Why I chose to self-publish my Ebook

I finally took the plunge. No, not marriage. That happened a long time ago. Not swimming either. That goes further back in time. It was the big question that most authors have on their mind – ‘Which is better – traditional publishing or self-publishing?

My dilemma was a little different though. My MBA book (Beyond The MBA Hype) was already published in India by a mainstream publisher about 1.5 years back. The dilemma was related to my ebook.

Originally the book was written for the international reader. It’s about the generally unwritten and undiscussed aspects about management education. If your family members, friends, colleagues have been threatening to go abroad for studies, tell them to read it. The content, I always felt, was relevant to anyone considering an international MBA. However, along the editing process, the content was tweaked for the Indian reader. But I still wanted to get it out in the international market.

Outside India, I’m still a no-name author. Doesn’t mean that I’m a major phenomenon in India, sharing ideas with Vikram Seth on what we can jointly do to not return our million dollar advances. But in India, due to my little online platform, the right folks still know about my advisory work. That helps in creating awareness about the book. The same online platform also attracts international readers.

So instead of embarking on another wild goose chase with international publishers, I wondered if I should experiment a little in the self-publishing space. At best, the book reaches out to a global audience. Worst case, I still have an interesting blog post to share here with you.

There are some hard truths that I learnt from my experience in the print space that made the decision easier:

–       Printed books will not make you rich.

You know about the royalty rates in India, right? No? Here’s a refresher – Book publishing industry: How the revenue pie gets shared

– Printed books will not allow you to scale across borders
You have country rights and then you have world rights. Your fight for visibility in your motherland is nothing when you consider the bigger market. How will you ensure that your printed book generates the right buzz in other countries?

–       Printed books will struggle for shelf space in bookstores

Even after my book got an encouraging response (sold out twice and entered into a second edition), I still struggle to find my own book in stores when I go hunting (for a nice ego massage, rather than the book itself). After dodging the huge piles book bearing familiar names (Shri Dan Brown, Shri Bhagat and Shri Amish-ji), I go to the modest sections where the one-off copies of not so popular authors might be placed. When I don’t find it after 10 minutes of frantic searching, I ask for help. The confused look on the helpers’ faces is the least of my worries. The bigger issue is when I tell them the name of the book and they repeat it as if I came from Mars. “What was the name, saar? MBA Height? MBA Night?

After a few minutes, I’m confused whether I wrote a book on management education or health or erotica. If neither the author nor the helper can find the book, why would an impatient reader spend valuable time. He’ll just pick up another related book and leave.

That’s the reality for small-time authors like you and me. Unless you break into the top 0.1% (randomly generated number), shelf space will be a constant uphill battle.

But this isn’t about saying printed books aren’t worth considering. Of course they are. The point here is – what’s there to lose if you skip the print medium and go green?

So, I went ahead and got the book published on Amazon under the shiny new brand – Booksoarus. The content editing, formatting, layout, cover page, testing for device compatibility yada yada was managed by the Booksoarus team.

I wasn’t sure what the reception would be.

Folks in India don’t like ebooks, said many articles. Ebook readers like Kindle don’t sell in India, said many more. And all those facts are true. So I told myself, most of my readers are used to reading my work online anyway (through my MBA blog). And no one needs a Kindle to read ebooks. Amazon provides free Apps to read the ebooks on PC, laptops, iPads, iPhones and all kinds of devices.

Despite all those self-assurances, I was still tense about the ebook and whether it’ll have takers.

Then in a week I checked the Amazon statistics to see how the book published by an unknown writer, through an unknown publishing brand was doing. Here are the results.
ebook Amazon bestseller

I understand this might be book’s fleeting 15 minutes of fame and the ratings / rankings will change over time. But I’m happy that the experiment has not been a complete failure. Gives hope to other chota-mota authors (like me) that there’s another credible avenue that you can explore to get your work in front of folks who really matter – your readers.

If you found this post interesting, read what happened next in this follow-up post – Book marketing plan that got Business Doctors sold out in under a year.

