Self-Publishing, a Growing Trend

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"The smell of a freshly printed book is the best smell in the world." -Karl Lagerfeld.

Perhaps with the passage of time the fragrance of this thought has evaporated or at least the growing popularity of e-books among the current generation of readers indicates it. The growing popularity of e-books is in step with the hot trend in tablet computers, whether they are dedicated reading devices such as Kindles or Nooks or multi-purpose Internet portals such as Apple iPads or Google Nexus devices. This change in the readers’ mindset has brought lots of significant change in the way traditional publishing industry used to work.

Once considered the last resort of authors, self-publishing - also called vanity-publishing - has rapidly become a viable choice. Today, the barrage of unsolicited manuscripts reaching publishers every day means that almost 95 per cent of them are either ignored or rejected. Self-publishing becomes not only a means for an author to see his work in print, but also a way to catch a mainstream publisher’s eye with a complete product. Several authors, today, have turned to online media, choosing to publish their work as e-books, not only bypassing the work and time that is spent on printing hard copies but also ensuring that their book is available to a much wider audience. Some use Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing to publish their books while others use DIY (do it yourself) publishing platforms like Blurb and Your Ebook Team. The Internet also serves as a free publicity platform, with social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs allowing for promotions and advertising of a book.

Today, several self-publishing houses dot India’s literary landscape and the numbers are constantly on the rise. A few names have already made a place for themselves doing what Penguin and Hachette have done in the world of traditional publishing. Cinnamon Teal, the country’s first self-publishing house, started in 2007 in Goa, its second-hand bookstore segueing into a publishing house. "We published three books by a London-based author, Gladys Hobson. I think, based on her orders, the books sold around 30 to 35 copies, all of them in the U.K. It was a slow start and, at that time, we didn’t get involved in the sales and marketing. In fact, we started playing a role in that only about four years ago," says Leonard Fernandes, co-founder of Cinnamon Teal, which made a name for churning out quality books and providing what one of its authors, Ohio-based Aryanil Mukherjee, calls "value for money".

For Subbaram Danda, the former chief of the news bureau at The Financial Express, the answer is yes. "I did my research and realised that self-publishing had several advantages. In self-publishing, the author retains the copyright of his book. The other thing that impressed me was how fast it is. From the moment of submitting the manuscript to getting the finished product in your hand, it takes little over a month. Traditional publishers take anything from three to six months just to get back to you after you submit the first three sample chapters." As a result, Danda turned to self-publishing with Cinnamon Teal.

Stories of overnight self-published sensations like Amanda Hocking, author of the My Blood Approves series, and Joe Konrath, author of the Jack Daniels series who emerged from obscurity and rose to best-selling status in a matter of months, armed with no book deals and contracts; only a manuscript has culminated the changes at its best. Perhaps the best and most recent example is the E.L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy. Originally developed from Twilight fan fiction, the series was published on the author’s own web site and later released as an e-book and a print-on-demand paperback. On August 2012, Amazon.co.uk declared that sales figures of Fifty Shades of Gray had beaten the entire Harry Potter series and James had replaced J.K. Rowling as its best-selling author.

Big publishing houses have slowly begun to pay closer attention to self-publishing, and the most recent example is Penguin’s $116 million acquisition of self-publishing platform Author Solutions from Bertram Capital, a venture-capital and private-equity firm based in San Mateo, California. The fact that book sales on digital platforms in the U.S. account for about half of all sales and it is estimated at $1 billion has propelled Indian giant online retailer Flipkart.com to enter into the e-book business!

Of course, success stories do not paint the complete picture. One common belief is that self-publishing compromises on editorial quality and marketing. A book from a traditional publisher would have been discussed, edited and pruned before being published, whereas self-publishing guarantees publication of every manuscript so long as the author is ready to take on financial and marketing responsibilities. Ritu Menon, of Women Unlimited, says that self-publishing today is an entirely self-contained venture. In self-publishing, the onus of book launches, marketing strategies and publicity lies with the author, as opposed to a traditional publisher spending lakhs on a single launch and allocating a much higher amount for marketing. "Quality control is also up to the author. A lot of publishing firms today outsource their editing work, and an author looking to self-publish can avail of excellent editing services, as long as he/she is able to pay for it."

Jaya Jha of Pothi.com, an Indian self-publishing company run by IITians, believes that the very idea of quality is debatable. "Today, some of the best-selling authors in India, published by the largest publishers, produce work that will not be considered good quality by most serious readers. It doesn’t stop them from getting published, does it? A puritan’s concept of quality is just that; a puritan’s concept. So long as there are readers for something, it will get published. The only difference is that the economics of traditional publishing lets you publish only what can be sold in a mass market. Self-publishing, powered by e-books and print-on-demand, lets you publish even if there is just one reader in the world for your work."

Without a doubt, the e-book is practically the biggest thing that’s hit the publishing industry since the invention of movable type. Publishers and e-book resellers are reporting astronomical growth. Young people are reading plenty — they’re just choosing to do it differently. On their Smartphone, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, IPad, etc. A lot of free apps on phones too like the epub reader make quite a lot of free e-books available. Young people nowadays really like to express themselves with their choice of reading material. Whereas earlier everyone was reading the same recommended classics and favourites, now as the market have grown, youngsters are picking up different, offbeat books and genres that express their personalities, in much the same way as the clothes they wear or the music they listen to and e-bookstores are proving to be a boon in supplying one to one service!

Whether driven by multiple rejections, motivated by the interest to keep your work solely yours, or stemming from the keenness on sharing a story with a select number of people, self-publishing has taken a firm hold on the literary market. It might still be looked upon with suspicion and reservations; and as with many other consumer goods, books too come with a brand value that self-published books quite clearly lack. But the literary world has seen self-published authors like Virginia Woolf and Rudyard Kipling. While the instances of diamonds in the rough are few and far between, it is undeniable that they are very much there. Moreover, the way traditional publishing industry has shown the adaptability to incorporate the time-bound changes, even though little late, clearly indicate that e-books boom is not fluke.


Siddharth Suman 
Doctoral Candidate
Sustainable; and Renewable Energy
IIT Patna
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

He is a freelancer; writing especially on societal issues, science, and education in both Hindi & English for various online media houses. In addition, he loves to write poetry and short story for the expression of personal emotions and thoughts.

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