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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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.