My Self-Publishing Experiment: Business Doctors

Best Management Consulting Books | Business Doctors Management Consulting Gone WildMany readers and writers have been asking me about it. So, I thought I should share the story here to help other aspiring authors who want to explore non-traditional ways to reach their readers.

My first book, Beyond The MBA Hype (non-fiction) was published by a leading publisher with an international presence. It has done better than I expected: 3 print-runs in under 2.5 years and heading into a 4th re-print soon.

My second book, Business Doctors: Management Consulting Gone Wild (fiction), is a story about elite business strategy consultants who get hired by the underworld to turn around their business. It seemed like a natural choice to go back to the traditional publishing model.

Most of the self-publishing success stories you find on the net happen outside India. Add to it all the depressing facts about the book publishing industry. There’s very little for desi authors to get some inspiration or direction from.

But I chose to self-publish Business Doctors.

Not the regular vanity publishing route where you publish 100-200 copies where they manage the entire behind-the-scenes process for the author for a fee.

I was thinking about the regular mainstream publishing process, where I’d have to manage everything from printing the book to getting it listed on the leading book retailers like Flipkart/Amazon…minus the resources of a bigger publishing company.

I had self-published the ebook edition of my first book and given all the online tools that Amazon offers, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

But self-publishing a book in the physical (paperback) form has some major challenges compared to self-publishing an ebook. There are many new activities that I had no experience or expertise with.

Taking the decision to self-publish the book

I started wondering what it was that bigger companies can do, but the lowly independent author can’t.

The publishing supply chain always seems so mysterious. What happens after you submit your manuscript and before it pops out from the other end?

I thought, why not roll up my sleeves and try to independently manage all the tasks involved in getting a book published.

Knowing well that most authors in India won’t make money, I thought if I can’t make money from it, at least I can get an education about how the industry works.

There was another reason for choosing the self-publishing option over traditional publishing. I waited for 5 years for my first book to be published knocking on the doors of multiple publishers across multiple countries.

Though it wouldn’t take that long for the second book, I’d still be looking at 1.5 – 2 years after signing the contract and waiting for the book to end up in retail shops. I didn’t have the patience to wait for several years more.

I have no track record in fiction, so I’m not underestimating the effort needed to convince a publisher all over again. But it would still be a safer and time-tested approach.

In my corporate avatar, I was a project manager for several years. Tapping into those rusty skills, I created a little publishing project plan for getting Business Doctors published.

Self-publishing plan for the book

The plan listed out all the big and small tasks needed to get a professional looking product out – getting an ISBN, typesetting, printing, cover design, book trailer, warehousing, identifying distributors, retailers.

Some tasks (like dealing with a government agency to get the ISBN) were more tedious than the others.

I reached out to the same international printing company that had printed my first book to ensure that the quality of paper, the binding and the overall finish of the physical book came close to the first book.

Neither the printing company nor the distributor was willing to store the copies. So, I converted a small part of my house into a mini-warehouse.

I hired a designer based in Singapore for the book cover.

I got some informal and professional help for the book trailer of Business Doctors.

Books that come out of the vanity publishing process end up being very expensive (Rs 400-500). I wanted to keep Business Doctors under Rs 300. So I went for offset printing where the minimum order quantity is 1000 copies. And I had to pay the money upfront. That’s the biggest (and riskiest) investment in the process.

With the limited resources at my disposal, rather than spreading myself too thin, I chose to target only the online bookstores and skip the physical bookstores in the initial phase.

In the absence of prior experience or knowledge, in many situations I’d be operating with blind spots. At each step, I had to evaluate the implications of the decision.

But in the end the book did come out. It is priced at Rs 250 (shaving off 50 bucks from the initially estimated price).

How long did it take to self-publish my book?

Self-publishing booksCan you guess how long it took to get a tick mark on all the individual items in the project plan and to get the book listed on Amazon, Flipkart et al?

Less than 2 months!

Within a few days, I launched the ebook edition of Business Doctors on Amazon as well.

For someone who had no idea how all the back-end activities would fit together and no contacts with any of the players (service providers) in the chain, I thought it was a fairly decent accomplishment.

Most books printed by traditional publishers make a loss. The next challenge for me would be to sell off the entire stock without going in the red.

