There is a great deal of flexibility in the packages offered by book publishers today in terms of design and layout, editing and proof-reading, and marketing. Picture courtesy: Anand Prakash
Not too long ago, the biggest hurdle most aspiring writers faced was finding a publisher for their books. This was largely because it was the publishers–especially the large and reputable ones–who invariably called the shots on what made the cut, and what didn’t. But things have changed drastically the past few years and today you have the opportunity to publish your book on your terms, through other means. Currently, there are three types of publishing: traditional, vanity, and self-publishing.
The pandemic push
The Covid-19 pandemic has created many first-time authors and poets. Says avid Delhi-based reader Niharika Mishra: “It is these authors, poets, wordsmiths who will carry us through the pandemic and beyond, as they are the ones who tell us how to navigate, breathe, feel, think, enjoy, and fully live our lives.”
Self-motivation is a bestseller among genres. Says Swagat Sengupta, CEO, Oxford Bookstore: “During the lockdown, we also saw an upward trend in self-help books. And there has been a spike in the number of works translated into English from vernacular languages.”
Oxford, in fact, upgraded its digital presence and relaunched its e-commerce site. Says Sengupta: “Oxford Bookstore was one of the first few brands in literature to have initiated a series of digital brand communication around books and authors to help customers stay connected while fighting Covid-19. In addition to traditional retail, we have been delivering books through e-commerce channels. Added to that we continue providing book delivery service on requests through social media, text, mail and phone.”
Publishers assert that there has been a huge and sudden spike in people writing. “Before the pandemic, we were publishing 400 books a month,” says Naveen Valsakumar, CEO and Co-founder, Notion Press Publishing. “The pandemic hit and now we have 2,000 authors publishing their books every month, which means one author every 25 minutes. I see a huge spike in top leaders publishing with us such as CEOs of big companies, subject matter experts, and professionals who want to tell their story.”
Types of publishing
Traditional publishers: These are still the most coveted lot. Some of the well-known names in the market include Penguin Random House, Westland, Bloomsbury, Hachette India, HarperCollins Publishers India, Pan Macmillan India, Roli Books, and Rupa Publications. But getting these publishing houses to pick your manuscript from among thousands of others on their plate is a herculean task. Many authors wait for years before their work is chosen and finally reaches the reader. But if your work does get noticed by a big publishing house, life is good.
“Traditional publishers help to edit, position and curate books in a way that makes them accessible to their intended audiences,” says Namita Gokhale, noted author and founder of Jaipur Literature Festival. “Self-publishing is also a viable option as committed writers can push and promote their work across different fronts, seeking advice from friends, community and valuable inputs available on the internet on making their books visible and available.”
How are the book themes chosen? Does the publisher have a say? Says Gokhale: “I write on subjects that interest and intrigue me, that manage to somewhere get a grip on my imagination, and I think it’s the same with most writers. However, some people are more detached and choose themes that will reach out to publishers and audiences. That is, to my mind, an equally valid approach.”
Traditional publishing remains the preferred option even today because of the stamp of credibility and the fact that ownership of various responsibilities of the book-writing process lies with the publisher, who typically pays the writer a percentage of each book sold as royalty. The publisher has taken on the financial risk of producing and selling a story it believes will earn a return on its investment. This type of publishing is very convenient for authors because the publishing company will take care of most of the work done during the entire process of publishing.
Says a spokesperson of Penguin Random House India: “When an author signs up with Penguin Random House India, we are responsible for all aspects of publishing the book, from working on the manuscript to ensuring the distribution and marketing of the final product. The editorial and copy team works with the editor to finalise the book’s content. The design team works on a cover. The production team manages layout and production of the final copy. The sales team takes up distribution and sales and the marketing team is responsible for the publicity and promotion of the book.”
Nowadays, traditional publishers even have customised arrangements for companies, institutes, and government set-ups. Says the Penguin spokesperson: “Here we publish select categories such as memoirs, coffee table books, brand stories only.”