Have you been considering self-publishing on Amazon? What are your concerns? If you have already been published, what’s your experience?

40 Comments

  1. Mangala Gouri says:

    Dear Sameer,

    I don’t know if you remember me, but I had asked for your advice before. I have written four books. After I read your advice, I had one book published in print- “The Night That Changed Everything” by Power Publishers, in May 2013, and in July, I got another (e-book) published by Kindle Direct Publishing –“The City of Widows & Other Stories”. I am going to release the other two titles as well, spacing them a bit as e-books.
    I still have to see how they do. But thank you for your advice, and yes, I will check out Booksoarus, like NOW!

    God bless you, and give you success as well!

    Best regards,
    Mangala Gouri

  2. Sameer says:

    Mangala, you seem to be on a roll!

    Just be careful that the attention you pay to each book after it gets published isn’t diluted.

    So your idea to space them out is wise.

    Good luck with your books. Please share your experiences with self-publishing as you go along. You’ll gain the goodwill of others who want to know more about this, before they go down the same path.

  3. Pierre Francis says:

    Hi Sameer, as usual, your posts are very informative – more so, for a writer looking for answers (and trying to avoid predators!) in the publishing jungle.

  4. Sanchit Gupta says:

    Hi Sameer

    Thanks for the highly informative blog. I have a question regarding ebook self publishing global rights.
    Q1. E.g. If I am from India and I self publish my ebook using createspace, will I have the rights to sell my book in India alone or all over the globe?
    Q2. If only in India, what can I do to see my ebook being sold in global markets as well? (And I am only talking about an ebook here, not paperback). How do I obtain the rights and what would be the approximate costs involved with it.

    Will look forward to your revert. Many thanks.

    Reg
    Sanchit

  5. Sameer says:

    Sanchit,

    You don’t have to do anything to obtain the rights. As the author, you retain ALL rights. You only give away certain rights for certain territories to third parties (like Amazon / Createspace).

    When you use the Amazon platform to sell your books, you have an option that allows you to selectively give them publishing rights for specific countries or global rights.

    No costs involved in the process, if you can manage it yourself (i.e. not through professionals).

  6. Pranay Ghosh says:

    Hey Sammer,
    Its been a while since I last wrote to you. I don’t know if you remember or not, I had asked about the difference in size (no. of words) of a novel and a novella. Anyway, my book writing dreams are all but over. CMAT, CAT & XAT have taken everything out of me. However, I found time to write a short philosophical story. Its really small (1200 odd words to be precise). I wanted to know, how and where can I get my story published? I don’t want any money for my efforts. All I want is to get as many people as possible to read my story. It need not be in print; even anything online is good enough for me. I just want people to read it and hopefully I get to see/read their response. Is this possible? Please give me your views and suggestions regarding this. Waiting eagerly for your response. – Pranay Ghosh

  7. Sameer says:

    Pranay,

    Don’t worry. The writer in you has just taken a little sabbatical. He’ll be back once the CAT, CMAT, XAT distractions have been taken care of.

    There are numerous writing sites where you could post your story, including your own.

    If you don’t have a blog yet, you should start right now. Here’s why every author needs a blog and what you can do to increase the traffic to blog over time.

  8. Pranay Ghosh says:

    Hello Sameer,
    I wanted to thank you for your reply and I wanted to let you know that I got my story posted on a website. I searched the web and found a few websites which do publish short stories without much hassle. I got mine published by World Press your-story-club. It shows that, as of now, there have been 24 people who have read my story. Although none of them left a comment or a response, I’am just happy to see my story being read by others. And yes, I will start my blog when I really get serious about this after my exams. I am sure I’l need your help with that as well so expect a few queries from me shortly. Haha. Thank you for all your help, I think this is a great thing that you have got going and I hope you continue it, for as long as you can. Thanks again. Bye!

  9. Sameer says:

    Congrats on winning your first 24 readers, Pranay.

    That number can only go in one direction from here…up!

    Good luck with your exams.

