Many 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?
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.