Adithya Iyer dropped out of engineering college in Mumbai, backpacked across India, raised money on a crowdfundingplatform, wrote a book, and then, wasted no time in publishing it himself. He said it was the best decision - The Great Indian Obsession (Notion Press, 2015) sold over 300 copies even before he had written it (see picture below).
Not prepared to wait for the manuscript to be reviewed by mainstream publishers - and face rejection - authors are opting to go the self-publishing way. "Over the past five years, at least 30-50 self-published titles have appeared each month," says Mayi Gowda, owner of the popular bookstore Blossoms on Church Street who knows the books industry well.
There are about 20 self-publishers in the country, such as Partridge Publishing, Sapna Ink, Blue Rose but "hardly five or 10 are good", says Naveen Valsakumar, co-founder of Notion Press that was established in 2012. What these firms do is help make self-publishing a one-stop affair.
Depending on the `package' chosen an author may have a manuscript edited professionally, design a book cover, sell books online or over offline distribution networks, and for extra money, even organise a book launch and media coverage.
"We don't curate content but we definitely do a quality check on the language," Valsakumar says, adding they regularly invest in books that might do well in their accelerator programmes - an in-house evaluation on the performance of published books.
Understand the challenge
Sameer Kamat, self-published author of Beyond the MBA Hype (2011) says the biggest difference between tradition al and self-publishing is the author's role in the project. Heshe has to think beyond the writing.
"From the creative - editing, cover design, video trailers - to the business aspects such as pricing, distribution, and marketing. It can be overwhelming."
Kamat runs two websites - booksoarus.com and sameerkamat.com - related to writing and publishing where writers approach him for mentoring to chart their own path to success.
Read the reality
Bengaluru-based author Anil Shetty (Life of I, 2012; Project of Hope, 2016) decided to self-publish his books to avoid the long wait for a mainstream publisher. "It takes six to eight months for them to even respond," Shetty says. "I wanted to reach out to my audience."
Although the reasons for self-publishing vary slightly, Sameer Kamat cautions budding authors that "it's bad strategy to consider self-publishing as a stepping stone to winning a publishing contract". A few popular authors, such as Amish Tripathi(Immortals of Meluha, 2010, self-published) and Ashwin Sanghi (The Rozabel Line, 2006, selfpublished) have managed to do it but these are exceptions rather than the norm. "Most traditional publishers will not touch a self-published book, unless it has been a runaway hit on its own," he adds. What all agree upon is that living off royalty is definitely not a sound idea for most authors. "Royalty in India is peanuts for first-time authors," Kamat notes.
Invest in professional services
Anil Shetty knew that he would have to hire professionals to edit and design the book: "These investments are non-negotiable," he says. While he decided on book launches with celebrity guests in tow, Iyer decided on an online book trailer. He was particular the cover caught the eye of a "youngish crowd" and went for a funky blue and yellow palette. "People literally judge a book by its cover," he says, after having observed "for hours" what readers generally pick at book exhibitions.
Believe in the book
Notion Press once published a book in English for a South Korean author on operating a specific type of sophisticated machinery. "I had no clue what to make of it," Valsakumar says with a laugh. The book sold 2,000 copies in spite of its steep price (Rs 3,000). It is key to reach an audience which finds the book valuable.
Know your audience
Yet, just writing for a specific audience is no longer enough. The book has to reach them. For instance, Iyer's book was about Indian parents' obsession with their children becoming engineers. "My book would appeal to new and going-to-be engineers," he says, "so I went to the places where they lived."
He took his books to engineering colleges where the response was good. He also visited Bengaluru, which, he jokes, is filled with engineers. While staying at a friend's place in Whitefield, he decided to do some door-to-door sales and knocked on the doors of 26 apartments in the building. He sold 25 books.
Promote the book
When Iyer began writing the book he talked about it on social media. "I visited colleges for my research. I took pictures and uploaded them with anecdotes." By the time his book was launched online for pre-ordering, most potential readers already knew about it. Once he had the copies Iyer never missed an opportunity to show it to potential readers. Kamat recalls his experience of negotiating with book retailers, standing outside bookshops to woo buyers and going to sleep thinking about what to do next on social media. Self-publishing can definitely deliver the goods but Iyer isn't sure how many writers have such patience.
Price it right
Sapna Ink's Darshit Shah says they tell authors to make sure their books are affordable. "If a small number, say 200 to 500 copies are priced right, an author can break even or make a small profit," Shah says. Shetty spent Rs 500 on each copy of Project of Hope (hardcover) and priced it at Rs 1,100.So far, 250 copies have been sold. "I got around Rs 2.5 lakh, of which all went to charity," Shetty points out. Iyer's book was second on the list of the popular books on humour on the Amazon site. But few authors ever make a profit.
Disadvantages of self-publishing
Valsakumar says the hallmark for a book to be successful is quality content and presentation, accessibility for the target audience, and good marketing. While professional self-publishers may get presentation right, content might be questionable if rigorous editorial checks are not undertaken. Also, self-published authors do not have easy access to offline distribution networks as traditional publishers do.
The nuts and bolt
While an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is not compulsory, it will come in handy while using standard book distribution networks.
* To apply, send an application to Raja Rammohan Roy National Agency (isbn.gov.in).
* Look for a self-publisher who will be able to walk you through the process.
* Some mainstream publishers like Penguin have also entered the fray.
* Professional self-publishers can cost from Rs 25,000 to Rs 3,00,000 depending upon what you need: editing, cover design, promotion materials like book posters, trailers and book launches.
* Most standard self-publishers offer an on-demand package and prints books whenever there is an order - even if it's one copy. "This saves warehousing costs," Valsakumar says. Notion Press fits 1,500 titles on three shelves thanks to this model.
* A book's retail pricing is based on two factors: the cost of printing and the prevailing market pricing. For instance, books in the romance genre are priced at around Rs 200. So if the printing cost was Rs 100, the suggested maximum retail price is usually Rs 200-250.