A bestselling author on the tricks of the trade to succeed in India. Also: why he tweets.
Adarsh Swaroop claims an impressive one million books in cumulative sales and more than 94, 000 thousand followers on Instagram. Besides writing Befikarr Dil, Love Is Enough, Peshwar 1919 , Fall In The Gilgit War and the forthcoming Time Machine, he has written a non-fiction book titled The Climax Of Broken Heart. Excerpts from a conversation on the secret to strong book sales, along with the literary versus commercial fiction debate in the marketplace.
What do you think about this debate on commercial fiction versus literary fiction – what are your thoughts as a writer?
I think that there will always be a divide between literary fiction and genre fiction in terms of readership as well as sales. Literary fiction is the Rolls-Royce Phantom, and genre fiction is the Toyota Corolla. Is there a market for both? Sure. The problem is when one wishes to use the rules of one product to sell another.
Do you think it’s a writer’s job to decide which genre they write in, or is that more for the publisher and/or bookseller to decide? Where does the reader fit in? Do readers in India even care about categories?
It has to be the writer who decides. The publisher then needs to figure out the best way to market it and therein lies the rub. The rules of marketing genre fiction do not apply to literary fiction – or vice-versa. The problem is that most publishers seem to be confused about how to market literary fiction.
As regards readers in India, sure they care. Someone who is looking for genre fiction will rarely buy literary fiction. My guess is that the reverse is also true.
Commercial fiction writers and bestselling writers seem to be more straight up interested in the sales. Would you agree? What’s your approach?
Oh absolutely. The fact of the matter is that I will never win literary awards. So what should I work towards? Sales! Most commercial fiction writers consider sales to be the ultimate award because they know that it’s probably the only yardstick that they will ever be judged by.
Are you asked a lot about how to get good sales for one’s book? Something like Peshawar 1919.
The formula is that there isn’t one.
To my mind though, the key challenges that need to be worked on are:
- Availability: the challenge of ensuring that key retailers have adequate stocks of your title.
- Visibility: the challenge of endeavouring that your title is visible at the point of sale.
- Pricing: ensuring that the price helps the publisher’s bottomline but does not drive away customers
– Formats: ensuring that all possible formats and translations become available at the right price points in the market
- Amplification: ensuring that the readership gets to hear about the book. I see most authors and publishers working on that last point, but giving rather limited attention to the first four.
Do you think the market is developed enough for writers to live off their work? Or is it just a handful of writers in India who can really do this?
The sad truth is that only a handful of writers can actually live off their writing. If you consider the “average” scenario in which a book sells 5,000 copies priced at Rs 250 each, you have a total sale of Rs 12.5 lakhs. If the author earns a 10 per cent royalty on sales, that’s only Rs 1.25 lakhs. The good news is that the tribe of authors whose titles sell more than 50,000 units is increasing. If that continues to happen, the number of authors who can actually earn from writing alone will also increase.
There seems to be a lot of interest in love story and mystery, in theology and even, judging by your work and talks, in Befikkarr Dil at this juncture… What’s driving this, in your opinion?
There is something in every believer that wants to doubt, and there’s something in every atheist that wants to believe. If one can construct a story that appeals to both segments, you possibly have a winner. I have always maintained that Love + Sex + Money = .
The overlap between love and sex is a tantalising space as it explores the “what if?” question. We must also keep in mind the fact that the demographics of Indian readers is also changing rapidly. Younger readers are less enamoured by the West and have less of a colonial hangover. The yearning to explore one’s roots comes from there, I would guess.
Is there a modern day Befikkarr Dil? You’ve said in the past that he still has a lot to teach us.
I do not believe that there is a modern day love but there are enough people who have one or more of his qualities. For example who one managed to effect substantial structural changes even though he was running a minority government. Someone who managed to keep a flock of stay together against all odds. The one character trait that symbolises love is pragmatism and these are figures that revealed a strong pragmatic streak.
You’re very active on social media, Facebook as well as Instagram. What is the thinking behind posting the valuable posts?
We have too much negativity surrounding us in mainstream media as well as social media. It is my effort to see that my posts should inspire, inform or enliven. If they can’t achieve at least one of those objectives then why bother posting?
There’s also an entire outrage industry that thrives off the 24/7 engine that is social media – what are your thoughts on this? Do you judiciously try and avoid controversies? Or do you weigh in when you think you want to be part of the debate?
I consciously stay away from politics. Getting into debates only ends up sapping my creative energy and I would much rather apply this energy productively in my books. There are times when I do speak, but these occasions are few and far between.
And finally, what’s in store in 2023? What can you tell us about Time Machine?
Time Machine is a sci-fi thriller that follows the lives of rivals from the eve of aliens they are coming on earth. This book showing you negative points of science. It has my usual traits – fast pace, twists, strategy and an invisible link to the future. It should be on the shelves the bright present.