In this electronics age, do you think print/ paperback books stand a chance against those swanky ebooks and kindles? What makes flipping through the pages of a book more exciting than holding an electronic gadget? Do you think writers and authors have it way easier than in the earlier days of publishing when the Internet as a tool was not available to them to reach out to publishers and readers?
Let’s take a step back when it comes to print books in the online age, how is it to publish your own book?
According to an article ‘India’s publishing sector: the present and future’ published in January 2016 in Business Standard, “India’s book publishing industry is the sixth largest in the world and the second among English language ones. Textbooks, technical, scientific and professional books provide nearly half of the revenue of the book publishing industry. Fundamentally it’s different from other media since the mediums differ. Traditional ‘books’ i.e. paper books still outsell e-books worldwide. The statistics cited earlier came from an India Book Market Report, by Nielsen, with the Association of Publishers in India and the Federation of Indian Publishers. It values the print book market in India, including imports, at $3.9 billion (Rs 26,000 crore). Its compounded annual growth was 20.4 percent between 2011–12 and 2014–15.
While it is very clear that in the hare and tortoise race, paperbacks and publishing print books are still outnumbering ebooks, we try to understand what are the various challenges in publishing a book in the current scenario.
After having witnessed the book publishing industry for years, Sherna Khambatta, the Founder of Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency in Mumbai shares that there was a time when a huge fear had cropped up that the e-book market would wipe out traditional books, but that hasn’t happened at all.
Can there be a middle path where we take the best of both worlds and bring to the table some good quality content in the book-publishing world? We spoke to a few authors and a renowned literary agent in Mumbai to see what goes into publishing a book in this electronic era.
Authors’ speak – how going online helped these authors
Naina Dey, a Kolkata-based Assistant Professor has recently published her seventh book. It is a book of essays called “Macbeth: Exploring Genealogies” on the socio-political background of Shakespeare’s day. It is meant for undergraduate students, teachers, researchers and those interested in literature and history. It is really a sequel to my first book “Macbeth: Critical Essays” that concerned one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s tragedies and came out in 2009.
She explains, “My last book did not require much online communication because it has a local publisher. But the book design was sent to me online and the index was sent to them by mail. That helped a lot. But a couple of my previous books were published by national and international publishers and online communication was the only way it could have been possible. I could not only post them my proposals and the formatted manuscript but design my own book in quick easy steps including the cover! Online communication was especially useful when it came to edited books. There were frequent emails from editors and publishers with suggestions, which I could review and incorporate and resend my chapters in very less time. Even our agreements were signed online!”
With her experience, it is clear how the online era can be a blessing to authors to connect with publishers on a global platform.
Parimita Chakravorty, a New Delhi-based author and the founder of MumbaiGloss shares her book publishing experience for the book ‘Look Stunning At Any Size’. This book is a style guide for women that encourages them to accept their body shape and size and dress to accentuate their positive aspects.
“I was approached by the publication as I was already writing fashion and beauty articles for various magazines and websites. It was through online engagement that the display of work made it easy to get my talent noticed,” adds Parimita.
For Jayant Swamy, a US-based author of the book ‘Colours of the Spectrum’, publishing his first book in this online age has been an interesting journey. “Over 150 submissions, both in paper and electronic, to agents and publishers, in India, the US and even UK, interactions face to face, over the phone and via email, a majority of non-responses, smattered with explicit rejections, until a writer friend’s referral led to the fulfilment of a long cherished dream,” recalls Jayant.
Challenges faced in publishing a book
“I think we are lucky to have been born in the age of the computer and Internet. Imagine the pain and the labour our great writers undertook to get their works published. Even 40 years ago you had the old typewriter or had to rewrite your manuscript every time you were dissatisfied with it and then personally hand it over to your publisher. If you sent it by post there was also the likelihood of the documents getting misplaced in transit. There was obviously little or no provision for a reliable backup,” quips Naina.
For Parimita, “Challenges are that creative freedom is curbed if you are working with a publishing house as they have their own set of rules and way of working. Though my publishing house was accommodating with the changes I requested, I was firm with my requests.”
Sherna further adds, “The lack of awareness of the industry, how to position oneself and which publishing house is the right fit for the author are all factors I think that can be an impediment for an author. Another problem is that by directly contacting publishers sometimes work gets lost in the slush pile and hence having a literary agent helps in that regard to sending their work to the right editor.”
From the point of view of a publisher – the key areas would be the content of the book and marketability. As Sherna mentioned earlier getting their work to the editor is one factor in traditional publishing, then understanding the contract, distribution and finally standing out in a sea of other titles.
Is it difficult to publish a book in the online age?
Naina feels that it has become a lot easier for an author to get a book published. She can choose her own publisher and is not compelled to opt for the local ones. She can spell out her own terms and negotiate. Not to forget that online communication also helps saves travel and other unnecessary expenses.
Parimita further adds that she knows many authors who went the Amazon way when no publishing house was keen to look at their manuscript. And later when their story became popular online, they were approached by publishing houses.
However, Jayant feels otherwise, “There are a larger number of writers and wannabe writers than ever before. With dwindling attention spans and ubiquitously available material, engaging readers to first buy and then read a bookend to end can be daunting in this online age.”
There are so many options available today for an author to publish their work besides going to a traditional publisher. Kindle Direct, for instance, offers authors a platform to get their books into the Kindle marketplace without any fee.
“Vanity publishing, self-publishing or a blog are all ways in which an author can reach out to their audience without a traditional publisher. It depends on what the author aims and their reasons to be published are and what they want out of that experience. Each person has their own reason to want to have their work published,” explains Sherna.
How can the online age help authors publish their book?
There are a considerable number of good publishers who advertise online on the lookout for promising young writers. “Sometimes they take a nominal fee and sometimes they don’t and the publishers themselves are becoming less rigid when it comes to designing or content. For teachers, researchers and creative writers there are online journals, which publish articles of high quality. One just has to log in and follow the guidelines before the final submission,” explains Naina.
To second that, Parimita pitches in, “It’s a big help to showcase your talent and ideas online. It is easy to garner support and readership through social media and web pages. Getting the right break is what helps you break the glass ceiling in the book-publishing world.”
Sherna feels that in the present times, there are so many options available for an author to get their work published. Also with innovative social media, word of mouth marketing self-published authors too can do very well. Traditional distribution in stores may be a problem for them but other than that she feels if that’s a route that an individual wants to take there are many options available to him or her.
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