The Argument for Self-Publishing

A couple of years ago I entered the arena of the publishing world, if not exactly with stars in my eyes, at least with a sense of optimistic purpose. Two published books later, I’m viewing the scenario with a somewhat cynical perspective.

I received an excellent response on my first manuscript from my agent, who got multiple publishing houses to make offers in a record space of time. After some negotiations, we decided to go with the bigger name and I was quite gratified at the speed with which the contract was signed. Not knowing, of course, that the wait was about to begin! A little over a year later, with much prodding and numerous follow-ups (sometimes appealing and sometimes threatening!) from my side, my book was put into the rigorous process of the publisher’s edit. Drafts were flying to and fro between me and the editor, and debates over commas, inverted commas and full stops took precedence over everything else in my life. An exhausting year and a half after I had submitted my manuscript, the book was published.

Now comes the good part, I told myself. Like many before me, I thought that once I had the backing of a reputed publisher, all I had to do was sit back and watch my book sell. Admittedly, I was naïve and living in la-la land… I was to learn that writing would be, unarguably, the easiest part of the whole exercise. When the reality of the situation became clear, I decided to put my time and effort into the thankless job of marketing my book, and that was when the second shock came – no one was going to help! I was on my own. Yes, the odd book review blogger was sent my way by the publisher, but that was about the sum total of their involvement. If I wanted an in-store promotion, I was asked to pay for it. If I wanted interviews and articles, I had to get my own PR company to organize them. And no, my book could never be made available at Crossword, because the publishers were in a financial altercation with them. At some point, it dawned on me that unless you are already a successful bestselling author, the publisher was not going to waste any time and money on promoting you.

Nevertheless, I bravely launched into my second book, undeterred by my experiences with my first. The new publishers were really nice people and more proactive than the old ones, but not enough to make a big difference. Living as I do outside India, it was difficult to organize my own book tours and promotions and following up with the publishing house for marketing inputs was certainly not my idea of fun. Eventually I was left wondering exactly why I was paying them a royalty and whether there was any sense of ownership or even partnership where I was concerned.

The enthusiastic reception of both books by the publishing houses did not translate into the corresponding degree of sales. Like the 100 crore box office hit in Bollywood, there is thebenchmark of a hundred thousand copies sold that gives an author a respectable status, and which, I have discovered the hard way, is not easy to achieve unless your book is actually seen on shelves. And this is entirely dependent on how the publisher distributes and promotes it.

My third manuscript is currently in the hands of a mobile reading app publisher, and I’m waiting to see how it pans out; it’s an interesting and contemporary platform, and I have great hopes from it… evidently, my optimism has not waned despite the trials and tribulations of the publishing world!

It is not my intention to be derogatory towards publishing houses; the situation is what it is. But it does not work for me. I felt very little control over publishing timelines, and how or where my book was going. I really did suffer a deep sense of frustration.

Both my works are novels that I have been happy and proud to put my name to, and that gave me immense satisfaction to write, but I cannot say that they achieved the kind of commercial success I think they could have. Which is why I’ve decided to take a different approach with my next endeavor.

I am currently writing a new series in a different genre, and I am wholly determined to go the self-published route. Working with a reputed editor of my choosing, in a timeline that suits my plans, with a marketing effort that I plan and budget for from day one. This way, at least, I feel I’m in control. No surprises and hopefully no unseen pitfalls. I have approached one or two self-publishing houses and am interested to see where it all leads. Of course, given a chance I would love to stick to writing and leave the marketing and selling to other people, but who knows, maybe self-publishing will make a business-person out of me!


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