The title of this is post is borrowed from a recent article in the Huffington Post  that wonders if self-publishing authors are spoiling the party for everyone. In their hurry to create blockbusters, authors, the article argues, are ignoring the basic tenets of writing and resorting to cheap gimmicks to sell their book.

The author proceeds to list the ways in which she thinks many self-published authors are “devaluing the written word”: by pricing the book ridiculously low, refusing to pay attention to editing or proper cover design and resort to paid reviews and other such antics to attract sales.

Paperwork – creative commons license

The article gets it right on both counts: the methods employed by authors to cut corners and ensure sales and the reasons why they employ them. Having seen how the Hockings and Jameses of this world have tasted success, no one believes such success cannot be his or hers. Those tried and tested rules that almost always ensure a good book and satisfied customers can wait.

In India the scene isn’t too different. We have the Bhagats and the Shenoys here, who have made many believe that mediocre writing also pays. The runaway success of such books have spawned a multitude of writers. Nothing wrong with that, except that many choose to rather do that than ensure a good book.

At CinnamonTeal we constantly encounter such authors. Many of them have a plot that can be refined with a little editing, many others have written a beautiful book that could leave a lasting impression with a good cover. But they won’t hear of it. They’d rather go to market as soon as possible at the lowest price they can offer. Often we push back in the belief that the authors will understand and invest a little in editing and design. Ours being a self-publishing service, ultimately we have to bow to the wishes of the author.

We hope that this will change – that authors will aspire for literary glory along with financial reward, that marketing will be less about frills and more about communicating the essence of the book. We hope that authors will speak to the niche than to the mass market because, like a colleague at a publishing course recently pointed out, mass-market books cater to ‘the lowest denominator’. On our part, we believe we are doing our best to educate the author and bring about such change.

The self-publishing phenomena, being a nascent one inspite of the attractive numbers, cannot afford the disrepute that comes with badly edited and produced books. There are many authors who are working really hard at their books and making the best of the opportuinities that self-publishing platforms offer them. The rest, who couldn’t care less, should not spoil it for those hard-working authors. If self-publishing should indeed be taken seriously, those engaging in it should ensure that good literary works emerge.

It has been a pleasure to work with Ben Antao. Originally from the Goan village of Velim, Ben cut his teeth in journalism while working at the Indian Express as a reporter. He subsequently migrated to Canada where he works a certified financial planner. Ben’s heart, though, still beats for Goa and the numerous books he has written are testament to that. His books speak of an innocent time when life in the village was idyllic and people cared for each other.

CinnamonTeal has published two of Ben’s books. The first one was a new edition of his earlier work, Images of Goa. The second, recently published in October 2012, is a bi-lingual book consisting of short stories in English and Konkani. We are proud to have published this book, titled Xirap and her Nnov Kotha (literally ‘The Curse and nine other stories’)/The Madhouse and nine other stories, making it possible for us to realise our dream of publishing bi-lingual books. We have always believed in this format because we believe that it speaks to a community that communicates in English, mostly for economic reasons, but also wishes to not lose sight of a language it holds dear.

We enjoyed every moment we worked on this book and we hope you will enjoy reading it. The book is available for sale here.

Commander Deepak K L Shergill, psc. , author of The Beast of the Dragon (CinnamonTeal, 2012) took voluntary retirement from the Indian Navy on 1st September 1999 after over 23 years of service. He now sails as a Master Mariner on AHTSVs and has extensive experience and insight in the working of offshore oil fields. He is an alumnus of St Joseph’s Academy Dehra Dun, Naval Academy and the Defense Services Staff College Wellington. We spoke to him about his first books and his experiences as an author.

CinnamonTeal: Do you recall how your interest in writing developed ?

Deepak Shergill: As I was growing up my first love was reading. I grew up reading Enid Blyton, Capt W E Johns and as I moved to college I lapped up English classics and contemporary writers from Ian Flemming , Fredrerick Forsyth, Fredrick H Christian to Camus. This vast spectrum of literature tickled me to write. It was only during 1978 to 1980 that I wrote a few short stories. I don’t know if they were good or bad but I sent them to Shobha De through a friend who worked with her in 1982. Well, I never got any feedback, probably Shobha De just trashed them. I never wrote anything after that, only dreamed of doing so.

CT: How did the idea for this book come about?

