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Why self-publishing is not the best future you can give your book

There are good reasons to publish your book the old-fashioned away, even if it tests your patience and fortitude.

I was twenty, a naïve college student, when I decided that my writing ought to have an audience. After all, I was a writer, or wanted to be one at the very least. So I did what most aspirational writers did – I submitted a few stories and poems to magazines and got stoic rejections back, one after the other. I wept and wallowed with a dramatic lack of self-worth only the early 20s can render.

Then one day I saw a friendly email from a poetry publisher. They liked my poetry and they would publish them in an anthology. All my friends and family could have a copy too, and for just $ 40 I could get 10 copies and possibly convince other friends to buy it as well.

Sounded dandy to me. This was my first introduction to the vanity press – basically the cheap-cigarette-smoking version of legitimate publishing. These publishers target desperate or wannabe writers and tell them that their stuff can get published. All they have to do is pay for their copies, and voilà! you are a published author.

I’m not going to be a wet towel and totally hate on self-publishing, but I am going to heavily critique a nation that has lost its appreciation for good writing and the suffering that goes with it. I am going to talk about a nation that has too many talking heads and people who think that what they have to say (never mind their lack of craft, hard work, or tragic personal reading habits) should be published.

Here is the truth. Well, at least my version of the truth. Three points about self-publishing you should consider as a reader, writer, or a well-wisher of the nation’s steady intellectual growth.

The vanity press is raging and disguised as a well-wisher

The self-publishing venture Partridge Publishing – whose parent company Author Solutions was owned for some time by Penguin Random House being sold to Najafi Companies – has a seductive question: “Are you an Indian writer?”. That’s the cue to start panting and salivating. Yes, yes, I am a writer, and goddamn it, I want to be published.

Partridge isn’t the only one in the game, of course. There are a number of others offering the same services. For a fee, they will set you up with you very own Man Friday to help you edit, get your book published, and create the most annoying FB posts to promote it as well. You too can be an author.

So what’s wrong with this? Well for starters, it invites anyone willing to shell out cash to get published. That means the number of books goes up, and those who can afford to, market their books up too.

This also means that traditional publishers (you know, where they actually like your work enough to publish it and give you the money?) are less likely to be heard in the noise, and some very decent writing gets lost in the arena of self-published books.

This does not mean all self-published books are terrible, but a lot of them are. I promise. The self-publishing market has been alive in the West for a long time. Check some of these bizarre publications of the past out. These poor authors just had to get their name out there, providing lots of fun for Amazon reviewers.

A few self-published works do exceptionally well, the operative word being “few”

The Guardian reports that ‘”the average amount earned by DIY authors last year was just $10,000 (£6,375) – and half made less than $500.” Of course the game-changers are people like EL James who bagged over $2.5 million in sales with her originally self-published 50 Shades series.

Sometimes an emotionally compelling story like Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, gets major fame. Not only was it a bestseller, but it also got made into a big budget Hollywood movie. There are some fantasy and genre fiction that becomes mini-cult favorites too, but, like other genre work (published by traditional publishers) they don’t make the mainstream.

If you haven’t heard of many other self-published books, now you know why. But they’re out there, in huge numbers.

As a self-published author, you’re a digital door-to-door salesman

After the initial high of getting a book published by paying for it, you are all on your own. Your writing, your story, and most of all your marketing are all your responsibility. Your book virtually becomes another Bangalore start-up – can you sell it to early adopters?

Either you didn’t want to go through the process of getting publishers to believe in your work enough to print and distribute it by themselves. Or you believe your work is truly good but it’s just too hard to get this kind of literature accepted by mainstream publishers.

Either way, there’s a very good chance your book will turn out poorly edited, with an unprofessional cover and mediocre production. And you will end up using all your social media time to get people to buy it, pretty please?

So?

There is an option though. As primarily a short story writer, I personally know how hard it is to get a collection published as a first-time author. Even first novels have a much greater chance of being accepted by publishers. I waited for years, sent my stories to magazines and got rejections. It took almost a decade of trying before I got a small press in Singapore to believe enough in my collection to get it published.

I know I sound self-righteous, but I do see the value of holding out, honing your craft, and building an audience over the years. That is, if you really want to be a writer and aren’t looking for quick author stardom.

Thousands of books will be self- published this year. Most will sink into oblivion. This is not to say that traditional publishing provides the luxury of added success, many publishers are heartbroken by a good book that simply could not do well in the market.

If there is any point to take home from this, it is this and this alone: traditional publishing allows you to start a long journey, of understanding your own work in the context of the larger world. It builds patience and reason. It lets you understand the process of rejection and how that could possibly make you a better writer.

