We’ve read a number of books that delve into the world of cinema, fashion, and sports. But there aren’t any books that throw light on the publishing industry and how bestsellers are made. Ahmed Faiyaz changes this situation with his latest book, Bestseller, a satire on how publishing works in India and all the cogs working relentlessly behind it.
In this candid interview with Writers Melon, Ahmed Faiyaz reveals everything that went into writing this book as well his thoughts and what goes into writing his bestsellers.
Ahmed Faiyaz – The Idea Behind ‘Bestseller’:
While every book starts off as an idea, there’s a select genre of books that takes real-life experiences and weaves them into fictional tales. Ahmed Faiyaz tells us about the idea behind Bestseller.
“Between 7-10 years ago, I was very active as a writer who authored several bestsellers as well as contributed to, curated, compiled, and publishing successful short story anthologies and other books. Through this journey, I met and interacted with a number of writers, publishers and people who were in the business of promoting, selling and distributing books. Publishing is a tough and complicated business, with highs and lows, and many interesting characters which makes for an engaging plot. So a germ of an idea formed in my head. Despite stepping away for a few years, the inspiration and drive to tell new stories remains. And I decided to re-emerge with Bestseller, which I believe will stand out among contemporary fiction releases.”
‘Bestseller’ and its Audience:
“Bestseller is a comic satire on the publishing business in India, and the story is set in Mumbai. It has a love story in the backdrop, as well as a lot of drama, intrigue and behind the scenes politics which is depicted with a dash of humour. The book will appeal to readers across different age groups. I believe the young urban demographic from 18-27 years will enjoy this book as much as those who are 28-45 years who will relate to this slice of life saga.”
Ahmed Faiyaz – Researching ‘Bestseller’:
When an author decides to write about a particular industry, they tend to go full steam with a lot of research. But those like Ahmed Faiyaz just make sure that their experiences translate well into words. Here’s what he had to say when asked about how much research went into Bestseller:
“I didn’t need to do any research; I lived through some of these experiences, which are exaggerated in the book. And I let my imagination run wild on some of the other situations the characters go through. Again, a lot of my experiences as a writer and publisher has helped in etching the characters in this story. Being in the business and having seen the rise and fall of authors and bookstores brings you in contact with several people ranging from literary agents and editors to booksellers, wannabe writers and publicists who are all brought to life in Bestseller.”
Author Swapping in the Business:
Ghost writing is a common thing in the publishing business. Since author swapping happens in his book, we asked Ahmed Faiyaz about his thoughts on this. This is what he had to say:
“I’m not sure if author swapping happens in the business. However, the manner in which it happens in Bestseller makes it funny and compelling for readers, giving it an entertainment value to imagine such a situation in reality. I do however know of several stories where books have been published in a certain individual’s name but have been entirely or for a large part been ghost written.
Sometimes this is acknowledged openly in fine print, but in a lot of cases this is buried under the carpet as the people who do this have the fame, resources and ambition to masquerade themselves as ‘bestselling authors’. Not every successful book in recent times has been written by the author who takes credit for it. Many have also been heavily edited or partially rewritten by the editorial teams. But the credit for the success of a book goes mainly to the authors.”
The Challenges in Indian Publishing:
There’s no denying that the Indian publishing industry has a number of challenges facing it. Finding good books to publish is on top of it all. Ahmed Faiyaz has something interesting to say about this scene.
“If you asked me 6-8 years back, I would have said finding a good book with good commercial value and potential to work with the reading audience was harder than marketing a good book. I feel today this has flipped on its head.
The reading audience has evolved in taste and maturity. The writing talent, even if a small number, in India today is several notches above what we had a decade ago, especially in nonfiction and contemporary fiction. On the other hand, brick and mortar bookstores which dominated sales and accounted for 80-90% of book sales about 7-8 years ago have seen a significant change. Many have shrunk in size and volume or are no longer around.
Today, writers and publishers have to find ways to market and create a pull for their books in a far more competitive environment. It was easier when you had a wider base of independent and chain bookstores, and the publisher could get copies in to stores and the reading audience would find these books by browsing at the bookstore or seeing recommendations on various lists or a book review somewhere.
