Publishers are not evil!

Pitching with wrong logic can be fatal to a new idea. More dangerous than the possibility of it being ignored. An ignored idea can be rekindled, but an idea that dies due to wrong positioning might be gone for good (or for quite a long time).

Self Publishing faces the same fatal danger when it is pitched as a way of getting back at the “evil” publishers who won’t publish newcomers.

Let’s get this straight. There is nothing inherently evil with traditional publishers. Thinking about the business they are in with some common sense at hand should make it obvious. But, intentionally or unintentionally, many people skip this step before pronouncing their ultimate judgment on the publishers.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that make the publishers evil

  • Because they ignore new writers
  • Because they don’t even bother to tell you whether they are looking at your manuscript or not
  • Because they make writers change their manuscripts heavily before publishing
  • Because they are morons to have rejected the manuscript of XYZ book several times, which later went on to become a best-seller. They just don’t know their job.

And now let’s look at the ground reality under which publishers operate

  • Supply of authors has increased and is constantly accelerating. As the literacy, dissemination of knowledge and the general awareness increases, the number of people who have a book in them is shooting up like crazy. Number of buyers is also increasing, but definitely not in the same proportion. More and more people are educated now. More aware too. Ability to write a book is not limited to a very few. It means that publishers are dealing with an increasingly higher number of manuscripts every day. While a lot of them would be promising, a much greater number of those would be crap. There just does not exist a practical way for them to do justice to all the manuscripts received. If they ignore you or if they don’t respond to you, its not because of some great conspiracy against you. Even with best of the intentions, they just don’t have a way to do it right for all!
  • Unless you are talking about a non-profit running on donations, publishers have to run a business that pays for itself and more. Even if a publisher stands for a certain ideology and promotes certain kinds of content, they have to make money out of it to sustain. What this means is that they have to take steps to ensure that a particular book will sell enough because they are investing a lot in preparing, printing and marketing the book. They can not run with author’s whims and fancies. They may not always be correct, but nobody ever is. All they can do is to do their best, like anyone in business will do. No computer program can reliably predict whether a book will be a success or not. Publishers can only go by their understanding which comes from the experience they have accumulated over time. If this means editorial interference in your work, then it has to be done. There is no point being egoistic about it. If someone is investing money in your work, he gets that much of right on it. And an editor may have to reject your manuscript even if as a serious reader she likes it, if she feels that it won’t be a good investment. This has to be understood. Running a business is not evil, nor is taking the business decisions.
  • Nobody can make perfect decisions. Publishers also fail. Yes – they have rejected manuscripts which have gone on to become the best-sellers of all times. Yes – many legendary writers have suffered in their initial days or even their entire life times due lack of recognition. But you know what! The same thing happens in any other business too. All the established Internet players refused to buy the technology that created the company called Google! Whatever is the industry you are familiar with, it won’t be too hard to find similar examples. Point is that any business tries to take best decisions. But there is no fool-proof way of doing that. They go by their business data, intuition and experience. These things may mislead, but that’s how it is. It does not make them evil. Its not that if a different set of people were running the publishing industry, they would not have had the misses. It may have been a different set of hits and misses with a different set of people. But there would always be both! Nothing evil behind it.

Why, you may wonder, would the blog of a company providing self publishing platform be talking so sympathetically about the traditional publishers? There are no hidden evil motives behind it 🙂 There is a very good reason why we want our users to be aware of the reality of the industry.

Self publishing, in an open way at least, is a new concept. And as mentioned earlier, if pitched wrongly it would die a premature death and be gone for good. Self publishing is not here because traditional publishing is evil. No absolutely not. That’s why we have taken the pains to clarify that there is nothing evil about traditional publishing.

Self Publishing is here because there are publishing needs beyond what traditional publishing in meant to fulfill. In our post ‘What is self publishing‘ we have mentioned some of the circumstances where self publishing works very well and the heavy-weight, investment-intensive traditional publishing won’t work. We will talk more about it in this blog in coming days. With this post, all we wanted to convey was that self-publishing as opposed to “evil” traditional publishers is not the right way to look at things.

[Self Publishing Guide] What is Self Publishing?