I realise it’s not a perfect product. It still has its rough edges. But what’s more important for me is that it’s out there in the hands of readers and at a price that’s in the same range as the other mainstream books.

The reviews have started coming in and have been largely positive. Here’s the Goodreads page for Business Doctors. Some have mentioned about formatting/typesetting issues. I’ve fixed these in the ebook edition. But I’ll have to wait till the current lot of paperback copies gets sold out (fingers crossed) before rectifying those issues in the next print-run.

Going from Self-publishing to Traditional Publishing

At some point of time, if the response continues to be positive, I’d be looking at handing over the rights to a mainstream traditional player who can scale up the volumes by using their huge distribution network (my biggest constraint right now).

This would be Phase 2 of the experiment.

Till that happens (or I run out of steam), I’ll keep doing what I can. I have been reaching out to bloggers, readers to help me spread the word.

But with each passing day, I realise that individual effort is not enough. If you think, the experiment was worth the risk (and keeps the flame burning for small, unrepresented writers hoping to get published in India), I’d love to have your support as well.

Every little bit counts, like sharing this blog post on your social media pages so other writers in your friends’ list can adapt the ideas for their own books.

39 Comments

  1. Dear Sameer

    Congratulations!! and indeed a colossal effort few would dare. I wish you very best.
    I got my first book self published through Patridge but the cost per copy remains very high which makes it unattractive for Indian buyers.
    I am evaluating options to re-publish it through Indian self publishers, but I dont know whether I need a new ISBN and I am not able to decide whether I should re-publish at all.
    Please help me arrive at a decision by sharing your thoughts.

    • Neha Jain says:

      You can get ISBN numbers for free from Ministry of HRD on http://education.nic.in just try searching for ISBN and you’ll be able to download ISBN application form for authors. This form is applicable for self publishing. You need to fill the form and send it to the mentioned address.

      I checked for some Indian printers on Indiamart. Printing cost can come out as low as 150 Rs for colored cover and BW interiors for a 200 page paperback with print runs as low as 20 for 100 copies it might even be 120 Rs. But the main problem is with the distribution.

      I have my ebook already listed in Amazon kindle and smashwords. Currently I am planning for a print version. And it is true that all the self publishing options make the books price high (completely unsuitable for an Indian reader).

      • Anadi Subhanand says:

        Neha you can get book printed at much lower rates. i get them printed at 50-80 rs per copy for small print runs (100-200)

  2. Sameer says:

    Thanks for your wishes, Sandeep.

    ISBN numbers are usually owned by the publisher who gets them in bulk and assigns it to individual titles.

    So you won’t be able to re-use it.

    I see on Flipkart that your book is priced at Rs. 536. That’s too high for books by first time authors. So, I can understand your concern.

    Whether you are able to re-publish the book or not would also depend on the contract you have with the publisher and the rights you’ve sold them (or kept for yourself).

    • mahrukh says:

      Sameer interesting read and an eye-opener for a debut writer who wants to take the self-publishing route. Seems quite a daunting task. Would going for a package with a self-publishing help.? The packages are priced according to the services they offer. Max package is around a lac? Worth it?

      Amazon KDP is also not simple if one is not too computer-savy.

      Best Wishes n rgards

  3. I am inspired with your story and dedication to publish a book yourself.

    This article is going to help many aspiring writers by giving them right direction and approach.

    Hope one day I will be sitting with you to plan my book. 🙂

    Thanks for putting efforts in his guide.

    Best wishes.

  4. Chitrang Nanavati says:

    Great Job..You must be very positive minded through out the process. I have just completed my book on smarter way of learning for students and thinking of how to get published as I am a first time author. Should I go with packages offered by few agencies but not sure whether they will reach out to stores across the India or not.

  5. I wish you all the best in this journey and look forward to seeing more of you on the social media scene. It is nice to see a flame burning strong. Sharing this on my twitter @CaptainnVyom

  6. shiv kumar says:

    sir

    i want to publish my first Fictional Noval in Hindi. please guide me. I have published a book on poetry through self publishing in the year 2012 but a single copy of my book is not sell till date.

  7. Sameer says:

    @Kulwant: Thanks you, buddy. With your online promotion skills, I’m sure you won’t have trouble reaching out to the right audience.

