A friend has a book which needs to be published. Thru the process (which is still on ) I was fortunate to see the ring-side view of all options and here are some of the details.

Publishing: This is the traditional model which still works best if your book is selected by publishers. the publishers ask for a manuscript. If they like it, they will invest in it, do everything needed, and pay the author a royality. If your book appeals to publishers, maybe this is the best way. you get professional everything – editing, marketing,media, sales etc. and your book appears in more bookshelves without you lifting a finger than you imagine. You dont have to invest money and you get royality for sold books. Unfortunately, we were out of luck so we explored options.

Self publishing: Self publishing is quite mature now both in india and worldwide. Worldwide – you have companies like Lulu. In india, you have companies like CinnamonTeal and pothi. They operate on a “print on demand” basis – which means they will print books as they are ordered – even one book. However there were several dis-advantages

  1. Digital printing is most expensive. I thought Pothi’s price was quite reasonable at just over a Indian Rupee per page – even if you ordered just a single copy. This means that if you have a 200 pager book, you can sell it at 250Rs and make 35 Rs per book. Its not bad, but compared to something like 50-60 rs per book for printing when you print a 1000 copies, this does sound a lot. Actually its not that bad till you look at number 2.
  2. You can only sell via their online store. It wont get listed on flipkart and indiaplaza and other online book stores. You always have an option to buy copies and list on them. Now assuming that they want 30% margin, the price of the book goes upto 350 Rs. But if you leave it at the self publisher, the buyer doesnot get discounts or free shipping. Now, they charge you a prey steep shipping costs at about Rs 50 – taking the book price upto 300 Rs if you leave it there. So I am begining to think its a pretty neat deal for niche books – but slightly expensive for popular ones ( especially when your idea of sales is bullying friends and family into buying it).  The good part is that you get something in hand immediately, no questions asked – and given the fact that it is one book at a time its not a bad deal. 
  3. There is no pre-publishing ( more on that later), marketing, distribution to other stores at all. You are complely on your own. These costs may add up.

Now coming to the in-betweens. There are two options that I found out.

1) Sponsored publishing: Here you bear approximately half the cost of launching a book by the publisher [so even if the publisher is half convinced, they will go for it]. It has all the goodness of traditional publishing, and the royality you get is a bit higher, however, you start making money only after your book has sold between a 1000 to 2000 copies. This is not bad for a popular book. They promise everything – a launch, circulating it to media, getting reviews, listing it on online and offline stores via distribution channel, all logistics, inventory keeping etc. – everything. Now its upto you if you want to invest money on it, and expect returns only if the book is very popular. One of the publishers who agreed for it was Frog Books. They are very responsive.

2) Self Publishing ++ : Self publishing complaines offering traditional Printing+ Distribution: Sandeep of Blushing Pi got us this option. They offer all pre-publishing, printing, digital marketing, and distribution – most of it done via 3rd parties – but managed by them on a “a lat carte” pricing.

Now coming to a description of puublishing lifecycle as I understand it. People in industry like to divide into 3 stages (called pre and post printing or publishing depending who you talk to ):

Pre-publishing or Pre-printing : This involves completing the content – including editing etc, doing the design, and getting the files in printable format.

Publishing or Printing: Test print – proof – print.

Post publishing or post printing: including one time activities like finding distributors and ongoing tasks like Store inventory, distribute to online and offline book store. Marketing and sales are also a big part of this stage.

Pre-Publishing

Pre-publishing tasks involve

  • Finalize content
  • Obtaining copyright on material you are quoting:
  • Prepare manuscript to circulate to publishers
  • You could get agents who will take your book to publishers – for a price. Good agents could get you a long way.
  • Proof Read – preferably by a different person – this is to ensure the quality of what you have written.
  • Editing: get reviews and edits from a professional to increase the quality of work significantly.
  • Cover design : Work with professional designers to get this. Note that it might help to have an ISBN number before you do this so that the bar code could also be generated and added.
  • Preparing other illustration and graphics: For cover and for content if you need graphics, it might be a good idea to get it done from a professional.
  • Foreword : you may want someone else to write it – preferably someone popular who may be able to recommend the book to many :-).
  • Obtaining Copyrights for your book: As per laws in india, the copy right automatically happens to the author the moment the content is created. however, in case you want to go in for obtaining copyritghts – then you could register copyrights with copyrights office at http://copyright.gov.in/copyrightregistrationform.pdf. You can have a company handle copyrights for you for about Rs 5000. One of the companies who can handle it for you is Brainleague
  • Getting ISBN number – you need to know the number of pages, whether its paperback or hardcover etc. before you can get an ISBN number. In India, a person can get an ISBN number on their own. If you want someone else to handle it for you – that is also possible and not very expensive.

Printing

  • Digital printing: This is usually economical for upto 200 copies.
  • Offset printing: This is best for over 500 copies. For between 200 to 500 copies, either could be fine.
  • The material provided to printer needs to have proper typesetting. The offset printers usually bundle that service with no or minimal extra cost.

It might help to strike a deal with a distributor before you go for printing.

Post-Publishing

  • Getting a distribution deal: To list your book on online bookstore or in physical bookstores, you need to have a deal with distributors. Distributors order books from you, reach them to stores. The stores typically want over 30% discount on cover price of the book, so that they can offer discounts, free shipping etc. To do that, distributors want minimum 45% off cover price. Anyway, you need to strike a deal and they are likely to ask for more – with a most likely deal between 55% to 45%.
  • Inventory: you need to store books and provide them to distributors when they request for it. Its quite expensive to outsource it and it could cost 1-2% per month of book cost to store it.
  • Marketing: The traditional publishers have a set of contacts of journalists who review books based on their interest. They send the books out, and a few will send out a review whether they publish it or not. Usually, unpublished comments cannot be quoted. On a slightly higher end, you could have a book launch event where you can invite journalists and a few are more likely to write about it. You can also mail the book to libraries, push it to other influential people who can talk about it, have in-store displays. The no-money option is digital marketing which is to create a blog, place links, distribute e-books ( few chapters or full book)to bloggers etc. Digital marketing takes a lot of your time but doesnt cost much money. It helps if you order listed books to send to others rather than sending copies you have as the distributors and retailers will get excited by sales and may throw in extra advertising, promotions and discounts to push the sales further.
  • Direct sale: you could also sell directly via ebay or other marketplaces to earn the retailer money yourself.

I am still going thru the process and will update what I learn. Do feel free to contact me via a comment on this post if you need any details or contacts.