  10. Arun says:

    Hey Sameer,
    As as aspiring author I have a couple of questions.

    1. How did you manage to retain the Ebook rights? Did the publisher leave this out of the contract?

    2. It’s been three months. How are your sales? I’d understand if you didn’t want to gives us the exact number, but has it met your expectations?

  11. Refai says:

    Hi Sameer:
    I’ve written a novel of 95,000 words. I wanted to get it edited. Any ideas?

    Regards,
    Refai

  12. Sameer says:

    @Arun: 1. Yes, the contract did not have ebook rights.
    2. For a very niche book, the sales have been decent. Just checked. In ebooks, it’s still in the top 5 in the Education category.

    @Refai: Send a note to Lavanya [email: lavanya at booksoarus dot com] to see if she’d be willing to take up your request.

  13. Shivani Adib says:

    Dear Sameer,

    I am a complete newbie as an author, and some children’s stories of mine have been published in a children’s magazine, and its publisher has now also accepted some long stories for a book.

    I read your views on literary agents and on e-publishing. I’m wondering whether to write to Jacaranda or to Sherna Khambatta, whose website specifically mentions children’s fiction, but I’d also like to explore the feasibility of e-publishing. Booksoarus offers pre-publication services. Does it now also take a completed work and e-publish it, of course charging its fee?

    Or could you suggest specific urls of exactly how I can e-publish for myself or through an e-publisher (both short and long stories for children).

    Mangala Gouri above refers to Kindle Direct Publishing; you refer to Amazon/Createspace; Pranay Ghosh mentions World Press Your-Story Club. Then I’ve heard of Cinnamon Teal, Pothi, Zorba and Notion, though the first three seem to provide paid self-publishing services only.

    What should guide my choice of e-publisher?

    Free e-publishing (Notion?) vs self-publishing?

    How should I determine the MRP (between royalty rates and wider Indian readership, I’d prefer the latter!)

    Should I try a different e-publisher for each story?

    I’m puzzled and will really appreciate any advice you’d care to give.

    Thank you very much and best regards,

    Shivani

  14. Sameer says:

    Hi Shivani,

    My next book ‘Business Doctors’ will be published by Booksoarus in the traditional publishing model (offset printing, not print on demand). It’ll be a regular paperback (not an ebook).

    However, for other writers, our services are still at the pre-publishing stage.

    If you haven’t done it yet, you could contact the players in the traditional printing arena (agents, publishers).

    Keep things simple for now.

    If things don’t work out, we can brainstorm other options like self-publishing or e-publishing.

  15. Garima says:

    Sameer…. I am writing to ask you for help since I am a first timer on publishing books…. It’s my first and it’s a labour of love for my daughter. I self published on Pothi but now want to take it other sites ..have an Ebook and a printed version ready.

    Question – which are other sites thAt I shud look at? Also, can anyone help me figure out what can I do to make my PDF file work on Kindle publishing? I found it too complicated ….

    Are there people out there I can reach for help?

    Thanks and god bless.
    G

    • Amresh khanna says:

      Hi Sameer thanks for your advice, I run two coaching institutes in Delhi which are for IIT and medical entrance examinations. I want to get my physics book published, now guide me whether I should go with self publishing or any traditional publishing house ?

  16. Sameer says:

    Garima,

    By other ‘sites’, if you are referring to online retail shops (like Flipkart, Amazon), Pothi should be able to help you.

    For Amazon, you can upload a MS Word document and they’ll do the formatting for their compatible formats (.mobi).

    It’s quite simple to manage independently, but if you find it confusing, you could ask a friend, relative to do it.

  17. manoj says:

    i’ve published on kdp. how do i do it on flipkart.

  18. Sameer says:

    Manoj, Flipkart has a dedicated team for ebooks. But the listing process is not as simple as it is for Amazon KDP.

    Get in touch with them and they’ll suggest the way forward.