    @Chitrang: If you have doubts about whether your book will be available in any specific channel (online or offline), ask the team that you are planning to work with. Why have doubts in the mind?

    @Abhyudaya: Thank you.

    @Shiv: Probably not the best idea to go back to an approach that hasn’t worked for you last time. Try traditional publishing, though you need to be aware that there are no guarantees about sales there either.

  8. Radha says:

    A laudable experiment, Sameer!

    I am also a fledgling author looking for hard-copy publishing option. I have self-published on Amazon and Smashwords, but not making much headway.

    I am very curious about how you did this? Did you set up your own printer or something like that? Or did you outsource to some DTP guy?

  9. Sameer says:

    Thanks, Radha.

    I’ve mentioned about how I got it printed in the blog post above.

    It’s an international printing company that prints novels for the top tier publishing houses. They printed my first book (published by HarperCollins).

    My decision to go with them raised the cost of getting my book published.

    I had checked with a few local DTP guys to keep costs down, but they weren’t able to match the professional printing companies in terms of quality. The sample copy ended up looking like a cheap, shoddy job.

  10. Hi Sameer,
    Congrats! I am in the same boat as you. I wrote and published a children’s book last Diwali. Since I self published it I printed a limited edition which actually got sold out in US amazon. Since the response on the book have been overwhelming I want to take it to India too. Well since it is book on Diwali (LOL).
    I wanted to ask you about your dealings with Flipkart. What is the usual wholesale price they negotiate with the publisher in this case you and in the end were you able to cover the cost of production and shipping on that? If you are uncomfortable discussing the numbers in open forum we can PM too. Look forward to it.
    Thanks

  11. Sameer says:

    Congrats on the encouraging response to your book, Shuchi.

    I am able to cover the cost of production.

    However, the profit margins aren’t hugely different from a traditionally published book.

    In a self-published book, you are only taking out the publisher from the picture. However, as you’d know from your own experience, the rest of the players in the supply chain still take their pound of flesh.

  12. Rudra Sharma says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I’ve just finished a fiction novel. I have gone through various web sites on novel writing and read a lot about narration, POV, Scenes, etc that now my only worry is editing of novel. Is it true that professional publisher helps author in editing the book which cannot happen in Self Publishing.

    Regards,

    Rudra

  13. CDR. Ajay Kumar says:

    I thought the writing of the book was the main work which involved painstaking efforts and years of effort in a specialized field. What about an author who has to do everything himself from writing to typing and then contacting the publishers and undergoing the trials and tribulations of waiting for the results .
    After reading your story on the same ,it seems the main effort starts when the book has been written one is looking to make money as a writer.
    Ajay

  14. Vishnu Sekhar says:

    Hi Sameer,
    I’d like to have my novel published.
    Recently, I talked to Patridge publishers and they were ready to help me with the package 18000 for publishing and 30000 for copy editing, total around 50000. is it alright or can I turn to any other publishers?
    Could you please help?

  15. @Rudra: You can get an editor in self-publishing too. But you’d have to pay for any additional service you want to add to the package.

    @Ajay: Both phases are important. Without having a good product (i.e. the book), the post writing part will have limited results.

    @Vishnu: It’s a personal call. For my objectives, self-publishing my second book made sense, but signing up with a vanity publisher didn’t.

    Read the pros and cons of self-publishing and then take a call.

  16. Vishnu Sekhar says:

    Do you mean Patridge is a vanity publisher?
    What about Cynnamon Teal?

  17. @Vishnu: As a general rule of thumb, traditional publishers will never ask authors to pay.

    Any model where the author is expected to pay the publisher is vanity publishing.

    The services might be packaged in various ways. Read this: Vanity publishers in various forms.

  18. purushotam says:

    Hi sameer
    Thanks for very insight full article. I too sometime thinking to self publish. Hiw many copies to be sold to achieve breakthrough if profit per cipy say is 15 bucks.

  19. Minu says:

    Hi Sameer,

    The whole charade of getting a book to see light looks damn difficult.

    I felt i had everything sorted until i finished the book. I thought, that i just needed to get the book edited, copyrighted and printed and Voila i am done!!!

