5 Things You Didn’t Know About Traditional Publishing

Expert insights of an author who has seen it all

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Traditional Publishing
Photo by Victoria Priessnitz on Unsplash

Expert insights from an author who has seen it all

The first big question that comes to an author’s mind after they complete their manuscript is: whether to go the traditional publishing way or self-publish their book?

For the uninitiated, traditional publishing includes contacting a publisher, waiting for their response (some publishing houses take more than six months to accept — even reject — a manuscript), getting the manuscript edited by a professional editor, rounds of cover designing, copy-editing, and pagination, and finally, the publishing.

This process, though free of cost, takes at least one year to complete for most established publishing houses.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, requires the author to submit their manuscript to the portal of the self-publishing forum (Amazon KDP being the most widely used), and, within 24 hours of them hitting the “Submit” button, the book is available online all over the world.

All three of my books were self-published, mainly because I was too impatient to wait for a publisher to reply. Hence, I did all the marketing and promotion myself. It has been a rewarding experience — one that has taught me several lessons and helped me sell 10,000+ copies of my books so far.

However, that doesn’t keep me from wondering how different things would be had my books been published by a traditional publishing house, especially by one as big as Penguin, HarperCollins or Rupa.

Image: Goodreads

To quench this curiosity of mine, I reached out to the Indian author Anshul Dupare, whose book Ashok and the Nine Unknown is published by Rupa Publications — one on India’s biggest publication houses that boasts of several bestseller books in the recent years.

Established in 1936 by D. Mehra, authors at this distinguished publishing house consist of Ruskin Bond, APJ Abdul Kalam, Pranab Mukherjee and Chetan Bhagat.

Needless to say, for every new author in India, getting published by Rupa is like a dream come true.

This article is about the joyride that traditional publishing is, as narrated by Anshul Dupare. Full of breath-taking highs and dizzying lows, here is Anshul’s story as an introduction to the world of traditional publishing for established and aspiring writers alike.

Before getting started, here is a brief introduction.

About the author

Anshul Dupare is one of the many engineers who has tried to explore their passion apart from work. He is the author of two books; Ashok and the Nine Unknown and The Education Mafia. He is a winner of the “Author of the Year 2019” in NE8x Online Literature festival. He is a hobbyist poet, and often writes on psychology and AI on Quora. Influenced by the writings of Dan Brown, J.K.Rowling and George R. R. Martin, he decided to explore the rich past of India and combine it with world mythology. He likes to explore novel and unique avenues for his stories. His latest book, Ashok and the Nine Unknown, is a testament to that.

Image: Author (published with the consent of the interviewee)

Getting accepted by a major publishing house

Getting published by Rupa is difficult. I know. I have sent them three pitches so far, and, it’s been months, I haven’t even received a rejection email. I asked Anshul how did he manage to get his manuscript across to the editors of such a reputed publishing house. Here is what he said:

Consistency is the key. You must be consistent in whatever you do, and you will eventually get to the place where you deserve to be. I sent my manuscript to multiple publishers only to get a deafening silence from them in response.
But, I kept trying, I was consistent. In my case, what worked was Rupa’s new platform to accept submission by email. Before 2016, Rupa did not have this facility and I think I was one of the first few people to use that feature as I was constantly following their website. Their website was down for a couple of weeks in late 2016 and as soon as it came up, I saw the new feature of email submission and used it. Because a lot of people were not aware of the new email submission feature from Rupa, Rupa’s inbox mustn’t have been flooded by submissions which helped my story get noticed, and I am glad that when they noticed it, they loved it. After all the hard work, I believe that the email submission feature was the little bit of luck that I needed in my journey.

Of course, despite the rejections, one shouldn’t give up.

Since receiving an acceptance email is still an elusive dream for me, I asked Anshul if this made him happy, and he enthusiastically agreed. He even went on to say that this single email made him feel that all those hours of hard work were worth it.

The role of publishers in a book’s life

As someone who has only self-published so far, I am used to marketing and promoting my books all by myself. But, how is it different for a traditionally published author? Here is what Anshul had to say-

To be honest, the onus lies on the author more than the publisher for the book’s performance.
Even big publishing houses have a limited budget they would invest only in something that they believe has a higher probability of giving them returns, i.e. they will promote books that have a higher saleability; for example, books by renowned Indian authors like Chetan Bhagat.

But, everything can’t be dark; there has to be some silver lining! According to Anshul, the most significant advantage of having a big publisher is its supply chain network. The physical copies of your book can reach worldwide.

But then again, marketing comes into play here too. You can release any fantastic product in the market, and yet, people will not buy it if they do not know about it or aren’t curious enough.

How to go about marketing?

From whatever Anshul said and my own experience, it is clear that marketing is the make-or-break factor for all books. In fact, when I asked Anshul what one thing he wished he knew before publishing his first book was, this is what he said-

I wish I had known that publishing a book is only half of the journey, marking is another half, and even though I call it half, it is a long, long journey!