This post is second in a series of articles which are excerpts from our Self Publishing Guide for Indian Market. If you have not already, please read the first article of the series before proceeding with this one

What is Self Publishing

Self publishing in strict sense is a special case of publishing where author herself is the publisher. The author takes the complete control and responsibility of all the aspects of publishing – preparing the book, printing and marketing the book. In fact, anyone – be it an individual or an organization – can self publish. In our discussion of self-publishing we include publishing carried out by any individual or organization whose main business is not publishing, even if it is not self-publishing in the literal sense of the word (that is the author is not the publisher).

Self Publishing: Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

No need to spend time convincing publishers/agents.

  • The author is the boss and has complete control over content, design, pricing.
  • Faster way to get your book published.
  • Easy to publish books for a niche audience.

Disadvantages

  • Needs financial investment for the publishing process – editing, designing, printing, marketing.
  • Lack of sales and marketing expertise. No pre-launch publicity, no launch hype with celebrities and media.
  • Chances of lower credibility because the book is not validated by an independent/traditional publisher.

When to self publish

Given the pros and cons of self publishing, there are certain cases where it work well. Some of them are listed below

  • Experts: If you are some sort of expert in anything, you could self publish a book targeted towards that audience. Expertise need not mean global fame. You could be a blogger on environmental issues with a following, for example.
  • Niche publications: The way the economics of traditional publishing works, if your audience is niche and small, publishers may not be interested in your book. If you have a way to access this niche audience and market your book, self publishing is the way to go.
  • Publishing as gift: A book can be published for gifting purposes or for distribution to friends and family. For example, you may want your book just for your family, or may want to surprise a friend by publishing his/her writings as a birthday gift.
  • Support to profession and brand building: A book can be published to establish your credibility and thought leadership in your profession. Coaches, training institutes and other professionals/organisations can publish a book themselves and distribute or sell them. It will help brand building.
  • Complete control over the book: If you do not like to succumb to the demands of the editors on how the book should start, read and end, self publishing is the option for you.

[Self Publishing Guide] What is Publishing?

We have recently prepared a self publishing guide to help people understand the idea and process of publishing and self publishing, especially in Indian context.

This post is the first of a series of articles, which are excerpts from the guide (these articles may be modified a bit to suit the form of blogs better). This article explains in simple words what publishing is and what tasks it involves. Content may seem obvious to some readers. But before we start discussing self publishing and its nuances, it is important to be on the same page regarding what publishing itself means.

Of course, publishing is a word used in a large number of different contexts. Our discussion here is in the context of publishing books – that too in print.

With more of prologue than actual content, here is the article

Publishing

Publishing is the process by which books, magazines and other reading material are produced and distributed among the readers. The aim is to make information, ideas, thoughts, stories available for public viewing and, maybe, make some money too.

Publishing Process and Tasks

The process of publishing a book can be broken down into the following steps:

  • Selection of manuscript – This is the step where the struggling writer goes from pillar to post, hoping to draw the attention of some editor or publishing house. This is the step where publishers have to take the crucial decision of making an investment in particular manuscripts in the hope that readers pick them up as books in enough numbers and they get good return on their investment.
  • Editing the book – Once a manuscript is selected, an editor starts cutting the flab — doing away with what is unnecessary. Also under the scanner are language, syntax and readability.
  • Designing the book – Once the basic text is ready, it needs to be packaged the right way to appeal to the target audience. The designer’s job is to ensure, for example, that an Economics textbook does not have Katrina Kaif on the cover.
  • Printing – This crucial process can be handled in different ways, depending on the requirement. We shall discuss this in detail in one of the articles later.
  • Sales and marketing – Thousands of writers get their books printed every year. You need to let the readers know that your book is unique, luring them to buy it. You can have a great book but if the reader does not know about it, it will never get bought! The book needs to be distributed so that every reader – or even a possible reader – gets to buy a copy at the nearest book shop.

Publisher

Publisher is a person or an organisation which takes the manuscript from the author and handles the tasks outlined above. A typical publisher brings in the editorial and design expertise, distribution contacts, marketing muscles and financial investment needed for the entire process, which are important in making a book a success or a failure.

So, you are not a publisher?

And don’t want to be one either?

Hmm…

This is how a lengthy conversation explaining what Pothi.com is ends with many people.

Yes – one problem of our business is that it takes lot of time to explain to people that we do not fit into any pre-defined category from traditional publishing. Most importantly, Pothi.com is not a publisher!

