A curious thing happened to me at the London Book Fair.
As an Indie author, my first stop was the various Indie author panels. Held at Author HQ, as the space was called, here, Indie authors spoke about how their books went straight to No.1 or No.3 on the Amazon bestseller lists.
How important it was to invest in a publicist. How you should keep tweaking your novel--the cover, the synopsis, and the Amazon keywords--to drive sales.
How you shouldn't hold back from investing behind your author brand and how you need to move on very quickly to the next book.
Perhaps it's my marketing background, where I marketed and built media brands for a living. Or perhaps it's because, having been on the Indie author circuit for a few years now, I have heard similar conversations. Whatever the reason I found my attention wandering. So, I walked across to the other side of the building to the PEN Literary Salon, where authors were being interviewed.
The first session I attended featured Mexican author Valeria Luiselli. She spoke about here new book Story of My Teeth.
In this the protagonist Gustavo 'Highway' Sanchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. He has a few skills that might help him on his way: he can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums, he can interpret Chinese fortune cookies, he can stand an egg upright on a table, and he can float on his back. And, of course, he is the world's best auction caller - although other people might not realise this, because he is, by nature, very discreet. Studying auctioneering under Grandmaster Oklahoma and the famous country singer Leroy Van Dyke, Highway travels the world, amassing his collection of 'Collectibles' and perfecting his own specialty: the allegoric auction. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection: the teeth of the 'notorious infamous' - Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf et al. I was hooked.
What a cool and very different story. I also came away with some very interesting one-liners: "How the teeth are a window to the soul." "How one should not trust a writer who smiles." And that was only the beginning.
I was also fortunate to hear from the electrifying Carmen Boullousa, a leading Mexican poet, novelist and playwright. Carmen writes about feminism and gender roles within a Latin American context. She spoke and the audience listened, enthralled.
Carmen talked about her love for cooking, and how for a long time she denied herself that pleasure, for she associated cooking with female subservience. Coming from a traditional Indian family where my mum was a housewife and spent the better part of my teenage years in the kitchen, whipping up freshly cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners for her family... I totally got it. And then she delivered this stunning one liner: "If I talk about my current project it just gets putrid." That's my most basic fear right there.
Listening to these authors was like being afforded a peek into their soul, a teensy-weensy view of what inspires them, what they obsess about; about why they write on the themes they do. And then I wondered ... Why is it that I never hear from a panel of Indie writers about their writing? About what inspired their books, about their thinking, how they feel, how they react to situations.
Yes, yes, so many of us Indies had professional careers, which shaped us before we pursued writing books seriously. So, why not talk about that previous life and how it influences how we write now. About what inspired the themes of those bestsellers?
How about discussing life and death, loving and hating, our fears and our secret obsessions? The emotions we face everyday and which we reflect in our books... Know what I mean?
I acknowledge the importance of, and indeed pursue my understanding of the every-changing Amazon algorithm, for it is important to my book sales. But I'd also rather spend a lot more of my time obsessing about the algorithm of life. It's why I write.
Laxmi Hariharan is the author of The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer.