Vasant Davé, author of Trade Winds to Meluhha, talks about his approach to writing and his plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I enjoy expressing my thoughts and dreams, my logic and hypothesis in written words. I wrote spoofs and short stories as a university student. Later while working in the capacity of marketing engineer, I wrote technical articles explaining new product-features in laymen terms and how they could benefit the user industry. I always wanted to write a novel. I commenced writing one only in 2008 after I retired.
Tell me a little about your book.
Trade Winds to Meluhha is based in the Bronze Age Mesopotamia and its contemporary culture of Indus Valley. It’s story of a young Babylonian Samasin, who is caught in a whirlwind of events which haul him to a far-away land called ‘Meluhha’. There he meets a beautiful damsel named Velli. He falls for her but is disgusted to learn that she loves another person. Amidst a series of adversities peculiar to the Indus Valley, he uncovers certain diabolic activities that are ruining the lives of Mesopotamians. Returning to his homeland, Samasin ensures that the villain is exposed and punished. The narrative ends in a few happy weddings.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Yes, Jeffrey Archer. I am awed by the research that goes into his thrillers. He composes facts and fiction together like a digital artist. Although you know it’s a work of fiction, you enjoy imagining that the events actually occurred. My goal is to write as convincingly and as interestingly as Archer.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
No, I don’t set any time-bound target in terms of words because I can’t stick to it. I jot down salient points of a scene as they come to mind, and then arrange them in a logical sequence. Then I start writing on paper. Going through the draft several times over, I try to make it as reader-friendly as I can. After that do I sit before the PC and type it into the manuscript document.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
Yes, not only in India but in the USA and the UK too. I’ve lost their count I don’t blame them. With rocketing input-costs, more and more publishers prefer to release new books written by established authors rather than betting on new ones. My book is about that place and period of history on which hardly any novel was written earlier. That’s likely to have scared away the agents.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
Rather than the year 2012, I have a rolling 12-month period on my radar. I have some ancient statistics about book sales in the United States, but they are good enough to measure success. Out of 1.2 million titles tracked by Nielson Bookscan in 2004, almost 80% sold fewer than 100 copies. Another 16% sold fewer than 1,000 copies. The average book in America sells about five hundred copies per annum. I would consider myself ‘having arrived’ when Trade Winds to Meluhha attains that much sales over a 12-month period because I consider that getting in the top 20% of all the available books is no small achievement for a new author whose name is not only new but sounds outlandish to American and European readers.
How have you marketed your books?
I have marketed my book through a Facebook page. I have also put it on Google Books. I haven’t paid for any advertising as yet.
Have you signed up for KDP Select?
No, I haven’t signed up for KDP Select. Following the discussions on Amazon forums, I understand that the program works best for an author who has several books under his belt. The free offer promotes his other books. I intend to sign up once I come with a second book. At this point, the exclusivity clause might not make much difference vis-à-vis the benefits because Amazon holds the lion’s share in the e-Book market. However, it might be a cause of concern when e-Readers other than Kindle gain more acceptance and popularity.
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
Yes, my book is available on other outlets like B&N, Apple, Sony, Kobo and Diesel through Smashwords. No, I haven’t had much luck with them so far, but I think it is yet too early to pass any judgment because it is only in January that the book was published, and I had not done any pre-marketing.
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
No, I don’t. My experience with Amazon convinces me that they are a thoroughly professional company. Even if they gain monopoly in the e-Book market, they would not do anything to hurt their stakeholders including the authors.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
No, 2012 is too short a deadline to come out with a second book. I am considering writing a sequel which too would be based on two contemporary civilizations of the Bronze Age. In Trade Winds to Meluhha they are Mesopotamia and Indus Valley i.e. Meluhha. In the sequel, they would be Indus Valley and Ancient Egypt. Some of the characters in the first book would be taken in the second. However, that’s all that is in my mind at present. I want readers to discover the mysterious Meluhha and savour it before I present them with another narrative.