In 2007, we launched CinnamonTeal Publishing, to provide self-publishing services based on print-on-demand. In August 2007, we were the first in India to introduce these twin concepts as a business-to-consumer service. This article seeks to, in some way, chart the trajectory that both print-on-demand and self-publishing have taken over the years, independently and together.

But first allow me to explain the two concepts, given that they are sometimes misunderstood. Print-on-demand, when applied to books, refers to technology that allows publishers and authors to print books in small quantities, even one copy, depending on the demand for that book. It means that books can be put up for sale, for instance, on an electronic portal, without there being any physical copies already printed for sale, with the guarantee that the technology to print and send as many copies of the book as ordered is available. This is akin to the principle of a negative inventory, popularized by Dell Inc., which involves the production of a good AFTER it is purchased.

Print-on-demand thus obviates the need for a stock of books to be kept in order to meet demand. (Of course, one must bear in mind that a print-on-demand approach increases the cost of a single copy of the book, but let’s keep that aside for a while.) Print-on-demand, therefore, should not be confused with short-run printing, an approach taken to print a small number of copies and keep them in stock in anticipation of demand for the book. Though the technologies employed for both, print-on-demand and short-run printing, are the same, the concepts in each case are different.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, is a set of services offered to authors who wish to publish their books. These services include, but are not limited to, editing, design, printing, marketing, and distribution. Because self-publishing is an option exercised mostly by first-time authors, print-on-demand is incorporated within their publishing strategy so as to avoid large investments in printed copies.

It is important to make this distinction because print-on-demand and self-publishing are often used interchangeably. Publishing isn’t just printing (or printing on demand.) It is, or needs to be, a more elaborate process, one that draws upon years of wisdom developed within the publishing domain, to produce a book that is well-edited, carefully designed, has an elegant cover tailored for it, and one that is adequately marketed and distributed. While printing does give a book its physical form, the constant focus on the processes that follow printing, with little or no value attached to the processes that precede it, is a disturbing trend prevalent in today’s market, especially among self-publishing service providers. In the scheme of things, print-on-demand is therefore one of the many things to consider, albeit an important one, since it impacts the amount invested in the book.

In India, print-on-demand (or, almost synonymously, low-run printing) has evolved in many ways. Here are a few of them:

a. The quality of books produced using print-on-demand has improved drastically. When we started in August 2007, our main concern was to find a printer who would print us a few copies (usually less than 5) without asking for an arm and a leg. We finally found one but when the copies came, we found that each copy looked different from the other. These were certainly not books that we could sell with a straight face. We got luckier with the second printer we worked with. But in 2017, there is marked change in the quality of books turned out by the digital printer. It is only to the extremely trained eye that the difference between a book printed using the offset method and a book printed using a digital press is perceptible.

b. The costs have fallen too: Print-on-demand is not as costly as it used to be. It is a more-than-manageable cost now, and this has, in fact, prompted many more publishers to print on demand, or print extremely low quantities. In Indian language markets, however, the cost of printing associated with this approach remains an issue, given that many of these publishers price their books extremely low in order to retain their readership.

c. Publishers have woken up to the benefits of POD. As a result of the costs associated with POD reducing, and the quality improving, many more publishers have explored ways in which POD can be used within the publishing/sales processes. This might mean using POD to develop dummy copies for book launches and book fairs, or print advance review copies (ARCs), or use the technology to print extremely small quantities at the location of sale. In some cases, given that large print runs have to be scheduled, sometimes months in advance, the POD technology helps publishers get faster to market.

d. Print-on-demand has allowed publishers to access new markets at almost no cost, by associating themselves with service providers who can print at the customer’s location. This enables a publisher in India to allow customers in Russia, for example, order its books. The books are printed locally and shipped to the customer, thus providing both savings on shipping costs.

Having said that, there are still some areas in which the POD technology lags behind the more prevalent offset technology, a vastly different process that proves cost-efficient when a larger number of copies have to be printed. For one, coloured books, especially illustrated books where the colours need to be accurately reproduced, are best printed using the offset technology. This is also the case because the costs of printing in colour using the POD technology is very high.

Secondly, although this particular issue is now being addressed, POD printing (or low-run printing) offers lesser flexibility in terms of paper that can be used, or the dimensions of the book that can be printed. Many printers, offering POD as a service, cannot, for example, print large books in the landscape format. But, like I mentioned, there is an investment in R&D in this direction.

