book bazaar

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.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Following a mountaineer as he reaches the summit of Mount Everest

Accounts from Vikas Dimri’s second attempt reveal the immense fortitude and strength needed to summit the Everest.

Vikas Dimri made a huge attempt last year to climb the Mount Everest. Fate had other plans. Thwarted by unfavourable weather at the last minute, he came so close and yet not close enough to say he was at the top. But that did not deter him. Vikas is back on the Everest trail now, and this time he’s sharing his experiences at every leg of the journey.

The Everest journey began from the Lukla airport, known for its dicey landing conditions. It reminded him of the failed expedition, but he still moved on to Namche Bazaar - the staging point for Everest expeditions - with a positive mind. Vikas let the wisdom of the mountains guide him as he battled doubt and memories of the previous expedition. In his words, the Everest taught him that, “To conquer our personal Everest, we need to drop all our unnecessary baggage, be it physical or mental or even emotional”.

Vikas used a ‘descent for ascent’ approach to acclimatise. In this approach, mountaineers gain altitude during the day, but descend to catch some sleep. Acclimatising to such high altitudes is crucial as the lack of adequate oxygen can cause dizziness, nausea, headache and even muscle death. As Vikas prepared to scale the riskiest part of the climb - the unstable and continuously melting Khumbhu ice fall - he pondered over his journey so far.

His brother’s diagnosis of a heart condition in his youth was a wakeup call for the rather sedentary Vikas, and that is when he started focusing on his health more. For the first time in his life, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition and experimented with different diets and supplements for their health benefits. His quest for better health also motivated him to take up hiking, marathon running, squash and, eventually, a summit of the Everest.

Back in the Himalayas, after a string of sleepless nights, Vikas and his team ascended to Camp 2 (6,500m) as planned, and then descended to Base Camp for the basic luxuries - hot shower, hot lunch and essential supplements. Back up at Camp 2, the weather played spoiler again as a jet stream - a fast-flowing, narrow air current - moved right over the mountain. Wisdom from the mountains helped Vikas maintain perspective as they were required to descend 15km to Pheriche Valley. He accepted that “strength lies not merely in chasing the big dream, but also in...accepting that things could go wrong.”

At Camp 4 (8,000m), famously known as the death zone, Vikas caught a clear glimpse of the summit – his dream standing rather tall in front of him.

It was the 18th of May 2018 and Vikas finally reached the top. The top of his Everest…the top of Mount Everest!

Watch the video below to see actual moments from Vikas’ climb.

Play

Vikas credits his strength to dedication, exercise and a healthy diet. He credits dietary supplements for helping him sustain himself in the inhuman conditions on Mount Everest. On heights like these where the oxygen supply drops to 1/3rd the levels on the ground, the body requires 3 times the regular blood volume to pump the requisite amount of oxygen. He, thus, doesn’t embark on an expedition without double checking his supplements and uses Livogen as an aid to maintain adequate amounts of iron in his blood.

Livogen is proud to have supported Vikas Dimri on his ambitious quest and salutes his spirit. To read more about the benefits of iron, see here. To read Vikas Dimri’s account of his expedition, click here.

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