American e-commerce company Amazon, which is a first-time participant at the city’s international book fair concluding on Sunday or any other in the country, is betting big on self-publishing in India, a medium which was better known as “vanity publishing” till some time ago. New York-based Amazon director (author and publishing relations) Jon P Fine, who’s here for the fair, explained that “India has a tradition of rich narrative and story telling. So, it’s a natural market for self-publishing.” Also, against the backdrop of recent pullout of Wendy Doniger’s 'The Hindus’ by Penguin, self-publishing may appear to be a happy platform to be on.
One of the authors who’s upbeat on direct publishing, Rasana Atreya, tried it in 2012 for her novel 'Tell A Thousand Lies’. She told Business Standard, “sales go up and down, but as of today, it is again the number one in my sales category on the US and Indian portals of Amazon. On Amazon UK, it is at the number two position in my category.” She has self-published on many websites including Amazon. Inspired by her own experience, Rasana even helped her children, aged 6 and 11, to publish their books as well! According to Rasana, she had a traditional publishing contract and yet she declined it “because I wanted to self-publish”. Something about being the person responsible for “whether the book would sink or swim appealed to me”.
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Amazon, with its high royalty offer to authors (up to 70 per cent) is a big plus, according to Rasana. That it’s an online retailer with the largest global reach only helps. International surcharge for downloading an ebook in some countries is seen as a barrier though.
Another success story is that of Sri Vishwanath, who started self publishing on Amazon Kindle 2 years ago. “By that time I had already 13 transformational titles written. I put that all up on Amazon. I had an amazing run.” He had quarter million downloads in the past two years and got ranked in the top 100 most popular authors in the 'Mind, Body and Spirit’ category by Amazon USA. His books include 'Give Up Your Excess Baggage’, and '24 Simple Mind Exercises That Great Men & Women Effectively Use Every Single Day’.
Vishwanath’s first choice was traditional publishing. But “it was a painful experience. I was close to getting a deal with Simon Schuster through my New York agent but it fell off in the end.” Happy with the experience of self-publishing, this writer has even given up his high-flown job in America while concentrating on books.
Without giving numbers, Amazon’s Jon said thousands had taken to this route and popularity of this platform was growing significantly. Amazon launched its self-publishing segment in India in August 2012. “It is a platform of choice now,” claims Jon.
But, an executive of Penguin India argued that while there were success stories in self-publishing, most authors still come to this platform either after their manuscripts have been rejected by traditional publishers or they don’t want to go through the grind. Penguin did not respond to a BS questionnaire on the subject.
Estimates show that the number of manuscripts received by a publishing house is at least 10 to 15 times more than the titles it brings out. A prominent publisher for instance gets anything between 2000 and 3000 manuscripts in a year, but it publishes in the range of 225 to 250 in that period, thereby leaving enough scope and room for self-publishing.
Another industry representative agreed that those, whose works are not picked up through the traditional route, often go to self or direct publishing. However, he added that nowadays many bestselling authors are coming from self publishing. Amish Tripathi, for instance, opted to self-publish his first book 'The Immortals of Meluha’ after around 20 publishing houses rejected his work. The book was such a hit online that publishers chased him after that, resulting in a $1-million contract with Westland India for his work 'Shiva Trilogy’. Erica Leonard or El James also began with self-publishing 'Fifty Shades of Grey’; seven-figure deals were hers after the book became a raging success.
Even as most traditional publishing houses have branched out into self-publishing through affiliate agencies or directly in an indication that there’s future in it, they are waiting for an online boom to happen before going big on it. Penguin has an author solution division called Partridge, which offers self-publishing options. Bloomsbury India has a custom publishing programme which is largely aimed at academicians to help them have their work published for easy access to the academic fraternity. Bloomsbury also offers aspiring authors a free search and comparison service through www.writersandartists.co.uk to help them look for the best self-publishing companies.
A Bloomsbury India spokesperson said the self-publishing business was largely fragmented and it was difficult to ascertain the size of the industry. “If the growing number of companies that offer self-publishing solutions is any indication, it would be fair to conclude that it is increasingly becoming an option with those who aren’t published by traditional publishers.” Other than using companies offering self-publishing options, a large number of authors directly approach book distributors with printed/finished copies of their books for distribution, he said, adding that almost all of them go unnoticed.
“Only a few of the self-published books have made it big in India and have subsequently been acquired by the traditional publishers for huge advances but other than that, the impact is very limited,” he pointed out. Traditional publishers could look at self-publishing as a key component of their business in times to come; some of them already do, according to the Bloomsbury executive. “And of course, self-publishing companies will also continue to evolve and have a larger market share when the e-books market takes off.”
The US is a leading market in self-publishing, and the others doing well include the UK and Germany.