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Woog's World / Ex-Westporter merges espionage and marketing

Published 7:42 am, Sunday, December 1, 2013
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David Vinjamuri has a lengthy -- and quite eclectic, and intriguing -- resume.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1982 and Swarthmore College four years later, he worked as a consultant. Then, he returned to school, earning a master's in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Next, it was on to global finance with Citibank; brand management for companies like Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola, and running the acquisitions group at DoubleClick. After that, more marketing stuff.

A decade ago, Vinjamuri started his own training company. He's still at it, working from home (and traveling often). He works with large organizations -- Starwood Hotels, the Navy and the like -- on branding and social media. He also teaches master's candidates at New York University. And writes an online column for Forbes. He writes books, too.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Vinjamuri spent the year after college as a State Department analyst, specializing in weapons transfers in the developing world. He held top-secret clearance.

That varied background -- including his intelligence work -- infuses his most recent book.

"Operator" is about Michael Herne, a Catskills native who returns home after a career in the Army. Confronting his high school girlfriend's abusive ex-boyfriend, a less-than-honorable sheriff and a ruthless Russian gang, Herne must choose between two paths -- the desk-working, college-educated intelligence analyst he has become, or the Tier I Army operator he once was.

"Operator," called a "meticulously researched, seamlessly plotted thriller," is Vinjamuri's first novel.

His previous book, "Accidental Branding," published in 2008, explored the stories of people without any experience in marketing who built phenomenal successes, like Craigslist, Baby Einstein and Clif Bar.

Somehow, a speaking engagement following that first book led to a discussion with a reader who started talking about a Navy SEAL friend.

During the first Gulf War, that friend fast-roped accidentally into a minefield.

That discussion led to Vinjamuri meeting a special forces operative who pulled Saddam Hussein out of his hiding-place hole.

All of which inspired Vinjamuri to start thinking about the type of people who do these things.

He learned that many are elite athletes, not rah-rah, gung-ho Rambos. He did some background research at the U.S. Army War College.

It took quite a while for "Operator" to be published, however.

Vinjamuri used a couple of different literary agents. Some editors passed on the manuscript. One liked it, but was fired before he could offer a contract.

Finally, Vinjamuri realized that -- with his background in marketing -- he was a perfect candidate for self-publishing.

As an author, Vinjamuri could set a variety of price points, depending on demand and platform.

He could pass the word about his new book via social media. He could add the title to his bio note on his Forbes column. As he says, "I could really control this project."

And, of course, royalty rates -- up to 70 percent on Amazon -- are alluring to self-publishers. The downside -- a self-published author must do all his own promotion -- does not deter many authors. Particularly one with an expertise in marketing.

Vinjamuri's marketing worked. "Operator" has reached as high as No. 62 on Kindle. On several days, it's been the top-selling spy story in the country.

Along the way, Vinjamuri has become an expert in one more field -- self-publishing. He's learned, for example, that more than a quarter of Amazon and The New York Times best-sellers last year were self-published. He's seen self-published books explode on the marketplace. And he's learned that contrary to popular belief, self-publishing has helped, not hurt, traditional publishing companies.

Publishers are signing independent authors in large numbers.

Traditional book sales have held up well. So have profits, as publishers are learning to use pricing more cleverly than in their one-price-fits-all past.

All of this, Vinjamuri says, is "basic marketing." But publishers have not done it.

As an expert in brand management, Vinjamuri knows all about brand extension. He's already at work on a sequel to his first novel. "Binder" sets the same protagonist -- Michael Herne -- in West Virginia coal country.

But although he no longer lives here, Westport is never far from Vinjamuri's mind. The first two words of his next novel -- "John McCarthy" -- are an homage to his hometown. It's his way of thanking an old friend who bought "Operator."

Vinjamuri also offered readers who contributed to a Kickstarter fundraising campaign the opportunity to have their names in his next book. So other Westporters are mentioned in it, too.

That's not Marketing 101. It's more like a grad-level idea.

Of course, that's exactly what David Vinjamuri teaches.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.