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Can write, will print
|Technology is coming to the aid of wannabe authors and making it easier to get into print, says Aarti Dua|
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It was a dilemma for Ohio-based poet and essayist Aryanil Mukherjee. He’d written a book of poems in English (he has already written four in Bengali) and didn’t know how to get it published. He finally hit upon a slightly unorthodox solution: he teamed up with Goa-based self-publishing service CinnamonTeal Print and Publishers to publish his collection, Late Night Correspondence recently.
Welcome to the world of self-publishing. Today, would-be authors can avail of self-publishing services like CinnamonTeal, Pothi.com and Depot. They offer a quick, efficient and cost-effective option to writers eager to be out in print quickly.
Ok. Self-publishing or vanity publishing, as it’s also known, has always been around. But today technology means that a publisher like CinnamonTeal or Pothi.com can bring out a well-produced volume — and in next to no time. And the costs are more manageable.
For Mukherjee, the self-publishing option turned into a boon. He wanted to share his works, originally in Bengali, with American experimental poets, who he interacts with. “Small presses typically take one to three years to print. That was the principal reason why I approached CinnamonTeal,” says Mukherjee.
The new services offer more than just modern printing technology. They’re also offering varied services from editing to designing, thus hand-holding writers through the entire manuscript-to-printed copy process. And in some cases, they’re even helping to market the books although self-published authors are ultimately responsible for reaching out to readers — and selling in bookstores.
For writers like Mukherjee, in fact, self-publishing services like CinnamonTeal have proved to be a “value for money” proposition. As an experimental poet, exercising control over presentation too was equally important for Mukherjee. “Small presses sometimes want to exert control in terms of the style. The advantage with print on demand is that all that is within your control,” he says.
The service providers
A host of self-publishing firms have sprung up over the last few years. Like Pothi.com, which was set up by Bangalore-based techies Jaya Jha and Abhaya Agarwal in July 2008.
The two were actually trying to publish Jha’s collection of Hindi poetry when they stumbled upon the print-on-demand technology. “I had a dream job with Google then. But I always wanted to start up on my own,” says Jha.
Pothi.com has already published around 50 books like Four Briefs and Six Vests, a memoir by IIM graduate Dilip T.K., and On the Contrary, a collection of columns by venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy. “Self-publishing is more prevalent than it appears. It gives a chance to writers who don’t have access to conventional publishers,” says Jha.
Then there’s Depot, the three-year-old books and music division of Pantaloon Retail (India). Depot was already publishing cookery, self-help and children’s books through its Depot Exclusives imprint when it began getting queries from would-be authors.
“We thought, why not offer self-publishing services as we already had a back-end and a front-end too in our Depot stores,” says Darshana Shah, senior manager, marketing, Pantaloon Retail (India).
That was in February 2008. Now, Depot has already done around 20 self-publishing projects, ranging from food to fiction to self-help. “We’ve got a very good response,” says Shah. But she admits, “Self-publishing is a democratic platform. We are not going to judge whatever you have written.”
Meanwhile, in Goa, Leonard and Queenie Fernandes too launched CinnamonTeal in October 2007 as an offshoot of their online bookstore, dogears.com. They’ve published 25 titles so far.
As a business, self-publishing is still quite young in India, says Pinaki Ghosh, who set up Power Publishers in Calcutta last year. But he expects to witness “a notable growth” over the next five years.
“Thousands of wannabe authors will get drawn to this concept when they discover the benefits,” says Ghosh, who founded Power Publishers as an extension of his three-year-old ghostwriting service, Writer4me. Ghosh expects to publish 25 books in 2009.
On the shelf
Writers from across the country — and beyond — are seeking self-publishers. Take Sumitra Ramachandran, who’s co-founding an IT company in Thiruvananthapuram. She has just published Pachoo’s Story, an allegorical tale with animal characters, through CinnamonTeal. “As a first-time author, I felt self-publishing was a good option as I was able to choose how my book was going to be,” she says.
Others like Amish Tripathi who has just published his novel, Shiva: The Man, The Legend, are hoping to catch the eye of a mainstream publisher with a fully packaged product.
As the national head of marketing and product management at IDBI Fortis Life Insurance, Tripathi knew the importance of making a good presentation. “I didn’t want to present an A4-bound manuscript that would get lost in the pile,” he says. Hence, he published it through Depot first.
The novel — written under the pen name Amish — is the first part of a trilogy that Tripathi intends to write, and is based on the premise: what if Lord Shiva was a real man who lived in 1900 BC and whose story was turned into a myth about the god? So it turns Shiva into a Tibetan migrant who travelled to the Indus Valley region.