Vanity press: This category is considered pejorative, as the author using such a service is usually vainglorious about a manuscript that would otherwise not be commercially successful. This type of publishing can rarely be a good fit for most authors and publishers in this space are often seen as glorified printers and money-minting undertakings. One such, whom I approached posing as an interested party, told me: “Book designing will cost you Rs 50,000 but if you want cheaper options, we can get the internal pages done from a typesetter and only cover from my in-house designer. Also, with book editing the cost is one to three rupees a word. I am sure there would be people on a smaller budget but they are a headache to manage. We can issue the ISBN (International Standard Book Number), help with distribution and in-store branding if the author has the budget. Also, I can create a digital version for online sales.”
He also gives an idea of printing and book marketing. “For 200 pages, inner 80 gsm maplitho paper, single-colour printing, with hardbound cover and perfect binding for 100 copies, the rate is Rs 645 per book and GST extra. Book marketing totally depends upon your budget. Essentials are a promo video, reviews in prominent newspapers, magazines and portals (through PR), social media marketing and advertising.”
Self-publishing: Here, the authors have complete control over their content, cover, and marketing.
The author takes charge as a full-fledged publisher, and supervises his work from manuscript editing to cover selection. It gives authors a sense of empowerment and the process is fast and efficient–the long and tedious process of the common publishing process is eliminated. On the flipside, this calls for hard work and dedication from the author, especially in copy editing and in the preparation of the book cover layout and design. As a self-publisher, you want to make sure your product is of a high standard. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform and Notion Press are some famous examples in the world of self-publishing. Then there are others, such as Invincible Publishers, Readomania. These are free-of-cost and there are also self-publishing packages that start at Rs 10,000 depending on which service you subscribe to.
Many models in the publishing industry are “in-between” self and vanity. Take the case of Ukiyoto Singapore Pte Ltd, where what you get for free is editorial, trade book layout, cover design, ISBN, listing, global coverage. Even the design of the book is included and for this author does not pay anything. Illustrations inside the book, if any, are chargeable. Says Anindya Sengupta, Director, Ukiyoto Singapore PTE: “For social media marketing, there are various packages starting at $150 or Rs 11,000 per month. All the books are printed on demand basis to avoid maintaining inventory. There is no separate cost to print a book for the author. Based on the author’s requirement and on upfront payment as per the bulk rates of special edition copies (Which is normally 60-70 per cent lower than the marked price), we print and send the books to the author via courier.”
Transportation costs are recovered from the author. While online listings on Amazon are included for free, offline listings in bookstores are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and depend largely on the bookstores chosen.
The cost to the writer
The main cornerstones of a book publishing process include book writing, editing, designing, printing and marketing. When you approach an established publisher or self-publish, it’s almost free of cost. Vanity Publishing may cost anything from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. If you feel you’re good at editing, you can just subscribe or buy one or two services. For instance, book design will cost you upwards of Rs 10,000, book editing, Rs 20,000. The process from conceptualising the product till its implementation will cost upwards of Rs 35,000.
Book marketing and promotions are critical to book sales. It is believed that if you’ve spent two months writing a book, you must spend two years promoting it. Readers buy the book and then one of the first things they do after they finish reading is to follow the author on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, and engage with them on Twitter. Remember that online interaction is not all about promotion; it’s about building connections. An author is even required to create his or her own website. S/he can promote books in offline channels such as literary festivals, talk shows, book reading groups. An author is expected to not just be a good writer but an articulate speaker and a social influencer.
Table: Indicative cost of publishing a 100-200-page book
||Approximate cost (Rs)
|Book cover design
Book designing, manuscript design with illustrations, sketches, pictures, artwork
Book printing (varies as per quality and quantity of printing)
|Book promotion (events). Can be included in publisher’s package
||Starting at Rs 10,000
Book marketing (social media marketing by a digital agency)
|Can be free of cost. But subscription to specific services start at Rs 10,000, and go up to Rs 35,000 plus
||Can be free of cost if the publisher is established. You may just have to pay for some social media promotion and PR. However, some of them have specific packages nowadays.
Source: Market Research