In India, the adoption of POD as a concept has had to do more with the low investments involved in POD, or even in low-run printing, and little to do with the fast turnaround that POD offers. It allows publishers to keep their back and middle lists available to the reader for purchase, without the need to invest in their printing and storage. One can only speculate that more publishers will buy into the idea of POD, as the benefits it offers becomes clear to them. As readers get used to paying more for well-produced books in Indian languages, this technology might find wider acceptance even within that community, of Indian langauge publishers. This can only be good, because it will allow publishers to experiment with a wide variety of topics, topics that appealed to only a small community of readers.

picture credit: www.pixabay.com

Today’s news included a report that Macmillan was shutting down Pronoun, the self-publishing platform it had acquired in 2016.

To quote the article by Publishing Perspectives:
‘there was at times a community-wide hesitation around the platform because it charged nothing. Authors retained their rights and 100 percent of a retailer’s net payment–no cut to Pronoun. [The Alliance of Independent Authors’ John] Doppler wrote in [an] earlier review that Pronoun’s services were free to authors because the company had $3.5 million in venture capital funding from Avalon Ventures and revenue from “its not-insubstantial legacy business.” Future revenue, he wrote, would come from “voluntary partnerships with high-performing authors. These authors may be invited to publish through Pronoun’s traditional imprints, giving up a share of royalties for enhanced services.”’

Free always scares us as a business. While customers might rejoice over the availability of free services and might even abandon your business because it does not offer services for free, in the absence of a sustainable, revenue-generating, business model, it is always going to be difficult for any business to provide valuable services for free, on a continuous basis. In the long run, that can actually be bad for customers themselves.

Offering free services is a textbook-recommended approach adopted by manufacturers and service providers in order to grab market share. The tactic hinges, though, on charging for something else in order to compensate. Like Gillette, which gives away its razors for almost nothing, but charges a premium for blades.

Customers like to hear that something is on offer for no cost; given two options, they will choose one that has freebies, or more freebies, mentioned as part of the offer. However, with there being no such thing as free lunch, someone is paying for it. In many cases, it is the customers themselves, paying a premium for one service while another is offered free. For example, customers opting to stay at a 5-star hotel are offered a free pick up and drop off to the airport. The room charges, however, have more than compensated for the “free” service.

But many times, it is the supplier paying for this free service. That is often a problem because there remains the risk of the supplier ultimately running out of money to pay for them. That can often lead to one of two things: a) the supplier having to stop offering free services or b)the supplier having to shut shop because it does not have the money required to continue operations. What happened with Pronoun was perhaps the latter.

If you are acquiring customers because of the free services you are offering, you run the risk of losing these customers when you can no longer afford to offer these services for free. The cost of these services, often put down as marketing costs, or customer acquisition costs, ultimately keep adding up till you, as a businessperson, can no longer afford to bear them. If “free” is your only USP, your business runs the risk of shutting down when the freebies stop.

It is therefore important that your business offers customers value that go beyond just offering services for free. In fact, on the flip side, you can charge customers a premium if you can convince them that the quality of your product, or services, is second to none, and that they offer value for money. That, in my opinion, is a much better proposition to offer, because it attracts only those customers that value your services, and who will probably recommend them to others.

At CinnamonTeal Publishing, we have often been compared to our competitors who offer freebies in order to attract customers. When asked to match their offers, we politely decline. We are in the self-publishing business in India for 10 years now, and know exactly the value of what we offer. WWe know that we offer best-in-class editing, design and printing services. That we have tied up with the best service providers to provide marketing and distribution. And to endorse that, we have satisfied customers from across the globe.

photo credit: pexels.com

A good book should sell itself. There is no argument there. It should sell on its own merit, not because the author has garnered reputation elsewhere or because the contents of a book have stoked some controversy. The book should sell because it is well written, properly edited, nicely designed and is a pleasure to hold and read.

It is said, often truly, that publishing services make their money off packages, not by selling books. This is not entirely false. There is little incentive for companies providing publishing services to garner sales of books, especially after the author has paid for those expensive packages. More often than not, these packages do little to make the book better – many packages do not include editing, charge a premium for cover design, and charge extra for getting the book out the door.

We have always stood against this concept of packaged services, which include much and deliver little. Our starter kits, introduced this year, in our 10th year of operations, are targeted towards specific genres of books, and their authors. So we have designed a basic set of services for authors of prose, poetry, children’s books, and academic titles. In addition we have also introduced a basic set of services for authors who wish to only have a digital book (an e-book), These kits stand on their own, i.e. they do not need ANY additional services to get your book out of the door. Because we offer print-on-demand, again the first in India to offer these services to retail customers, we have not included printed copies within these kits, simply because we can print copies as per demand, thus obviating the need for investments in print.

These kits, like I mentioned, include all services that are required to create your book. Editing, cover design and interior page layout are, of course, included. So is distribution within India. In addition, these kits also include services that we feel are important for that particular genre. For example, the children’s book starter kit has illustration services included, whiile the academic book starter kit has indexing services included.

