After having published a dozen books with leading publishing houses in the country, why did I self-publish? The answer is simple. Three things happened with the book I self-published.
- One, it was a book that I was really, really confident about.
- Two, my readers wanted this book badly, as it was part of a series that they had enjoyed reading in the past.
- Finally, and most importantly, traditional publishers refused to publish this book, for reasons known best to them.
So, before I tell you about my self-publishing journey, I think it is important that I explain to you what I feel about self-publishing vis-à-vis traditional publishing. You'll see why it is so important, as I go along.
The philosophy behind publishing a book, at least for me, is never to make a ton of money. If there is one thing that I had understood very quickly as I set out to become a full-time writer, it was that it is virtually impossible to make a living in India by writing and publishing books alone. So I quickly removed that variable from the equation, right at the beginning. Why do I publish books then? I want my books to reach as many readers as possible. That is my primary intent. And, if, among these readers, there are people who have the means and the intent to adapt some of my books for the screen, and if I feel that they will do a good job of it, then I earn some money. That's all there is to it. Oh, and there are some books, which I write only for myself. I know they will not be read by too many people, nor will I ever get any money out of them. But I want to do write them. So I do.
If this is the philosophy (yours could be different, and that's perfectly alright), then my objective is to get a book out in a manner that it will be read by the maximum number of people. Whoever can help me do that, I will publish with them.
Best Served Cold is the 4th book in a reasonably popular series. I had first thought of this story as one that did not involve the protagonist at all. I'd thought of this many years ago, when a filmmaker friend of mine had requested me to give him a story for a film. I never ended up sharing the story with him, and ended up turning it into a novel instead. I was never in doubt about the potential of the story, and I had all the right ingredients (my travels) to embellish the story with the right settings that would enrich it. My readers, who had read the first three books of the series were literally upset with me for not having given them the next book. Under such circumstances, when my publishers rejected the book, and several other publishers rejected it on the grounds that "a series should stay with the same publishing house" - I, never one to conform to rules, decided to do the entire damn thing myself.
I had two options of self-publishing. The paperback version, and the digital version. I decided to try out the digital version first, simply because it was easier to get to. After speaking to a few friends, chief among them being the very kind, gracious and helpful Andaleeb Wajid , I chose Kindle Direct Publishing.
Amazon has used technology to make self-publishing extremely easy. Their offering is quite disruptive, I felt, although my own intentions were never to take on an already established industry. I just wanted to get my book out. I went to KDP's website, and spent some time understanding the rules of the game. When I felt comfortable about the entire thing, I was ready to publish. The software is easy, self-explanatory, although there's a lot of help and FAQs available. (Note : for a detailed, step by step walk through of the process, please click here).
The total cost of publishing my book was approximately Rs. 275/-, an amount I spent in buying an image for my cover. There are dozens of websites that would do it for you. I remember having taken no more than an hour to finish designing my cover. The total cost of publishing my book, then, and making it available worldwide (Kindle India does not provide physical copies, but many countries including the US and the UK do) was Rs. 275/- Yes, it was that easy.
Now, two caveats. I made a mistake of not having my manuscript copy-edited. I edit my books myself (I have had some experience editing books for others too), and I am - what they call in the the world of writing - a very clean writer. But still, as reported by my readers, my manuscript had errors. I should have asked a professional to copy-edit my book (or, paid more attention to the editing process itself). I learnt from that mistake. (Note : the Himalayan Writing Retreat has compiled a list of editors in India at https://www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/book-editors-in-india/ )
Secondly, as I very quickly found out, since Kindle India doesn't have services to print paperbacks on demand, I had upset my readers who were not fans of e-books (I myself am not). Which is why, I had to take the services of Notion Press. Once again, big thanks to many of my friends and well-wishers who suggested NP to me, and note for Kindle India - you guys better start print-on-demand in India soon.
Notion Press does exactly what Kindle Direct Publishing does, but has physical paperbacks too. They have various pricing packages, I chose the one which was free. My cover was already there. I published the entire paperback for free. No agents, no publishers, no editors involved. Full copyright remains with the author. As much as 70% royalty earnings, as opposed to 10% with the traditional publishers. You are now free to market your books, ask reviewers to write about them, do whatever you want to with them. Be very cautious with 'preparing' your book though (editing, cover design, pricing etc.) and you will be just fine. (For a comprehensive list of self-publishing companies like Notion Press, click here)
There will always be some demerits of self-publishing though. Chief among them is the entire matter of 'prestige' - a term that makes you pay 450 bucks for a half-filled cup of coffee at Starbucks. Some traditional publishers do a very good job of marketing and distributing your books. Kudos to them, I tip my hat. Some scholars and academicians will not read your books unless they are published by reputed houses. It is better to not have such readers, you don't want that kind of negativity in your lives. Some magazines and newspapers will not review your books if they are self-published. Once again - remember that they are a business. And don't let that dampen your spirits. A simple and effective way to think about the entire issue of self-publishing is this. Let's say you have a child. There's nothing wrong for you wanting her to go to the best schools in the city. You are the parent after all. But if the best schools in the school refuse to admit your child for their own reasons, do you blame the child? No, right? You look for a school where your child will be happy, where she will learn, where she will make friends for life. After all, that's what matters, right? Same with your book.
I have nothing against traditional publishing houses. In fact, I could see the helplessness of at least some of the people who rejected my book. It's a business, at the end of the day, and these people may be my best friends, and yet, they may have had to say no to me. I understand. But as a writer, as an artist, I oughtn't feel that helplessness. Which was why platforms such as Kindle Direct Publishing and Notion Press were created. As far as I am concerned, I will always know that the doors to both self-publishing and traditional publishing are open to me. Walking through one doesn't mean that the other will shut.
And the next time I want to publish a book, who will I go to? Simple - to anyone who will take my book to its readers. As I always say, once your philosophy is clear, everything else falls into place.
About the Author
Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is an author, translator and columnist living and working in Bangalore. He has written over a dozen books that have been published by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette etc.
Bhaskar has written five original novels so far, creating the popular fictional detective Janardan Maity. He has translated such authors as Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Satyajit Ray, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Rajshekhar Basu, Upendra Kishore Ray, Moti Nandi, Narendranath Mitra, Premendra Mitra and Hasan Azizul Huq.
Bhaskar has worked extensively in researching the life and works of Satyajit Ray. His translated anthology '14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray' became a best-seller. He has also novelized Satyajit Ray's landmark 1966 film 'Nayak'. He is currently working on a book on the cinema of Satyajit Ray.