What does this mean?

  • Books published through Pothi.com are published by their authors or other people/organizations behind them – not by Pothi.com.
  • Pothi.com does not do any ‘selection’ of the content except to ensure that it is technically fir for printing and that it is not against the law or our terms and conditions.
  • The entire responsibility of content, its accuracy and quality, its preparation lies with the author/publisher, not with Pothi.com. Same is the case with Book Design, Marketing, Promotion and Sales.

What does Pothi.com do then?

Pothi.com provides tools and services to help you through all these steps of publishing. Meaning

  • There are detailed information and guidelines on preparing your book
  • There are tools for formatting and cover design (e.g. blog to book tool, cover design wizard)
  • There are reasonably priced services for editing, designing etc. if you need help in preparing the book
  • There is an e-commerce store where you can list your book for free and sell it without bothering about logistic hassles of printing, maintaining inventory and shipping them
  • etc.

What’s the future direction Pothi.com will take in that case?

  • Create More technological tools to make the publishing process easier and financial burden minimal
  • Figure out some innovative ways to help authors widen the reach of their books
  • Develop Technological Solutions for filtering out good content from bad

Ouch! So, you will never, never be a publisher?

Pothi.com – the platform will remain Pothi.com the platform. It will not become a publisher. We may or may not have a parallel business as a publisher, but that would be under a separate imprint most likely. We haven’t decided anything on that front yet.

That’s sad! Pothi.com can’t help me become the next Chetan Bhagat.

In all likelihood you are right. Exceptions can occur, but Print on Demand based self publishing model is not optimized for creating best-sellers. It works better for books with niche audience or publications for small, targeted audiences. It is also good for casual publishing.

What does ‘Pothi’ mean?

One of the most common questions we get asked.

First let me clarify all that it does not mean or refer to.

‘Pothi’ has nothing to do with the name of the famous silk shop in Chennai called ‘Pothys’.

During the book festival we learned that ‘Pothi’ is a caste/surname in Kerala. Our use of Pothi has nothing to do with that either. We are not a Pothi matrimony site, rest assured.

And it also does not mean grand-daughter in hindi. That one is ‘Poti’ (पोती) and not ‘Pothi’ (पोथी).

Pothi means ‘a book’ in Hindi. It has come from the Sanskrit word ‘Pustak’ distorted through Apbhransh and other languages that developed in North India. ‘Pothi’ or some variation of it means ‘a book’ in many other North Indian languages too including Punjabi and Bengali.

The word is not used in day to day spoken Hindi though. It is an obscure word now and is sometimes used to refer to old manuscripts or scriptures. Sikhs use this word to refer to their religious book. If you have studied Hindi at some point of time in your life and still can not place the word, the following couplet from Kabir may come in handy

पोथी पढ़-पढ़ जग मुआ, पण्डित भया ना कोय,
ढाई आखर प्रेम का, पढ़े सो पण्डित होय।

Approximate Translation: Nobody becomes a learned person by reading lots of books. Those who just read the two and a half letters of love become the learned ones.

Although this couplet discounts the usefulness of books (and we don’t like that 🙂 ), but the reason I mention it here is that the word used for book in it is ‘Pothi’.

So next time you hear Pothi, think books – printed one at a time on demand just like the handwritten manuscripts of yore.

[BBF09] ‘Best of Pothi.com’ Cover Page!

‘Best of Pothi.com’ is a collection of excerpts from 15 of the titles published through Pothi.com. The titles come from all sorts of genres – there are short stories, poetry, novels, memoirs and it looks beautiful – at least to my biased eyes :).'Best of Pothi.com' cover

But you may ask why this collection. I quote from the preface:

In past one year, more than 150 authors have chosen Pothi.com as their partner in self-publishing. Through them, we have come to better understand the problems faced by independent authors. Since these individuals lack the marketing muscle of traditional publishing houses, more often than not they fail to get the kind of visibility that their works deserve. The books don’t get reviewed in mainstream media, they don’t get interviewed by journalists and only few readers get to see their work.

Through this collection, we have attempted to ameliorate the situation by choosing to showcase a few select works of self published authors which are available with us. The selection represents a diverse genre of books including fiction, humour, children’s book and self improvement. These authors have explored their creative side and have a charming tale or an important thought to share with you.