  19. VARUN JHA says:

    HI SAMEER CAN YOU GUIDE ME THAT HOW I CAN GET A US TIN (TAX IDENTIFICATION NO) FORM INDIA, BECAUSE IT IS NECESSARY FOR PUBLISHING WITH AMAZON.COM.
    IF YOU CAN MAIL ME ANSWER, LET ME MAIL PLEASE.
    THANKS

  20. mandy says:

    hi sameer,

    i wish to write my own book for my love just for people to know my story,

    how should i go for it and want to publish it online as i am a student so need a source which is less expensive or free please help me out

  21. Sameer says:

    @Varun: Can’t recall exactly which field this is, but you’d probably be able to use the PAN number there. Just re-check with the Amazon support desk.

    @Mandy: Try Amazon KDP. It’s free to publish. They take a commission out of the sales.

  22. Vineeta says:

    Hey,

    From the looks of your blog, I’m guessing you published with HC. I’m a self published writer who published using Partridge and I was considering moving to a Traditional Publisher. A friend of mine who published with HC, spent one year getting their attention and three years editing the book. Was it the same for you?
    My book is a murder mystery/thriller with a lot of technicalities on digital forensics, audit frauds and investment frauds. It’s also has a lot of sex and violence. Due to all these reasons, I am often advised that traditional publishers wouldn’t go for something like that so easily.
    So what was your genre and how long did your publishing process take?

  23. @Vineeta: Yes, it was HC. And just like in your friend’s case, it took several years before the printed copy came out. It was in the non-fiction genre (here’s more Beyond The MBA Hype).

    Why be judgemental about your book? That’s what editors are for 🙂

    If your book can connect with the Indian reader and has a big enough market, traditional publishers shouldn’t have an issue. Their editors can always tone down the content (violence, sex etc) if they don’t think it’ll be palatable in its current form.

    Go ahead and reach out to publishers. Let them take a call. Given their turnaround times, it’ll be a test of patience though.

    • Vineeta says:

      So Like you said, your submissions happened online. I’m thinking of doing the same with my manuscript for HC since my self publishing agency and I had a non exclusive contract. So did you send them a proposal first or the full blown manuscript? And if it was a proposal, do you have a blog on that? I’l add this book to my reading list..

  24. Dear Mr.Sameer,

    Thank you for your informative article on e-book publishing. I have so far published six books through M/s.Gyan Publishers, New Delhi and my seven book is to be released shortly. I would like to publish these books as e books through Amazon kindle direct publishing. Is it worth doing so ? And who has the e-book rights for these books that are already published – my publisher or me ? Kindly explain in simple terms to me.

  25. @Hemalatha: The copyright remains with you – the author. You are only selling the right to republish your work as ebooks, audio books etc.

    You’ll have to get back to your contract to see if you’ve already sold the ebook rights to the earlier publisher.

    Whether the whole exercise of publishing ebooks is worth it or not is difficult to guess. If you are trying to make money from it, you’ll be disappointed. If you are looking for an audience, you’d still need to do pretty much all that you would in case of printed books.

    These are generally questions that an author would have with the first book. So, I find it a little unusual that you didn’t think about them for the first 6 books.

  26. Vipin says:

    I have an ebook published. I am trying to publish physical books it via the new age publishers like Cinnamon Teal or Patridge or Become Shakespeare. However What I am not clear about is as to whether they will be able to help me reach all kinds of physical stores or only some big ones like Crosswords etc or none.

    You said HC. Not sure what is HC ? Should I even try or just publish on Flipkart/ Amazon.in

  27. Shalini Menon says:

    Dear Mr. Sameer,

    I was going through your blog and was delighted to see your detailed section dedicated to the budding writers and your guidelines on how to publish eBooks.

    I want to understand like paperback do we have any royalty system followed in this area too?
    If someone wants to be a full fledged writer and look for his/ her steady income through this medium is it feasiable ?

    Looking forward for your expert comments on this.

    Thankyou
    Sincerely
    Shalini

  28. Keerti says:

    Hello Sameer,
    Thank u for the valuable information you have shared. Please can u help me.i need to publish online a telugu novel and want to do it through kindle direct,flipkart.. pleaase could you direct me on how it can be done?
    Thank you!