True to its name, these are starter kits, designed to a) help authors choose the best set of services for their books, and b) provide a basic set of services without necessitating the need to buy additional services. An author might however, for example, require international distribution for her book, a service that is not part of the starter kits. Such services can be added on.

We are confident that these starter kits will change the way publisher services are provided in India, in fact prompt customers to demand such an approach from other service providers as well. We believe that this is an efficient and least-cost method of providing publisher services, providing them, and charging them for, only those services that are absolutely necessary for the book.

Coming back to the original point made in this blog: books must sell. And a good book will sell, if it is easily accessible. We ensure a good book because we have it thoroughly edited, and design its cover and interior with utmost care. And we ensure that it is easily accessible to customers around the world because our distribution network covers all major markets across the globe. Our titles can be made available across all continents, a service which is available to every author who publishes with us.

We sincerely hope that authors will take advantage of the services we provide to give their books a fighting chance.

It has been our steadfast belief that self-publishing packages do not benefit the author. An author who chooses to purchase a self-publishing package pays for services she may not require, while being led to believe that she does, and is offered no leeway in having those services tailored to her requirements.

Nonetheless, we have encountered authors who need a starting point from which to continue. They are not sure which services are important, or necessary, for their book, and how they should go about selecting a base basket of services. That dilemma forces them to consider the cookie-cutter approach so well embedded within packages.

To aid for such authors, therefore, we have introduced, for the first time in India, or anywhere globally for that matter, self publishing starter kits (SKs). Like the name suggests, these kits allow you to get started with your book, and, in fact, include all the services you need to have a book ready for printing. We also have a starter kit for authors who wish to publish digitally alone.

 

As seen in the image above, the SKs have more than only the basics included in them, knowing well that many authors are on a budget and that it is important to them that a good book be produced. The emphasis, therefore, is on producing a good book and getting it out of the door. Hence the focus of a good round of editing, and good cover design and page layout. We believe that, ultimately, the author knows what’s best for her book, and will pick and choose accordingly. More importantly, the author is still vested with choices to decide for her book.

For more details, visit this page: https://cinnamonteal.in/starter-kits/

When we launched CinnamonTeal Design earlier this month (July 2017), our repertoire included a whole bunch of services that we were already offering our authors previously as part of our self-publishing portfolio. Hitherto hidden behind a curtain of self-publishing services, a nomenclature that did no justice to everything else we offered besides publishing-related services, developing a “graphics and web division” helps us showcase some of the “other” capabilities we have had for long now. Like our website designing service, for instance.

Going forward, therefore, you will find us talking about issues and trends that perhaps a “normal” publisher won’t. Like digitization and archival, or app development. Or the need to have one’s  own ecommerce-enabled website.

This blog will enumerate the benefits of “going it alone” and having a stab at developing an ecommerce infrastructure that is managed and monitored by one company, usually the producer, alone. Most businesses already have a website, but sell their products through “marketplaces” such as Flipkart and Amazon. It is not a bad idea to sell through these marketplaces but having the option to sell through your own platform is a big advantage (disclaimer: we develop ecommerce websites for clients, so there is an ulterior motive to this blog).

Here are the pros and cons of having your own ecommerce-enabled website. First the pros:

a. You set your own terms: When you have your own website, you are allowed to choose your own payment and return policies. As a seller of books, we found that Amazon’s return policy, that allows buyers to return books, even a week after they have been purchased as a big source of revenue loss for us. Not only have we found instances in which the book was photocopied, the returned book was, for all practical purposes, unfit for selling again.

b. You are your own competitor: For the time a customer is on your website, you have no other competition. It is then your business to lose and up to you to ensure that the customer does not walk away without making a purchase. For that time, however, there are no deep discounts and other gimmicks by other sellers to worry about, nor the fact that a customer can compare the price of your product with those of other similar products. This also presents an opportunity to ensure that the customer leaves your website feeling good about her experience during her time browsing through it.

c. There is little by way of fees: There are no listing fees, or storage and handling fees, or those gazillion fees charged under quite innovative names. Having your own ecommerce platform allows you to keep costs down. You have, of course, to pay for the hosting and maintenance of the website, and, depending on the payment gateway you choose, also pay a transaction fee, or an annual fee, or both.

d. You get to set your own image: An ecommerce website must be viewed as a digital asset you can use to extend your brand. Therefore you must be very careful of the “image” you portray, how you deal with privacy issues, and how you solve problems faced by your customers. The design of your website must also reflect your brand. You can set up your website to match your “style”.

e. Your website can be tailored to suit your business processes: While selling off a third-party website means tailoring your business processes to meet their requirements, you need not do this if you have your own ecommerce platform. In fact the processes followed during and after an ecommerce transaction, like the way the customer is informed of the purchase and the shipment made, for instance, can be integrated into your way of executing this processes.