DS: Firstly every one in India is an authority on terrorism and secondly most Indians, even the minister who handles petroleum, have a vague idea about offshore oil fields. This always played on my mind. On 27 July 2005 there was a very unfortunate accident on Bombay High. Eleven people lost their lives and eleven others were reported missing. I was at the Mumbai Port that day having left Bombay High the previous evening, so I followed most of the news about the rescue operation on the DD news channel. The news bulletin gave full credit to the Coast Guard and the Indian Navy who came to the spot much later to pick up a few survivors after all the difficult work was done by Offshore Supply Vessels ( OSV) who were on the spot, working in very rough monsoon seas. Passing mention was given to the Masters of the OSVs that did all the difficult work. The CG and IN did all of that to justify them to the taxpayer. To add to the injustice, a very educated minister spoke at a press conference on TV and assured that ‘Rigs’ were being positioned around the affected platform for rescue operations. He did not know the difference between an Oil Rig and a Supply Vessel. I thus formed the story for a terror plot in an oil field hoping that through the story I could bring alive the difficulties of an offshore vessel operator’s life in an offshore oil field and the dedication with which the men and women work on these vessels. I started writing this story in 2007 and completed it in 2010 and revised the plot a bit after Osama bin Laden’s killing. In my story I portrayed a vessel dangerously encroaching on the offshore oil field. How true were my words. On 31 July 2011 MV Pavit a vessel abandoned near the Oman coast beached on the Juhu Versova beach. It had drifted past Bombay High without being detected or noticed by any one except the fishermen near the coast.

CT: Any part of the book you particularly enjoyed writing? Something you’d treasure down memory lane?

DS: The part where a team boards the rogue vessel to avert a catastrophe. I wanted to accurately portray the dedication of the people who work on offshore vessels. Everyday, in oil fields all over the world many put their vessels and their own lives at risk without hesitation so that the rigs and platforms can extract oil to move the world.

CT: Often it is said that the characters in a book assume a life of their own. Did you experience that too or did your characters stay true to what you had planned for them?

DS: Except for the two high profile terrorist all my characters came and went like chain links that bound the story. These links played their part as I had planned. As I moved through the story I could not help but humanise the two terrorists. They sort of ‘compelled’ me to portray them so.

CT: How long did id take to finish the book? What was the writing experience like?

DS: Like I said I started writing the book in 2007 and finished it in 2010 with very little changes. The only changes I made were in July 2011 after Osama bin Ladens killing.

CT: Briefly describe to us how you went about conducting the research for the book?

DS: The difficult part was writing about places in Pakistan and for that I depended a lot on the Google Map. The internet helped me to understand some parts associated with history. All other parts about the offshore oil field and vessels are part of my experiences. This is a profession that I love so much.

CT: In many places the book seems autobiographical. Is that an accurate statement to make?

DS: Yes the part about my personal experience in Sri Lanka in Ops Pawan while commanding a Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) and of course my present life in the offshore oil field.

CT: Do you have any future writing plans?

DS: Yes I have already worked out the frame work for the next book that will be about the betrayal of the nation of Israel by the British Government. And yes this one will have a main protagonist, something which was missing in the ‘The Beast of the Dragon’.

CT: How was it working with CinnamonTeal Publishing?

DS: Wonderful. The professional team at CinnamonTeal Publishing cleaned and ironed my book and packaged it to make me proud of my work. For my part I am truly proud of them.

In a couple of months from now, we will be launching our own e-book development and distribution service via dogearsetc.com and cinnamonteal.in. While the technical aspects of this service are ready, a few loose ends to be tied and we will be ready to go. Although e-book development and sales services are already available widely, although to a lesser degree in India, we decided to develop our own solution with the following features in mind:

= The service will be non-exclusive: Authors and publishers will be allowed to terminate the contract at will. Upon termination, only those titles that have already been purchased will be retained so that those buyers are not affected.

= There will be “agency pricing”: We will not offer any discounts unilaterally, only those offered by the publisher or author. That allows the publisher/author to develop a unique pricing structure for each book without fear of it being upended by the e-commerce platform. Agency pricing is a favoured model these days because it allows the publisher to control the price of the book. While some argue that this may be the publisher’s way of keeping prices high, we act in the good faith that publishers will understand what price will drive sales. This price can be revised as many times as needed by the publisher

= Social DRM will be implemented: The idea of DRM is a tricky one, with forceful arguments for each side. While we do not support piracy, we also think that DRM is not as effective as it is said to be. Add to it the costs of implementation and monitoring and you have a large investment that does not pay for itself. We would rather appeal to the buyer to use his purchase honestly. We have decided therefore to implement a model of Social DRM where the book file is identified with its buyer. Should the buyer pass it around irresponsibly, we will be able to track the book to its buyer and warn him of the consequences of his action.