The collection is available on Pothi.com stall (#288) in Bangalore Book Festival, running till 15th Nov. It will also be available on the website shortly afterwards. Do grab a copy and let us know what you think. Your feedback will help us make it even more awesome! (If you still can’t tell, I am a big fan of How I met your Mother 🙂 )

‘Best of Pothi.com’ with Self Publishing Guide is here

From today, our special collection ‘Best of Pothi.com’ is available on the shelf (of our stall at Bangalore Book Festival 🙂 ). It showcases chapters from some selected books at Pothi.com. These come from diverse genres like fiction, memoirs, self-help, children’s writing etc.

The book also includes the first self publishing guide specific to India. Although a lot of information about self publishing is available on Internet, an author looking at Indian market is under-served. The Indian scene is quite different in terms of how players of publishing industry work as well as how readers choose and buy the books. This guide will prepare self publishing authors to work in Indian conditions. We will start posting some excerpt from the guide here soon.

Meanwhile, check out the collection at Pothi.com’s stall (#288) in Bangalore Book Festival 2009.

[BBF09] Tarot Card Reading Session

We had a tarot card reading session by Anupa Patri, author of Yoganidra, this tuesday.

It is fun for some people and a tool for unveiling the future or learning more about the past for some. Either way, the participants were queuing up for the reading.

Bangalore Book Festival 2009 Tarot Card Reading @ Pothi.com

Tarot cards originated as a game, but have gained popularity as a prediction tool for many. For fun or for the belief, if you are interested, Anupa will be around over this weekend too. So, if you are interested in a reading, drop down on the stall.

His book Yoganidra is also available at a special discounted price of Rs. 220 at the stall (#288). His website is http://yoganidra.in

[BBF09] Our titles must be good

.. since somebody tried to shop-lift couple of them yesterday. Unfortunately for him, since I am a nervous first time retail shop operator, I keep a keen eye. Moreover he chose to take a book out of the only two in the stack – pretty easy to get caught on that one. Anyway, I am hoping this was the only attempt and we have not lost any more to these things.

We have also been giving away free bookmarks at Pothi.com stall and they seem to amuse a lot of people. While children usually like the one in chocolate color with gift boxes on it, grownups love the one with following quote from Shashi Tharoor:

I was a typically Indian child: I spoke Malayalam to my mother, English to my father, Hindi to our driver, Bengali to our domestic help and Sanskrit to God.

Here is the link to the full article on India’s linguistic diversity from where this quote has been taken. One of the aims of Pothi.com is to make publishing easier and more transparent for regional language authors also. In the festival, we have only couple of Hindi and one Telugu book on display although we have a larger number available on our store. We will be looking to raise these numbers even more in times to come.

[Ideas] Would you like a book fair guide?

Bangalore Book Festival this year has close to 325 stalls arranged in 4-5 lanes with stalls on both the sides. With so many stalls, even if one had all the time in the world, it is quite difficult to go to all the stalls one likes and explore them. More over all the stalls are so packed of books and with people that it is easy to miss out on the unique books a stall has and you were looking for. The practice of highlighting the bestsellers which are a easier sell means that a lot of stalls end up looking similar on the face. What does someone interested in digging more deeply into this sea of books must do?

Enter a Book Fair Guide (bfg)! Consider a person who not only knows tons about books but also knows a lot about the stalls in the fair. He knows that a publisher from Kolkata is exhibiting towards the tail end of fair and he will have books you might like. Or that a second-hand book stall has some rare copies of a book hard to find in Bangalore. Or that if you are a history buff, you should not miss out on these 5 stalls. Walking with him through the fair, you would be able to see beyond the bestsellers and heavily discounted imported books which mark so many stalls. Moreover you will be able to save your energy to visit interesting stalls even at the end of fair. There is even the possibility of themed tours through the book fair – for cookery fans, for sports buffs etc.

Stall owners also have an incentive to engage these guys and give them a lot of information since it may be hard to interact with each and every person who walks into your stall due to sheer number of them. More niche publishers will benefit from making sure that their target group is able to find them.

I personally feel being able to walk through a book fest with somebody like this will be a lot of fun. What do you guys think? Leave a comment with your views or suggestions.