f. Your website acts as an additional marketing tool: That means, if properly coded, you can get your products to appear in search results, use your product detail page to highlight the main features of your products, and give your customers a detailed explanation of your products, and use your “about us” and “faqs” pages to properly “explain” your company. Similarly, allow customers to review your products; nothing works like customer testimonials to sell a product or service.

g. You have information regarding your customers’ buying habits: While this is information you have to use carefully (especially taking care to ensure that customers’ privacy is not violated), this information allows you to understand your market better, in turn allowing you to market certain items, understand any seasonality in sales, and cross-sell.

h. You can determine your own geographical reach: Many online platforms, due to restrictions they have placed on themselves, do not ship abroad or ship to only certain countries. Having your own ecommerce platform allows you to sell goods and services to all corners of the globe (unless restricted by the government).

i. You can complement a physical store nicely: An ecommerce-enabled website complements a physical store, if you already have one, very nicely. You can use it to attract customers to your physical store, and sell your stock lying there. For items bought on the website, the store acts as a perfect pick up point, yet another way to tell people there is a store they can visit.

Next, the cons:

a. The upfront costs are substantial: You will have to spend to register your domain name, spend on hosting (which can be paid as a lumpsum or annually), and spend to actually have your website developed. In addition, there will be recurring costs, like the payment gateway cost, the hosting fee (if you choose the recurring option) and the cost of maintaining the website.

You also need to keep in mind that there are costs you might not always be able to track. Like the cost of the time you spend on packaging and shipping, and the cost of packaging material and shipping by post or by courier.

b. Your website will have to be marketed: Just like other websites, ecommerce-enabled or not, you will have to market your website so people know about it and visit it. This translates both into a cost, and into slow pickup (which might mean, that initially traffic to the website will be low).

c. You are your own support staff: You have to take the calls when people have issues navigating and buying on your website, and make sure that the buyer’s problems have been addressed. This is important because it might mean the difference between the buyer returning to your website or forever deserting it.

It may now no longer be enough to have a website that simply displays your products and services. The new paradigm of business implies that you give the customer everything she needs to make a purchase at one point. Having an ecommerce-enabled business might help you achieve that.

photocredit: stocksnap.io

It goes without saying that a book cover plays a very important part in how your book is received. Yet many authors, especially those who self-publish and have a role to play in the design of the book cover, consider it an inconvenience that comes in the way of getting their book out into the market. Given the freedom to do so, many would use freely available templates or images downloaed from the net and slap it onto the cover. Nothing could be more harmful to the success of your book than such a hastily (and badly) designed cover.

Here is a quick checklist to consider while designing your cover:

a. Stick to one element: Choose an element (or feature) of your book that is perhaps its best selling proposition. Resist the temptation to include everything within the cover. Usually, with covers, less is more.

b. Design for the full cover: Cover designers sometimes forget that a cover is made of the front cover, back cover, and spine (and the flaps, if those exist). The cover should therefore be designed in toto. A cover whose front and back look distinctly different does not sit well with many buyers, and conveys an impression of bad design.

c. Design for the genre: The book cover should convey the genre of the book, to the extent possible. Using a good mix of typography and imagery, an accurate metaphor of the book (and its genre) must be conveyed.

d. Pay attention to the spine: On many bookshelves, it is the spine that holds out so pay attention to what you include in it. At the least, try to incorporate the author and title. You should be able to read the title left to right when the book sits on its back cover (with the front cover pointing upwards). Like we mentioned above, unless you have good reason, the spine should blend with the rest of the cover.

e. Do not crowd out the back cover: Use the space on the back cover to include a synopsis of the book, a small bio, perhaps, of the author, even some blurbs from people who are easily recognized (or provide an introductory line from them). However, you should resist the temptation to include too much text. Adequate space should be left for the publisher’s logo, the barcode and the price.

f. Pay attention to bleed and type safety: This ensures that sections of the cover that you wish to retain do not get cut off during the trimming process (while the cover is made).’

g. Typographic covers can leave a lasting impact too: While most designers are tempted to use only images for their covers, a good typographic design can have an equally powerful impact.

Here are a few of the covers we have designed:

  • The Vanishing Stripes

Check out the Book Cover Archive for good ideas on how to develop a book cover. Or read this article for a deeper understanding of book cover design.

Here are other examples of book covers on Flickr and Pinterest.

If you have decided to opt for the self-publishing route for your book, chances are there have been many people who have advised you on how you should proceed. If you asked us, for example, we would have advised you not to adopt a package-based approach. And to make sure your book was edited.

