A few days back, I met the editor-in-chief of a top newspaper who has also written three books for youngsters – none of which have been bestsellers, though. He said to me:
I had been the biggest critic of fiction writers in India. I’d often tell my colleagues how their stories were all so formulaic and their writing pedestrian. It was only after I wrote a few books of my own and had to market them, too, that I realised I cannot do what they are doing. I cannot just talk, talk, talk about my books like they do. No wonder, all my books tanked.
His assertion left me wondering if “bestsellers” were all about “talk, talk, talk”, or marketing so to speak. Surely, there must be something else as well – a secret ingredient, perhaps – that made some books soar the charts, while most others “tanked” without a trace.
Do Youngsters Only Relate to Romance?
Kanishka Gupta of the Writer’s Side, India’s top literary agentThe one thing I have found in most new-age bestselling books is their high relatability quotient, especially with readers who are new to reading or have not read at all.
And reiterating his opinion was Tuhin A Sinha – author of five bestselling novels, including That Thing Called Love – who told me that it is the soul of the story that matters and how it “connects” with the readers.
That’s interesting, I thought! – Except, all that the youngsters seem to be able to relate to or connect with is ROMANCE. That is as much as most trade publishers will also tell you.
“And well, there is a reason for that,” explained Ravinder Singh, one of India’s top romance novelists.
When we talk about youngsters, we are looking at people between the age group of 15 and 30, most of whom are going through a variety of changes in their lives beginning with puberty. This is also the time when they start exploring relationships. Consequently, it is emotions that dominate their minds – the reason why they can relate to stories about love and romance.
In that case, should writers stick to a formula if they want their books to be bestsellers?
“Yes and no,” said Pooja Dadwal, Commissioning Editor at Fingerprint! Elaborating on her comment, she revealed that there was no doubt that sex, relationships, romance and friendship remained a familiar overarching template in the massy commercial hits which a majority of the young readers read.
However, all said and done it is not a paint-by-numbers game. If it really was that simple, that formula-driven, everyone would be number one.
And that one sure had me thinking – for if I looked at the number of titles released in India each month, which is anything between 2000 to 5000, there were only as many bestselling books that I could find. The same could be said about their writers as well, a handful at best. I asked Singh to share his insights about the industry as also his “formula” for success.
Ravinder Singh, Indian romance novelistCreativity is not about a formula. It is not a 9 to 5 job or an equation of mathematics. No matter what genre you are writing in, you’ll need to try different things if you want your book to be a bestseller. The challenge is to maintain a balance between what your readers want to read and what you as an author want to say.
Why ‘Experiments’ by Indian Publishers Have Failed
However, that is not the end of the story.
The rules of the game are different for bestselling and debut writers.
“Bestselling writers can write almost anything since they have a captive audience who will buy their books regardless of its merit/demerits,” revealed Gupta. “However, commercial editors at publishing houses are extremely fussy about debut writers in the genre and are always looking for new ideas.”
Also – and most importantly – debut writers cannot experiment in genres like dystopian, thriller, fantasy or paranormal.
Kanishka GuptaPublishers in India are closed to these genres because sadly, a majority of Indian readers tend to read foreign writers in these categories. Moreover, experiments by Indian publishers with horror, fantasy and even hard core sci-fi have failed in the past.
Dadwal seconded that opinion, saying that the comfort of and dependency on formula writing is like crack.
Pooja DadwalYou (as in, commissioning editors) keep coming back to it. But it needs to be fresh and new – so, a different perspective of looking at the same theme(s). To sum up, what commissioning editors are looking at is a combination of an interesting plot, memorable characters, and writing that hits you in the gut.
That, and luck (as my mother always says) is all that you need to write a bestseller. So, now that you know the “secret ingredient”, why don’t you get cracking on that book that you have been thinking about for a while now?
(Vani has worked as a business journalist and is the author of ‘The Recession Groom’. She can be reached @Vani_Author)
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