    I was planning to get my book printed at a local printer and sell them on Amazon and Flipcart (I thought those were the only things that i had to do).

    Looks like that was silly of me to think so…

    Your blog is really helping me in running the mile, but i am still confused.

    Hoping that you will be able to guide me better. (Sorry the post is going to be a really long one, as i surely want to know if i have covered all the aspects of getting my book to see light)

    First action item: Getting my book edited. (I am stuck here…)

    Second action item: Getting it copyrighted. (I browsed online and got to know that i can apply for a copyright online but the process is very confusing). My doubt here is for self publishing do you need a copyright or a ISBN code? (Please help by answering this)

    Third action item: Getting a designer to design a cover page.

    Fourth action item: Getting it printed.

    Fifth action item: Getting my book to the online retailers like Amazon and Flipcart.

    Sixth action item: Doing my own marketing…:(

    Does the list ever end? That’s how i feel now.

    Please let me know if the process that i laid out above is correct.

    I am really looking upto you to help.

    Regards,
    Minu

    • Utkarsh says:

      Hi Minu, whatever the steps you have mentioned, they are all correct. Have you now published the book? Because I am also looking for the same, I have my mamanuscrip ready but want the copy wrights and isbn

      • Neha Jain says:

        You can easily register your copyright online on http://copyright.gov.in but there is a fee of 500 Rs to register your work with copyright office of India. You need to fill the form online and then take the print out of the acknowledgement and send a copy of your work alongwith the print out to the copyright address mentioned in the printout. After the documents are recieved by the copyright office they will put your work to mandatory waiting period of 30 days and then review and confirm by return post.
        In India the creator by default has the copyrights to the work. The work is registered to support jurisdiction in case of any conflict.

        For ISBN go to http://education.nic.in. It is free to get the isbn from Ministry of HRD. You just need to take the print out of the form. Fill it and mail it with id proof to the mentioned address.

  20. Vishnu Sekhar says:

    Hi Sameer,
    Finally Cynnamonteal publishing has published my book.
    http://dogearsetc.com/dogears/book_details?resourceID=38759

  21. Rani Anupama says:

    Thanks Sameer, great effort. I am really inspired. Have my book ready to publish and searching for a viable and profitable route. In India we don’t have publishers who can publish on demand. Those who can print even a single book for authors and even mail it on their part. Such services are available abroad

  22. Promod says:

    One problem which haunts me and which I hope somebody will answer on these pages, is :

    It is a common tendency among students / youth (even among coaching / training classes / Institutes etc.) to Photocopy / Xerox an entire book for distribution / selling or even self reading. Since the pages to be photcopied are more than 50 they are charged @ Rs. 0.40 / page (at least in the geographical region I belong to). This comes to about Rs.160.00 for a 200 page book. Throw in another Rs. 10.00 for cheap spiral binding. PLUS print any number of copies from 01 to 10,000, depending on your cash flow.

    To hell with quality, as long as the content is there. This is a reality check. With a color cover xerox, you are almost replicating all those sophisticated “Publishers and Amazons” and readers are only too happy to pay! After all not every book is a collectors item. If you had bought an original @ Rs. 300 + Tax + Courier charges, it would have also found its way to a “raddiwala” after the read.

    So, my question ? Why don’t new authors take this route in self publishing ? All comments ( + / -) invited.

  23. Utkarsh says:

    Hello Sameer, I was going with Partridge India to publish my book, but they are pricing it way too high, so I cancelled the deal. I want to publish it now from a local publisher, but I need to know how to get the ISBN and copywrights. What’s the easiest and hassle way process to get those? Thanks. Btw very much motivated my your story.

  24. Ajay Sharma says:

    Wow, you are a mentor for budding author. Could I ask you for a great help for us.
    1. Could you put all the things to do for self publishing, paperback and ebook, as a checklist (with expandable detail) that we could check against.
    2. I would love a website or blog or Facebook page where all budding Indian writers come together to help each other. Could I ask you to be the mentor and maybe start something like that. Sorry for putting you in a spot, its our trust in you that makes me ask such a request. The market can accommodate more writers, so we must do our best to help each other with leads, network and other help possible.

    Brothers & Sisters of the writing family Who knows maybe we can get together for regular meetings to share our life and experiences with writing. I am in Chennai if anyone wants, they can use my house (room on the terrace) for such events, or as a quite place to sit and write.