To write is a brave act, whether you self-publish or not. But to take your writing seriously, you must believe it has purpose and that it has a compelling story to tell. Good writing will get an audience.

Self-publishing offers a chance at this, but only a chance. And a shortcut can quickly lead you into a blind alley.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Partridge Publishing is owned by Penguin Random House. Penguin Random House has sold Author Solutions, the parent company of Partridge Publishing, to Najafi Companies, USA.

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Eleven ways Indian college life teaches you not to waste anything

College, they say, prepares you for life. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

Our quintessentially Indian ability to make the most of every resource has weathered us through many a storm in life. But this talent, as it were, is developed and honed to a fine art only in college. Frugality is a prominent feature of college life—more by circumstances than by choice and perhaps the most important skill we learn is nearly 100% efficiency when it comes to making the most of resources or opportunities. This “no wastage” policy is learned through many ways in college.

Academics
When it comes to studying, the art of “no wastage” is refined in college.

1. Exam papers. We’ve all been there before: you’re in the flow and trying to pen answers quickly in your answer sheet but you’re running out of space. What do you do? Fill up your existing one, of course. Write in tiny handwriting and occupy every bit of space without wasting the margin either. A great example of how college teaches you to waste nothing.

2. Photocopier bulk deals. In college, after you convince a kind-hearted classmate to let you copy their notes, you negotiate a bulk rate discount with the photocopier uncle and share the wealth with your classmates. It saves you time, money and the collective shame of failing together.

3. Stationery. Pencils are worn till they reach a stub. Broken rulers are used as long as you can still draw a straight line on them. Pens are borrowed and reused until their ink is sucked dry. Stationary is rarely wasted in the life of a college goer.

Food
Food occupies a special part of a college goer’s life and there is only one rule when it comes to food: don’t waste any.

4. Thalis. College kids are always hungry, and there are few options that provide better value for money than thalis. Thalis come in all sorts—the Gujarati kind on copper plates, the south Indian variety on palm leaves, or even the Punjabi “mini thali” found in restaurants all over the country. No matter what form they take, no food goes waste.

5. Shaadis. Speaking of food, you never say no to a wedding invitation when you’re in college. An invitation missed is a buffet meal wasted. The only price is to put on a half-decent looking dress or a pant and shirt that have been pressed. Then enter the hall, say your hi-hellos, and onto the food. No opportunity to attend shaadis is wasted during college, and rightly so.

6. 50p toffees. Those were heady times when things had the decency to cost nine rupees fifty paise instead of a full ten. The remaining 50 paise left over as change would not go waste either, and would return more often than not in the form of a chewy toffee or mint.

7. One-by-two coffee. Because coffee shared is friendship enhanced. In college, a full cup of canteen coffee was always cheaper than two half cups, and nearly impossible to finish owing to its milky sweetness. Converting it into a one-by-two courtesy an extra white styrofoam cup ensured that neither the extra coffee went to waste, nor a chance to make a friend happy.

Travel
Space is to be shared, not hogged. Every seat in college be it on the bench or a bike or a rickshaw would be occupied till its last inch.

8. Triple seat scooter rides. College-goers of a certain vintage remember that scooters were made to accommodate more people than cars. One person riding, another in the back, and at least one if not two people sandwiched between them. While this ensures no wastage of space, it’s not to be tried by the faint-hearted.

9. Share autos. The cheapest way to travel, of course. Share autos are a lifeline for college goers. Load up your friends in an auto, share the fare, and end up with more money in your wallet.

10. RAC tickets. Among the great innovations of the Indian Railways is the RAC or Reservation Against Cancellation ticket, which ensures that travelers can travel on the train even if they do not get a full berth to themselves. More often than not, two travelers split a seat. A boon to college students who don’t mind roughing it a little to get to their destination on time.

Freebies
College teaches you many things. The ability to not waste freebies is prominent on the list.

11. Buy one, get one free. The five little words that every college student wants to hear. Be it movie tickets, rock concert tickets, clothes, books or meals, a “one-on-one free” offer would always be utilized even if you didn’t need what the offer was selling. An unwritten if long-standing rule in college.

The fine art of “no wastage” is learned painstaking through college. But it’s good to know that you can enjoy “no wastage” after you’ve left too. Airtel’s MyPlan ensures that customers make the most of their mobile expenditure and waste nothing. Airtel’s MyPlan allows you to pick data, local, SMS, STD and roaming according to your needs. You also have the flexibility of changing your plan whenever you want and can optimize your phone bills to save up to 30%. Not just that, under the plan, you can also share the benefits with their family. For more information, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Airtel by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

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