In an algorithm driven world, it is much more challenging. But one has to adapt and find new ways to reach out to and get more visibility. Online bookstores have also made it easier for book buyers and readers to make a much wider range of books available across the country, even in small towns which would otherwise have been relatively inaccessible to the publishers.”
Bestseller – The Protagonist:
Ahmed Faiyaz elaborates about the protagonist of Bestseller and sheds some light on his motivations and personality.
“Akshay, our protagonist, needs to publish five bestsellers in one year to save the business and his job. He has to deal with and draw a bestseller out of a multitude of characters and other wannabes with an ambition to get their work published and make it big as bestselling writers.
What makes Akshay very interesting is that his journey begins with his back against the wall. He is no superhero, but a flawed individual with some redeemable qualities that one would relate to easily. He epitomizes the lives we live in reality, as nothing is the same from one day to the next as I’ve learnt from experience. Akshay is a multi-faceted personality who is good at making lemonade when life throws lemons at you. He is resilient, cynical, witty, and has an eye for a good story. In that respect perhaps, he’s a lot like me.”
Bestseller – The Inspiration Behind the Characters:
“All the characters who are intrinsic to the plot are wildly and loosely inspired by people dead or alive. Those you see on the cover reflect some of these key characters and cover the spectrum of bestselling writers one sees in India today. I leave it to the readers to make the connections and interpret who is like whom.”
Balancing a Day Job and Writing:
The day could get rough if you fit your day job and writing into it. But Ahmed Faiyaz has a different, more efficient way of balancing them.
“In the past, I used to write at night or on weekends, but I don’t do so anymore. I write only in months when I have a relatively light schedule where I can take large stretches of time outside of work to write in spurts and get the first draft finished. This is why I’ve written very little in 6 years.
During 2013-15 I didn’t write at all but for the past three years I’ve been able to finish a novel each year. Usually, a first draft takes me about a month or so because I need that crazy energy and write without stopping to live those characters in my head and tell the stories as they emerge. Trying to do this very slowly doesn’t work.
I need to disconnect and immerse myself completely in my stories. For that, I need weekends where I can switch off completely and concentrate on the writing which helps me churn out 14,000-20,000 words writing relentlessly. My only contact with the outside world is a phone call or two to my kids and taking delivery at the door from the pizza delivery guy.”
Ahmed Faiyaz – Favorite Books and Authors:
When asked about his favorite books and authors, Ahmed Faiyaz came up with quite a list – one that smiled as we read through.
“Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, The Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, The Middleman by Sankar, The Goat, the Sofa & Mr. Swami by R. Chandrasekar, various short stories by Saadat Hassan Manto and Roald Dahl, and Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami are and will remain at the top of the list.
Paul Auster, Roald Dahl, Haruki Murakami and F. Scott Fitzgerald are among the authors whose writing style, development of characters, and depth of emotions are a source of inspiration and envy. I wish I could write like them, and I look up them more than any other past or contemporary writer. I really like Ruskin Bond’s ability to find humour and tell interesting tales of ordinary people, and Saadat Hassan Manto, who conjures up a beautiful world and creates that sense of place and time in his stories where the readers can easily visualize the world they are reading about.”
Advice for Aspiring Authors:
“I feel to each his own as my thinking and my ambition is very different from what someone else’s might be. However, if asked, I would tell an aspiring writer to not go down the self-publishing route unless the book is a vanity project or something very personal where you want to publish 100-200 copies in print for circulation among friends and family, or are publishing poetry or a few short stories, which traditionally get little interest from leading publishers. If you are trying to make it big or connect with a wider reading audience, then find a publisher who believes in your work, and wants to invest in your writing to make it successful.
Publishers exist because they play an important part in editing, curating, distributing and marketing a book to a wider audience. If you’re trying to do it all by yourself, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and failure, as if you’re making a film, you can’t do everything by yourself – you can’t write and act in it, shoot it, direct it, score for the film, and distribute and exhibit it at the same time. You need the involvement and support of professionals who are good at doing this and do this on a regular basis and can navigate you through the process with established relationships in the business. Also, for marketing books, it makes sense to engage with Writers Melon and other writing and blogging communities and agencies with a network of relationships and social media presence to take a book to a wider reading audience.”
Author(s): Ahmed Faiyaz
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: November 2018
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