But what about things you should not do? Things vital to the process that you should not miss out on? Here’s a small list we put together, of what not to do if you are self-publishing.

a. Do not underestimate the value of “learning how to write”: Yes, you heard it right. Writing is a craft that must be developed, then honed. A good writer understands that and seeks to improve at every step, without assuming that writing “comes naturally.” A lot of effort goes into developing a good narrative, then writing a good book, and an author would do well not to take this task (of writing) lightly. Moreover, the nuances of syntax and grammar have to be correctly understood so as to be able to communicate your thoughts and views accurately.

It is always advised that you complete your book and put it away before you approach any publisher. This is your book, there will always be the temptation to make a change here or correct a sentence there. Resist that temptation unless the suggestion comes from an editor (see point f. below). We therefore suggest you put away the book after making all the changes and reading it one last time.

Completing your book before submitting it to a publisher not only means that the publisher has a completed product to work with, it also allows the publisher to work unhindered. Repeated changes during the process introduce the possibility of delay and the possibility that some of your changes are not reflected in your book, given the many versions that might be floating around. Many self-publishing service providers now charge for changes in manuscript if they are introduced after the publishing process has begun.

b. Do not assume you cannot do it yourself: While there are many self-publishing service providers who can help you publish your book, you should not assume you cannot have the book published yourself. These service providers help by aggregating all services at one place, making it convenient for you. But if that is your style, you can get a book edited, its cover and interior designed, and the book printed all by yourself. You won’t be the first one doing it.

c. Do not skip on the research: Assuming that you have decided to engage a service provider to assist you with the publishing process, do not settle for the first one you have heard about, or the first in the list when you search for one on Google. Once you have found a service provider, look for many reviews of their performance, not just one. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of questions you should ask any service provider before you engage them. In any case, you need to know what are the costs involved (and decide for yourself if all costs have been explained to you), what are the estimated timelines involved, what level of marketing and distribution will be provided, and what is the general image of the company among its authors. Ask them to show you their portfolio, so you can make an informed decision on the quality of their work. Browse through their website to understand if they are transparent about their processes.

While on the topic of research, if your book is based on events and occurrences, or people and places, make sure all your facts are checked.

d. Do not forget to sign an agreement, before work on your book commences: This is perhaps one of the most important “do nots” in this list. Before beginning any kind of work on your manuscript and before making any payment to the service provider, ensure that you are party to an agreement with the service provider. Read the agreement properly – it is very often an online agreement, that you just “agree to”, so make sure you read what you are signing up for. (We get queries from many authors who have, for instance, signed off their ability to publish elsewhere.) This agreement should, ideally, clearly spell out all the deliverables expected of the service provider, wherever it is possible to provide such clarity. It should also tell you what you can and cannot do with your book. The agreement should be signed by the person leading the company, not an employee who might soon leave that company and have no legal liability. You should keep a hard copy of the agreement, signed by both parties, for yourself.

e. Do not pay for all services at one go: Although you will not be able to do this with service providers who deal with packages, it is wise to pay as you go, each time for the next service down the process. This means you pay for editing, and only after the manuscript is edited pay for cover design before that process begins. That way you have a handle on expenditures and you will know if you are being charged extra. If there is a request for extra charges, make sure you understand why you are being charged (it would have been better if you had anticipated this and asked beforehand if there would be an extra charge).

If you agree to pay all at one go, you should have a more compelling reason than to say “they asked me to”. You should want to pay all at one go, not be forced to. There are reasons for authors wishing to pay a lump sum amount but these are exceptional cases rather than  the norm. For example, an author might be going abroad for a while and wish to make all payments before he leaves. Or an author has crowdfunded the book and must pay it all together. But whether to pay together or in staggered amounts is your decision to make; it cannot, and should not, be forced upon you.

f. Do not skip on editing: This is advice you will hear often, and if you are serious about ending up with a good book, we think it is advice you should take. And it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at the manuscript. Nothing turns away a reader, or makes a lasting bad impression, than a book that is badly edited and, therefore, is replete with spelling mistakes and bad grammatical usage. Take all your time during the editing process to ensure that your book is rid of all errors. In the self-publishing process, you, as an author, are required to approve of the changes that are being made. Take the time to read and understand why a change is being suggested, and only after you are convinced, approve of it.

g. Do not agree for a cover that’s not specifically designed for your book: A cover template might do when you wish to cut costs but otherwise make sure you have a cover designed that reflects your tastes and accurately represents the book. In any case, don’t settle for a collage of cliparts or other “pre-fabricated” graphics. Pay a lot of attention to the back cover text. Here too, make sure the back cover text is edited. This is the first text a potential buyer will read and you don’t want a spelling mistake or grammatical error turning her away.

