Challenges (and Benefits) of Self Publishing a Book in India

Let’s put first things first: No, you won’t get filthy rich just by writing one book. Even if you’re a Chetan Bhagat or Amish Tripathi, it will take years of hard-work and more than one book to be able to live off the royalties. Obviously, there are exceptions but they are as rare as finding an AAPiya talking sense.

While I was writing my book, I had a lot of questions in my mind. Who will read my book? And why would they read it? And even if someone is interested, who will publish my book? And again, why would they publish my book?

A lot of people I’m friends with on Facebook and Instagram write. Some of them write so damn good that you wish they’d come up with a book. The problem with Social Media writing is that it has a very short lifespan. Sometimes, not even 12 hours and finding what was written a few days ago on Social Media is a herculean task. So your good friend who can become a good author is just wasting his time on Social Media for a few likes and “haha” reactions from random strangers. But if you intend to self-publish your book, this part where you waste time on Social Media looking for “haha” reactions is very important (we will get to that later)

So you walk upto him and tell him that s/he should write a book. Obviously, they’ll ask a lot of questions, so here it goes, everything I know about publishing a book is discussed in this blog-post threadbare.

[Sabse Uncha Pahad – 31 Treks in Himachal Pradesh (Hindi) Buy Online at Amazon]

Publishing House vs Self Published: The chances of finding a publisher are high if a) if you’re an Instagram or Twitter or Facebook Celebrity b) if you are well connected. Even if you fulfill these two conditions, you’d still not be making money because for a first time author, the royalties offered are abysmally low. Without naming anyone here, one author I know was offered a meager 15% royalty for his book that was priced at 140-160 band. So that makes it 21 per book. Assuming he managed to sell more than 2000 books (which is a big IF, but we will come to that later), it all translates into 42000. Yeah, that’s all.

90% of books won’t sell more than 2000 copies says Karan Bajaj author of bestselling book Keep Off the Grass

Coming back to royalties, the 15% guy I mentioned above is a blogging/Facebook celebrity. A debutant never goes beyond the 5-7.5% royalty barrier. So you’ve put in years of hard work, rewrote and re-read your transcript a hundred times over and after writing countless emails to many publishers, this is what you’ve managed to score – 7.5% royalty for your book, which may never cross the 2000 barrier because honestly, let’s accept it, not many people are reading books these days.

So one should stop writing books at all? No. One should write and publish as many books as one wants. But why run behind publishers who’re not going to read your emails or pay exorbitant amounts to self-publishing platforms who don’t even proof read what you’ve written.

That’s where self-publishing helps you. You get to set the price and sell it all by yourself. The drawbacks are manifolds; you won’t have any big publishing company marketing your book, your book may never make it to the bookstalls or big bookstores. But then what is life without a challenge 😀

[सबसे ऊँचा पहाड़ – X Ray से किताब तक का सफर]

Nothing Beats this feeling

Welcome to the World of Self Publishing: Let me tell you about the risks involved first. And after you’ve acquainted yourselves with the risks involved (and you’re still reading), you are halfway through getting your book published.

Self publishing is a tricky area: you’re not just the publisher but distributor as well. Not to mention dispatcher as well, in case you don’t want Amazon to bite a major share of your profits. So you’ve to worry about everything from the word go. In my case I was guided by my friend [Neeraj Musafir] who has three published books to his credit. Also, the publisher gives not more than 5-10 copies to the author, so there goes your hope of sending your published book to your ex-girlfriends or boyfriends.

Of late, self-publishing platforms like Notion Press have become immensely popular but as far as I’ve understood, they will simply print your book and the marketing/selling part would be primarily left to you. And even if they sell it through their platform, the same problem of royalty crops up. Although I will admit that the printing quality these printing platforms bring to the table is indeed great. However, the author may have to shell out a minimum of 20k even before the book hits the print. Simply put, the printing costs of these self-publishing platforms are way too high.

Sabse Uncha Pahad Reviewed in The prestigious Himalayan Journal

With Dr. Khanna – I’m privileged that he found time to read my book.

But but but…….

