A step-by-step guide to the publishing and marketing process in India based on my experiences as a first-time author
My book, Stolen Reflections was on Amazon India’s bestsellers list within four days of its release and has maintained its position in the top-100 for over two-months now. Maybe it’s a tad too early to call it a bestseller as it still occupies the 3rd position on the Amazon India’s Hot New Releases list, but then again, I wanted to share the story of my journey of building a book from scratch and watching it reach so many people all over the world.
Here is a step-by-step summary of what I learnt in the writing and publishing process:
Of course, the first step is preparing the manuscript and making sure it’s error-free. There are several open-source apps and browser extensions that do a pretty decent job of it, but I would recommend hiring a proofreader.
My first book was a collection of poetry. Grammarly did a satisfactory job of editing out the errors.
It took me months to come up with a fitting title for my collection of poetry. I wanted something that wasn’t too generic, captured the essence of my poems and sounded pleasing to the ear. I finally zeroed in on “Stolen Reflections” as it had a nice ring to it, and through those two words — I could explain every poem in it.
Some rules of thumb while selecting the title are:
a. It has to be catchy. A prime example of this is “Who Moved my Cheese?” This gets the reader to instantly question — who indeed? And why is it a big deal if the cheese was moved?
b. It can’t be so long that the reader loses interest halfway through the book title.
c. It has to be relevant to the content of the book.
d. It has to be unique — something that hasn’t been used for a book or a blog before.
Book cover and blurb
The days of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ are long gone. In today’s world of fancy book and magazine covers jostling with each other for the attention of the prospective buyer, it cannot be blamed on the customer if they prefer to buy eye-catching tomes with mediocre content than better-written novels with prosaic covers. It is always advisable to hire someone worth their salt to design an aesthically-appealing cover. I got a professional designer to design this beautiful cover for my book Stolen Reflections.
The blurb on the backside, too, goes a long way in swaying the mind of the buyer towards paying money to read your work. You have to keep it short — 3–4 lines at the max, and put in as many cliffhangers there as possible. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer and think — ‘what is it in a book that would make you want to buy it?’ When you have your answer, go ahead and give the buyers exactly what they want.Selecting a publishing house
Self-publishing or traditional publishing?
Amazon KDP was my first choice, but sadly, they don’t print paperbacks in India. I scrounged the internet for other options and found Pothi — a print-on-demand service where you have to invest nothing, and would get paid 70% of the profits made from each book. It sounded like a fairy-tale, but the glitch here was the MRP per book would be somewhat high, and the royalty relatively less. Also, there was no international distribution and options to let the audience use a coupon code to get your book at discounted rates.
I looked through many options of vanity publishing, and finally zeroed in on NotionPress. They charge you a sum for the services they offer, and guide you through the process of publishing — right from designing a cover (I chose to stick with what my designer had put together, but that doesn’t mean the designs they had sent me were any bad) to choosing an MRP for your book. The royalty they gave was impressive, but considering their rather high fees, an author would need to make a substantially large number of sales to break even. For me, the magic number was 1000 — an elusive milestone I am still struggling to reach.
Here is a more detailed post I had written comparing the pros and cons of self-publishing v/s traditional publishing:
And here, dear fellow authors, comes the most important step in the publishing process. I made the mistake of investing a HUGE amount of money in getting my book printed — which left me too broke to invest in a good marketing house. The result was that I had to do all the publicity myself on Facebook and Instagram, and hope that word-of-mouth advertising would go some way in helping my book reach a wider audience.
Here are a few marketing tips that I have learnt the hard way:
a. Build a platform prior to publishing your book: Be active on blogging and social media sites so that when you finally publish your book, you have a loyal audience eager to lay their hands on your first project. Needless to say, to achieve something like this, you need to write quality content consistently and engage with your readers.
b. Giveaway contests: You can host book-giveaways on your social media profiles that generate an interest in the audience and lead to more publicity for your page. I recently did a giveaway on my Instagram which attracted a lot of traffic to my page and at least two new buyers for my book.
c. Book reviews: The most important factor that makes a prospective buyer purchase your book are the reviews. So it is advisable to get your friends and family write good reviews of your book on GoodReads and all leading e-commerce sites. You can also reach out to famous book-reviewers and bloggers with an audience of their own to review your book.
d. Hiring a digital marketing expert: This is a huge investment, no doubt, but in my opinion, paying for spreading the word about your book is better than paying for it to be printed, especially when there are so many alternatives that can get this done for free.
e. Book trailers or book videos: Many authors these days make trailers for their books and release them on YouTube to garner audience interest. For my book, I chose to record recitation videos — they were beautifully shot by the broadcasting body of my college, and went a long way in spreading word about my book.
Be prepared to lose money on your first book
Yes, it might become a bestseller, and yes, you might have a gaggle of fans clamouring for you to write your next one. But if you venture down the vanity-publishing avenue in India, it is difficult for a first-timer to make money from your books. That said and done — if you’re someone who truly loves writing, this shouldn’t be a big disappointment because after a lot of hard-work, you finally get to hold your first book in your own hands. Speaking from experience — that one moment is worth every minute of struggle and every penny spent in the publishing process.
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