  29. Rajashree says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I came across this valuable info a while ago. I have self published two books last year, one from Cinnamon Teal and the other from Partridge. But the sales are just nothing. And that is demotivating me. I just don’t understand how to market my books. Kindly suggest.

    For a self-published author, how long will it generally take for their books to get attention?

  30. @Vipin: That’s the issue with ‘new age’ publishers. It’s not very clear what they really offer. With the differing models, it’s tough to have a standard answer. The best way to find out is by asking them directly.
    Btw, HC = HarperCollins (my publisher).

    @Shalini: Yes, ebooks have the same royalty system, but with better royalty commissions.
    For most authors, it’s not feasible to depend on royalty income.

    @Keerti: The official Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) website has detailed instructions to publish a book. Check it out. For flipkart, you can do it directly. They have a team to handle such requests.

    @Rajashree: That’s the harsh reality of publishing. No one can provide a timeframe or even a possibility of whether the published book will get any attention. Self-publishing companies move on once they’ve got their money.

    The other hurdle in vanity-publishing is the book pricing. From your site I see that one of the books which has 144 pages is priced at Rs 375. Friends and family might pay it to encourage the author, but not real readers.

    I’ve written many posts on book marketing. See if they help.

  31. vishal says:

    hii sir,
    I am a writer and poet .I write my stories and poetry in Hindi and marathi.I want to publish my e book online in Marathi and Hindi.how should I’ll do it? How much cost ? How should I earn from this ?Sir I don’t have any publisher

    Sir please help me with aLL details.if you rply me in Hindi its more understandable for me.
    Thank you

  32. Antony Nduati says:

    Am from Kenya,i have a passion for writing. I published my debut novel on my website zochat.com bt the response has not been that encouraging(135 downloads,2 positive feedbacks). I have other novel ideas bt am not sure if i should pursue that dream. In Kenya,online readers r very few. Should i wait till Kenya gets to online reading stage? What advice can u give me?

  33. Abhishek yadav says:

    Can i publish my novel on amazon after publishing my novel by any publishing house?

  34. Manan says:

    Sir…At KDP who will choose the selling price of,say it, my 50 pages book, if i choose it, then what should be the price for a book, say 100 pages, and can i increase and decrease the selling price of my book.

  35. ASIT KUMAR MAHATO says:

    Hi sameer

    I have recently published my book “You too can become great” online. But it has not been out on stores.Please help me how to promote it.

  36. I was tired of waiting for the green signal for my novel which has passed the three chapter hurdle with three publishers and awaits the finishing line. To develop patience as a virtue, I collected my short stories and landed at Amazon’s door step. It has been ten days and like your book , “A Smattering of Darkness” reached top 10, top 5 in hot new releases and Is hovering around the top 50 since. It is a lot better than nothing. Positive reviews have been trickling in on Goodreads. The joy of being read has taken me by surprise. Getting a person from England to read and love your book would not be easy in a traditional publishing platform. I think the content matters and accordingly one must choose the route. Since my stories are dark and twisted fiction, the international reach of the ebook has been a wise choice. As far as the novel goes, still trying to figure out whether to digitally publish, self publish or wait for the traditional publisher who has me dangling in anticipation. Any ideas?

  37. Sandeep Sharma says:

    Dear Sameer
    Your advice to aspiring authors are excellent. Keep Going.
    I want to publish a book containing quotes which are basically my own thoughts.
    Kindly suggest a way forward. I’m interested in self publishing whether in print or eBook.
    Need to know about the copyright formalities and getting ISBN number.
    I’m in a dilemma whether to go for print or eBook or both.
    I visualise my books being available at all books stores in India and people benefiting from the positive thoughts.
    Currently working…don’t want to disturb my job being seen as a publisher.
    Also don’t want to get involved in company registration and taxation matters.
    Hope your reply can break my dilemma.

  38. Priyanka says:

    Thank you for this great post, Sameer.

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