“The story just came to me. I wrote it every morning and evening in the backseat of my car,” says the history buff. Now, he has put together a package of the printed work with reviews from “celebrities” like Prahlad Kakkar and mythologist Devdutt Patnaik, which he will submit to mainstream publishers soon.
Chennai-based Rumjhum Biswas doesn’t believe in self-publishing either. “I write because I must. But if it has to be read, it must be seen critically by a third party who feels it is worth it,” says Biswas.
Nevertheless, when she was invited to read at the Prakriti Poetry Festival in Chennai in December, she didn’t want to read from cyclostyled sheets. So she decided to print some of her already published poems as a slim volume, It’s Been There All Along.
These writers aren’t necessarily opting out of the conventional publishing industry. Aryanil Mukherjee recently published a second book with CinnamonTeal called Chaturangik/SQUARES, a collaborative anthology written with American poet Pat Clifford. He’ll submit it to New York-based Litmus Press soon.
For writers like Mukherjee, self-publishing in India is a value-for-money proposition. But he says, “There’s no reason why self-publishers can’t graduate to the next level and take an editorial stance.”
Yet, for others, self-publishing is also proving to be a way to publish personal writings among family, or even indulge themselves.
Like when Zunder Lekshmanan’s father M.V. Lekshmanan died last April. “My father had a large number of friends and family, and I wanted them to relive their memories of him through this book,” says Zunder, who works with a telecom firm in Bangalore.
The result is Down The Memory Lane, a slim book of 19 poems, which Zunder published through Pothi.com.
On the other hand, when Prabhleen Singh, a medical intern in Amritsar, managed to put down the “stories in his head” into a novel, And The Mirror Kissed Back, he deliberately chose to publish it himself.
“Traditional publishers usually want you to make changes to make the book more marketable. I didn’t want mine to be changed at all,” he says. It has been a tough job but he has, so far, managed to sell 200 of the 500 copies of his novel about two women “who face problems they’re not responsible for”.
Indeed, Karthika V K, publisher and chief editor, HarperCollins India, cautions: “Self-publishing has always been around but marginally. And it will continue to be marginal because people may be able to print their work but you also need to sell and distribute, which is an entirely different thing.”
Manuscript to printed word
So how does one self-publish? It’s pretty simple actually. Once you’ve written your magnum opus, you can just contact a self-publisher online and get going.
As a first step, you need to enter the basic details of your book online like its genre, dimension (7in x 9in is the most common size), number of pages, hard or soft cover, and number of copies. The self-publisher’s website will generate an estimated cost. You can also choose from the range of services provided such as cover page design, copy editing, formatting and page layout.
The cost depends on all these parameters. For instance, Depot charges Rs 550 for a premium cover page design for a 100-page 7x9 book. Pothi.com charges Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 to edit a 200-page book.
Print-on-demand is costlier than offset printing on the price per book. But as you can print fewer copies, the total outlay is lower. Players like Pothi.com and CinnamonTeal print even a single copy, while Depot prints 25 copies minimum, and Power Publishers, 300.
Once you’ve got your initial quote, you can submit your manuscript online. After that, it’s a matter of liaising with the publisher on editing, formatting et al. You can conduct the entire process online too like Lekshmanan.
The publishers vouch on confidentiality. The book’s copyright too rests with the author, and he also decides its price.
“All rights are with the author. Also the services are non-exclusive so authors can look for regular publishers simultaneously,” says Pothi.com’s Agarwal.
Once you’ve got your printed copy in hand, you can either list it on the publishers’ website or distribute it yourself.
Reaching out to readers
The big problem is how do you sell your book? Mainstream publishers have established marketing and distribution networks to create demand for their authors. But self-published authors must rely on themselves, and that’s where they are at a disadvantage.
Singh, for instance, approached bookstores in his hometown Meerut himself to stock his book. He also managed to get Oxford Book Store in Amritsar, Chandigarh and Delhi to sell his book though he had to first host — and pay for — a book launch.
The self-publishing firms do offer some marketing services though. With its 120 shop-in-shops and 10 standalone stores, Depot for instance, has a ready network. It offers a free listing on its site and stocks the book at select stores for three months. It even organises free book launches. Shraddha Damani, 22, who runs a search firm in Calcutta, hosted one recently when she launched her book Love, Life & Relationships.
Players like Pothi.com and CinnamonTeal also offer a free listing on their online bookstores — they only print copies when orders come in, sharing the royalty with the author. Besides, CinnamonTeal has tied up with online book stores like India Plaza and Flipkart.com.
Pothi even offers an online marketing package, which includes putting up a website and blog for the author, getting them on social networks like Facebook, and marketing the book on community-based networks like Shelfari.
“Ultimately, however, it’s up to the author to reach out and engage with their readers,” says Jha. Be that as it may, one thing’s clear: there’s no dearth of writers out there and self-publishing is opening up the doors for them.
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