= The service will primarily cater to the needs of Indian language publishers: Most e-commerce websites available thus far do not cater to the specific needs of Indian language publishers whether in the type of books they hold or the way books in these languages are developed. We have spent a lot of time working on these aspects and are now able to both develop e-books in most Indian languages and display their information adequately on the website in that language, thus allowing it to be searched by various search engines. We hope that this effort will go some way in making books in Indian languages more accessible to readers around the world.

= The royalty rate will be fixed at 75% of the list price: We wish we could keep it higher than that but there are some administrative costs involved that just won’t allow us to retain a lesser amount. We have therefore kept the royalty rate for publishers and authors at a fixed 75% of the list price. We hope we will be able to stick to that rate for a long time.

= Publishers will have the option to pay for development fees or receive a reduced royalty rate: If the books are not developed as yet, we offer this development service and will develop books in the EPUB, MOBI and PDF/A formats. Together, these 3 formats will allow the book to be read on most readers. Publishers will be offered the choice to either pay for the development of the e-books or accept a reduced royalty rate of 50% in lieu of payment.

= Customers outside India will also be able to buy these books: With the e-book market in India not fully developed, we believe that the majority of buyers for such books, especially for those in the Indian languages are based outside India, primarily among the diaspora. Our e-commerce platform has always allowed non-rupee transactions and will continue to do so. Books can therefore be sold to those based outside India, subject to territorial rights of course.

= We will sell in 3 formats: EPUB, MOBI and PDF/A: There will be no restrictions on the formats of e-books sold on our platform. While our e-book conversion service includes development in 3 formats i.e EPUB, MOBI and PDF/A, other formats will also be allowed for sale.

We are very excited about this new service and the opportunities it offers authors and publishers and hope that they take advantage of this to the fullest. For details contact us at contact@ dogearsetc.com or call us at 94226 85530 and ask for Queenie or Leonard.

In April 2011, CinnamonTeal published Shruti Swaminathan, who was then and still is the youngest author we have published. Impressed by her command over the English language at such a young age, we asked her to tell us what inspires her to write. Here is her story.

I began writing at the age of six. It all started off like this.

When I had begun to read, at the age of four, I used to read small storybooks. When I could not pronounce a word in that book, I would completely lose interest in the book and keep it away. My mother saw this and then started rewriting all the fairy tales and Jataka Tales in simple language on the laptop with matching images on every page. I used to read them at first with my mother and then by myself. That’s how, today, I can read very well.

Soon, I started helping her in looking for suitable pictures for more fairy tales, on the Internet. I would also suggest sentences for the stories. I used to enjoy that a lot.

I shifted to Chennai from Mumbai when I was six years old. I started living in Madhuban Apartments. In the same apartments lived another boy – seven months older than myself. We made friends with each other and started making up plays. We enjoyed acting out our own plays and actually, it was quite a lot of fun. These plays were written down in a thick-bound diary by me in the form of prose and not drama.

My parents discovered my talent and encouraged me to type out my stories on the laptop. Since then, I have been writing many, many stories.

I’ve got a collection of hundred and more – but, there are some which have no ending, some which I have not even begun yet!! I am at the laptop for an hour everyday – even during exam-time!! I manage to type something everyday except if I have ‘writer’s block’.

I love to read and re-read books. My book-reading habit started off with Enid Blyton, went on to Charles Dickens, Ruskin Bond, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, RK Laxman and JK Rowling. My favourite personality is Anne Frank and I have read her diary (unabridged version).

I never knew I had a talent when I was six years old. Actually, I came to know of it only when I was in Class Three. And now, I’m quite proud of it. It’s quite special to me – it’s a completely different line.

I sometimes draw my inspiration from real life incidents and experiences. When I was traveling by air to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, I looked out of the window and saw the clouds and that inspired me to write a story on Fairyland. When I read about Libya and the protests against Gathafi (Gaddafi), I wrote a school story involving my toy-dog, Timmy.

My first book called ‘Straight from a Child’s Heart’ was published by CinnamonTeal Publishers, Margao Goa in April 2011 on my tenth birthday. My parents are planning the second book for this year, again with CinnamonTeal.

Before I dash off my signature below this article, I’d like to say something to all the young writers like me: Remember, writing stories is not a crime. You can always make it your career with something side-by-side, like being an English Literature Professor. Writing stories is a completely different line – so consider it special and never lose an opportunity to write!

Shruti Swaminathan

Her parents say…

She writes on a variety of topics – school stories, her father’s childhood memories, mystery stories, apartment stories and anything that kindles her imagination.