h. Do not ignore copyright concerns: This starts with you – do not give in to any temptation to mimic or imitate writing styles or copy conversation snippets when writing your book. If you are using borrowed texts (whether quotes or speeches or song lyrics), make sure you have the permissions to do so. Ditto with images and other graphical elements that you may use within the book, or on its cover. Remember, Google images are not all copyright free. Similarly, when you are getting your cover designed by your service provider, make sure they are sticklers for copyright guidelines too. In matters like this, it is better to be safe than sorry. In fact, a well-written agreement will ask authors to testify that all material in the book is their own.

i. Do not be pressured into printing a fixed number of books: As an author, you should be able to decide how many copies of your book should be printed. Do not allow yourself to be coerced into printing a certain number of books. Since the quantity of books printed (print run) will affect the price of the book, it might be a good idea to print a quantity that allows you to have a low price. Nonetheless, the various costs and their impact on the price should be explained to you so that you can decide what quantity to print.

j. Do not be coerced into buying a marketing package you cannot understand: It is a fact that a marketing outcome cannot be certain, and cannot guarantee sales of a certain quantum. However, if you are being offered a marketing solution, ask what it will do for you and how it will help your book particularly. You might be told that it will attract a certain number of views or click-throughs. That’s fair enough. These are good metrics to go by and, in fact, you should be worried if someone is promising you a definite sales volume. In any case, make sure you know what you are getting for the money you are paying.

At the end of the day, it is important that you enjoy the publishing process you have chosen to undertake. You have probably enjoyed the process of writing your book, the publishing process should not take away that joy from you. We hope this list of don’ts ensures that you have an enjoyable time publishing your book.

picture credit: https://stocksnap.io

In August 2017, we will complete 10 years since we first published a book under the imprint of CinnamonTeal Publishing (our parent company, Dogears Print Media, was launched an year earlier, in 2006, with the launch of the online bookstore, Dogears Etc.). Incidentally the launch of CinnamonTeal Publishing meant that it was the first time ever that self-publishing was introduced in India at a business-to-consumer level (it was already present at the business-to-business level). Over the years since then we have worked on many different kinds of books and have several stories to tell. This story, however, is of our association with Sulekha.com, and other organizations like them.

During the years 2008-2010, Sulekha.com, which ran Blogprint, a popular blogging platform, decided to publish the blogs of its most popular bloggers as a book. The first book, titled “Subbu Chronicles: A Series of Adventures” was released in mid-2008. While the cover for the book was designed by Sulekha.com, CinnamonTeal designed the book interior, printed the book and arranged for its sale on indiaplaza.com, and subsequently on a certain, newly-minted, flipkart.com.

In the years since we have worked with several institutions and organizations to develop books, manuals, conference proceedings, in-house publications and other printed material. In these cases, the concerned organization provided us with material for the book, while we edited, designed and/or printed the book, depending on the needs of the client. In such an association, there is an implicit understanding that the strengths of the organization we work with are best at developing content for books, while we have significant expertise in publishing the book and bringing it to market.

A few illustrations of our work:

  • The Madness Starts at 9: This was the last in our series of books published in association with Sulekha.com. A total of 8 books were published, including a travelogue and an anthology of poems by women.
  • The Global Information Society Watch, and other publications by the Geneva-based Association for Progressive Communications: We worked with the APC to print their books (which mostly consisted of annual reports and other publications) and distribute them globally.
  • Books for Globethics.net: We printed and distributed various books published by this worldwide ethics network based in Geneva
  • Study material for Indian Astrobiology Research Centre: Our print-on-demand service allowed the Centre to keep their study material updated.
  • Books for the Rosary College of Commerce and Arts, Navelim, Goa: The books included Socio-Economic Inequities and the Health Sector – Issues and Perspectives and their quarterly journal, Gyaana.
  • Books on Six-Sigma: These books were authored by N C Narayanan and published on his behalf by CinnamonTeal.
  • Speaking with Hands: A coffee-table book that describes the various crafts of India through the eyes of travelers, many of who are from outside India, and all of who are craftspersons in their own right. Published for the founders of Indebo, a travel company.
  • epiSTEME-5 and epiSTEME-6: The proceedings of epiSTEME-5 and epiSTEME-6, the fifth and sixth in the series of biennial EpiSTEME conferences, organized by the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, a National Centre of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India, which review research in science, technology and mathematics education.

Ten years on, and countless such books later, we have formalised these services into what we have labelled “Managed Publishing Services”. The idea behind it is the same: we let our clients do what they do best (collecting and arranging original content) and what is comfortably within their domain of expertise, while we bring our publishing experience to bear on the project, effectively translating a work-in-progress manuscript into a complete book, ready for its market.

In combination with our services for publishers, we now have a full portfolio of services for all customers who wish to have a book published and marketed. Our large distribution network ensures that the book is available in all major markets across the world. And our digital marketing services helps readers know about your book, sufficiently enough to make an informed purchase.