If you publish it the way I did, you can a) set the price of your book and offer no discounts b) you don’t have to compete with special discount melas that keep coming every other day on Amazon or Flipkart. Of course, you can reduce the price, but why do it if the book is selling on its own. In my case, since the reprint was made available online on Amazon [23 January 2019], I’ve maintained a healthy sell rate of 2-3 books per day and that’s fine by prevailing market standards so I never offered any discount while at the same time, the top 10 selling books in travel writing segment offered as much as  20-30% discount on multiple occasions.

Point being, with a publisher driven sale, a book that was listed at 300 will most likely be selling at 160 or less within six months. Obviously, that will mean a boost in sales but remember nobody is paying you more than 10% on royalties.

The biggest problem with self-publishing is Quality Control. As far as my book is concerned, I’m not at all satisfied with photographs in the book. They are shitty and that’s a generous remark. But whenever I’ll go for a reprint or a new edition, I can always keep a check on this aspect. And this can be done by tightening the noose around the neck of your print guy, as I’ve seen during the second reprint.


To summarize briefly what has been written above:

  1. Build your audience: Write wherever you write (blogs/stories/travel/erotica/whatever) and stick to your genre. If you wish to write a travel book, you’ll have to continue writing about it for many years before you understand the writing style you want to adopt. A book, unlike a blog, would be written in one style and which style suits you the best will be known only after you’ve written extensively about a particular topic.
  2. Finding the Print Guy: A lot of big publishing houses get their books printed in East Delhi. I’m sure you’ll find similar printing houses in Mumbai and Bangalore. Just pick up any book lying around and see behind the cover page, 9 out of 10 times you will find address of an East Delhi guy doing the printing job.
  3. Explore Options: For every 500 books printed, your printing cost goes down by almost 20%. So you’ll have to assess the number of copies you expect to sell. The more the merrier but make sure you don’t overestimate your online readers. Recovering your printing cost should be your first objective.
  4. Online to Offline Conversion: For every 100 readers who read you online, not more than 10% will buy your book. And if you’re too damn good or too lucky, you can at best find 20% readers willing to buy what you read. If your conversion rate is anything beyond 25%, congratulations you’re a consistent bestseller on Amazon.

    **Baaki sab mufat me padhne me vishwas rakhte hain**

  5. Facebook Marketing Works: The best marketing platform, in my experience, is Facebook Ads. And if you’re someone with 10K+ followers on Instagram, even that will work. Everything else may turn out to be a wastage of money.
  6. Pre-Booking Works: I had finalized the print guy well in advance but before finalizing the number of copies to be printed, I asked people to pre-book the book (Instamojo is a great platform for that) on Instamojo via Facebook (because primarily that’s where I write other than my blog). Surprisingly, a lot of people wanted to read the book. And that’s where lies the secret of reducing your printing costs. I think one can do pre-booking on Amazon as well by registering as a Seller.
  7. Books are Forever: To quote Shivya Nath, author of #1 bestselling book The Shooting Star, “There is no greater feeling than holding your book in your hands”, so go for it. Even if it means printing just a few copies. You can always gift them to your friends and well-wishers.
  8. Kindle is the New Paperback: And lastly, if you don’t want to invest too much of your time or energy in printing the book, you can always go for Kindle. Kindle books (at least in the travel segment are selling like hotcakes). Even I’ve managed to breach the 100 kindle mark and most of them are being read overseas. That minimizes your risks and gives you a fair idea about what to expect from the market.

Suggested Reading: Writer vs Publisher: A Curious Case of Royalties | What No One Tells you about Writing by Shivya Nath | Karan Bajaj: How to Sell 15000 Copies | Indian Authors and Full Time Writing

3 thoughts on “Challenges (and Benefits) of Self Publishing a Book in India”

  1. Hi Tarun, I’m an editor working on inflight magazines (travel and lifestyle focus) and I would like to know if you are open to freelance writing. Do drop me a line if you are interested! I have been searching for a way to contact you but found none except the Comments section of your blog. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Specify Facebook App ID and Secret in Super Socializer > Social Login section in admin panel for Facebook Login to work

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.