very few writers are able to do. I am expecting the mythological fiction book to hit the stands in another six months from now.

We have noticed that you have given the roman version (Hindi written in English) of the poem in the book as well. Any specific reason for that? 

While writing ‘Kaagaz Ke Mahal’ I decided to publish the roman version of English poems as well along with Hindi because of my understanding of the changing preferences of the new age readers, basis the direct interactions that I had with lots of followers on my social media handles. Most of my followers belong to the WhatsApp generation. This new generation is quite interested in poetry however the difficult words, jargons and the Hindi text itself pushes them away. I wanted to ensure that my poems reach every age group and can be easily understood for which, I also tried my best to use words that are easy to understand.

Is there a specific age- group towards which you target your poems? How is the response of the new age readers (millennials) in India when it comes to poetry? 

There is no specific age group towards which I target my poems, but most of my followers fall in the age group of 16 to 40. The new age readers are extremely interested in poetry, due to which there is a steep rise in the number of poetry recitation events or open mics across the country. However, most of them prefer poems in a language that we commonly use to interact in and some of them don’t even mind the use of English words as well along with Urdu. I will not be surprised to see standup poetry matching the scale of standup comedy in the days to come.

Besides being an artist at heart, you are a veteran TV journalist and senior marketing communication professional. How are you able to balance time between your busy schedule and follow your passion as well?

When you are really ‘Passionate’ about something, it will automatically find ways to express itself. However, passion alone will not fetch results until one has exceptional time management abilities as well. Also, one has to learn to make optimum use of the time which we consider ‘waste’ in general. In my case, I tried to utilize my commute time to my office, which happens to be 2 hours away. Instead of driving down every day and practically doing nothing but staring at zillions of number plates on the road, I decided to shift to public transport. This gave me straight four hours every day to write. No wonder most of my creations are a product of my everyday rides to the office and back home. Finding time is always easy, provided one is focused and has a clear priority list.

Are there more poetry books in the offering from you after the kind of success your debut book ‘Kaagaz Ke Mahal’ has seen? 

Definitely, as planned the second book in the series of three poetry books titled ‘Khayalon Se Aage’ will be out soon. The success that ‘Kaagaz Ke Mahal’ has seen has motivated me to complete that sooner than expected. While ‘Kaagaz Ke Mahal’ primarily deals with the complexities involved in relationships, ‘Khayalon Se Aage’ is about love and the way it changes our perspective towards life in general.

Did your marketing expertise come in handy while going through the publishing and promotional process? 

A best seller needs to score well on three aspects – Engaging Content, High-quality publishing and the Optimum use of new-age marketing tools. While my background in journalism and literature helped me with the first one, the latter two got support from my marketing expertise. Any publisher or marketing agency can give you optimum outputs only if you give them clear directions and share your vision properly. Having worked with numerous leading marketing agencies helped me significantly at all the stages.