 

The main purpose of this article is to spell out the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing, and enumerate its pros and cons, so that an author seeking to publish her book can decide which of the two options to choose.

The term “traditional publishing” or “mainstream publishing” refers to publishing as it is usually understood – where the publisher bets on the book and spends on it. In this mode of publishing, the common practice is for a publisher to either commission a book i.e. to ask an author to write on a particular topic, or to solicit manuscripts for publication. In the latter case, not all manuscripts are published, rather each solicited manuscript is passed through a round of editorial review. Once the publisher has decided to publish a book, all expenditures related to the book – its editing, design, printing, marketing and distribution – are borne by the publisher. In many instances, the publication process starts with an agreement in which the author hands over the rights to the book to the publisher, and in turn agrees to a ‘royalty fee’, a fixed percentage of sales paid to the author by the publisher. In some cases, an advance is paid against future royalty earnings.

traditional-vs-self-publishingSince the publisher is literally putting its money on the book, the publisher is choosy about the book it will publish. (Usually a publisher will publish just one kind of book, a genre, like crime thrillers, for instance. Or it may publish many genres under different labels, or imprints. For instance, Penguin India publishes business books under its Portfolio imprint and other contemporary non-fiction under its Allen Lane imprint.) A publisher may therefore choose to reject a book that is submitted to it by its author because the book does not fit among the books it has chosen to publish, or because the publisher does not see a market large enough for the book to be able to recoup its investments in that book. Please remember that a traditional publisher may reject your book even if it is a good one [https://scroll.in/article/832753/eight-reasons-that-even-a-good-book-is-rejected-by-publishers].

Further, the publisher will take all necessary steps to ensure that the book appeals to its audience. The publisher brings its wisdom and experience to bear upon this process of developing the book for its market. That might mean making certain changes to the text, developing a cover that it finds suitable, setting an appropriate price for the book, and formulating a marketing plan appropriate for the book. The publisher can choose to do all of this without the involvement of the author. Based on its estimation of the market, the publisher will choose to print a certain number of copies of the book, and reprint or discontinue the book depending upon the response it gets. Depending upon the nature of the contract signed between the author and the publisher, the publisher has the freedom to negotiate and sign on agreements for translations of the book into other languages, for conversion into other electronic formats, and even for TV or movie rights.

So how is it different from self-publishing?

The self-publishing route differs from traditional publishing in the following aspects:

Cost: All costs related to the developing, printing and distributing the book, are borne by the author. That means the author remains fully invested in the process. Consequently, the author also has a say in all matters related to the book. Some options, such as crowdsourcing, that will make it easier for authors to fund their books are now available.

Control: This follows from the previous point. Having paid for the book, the author gets to decide (rather, should be given a chance to decide) on every aspect of the book, such as the book dimensions, the type of binding, the nature of the cover, the number of copies printed and the avenues of distribution.

Profits: All profits go to the author. Any deductions, if held back by the service provider, should be communicated to the author, preferably before the service is undertaken. The author must receive an explanation of the costs and reimbursements. Typically, the author gets to choose the quantum of royatly payable after each copy is sold, and, based on that, the price of the book. The author agreement, that every self-published author must read before signing, must explain how profits, and royalty, will be disbursed to the author. No advance on royalties is paid to the author.

Rights: The rights to the contents of the book remain vested with the author. Thus, the author decides on the rights for translations, serialization rights, rights to convert to other formats, as also TV and movie rights. An author agreement is therefore very important for authors who self publish, more importantly one that explains where the rights to various aspects of the book will be vested.

Time to Market: A self-published book almost always makes it to the market earlier than a book that is traditionally published. A six-month period is considered as the average time a book takes to become available when the author chooses the self-publishing route.

Having said that, self-publishing does not appeal to many. That is because self-publishing is hard work. It means a total commitment to the self-publishing process, understanding every aspect of the process, taking time to learn how publishing works, and, very importantly, taking it upon yourself to ensure that the book is adequately marketed and distributed. Self-publishing cannot be for authors who will outsource the task of monitoring the process to a third party.

On the other hand, a majority of authors do prefer the tradional publishing way. And for good reason:

There is prestige and validation: Being a published author implies having your book approved by a team of editors. That in itself is a badge of approval that many authors relish. Such validation does not come easily to self-published authors. In fact, in the case of many genres, such as academic books, self-published books are frowned upon. That stigma, though, is slowly disappearing.

Your book is worked upon by a large team of book editors, designers and marketeers: Very often the team assembled to work on your book has many years of experience between them. Given that the publisher has invested a lot of money in the book, it naturally follows that this team is charged with publishing a very good book. When you self-publish, on the other hand, you choose the team you will work with.

