Does it Take a Controversy to Create a Bestseller?

10/09/2012 11:10 BST | Updated 07/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Close on the heels of Fifty-Shades-of-pretending to be in love, when actually you just want to penetrate every orifice comes another controversy over another novel, currently in its 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. I have not yet read the novel myself, 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 bestseller in today's crowded electronic era? Of course if your novel is provocative enough, and both the above are extremely so, it will rub many the wrong way, sufficiently enough 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 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 was what I should be doing to get that much needed publicity push, to stand out among the sea of words out there?

Among mainstream novels too, many which linger in memory, are of the controversial nature. 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. Even The Hunger Games ultimately had 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 realised 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 an uproar. Now more than ever, the buck stops with me!

What are your thoughts? Would you be purposely controversial in order to catch media attention? How do you feel about self-censorship among Indies? I'd love to hear from you.

Laxmi Hariharan is an author & technophile. Read more from her here

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