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Would US readers be interested in an alternate history novel based in India?

845 Views 12 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Mainak Dhar
Hi everyone,

Not really plugging any book, but seeking some insights from you as readers (and fellow writers). I have an alternate history novel based in India which is going to be published in paperback in the next 3 months by an Indian publisher. I hold the digital rights, so have been agonizing over whether or not I should make it available on the Kindle.

It really boils down to whether US readers would have any interest in the idea. I know historical fiction is a very active genre (and one I love) with masters like Conn Iggulden etc- and also alternate history masters like Harry Turtledove- the difference is that they primarily write about `Western' history and settings ie. those that Western readers would relate to more easily and perhaps accept more.

My novel is set in 1857 (the year of the first revolt by Indians against British rule) and is based on a simple twist of history- what would things have looked like if India had never been conquered by the British? So the Mughal Empire still reigns supreme, dealing with raiders from the Afghan borders, internal dissensions and British subterfuge. Given that one of the key characters is a British officer and the history of the Raj has a lot of resonance among British readers- I think it would find some readers among British audiences.

Big unknown for me was whether anyone in the US would want to read such a book. I know uploading is free- but there is work involved- formatting, cover design etc- and I could use that time for other writing projects.

Let me know what you feel. Your insights would really help me make up my mind.

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I'd have to wonder how many of your likely readers in the US would know much about the NON-alternate history. *ponder* Would that matter much in reading the book?

Regardless, there's a growing Kindle market in the UK and Australia, and you could find it well worth your while to publish Kindle books even if you find there might not be much of a US market?
S.M. Stirling has done an alternate history book based in India titled The Peshawar Lancers which I love.  So, yes, I'd be interested in another book set India.

Americans know very little about India. I find it fascinating and visited once when I was a teenager, but I have not studied the history. I think they know, if they know anything, that the British used to control it, so changing that is changing the one thing they might know.

Your audience might be bigger in the UK, where this is part of their history as well.

If you write it I might like it, I saw all those red Mogul (or Mughal) palaces and would be interested in what went on there.
I would say that it will probably be worth the effort to publish on Amazon for Kindle, because there is some interest in that era as a setting - horses, swords and gunpowder are often the technological level in stories set both on our world (historical) and others (SF and Fantasy).
Remember that once it is published and available you have a long term asset, which might only have very few sales, but over many years, or of course, you may have a best seller.
Once on it will be available in the UK as well.
I think your novel sounds interesting. Someone already mentioned this but most people here (U.S.) don't know much about Indian history. But I think for it to catch on it would have to be a interesting story. Not that the history of your country or any other country is boring, but you can get away with selling a book about U.S. history because people in the U.S. will deal with that. But I think for your book to catch on in the states it will probably need to be a very interesting story or an interesting take on India's history. And from the short description you wrote about your book it sounds pretty interesting so I don't see why it wouldn't catch on. But you know your book so in the end it's going to be up to you to decide but remember while there definitely is work involved to get your book in the kindle store, once it's uploaded it's forever. So I would say give it a try, and I hope whatever you decide to do works out for you. Good luck

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Build a platform of Indian-American immigrants. Target them with the book advertising and promotion.
I think alternate history books can be fun and I tend to like stories set in India. The only problem I foresee is that the average American may not realize the difference between real Indian history and alternate history.
Alternative history?  Most in the US know little of the Mughal Empire, but it would depend on the treatment, I think.  Because the Mughal Empire was crumbling 100 years before the British and the East India Company took over.  Invaders from Persia and Afghanistan and others had been pillaging Delhi and India for many decades before the British took over.  The Empire was in such bad shape the British merely had show up and play each side against the other in a bloody war.

So somewhere in the early 1700's you'd need some remedial alternative history there and for all the intervening years leading up to the British?  Like a continuation from the Golden Age, without the crumbling that began in the early 1700's.  I always admired Jahan and Akbar from that earlier period.
I'd say yes, and I offer Steven Pressfield's books as evidence. Also Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe books which are set in India. While many are ignorant of history, there are sufficient numbers who are conversant and would jump at such a book. [Edit: Also Forster's Passage to India.]

Perhaps one could use Afghanistan, which everybody knows about now, as a lead-in promotion and blurb. Maybe start with the destruction of Elphinstone's army? That might grab folks more than Mughals they don't know about.

I know Kipling wouldn't exist in your alternative history, but the following has to fit somewhere in such a book and might key off current awareness of Afghanistan:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Rudyard Kipling- The Young British Soldier
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Thanks a ton everyone for the ideas and suggestions. First of all, I will publish this one on the Kindle- that was a decision which your reactions certainly helped shape. Also, based on your suggestions and some I got on the Amazon boards, I'll do a couple of things:

1. Include a historical note so that any interested reader can get some more background
2. Include a glossary for translations of local terms esp. Mughal military/administrative units since the book is primarily a military thriller set in the period

Also, thanks for some great suggestions on how to make American readers relate more to the theme. Several ideas came to mind:

1. Today the US accounts for more than 25% of Global GDP. In the 1700s, another power accounted for about 23% of Global GDP. That power was what we know today as India under the Mughal Empire.
2. The Mughal Empire looked powerful but had several weaknesses that caused it to rot at the core:
- It got caught up in several of it's own `wars on terror' against the Sikhs and Marathas which had no clear end point. To the Mughals, these were punitive expeditions to get taxes- but to the locals, they became wars of liberation- and these sapped away resources and morale.
- A familiar enemy- the Mughals were blindsided by the threat from Afghan raiders- till the capital Delhi itself was sacked. There was a Mughal Army in Kabul- but it was headed by the most corrupt Prince, and did little to enforce Mughal rule, and chose (perhaps wisely) to not try and do much outside of the city of Kabul. The rest of Afghanistan remained a wild land.
3. Being so internally focused that they totally ignored the threat posed by the British. A turning point was in 1757 when a small force of the East India Company defeated the Nawab of Bengal in a battle over trading privileges. That was the first time the British started dreaming of conquest in India. If the Mughal Empire had intervened in that battle, history would have been very different.

I guess every empire in history, from the Romans to the Mughals to the British after WWII and perhaps the US in modern times suffers similar contradictions and pressures, and if I can weave those threads into the historical note, should hopefully make it more relatable to Western readers.

Thanks a ton folks- now on to the writing!


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My wife and I are fascinated with India and the Mughal Empire. We'd both be very interested in reading an alternate history based in this historical time frame. I hope you are inspired to continue with this idea.
BTW Steven just read The Jakarta Pandemic and loved it!!

Will get to work on finishing Hindustaan- thanks for the encouragement.

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