Distribution becomes easier: Book distributors and retailers believe that a book from a traditional publisher will be worth selling since it is assumed that the content is properly vetted and edited and a lot of effort has been put into developing a good book. No retailer would shun a good product and the publisher’s imprint assures the retailer of just that. Like many self-published authors will avow, getting physical stores to keep their books on their shelves is next to impossible.

There are no costs to the author, a lucky one might actually receive a royalty: In the traditional publishing model, the publisher invests the money necessary to develop, market and distribute the book. In case of established authors, the publisher might actually offer the author an advance against future royalties.

A traditionally published book is more likely to be accepted for awards and acclaim: Many literary awards are not open to self-published authors, and remain available for traditionally published books alone.

Self-publishing can be a way to get published the traditional way. Many authors have found commercial and critical success with their self-published books as a result of which publishers following the traditional model of publishing have noticed them and offered them a proposal for their next book. Ultimately it is the decision of the author, to choose which route to take. There cannot be any substitute for hard work and writing a good book. That done, both models are guaranteed to get the market to sit up and notice your book.

We are often asked why we insist that a manuscript submitted to us for self-publishing should be edited. Many authors believe, and some rightly so, that they have put in a lot of effort to make sure that the loose ends are tied and therefore the need to spend time, and money, on a round of editing is unnecessary. But we still insist on a round of editing, sometimes to our own detriment because many authors desert us when we ask them to have their manuscripts edited. We however believe that a round of editing is good for the book. Here’s why:editing

a. An editor will read your book with a different perspective: While most readers read the content of the book, and may thus oversee some errors in the text, a good editor will read every word to ensure that the text is as error-free as possible. Moreover, writers are so familiar with their own work, they usually miss many errors that a different set of eyes will see.

b. An editor will ensure consistency: Such consistency could be with respect to spellings, or the way dates are numbered or the way punctuation marks are used.

c. An editor will ensure accuracy: An editor will ensure that all facts are checked, the numbers add up, and, as it happened in one case with one of our books, that a person who died on page 77 does not reappear on page 132.

d. An editor will ensure clarity: An editor, who is unfamiliar with the text, and is reading it for the first time, will want to ensure that the narrative is clear to the reader. What might be obvious to the author might not be to the reader. The editor might therefore ask the writer to clarify the text so that it is communicated as clearly as possible. Similarly an editor will ensure that the narrative is not verbose and long wound, or bogged down with complex words when a simple word will be as effective.

e. An editor will iron out all issues with the grammar of the text: A writer need not know about split infinitives or dangling modifiers. That’s the editor’s job to know, identify and correct.

f. An editor underlines your commitment towards excellence: Every author wants to ensure that his/her book out there is the best. A round of editing can ensure that.

It is often argued that self-publishing authors should not be asked to cut and chop text, that it is their choice of what to keep and what to remove. A round of editing does not impinge on that choice, rather it only shows what the author could consider modifying so that the book reads better. A good editor will suggest modifications that do not impinge upon the author’s style of communicating. Editing is not a censorship tool, rather an approach towards perfecting the book. With the book on the shelf, the author has but one opportunity to make an impression on the reader. An edited book can ensure that that impression is a memorable one. At the same time, an editor cannot guarantee commercial success for the book, just that the book will read well.

So what are the types of editing available and what type does your book need?

Proofreading: During this process, the proofreader reads the proof (usually an already-edited manuscript) and acts only as a quality check for spelling and grammar, making sure that the copy editor has not missed something. The proofreader is not responsible for the overall consistency and accuracy of the text.

Copy Editing: Copy editing makes sure that the author’s raw text is corrected in aspects of spelling and grammar. Copy editing also involves, among other things, ensuring that the text flows properly, that nothing is missing or redundant, that sentences and paragraphs are uncomplicated and of adequate length and that the consistency of characters and plots is maintained. A copy editor also ensures that illustrations support the text and have appropriate captions.

In addition, editors will eliminate redundant words, replace repetitive words with appropriate synonyms, and will substitute weak words, phrases, and sentences with alternatives that deliver more impact or are more relevant to your subject matter. During all this, our editors will make sure your original tone remains intact. After a round of editing, we insist that the author reads and reviews these changes.

Substantive (or Developmental) Editing: Substantive editing, sometimes called structural editing, focuses on the content, organization, and presentation of the entire text, viewed wholly, from the title through to the ending.

Which editing you choose actually depends on the book you have written. At the very least, we suggest you have your book copyedited. This is necessary because it removes the scruff from the grain. A good copyeditor will see what you are blind to because you are too invested in the words you have toiled to write, and will help you make your book even better to read. If you are unconvinced, remember that in the traditional publishing process, it is the editing phase that takes the longest. Publishers who have invested in the book make sure that the book is properly edited. You are doing the same thing with your self-published book when you invest in a round of editing.