#DesiLitBiz: Mishika Narula and Srisruthi Ramesh, cofounders of Brown Girl Bookshelf, on the work they do to uplift South Asian creators

Desi Books #DesiLitBiz with Brown Girl Bookshelf

About Brown Girl Bookshelf

Brown Girl Bookshelf (BGB) is a platform to share books and digital media by South Asian creators. We strongly believe there is no ubiquitous South Asian narrative. Our platform highlights stories from talented writers and creators across a variety of perspectives, genres, and styles. When it comes to reading, we are about quality, not quantity. Whether you are a bibliophile or rarely finish a book a year, this is a space for you. We pride ourselves on being independent, unbiased reviewers. Our goal is to help our audience make the best decision for their next read.

About Mishika Narula and Srisruthi Ramesh

Mishika Narula is the lady behind the lens and leads partnership marketing at BGB. She is a champion of physical books over e-readers and finds it unnatural to text without perfect grammar. Outside of BGB content, she expresses her creativity best in the kitchen.

Srisruthi Ramesh is the head of strategy & design for BGB. She is also known to be an amateur philosopher, eye-balling cook and baker, elaborate storyteller, and to move to small remote towns on a whim.

Brown Girl Bookshelf (founders: Mishika Narula and Srisruthi Ramesh) is a platform to share books and digital media by South Asian creators across a variety of perspectives, genres, and styles. #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks


Desi Books: Welcome, ladies. Thank you for guest-hosting this entire brilliant week at Desi Books. I’m so happy to introduce you to our Desi Books community too, given all the work you do. Let’s start with the origin story of BGB. How did it begin?

BGB: Our origin story is rather simple: during a conversation in August 2020 about book Instagram accounts, we started to brainstorm handles dedicated to promoting writing by BIPOC authors. None came to mind immediately (in hindsight, many exist). So we decided to create an account together. We hoped a few hundred of our closest family and friends would follow us. Here we are, sixteen months later, with roughly 7,000 community members across Instagram, Twitter, and our newsletter. We share book reviews, informational posts (i.e. upcoming releases, book pairings, etc.), and digital articles (catered to our on-the-fly readers).

Desi Books: Yes, I think you guys started just a few months after us (April 2020) and we connected because of our shared goals. And you started mostly on Instagram, which is a big platform for readers. Tell us about why Instagram, please.

BGB: The South Asian books we saw featured on bookstagram were the same four or five selections, usually the ones with major press and award attention. This made it seem like there is only a handful of South Asian authors publishing books every year, when the reality is there are dozens. The unfortunate truth is that the world of publishing is still woefully white, and the decisions around which books get marketed are largely based on archaic notions of what readers want. We decided to dedicate our platform to the rich array of South Asian writing out there—from magical realism, to romance, historical fiction, and memoirs—to showcase the existence of, and interest in, a range of South Asian stories.

“The South Asian books we saw featured on bookstagram were the same four or five selections, usually the ones with major press and award attention.” Brown Girl Bookshelf cofounders, Mishika Narula and Sri Ramesh #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: And you began to grow rapidly, of course, given all the hard work you were putting in. Talk a bit about that, please. I don’t think many people understand how much work it takes to be a social media influencer. Especially if you’ve already got day jobs as you both do.

BGB: Yes, it ramped up quickly. Soon, we were not exclusively reviewing books we owned or borrowed, but upcoming releases authors and their publishers generously shared with us. We built connections with marketing and PR managers from the “Big Five” publishers who came across our page—a pleasant surprise when we were in the early stages of building our platform.

Desi Books: Let’s get to the books then. What are your sweet spots and focus genres?

BGB: We largely review fiction, essay collections, and memoirs but we have had the opportunity to grow our reading preferences through submissions and guest reviewers. We typically do not review genres like children’s and YA literature. However, the numerous inbound requests we receive—from Instagram, Twitter DMs, and our contact form on our website—for these categories inspired some of our most popular resource lists.

To expand our capacity to feature all of the books we hear about, and share the wealth of advanced copies with our loyal community, we started a guest review program. Through this process, we’ve interacted with readers who are united in their support for amplifying South Asian writing, which has made us, as the creators of BGB, feel deep fulfillment in our contributions to this wider effort.

“To expand our capacity to feature all of the books we hear about, and share the wealth of advanced copies with our loyal community, we started a guest review program.” ~Brown Girl Bookshelf cofounders, Mishika Narula and Sri Ramesh #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: One of the biggest challenges with social media is not so much gaining followers but creating a genuine community. Tell us about your approach here, please. And, looking forward, are there any specific plans you can share with us?

BGB: We are committed to nurturing the relationships we’ve formed through this platform. Our plans for 2022 are building on how to virtually connect the enthusiastic readers in our community with authors. Our Book of the Season program allows us to converse with authors of books we enjoyed, and we see deep value in adding other readers’ opinions to the conversation.

We are tinkering with the idea of forming a book club that invites our community and the author to participate in a live discussion; but, we haven’t been quick to act on the idea largely because book clubs have the tendency to fizzle, and we want to feel confident about the longevity of the initiative.

Virtual avenues aside, our hope is that one day (soon) we can gather with authors and readers like ourselves at events and festivals to extend our support for South Asian authors.

We want to keep growing the BGB community. Every now and then, our follower growth plateaus. Some of our most creative moments surface from these standstills.

Desi Books: And, finally, how do you measure success at BGB?

BGB: With low engagement numbers, we’ve come to realize that algorithms can be finicky. We no longer hold out hope for likes and comments. Instead, we appreciate meaningful DMs, texts, and emails from those that take our recommendations. That’s how we measure our success.

“. . . we appreciate meaningful DMs, texts, and emails from those that take our recommendations. That’s how we measure our success.” ~Brown Girl Bookshelf cofounders, Mishika Narula and Sri Ramesh #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: I love that because that’s how I measure success here too.

I won’t ask my usual closing question about your favorite desi book because you’ve shared them in this #FiveDesiFaves episode.

Thank you so much, ladies, for all that you do and for taking the time to guest-host this week. All the very best to you and may you go from strength to strength because we definitely need more enterprising folks like you helping to raise the tide of South Asian literature.

BGB: Thank you, Jenny. We’ve so enjoyed sharing our favorite books and authors during this guest-hosting week too.

Brown Girl Bookshelf (founders: Mishika Narula and Srisruthi Ramesh) is a platform to share books and digital media by South Asian creators across a variety of perspectives, genres, and styles. #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks


Learn more about Brown Girl Bookshelf. Catch up with all their guest-hosted books and authors here.