Arundhati Roy is a political activist, human rights advocate, and a best-selling author. In 1997, she published a book entitled, The God of Small Things. Within months, it had sold 400,000 copies and won the Booker Prize. Fast forward 20 years later, and the book has sold more than 8 million copies and is available in 42 languages.
The book, which took her 5 years to write, is a semi-autobiographical tale of family in India in the 1960’s, and though it included some terrible events, its sorrows were private, muffled, and personal.
Before she became a best-selling author, Roy was a successful playwright who won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay in 1988. She wrote the screenplays for In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989), a movie based on her experiences as a student of architecture, in which she also appeared as a performer, and Electric Moon (1992).
On writing a best-selling book
Roy says writing her best-selling book was the result of taking her time to create a polished product, and giving it her very best.
She comments, “When I was writing my book, I just knew when it was ready, when it was true and that’s all that mattered. The process of writing a book is such a lonely and yet wonderful process. And at the end of that process, for the person who was writing, the process of doing it was more important than what eventually came out, though what came out is necessarily bound to that – the process of polishing it, of making it as good as you possibly can.”
She continues, “It is such a wonderful privilege to have spent five years doing something which I know is the best that I could possibly have done, whatever anyone else might think of it, it is a blessing and a privilege. The fact that I finished it is something that I am eternally gratefully for. For me, the biggest achievement in all of this is that I actually finished it.”
Her advice for other authors
According to Roy, in order to write better fiction and non-fiction stories, writers need to understand the difference in voice between the two genres.
She also encourages writers to be generous, and not selfish. “Selfish writers,” she says, “leave you with the memory of their brilliance whereas generous writers leave you with the memory of the world that they have evoked.” But she believe that writing should be an act of generosity, not an act of self-indulgence. “It’s important that you keep in mind that you’re not going to burden the world with what it did for me or didn’t do for me,” she adds.
Finally, her thoughts on the secret to a great story is “the secret of great stories is that they have no secrets.” She comments, “Great stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t.”
Sharing her profits
Obviously, if your book sells 8 million copies over a period of 20 year, that’s a lot of steady revenue coming in for the author, but Roy is not a greedy person.
She has been living off the royalties ever since it was first published, but says she has given the vast majority of it away.
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