Does it take a controversy to create a best-seller?

Controversial covers remembered by all

Close on the heels of Fifty-Shades-of-pretending to being in love, when actually you just want to penetrate every orifice and any finer feelings of love be damned (apologies, but that’s how I think about it) comes another controversy over another novel, currently in the Indie form. This time it’s in the land of science fiction. The debate triggered when Weird Tales Magazine decided to include an excerpt from Victoria Foyt’s Indie YA dystopia, Revealing Eden: Save The Pearls. A turn out the excerpt, and in-fact the novel itself, has extremely racist overtones.  I have not yet read the novel but apparently from its very first page, people are segmented by colour. So those of the ruling, dark-skinned race are “Coals”, while the pallid under-class are “Pearls”.  Apparently “Coals” are portrayed dirty, cheap, pollutant, plentiful, and fit only to burn. “Pearls” remain dainty, precious, lustrous, pure and rare. Asians are “Tiger’s Eyes”. Albinos – detested by all – are “Cottons.” As this article in the Guardian  says, “plainly, she has no positive words to go with black.” Reading this, I began to wonder: Does it take a controversy for an Indie novel to become a best-seller in today’s electronic era? Of course if your novel is provocative enough, and both the above are extremely so, it will rub many the wrong way, and I wager sufficient to generate that much-needed word-of-mouth buzz, which any marketer worth his/her salt will tell you is invaluable. The thing with word-of-mouth is, it takes the message viral, helping the object at the eye of the storm gain that elusive share of voice in the media market, allowing it to build in volume to the critical noise levels required to cut through the clutter. It makes the message loud enough to be noticed and picked up by mainstream media, like, in this case The Guardian or bloggers like me. One of the freedoms of being an Indie author is that we are free to write whatever we want and take things to the illogical extreme; enough for it to be controversial. For the above two novels this has certainly worked in attracting the media spotlight. I wondered albeit fleetingly I hasten to add if this is what I should be doing to simply get that much needed publicity push to stand out among the sea of words out there? Even among the mainstream novels those which stay top of mind of are controversial. Nothing divided readers more than Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses which ultimately challenged an entire religion, though the debate around it ultimately highlighted a core value which we Indies value above all—freedom of expression. More recently, The Hunger Games too, ultimately has a controversial subject at heart—that of young adults in a race to kill each other. As I began to see a glimmer of accuracy in my own train of thoughts, I slammed on the brakes. Spider senses tingling, I realized that with the power of being Indie, came the responsibility of self-censorship. As an Indie it is doubly, no, triply important to be true to my voice, my words, my heart and soul. I can only write and publicize what I believe in.  Yes, I have the freedom to put out what I am truly thinking, and if my beliefs are risky then I have the autonomy to share them uncensored… but paradoxically this independence makes me even more answerable to my sphere of influence. I cannot be foolishly provocative or scandalous just to create uproar. Now more than ever, the buck stops with me! 

What are your thoughts? Would you go so far as to be purposely controversial in order to catch media attention? What are your thoughts on self-censorship? I’d love to hear from you.
About the author (in my words): Though born in India, wanderlust drove me out of my home country and I lived in Singapore and Hong Kong before being based in London where I now live. I am inspired by Indian mythology. It was in embracing my roots that I found my voice. My debut novel The Destiny of Shaitan is available on Amazon Reach me here:
twitter at @laxmi

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 thoughts on “Does it take a controversy to create a best-seller?

  1. Many books have benefitted from controversy (The Da Vinci Code comes to mind) and not all of them are well enough written to merit the sales they achieved. Like you, I too have played with the idea of controversy for my books. If enough readers felt I was attacking religion with my story, would my sales sky rocket?

  2. The obverse, of course, is that those with dissenting or minority views are often accused of being contrarian to attract attention, thus (disingenuously) conflating dissent with frivolous attention-seeking. As one old enough to have learned the term "self-publishing" not in English but in Russian ("samizdat"), and to have taken as models dissidents from the 18th century onward, I add that this sort of amateur psychoanalysis is a very old and very dishonest practice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s