    Regards,
    Ajay

  25. Moksha says:

    HI Sameer, you’re a messiah for fledgling writers like me who are at crossroads of making that final call for which way to head. Your posts are truly inspiring and your enthusiasm infectious. Keep it coming.

  26. Moksha says:

    Good Idea about the budding authors group Ajay.

  27. Sanjay says:

    Hello Dear,

    You might help me, dear I have to opt for self publishing my first book as no publisher is ready to publish, titled “ART OF INVESTING-THINK LIKE AN INVESTOR NOT A TRADER”, my book resolves around stock market, my experiences and failures, leanings and some beautiful words from industry leaders with motivational quotes and motivational words.

    As a author and financial free means I have resigned from my IT job some 7 months back and pursing a big dream of becoming bestselling author – selling more than 1 million books as my dream is very big & difficult but not impossible to achieve.

    I was looking for help to promote my book hence figure out your site and thought you can help in this regard, please advise and guide me that how I can promote my book to correct readers and convert promotion activities into actual sales, your help is required and valuable to me.

  28. Alisha Kirpalani says:

    While I sit pondering between the devil and the deep sea of to self publish or not, your articles have been a lifeline. Patience is definitely not one of my virtues. I wait with bated breath as I exult over passing the three chapter hurdle. Then comes the fall before the finishing line. This is not the home for your manuscript. Two rejections and I want to go to the nearest photocopy centre and distribute the book to family and friends. End the misery of this endless waiting. Then I read your informative and heartening blog. I am rejuvenated. Till the next rejection. Keep writing so we get inspired to persevere and not give up. Thank you.

  29. Dibya says:

    Hey Sameer
    That was indeed pretty educative. Can you also give some insight about taking the book to physical bookstores post self publishing.

  30. Karuna says:

    Dear Sameer,
    An excellent article and hats off to your effort in firstly taking this route of self publishing and then secondly in helping other authors through your tips.
    I have recently done an ebook titled ‘ Latent Output’ on KDP. I believe the subject covered in the book is unique and throws up a new dimension of leadership. I have done only digital publishing. Would you have any inputs for me to take forward my effort from here to increase its readership.
    Looking froward to your comments. Off course I would love to get your comments in my book itself.

  31. M Ramesh says:

    Dear Sameer, thank you for your post. I have myself very recently self-published my first book, (Silence of the Cicadas) through Notion Press and I find that my experience has been almost exactly as yours. I’ve been fretting over the high price of the book (Rs 355/-, but discounted to Rs 249/- for 90 days after I waived any royalty) and been perplexed over what to do next. Your post comes as some relief, for it is nice to know that that is how the industry works.
    I wish you all the very best with your book.

    • NARESH says:

      Are you Mr. Ramesh matham ? Editor of Business LIne ? Could you please care to elaborate your publishing experience with Notion press ? We are planning to publish a book. We are gathering informations from many authors about their experiences. If you could share your experiences it would be great.. Thanks

  32. Manali says:

    Hi Sameer, first of all thanks for the guiding light… I have completed the final draft of my first fictional novel and am looking to self publish it (Print it on my own and stock it & sell through Flipkart & Amazon). Just a few questions , if u could answer them it would really be helpful,

    1. What are the minimum copies one needs to get printed and does getting it printed through a local printer work (i.e Min qty a local printer prints)
    2. Apart from an ISBN & Copyright, what other legal formalities do I need to take care of if I want to print the book and make it avail for sale
    3. Also what are the best online platforms to make the book avail for sale if I acquire the Copyright & ISBN in India (apart from Flipkart & AMazon)

    I have also researched a lot on various self publishers but for a first time author like me they are too pricey!

    DESPERATELY WAITING FOR A REPLY!

  33. rakhi says:

    I went for self publishing for my first book but the pricing and print quality was very bad. But the book did well and I got a Traditional publisher . The problem with traditional publisher is that I am not paid any royalty even after 4 years. though in that respect self publisher was good as he paid me royalty on time.

    I am not very convinced with ebook on kindle as the payment model does not convince me.

    I was thinking of getting it self print and distribute it but your experience is making rethink. 😉

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