Indeed. But how does one go about marketing their books? According to Anshul, word of mouth works much better than anything else. A person would be more likely to read a book if their friend suggests it rather than an online ad proclaiming how excellent a book is in their social media feed.

Absolutely. And I have come to understand that the only way you can make word-of-mouth work for your book is by building a strong personal brand and having a set audience who would be willing to buy anything you write.

As Pat Flynn quotes in his brilliant book Superfans-

Instead of spending money on ads, spend more time on people. Instead of worrying about the latest growth hacks and strategies, worry about identifying and addressing the biggest pains and problems in your target audience. Instead of figuring out how to optimize your conversion rates, figure out the rate at which you’re able to connect authentically with your audience and make them feel special.

Photo by Joe Ciciarelli on Unsplash

The future of self-publishing

Given his tryst with traditional publishing, I asked Anshul what he believed was the future of self-publishing in India. He said that the self-publishing industry could see a significant boom in the coming days, with platforms like Amazon KDP and Wattpad making it easier than ever reach out to audiences. But then again, all authors need to understand that stellar marketing skills is an integral part of being an author.

You can have the world’s best story and people will not read it if they do not know about it.

When I asked him if he could give one message to authors who have only self-published their work so far, what would it be, here is what Anshul said-

Even if you are getting published by a traditional publisher, you still have to take care of marketing your book. Book marketing is tough because there are not many readers these days. Demand is less but supply is more which means authors must toil to make their mark.

Marketing. It all comes down to marketing.

Writing as a full-time profession

Anshul is a software developer by profession who feels it requires a certain level of commitment, desire and determination to live this life of duality. According to him, the major challenge is not trying to do two things at the same time, but, doing those things while living independently and taking care of everything in the house. When asked for a tip on managing time wisely, here is what Anshul had to say-

Always remember that you are not only earning your salary, but weekends as well; use your weekends wisely.

When I asked him if it was possible to consider being a full-time author in India someday, Anshul’s reply wasn’t very encouraging.

Personally, I do not believe that becoming a full-time author is a good idea unless you are super successful to the point where your books sell just by your name.

I second that. Relying on book sales alone to make a living is not very practical. However, I believe that quitting one’s job can be considered a possibility if one has multiple streams of income (blogging, podcasts, seminars, invited talks, etc.).

The writing process

Finally, I asked Anshul about what goes into the making of a masterpiece like Ashok and the Nine Unknown. This is what he said-

In my book, I have tried to explore the character of one of the world’s most influential ruler, Emperor Ashok, and a popular legend about a secret society of nine people, often associated with him. I have also tried to amalgamate Indian history with Egyptian mythology! When I was writing it, making that connection was definitely a long shot but now I believe that it bought a certain novelty and a unique nuance to the story.

That sounded super interesting, so, I prodded more. Anshul didn’t disappoint.

I include real history in my writings and subtly fill the gaps with fantasy, politics and mystery. This writing style involves a lot of research. I read books on Indian history, accounts of Greek and Chinese travellers, accounts of voyages of ancient seafarers and then when I find something interesting, I try to connect the story in my mind to those interesting historical events.
I am fascinated by the topic of interaction between India and the ancient world.

Writing tips

Straight from Anshul’s pen, here is a writing tip that changed his life:

Always know the ending, even before you have written a word of the story.

Knowing the ending would help you create enough twists and turns to reach there from the beginning. There is another tip which genuinely resonated with Anshul, which I am sure would be helpful to other writers as well-

Write, not because you want to be famous or earn money or because you must but because that’s your medium of expression. Write because that’s how you convey your thoughts, ideas and emotions.

Final thoughts

Before talking to Anshul, I was under the impression that traditional publishing, especially by a “big” publishing house like Rupa, would be the end to all my woes. However, the chat we had made me realise certain essential facts about traditional publishing, summed up below:

  1. You might be super talented, and your work might have great potential, but, to be published by major publishing houses, some luck is needed, especially considering the number of submissions they receive daily.
  2. The most significant advantage a publishing house can give an author is their supply chain network, which makes sure the book reaches to a wider audience all over the world.
  3. However, the onus of marketing falls upon the authors. Publishing houses will not spend money on authors whose work they believe isn’t sellable.
  4. The best way to promote your work is by being consistent on social media and connecting with the readers so they are willing to buy any new release from you.
  5. Writing as a full-time profession might be difficult if you only rely on book sales. However, it might be possible if you can manage to create and sustain multiple sources of income.

If you liked this article, here are a few more you might enjoy-

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Self-Published My First Book
Don’t make the same mistakes as I did
What it Takes to Display Your Book in Bookstores in India
An insider’s take on the secrets of the Indian publishing world no one else will tell you

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