She continues to read voraciously. Her favourite books and authors include The Malgudi Days, Ruskin Bond, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Diary of Anne Frank, David Copperfield and The Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Sometimes, her writings display a combination of imagination and real-life incidents, experiences and news events, for example, the recent strife in Libya. This is, in great measure, due to her habit of poring over the newspaper before leaving for school and watching the news channel with us in the evening. Her interest in reading makes her literally pore over any printed matter. This has improved not only her vocabulary but also her levels of general awareness. Even her father’s office magazine is gone through thoroughly and scanned for interesting information.

We now find that her reading habits have helped her in her academic performance also. She doesn’t have to prepare for creative writing exercises in school (paragraphs, letters or articles) – her reading gives her sufficient material to write on any topic. Since her comfort levels with English are fairly high, it has helped her to move away from rote-learning, to understanding the subject and writing the answers in her own words.

Her writing skills have helped her to gain recognition in school and she is invited to contribute stories for the Annual Magazine and participate in story-writing contests.

The only area where we can take credit as parents is being always available as ready-for-reference dictionaries and encyclopedias for her. We have also actively encouraged her to read story books and not viewed it as a distraction. As a result, Shruti has had many teachers guiding her and helping hone her vocabulary and writing skills – at home, at school and authors such as Enid Blyton, Ruskin Bond, R.K. Narayan, to name a few.

A good command of the language has also had a positive impact on her levels of self-confidence and she is comfortable interacting with adults, both in the spoken and written form. Queenie Rodrigues, of CinnamonTeal, herself has been at the receiving end – Shruti sends e-mails to her very willingly even though she has never met her.

I, as a parent, have realised the immense potential of reading, having seen the tremendous progress that Shruti has made in six years. I believe that inculcating reading skills among children, an area neglected in most schools today, holds the key to an enriching education and would make our children a lot more successful than they are today.

By Augusto Pinto

Goa has had a love-hate  affair with books. It has suffered the trauma of book burning during the Inquisition. But it is also the first place in India  to print the modern book way back in the 16th Century.

Nowadays though things are looking up for book publishing. Every year there are around 200-250 books being published in Goa mainly in Konkani (in both Romi and Devanagari scripts), Marathi and English.

The stream of publications in English over the last few years has been especially swift. Goa 1556, Broadway Book Centre, Rajhans Vitaran, CinnamonTeal and Third Millennium among others publish a stream of books to feed the hunger for Goa related books.

For instance, Goa 1556 Publishers have over the last 2 years have come out with an astonishing  33 books on Goa or by Goans, with a new one or two being published every month.

The books are on a variety of subjects and genres and are written by people of different backgrounds and interests. Remarkably a 14 year old boy from Sharada Mandir School, Vivek Nayak had his  science fiction novel Inhuman published by Broadway Book Centre recently.

Among the notable books that have come to the bookstores recently are The Last Prabhu by Bernardo Elvino de Souza and In Search of Tomorrow and The Tulsi by Edila Gaitonde.

The Last Prabhu: A Hunt for Roots: DNA, Ancient Documents and Migration in Goa is the outcome of Bernardo Elvino de Souza’s curiosity  about his ancestry. A gaunkar of Aldona he is a retired Chemistry scientist in Switzerland. Using Communidade records contained in the Tombo de Aldona that had been translated and published in Gajanan Ghantkar’s History of Goa in the Goykanadi Script  he found he was a descendant of a Saraswat brahmin family of Prabhus. These Prabhus became Souzas in the 16th century.

But how did those Saraswats come to Aldona? Souza followed the work of Chandrakant Keni in The Saraswats (V.M.Salgaocar Foundation, Goa, 2008) which suggests that they migrated here after the River Saraswati, on whose banks they lived, dried up.

And before that? To find the answer Souza uses the research of IBM & the National Geographic magazine’s ongoing genographic project which maps human DNA to trace the deep ancestry of people around the world.

What emerges is that Souza’s ancestors travelled from Africa where man first emerged and migrated over the period of several millennia towards an area called ‘the Fertile Crescent’, an area that is now occupied by present day Israel, Palestine,  Syria, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, South Eastern Turkey and West and Southwest Iran.

These findings seem to find support in the archaeological findings of A. R. S. Dhume in The Cultural History of Goa: 10,000 BC to 1352 AD (2nd Edition, Broadway Book Centre, 2009). This suggests that around 4000 years ago descendants of Sumerians settled in Goa and introduced such changes as land ownership by the village god or goddess, dedicated places of worship (temples), and the village commune system. Could his  Saraswat ancestors have been those Sumerians (who belong to the Fertile Crescent)?

On caste, Souza suggests that the caste divisions in Indian society could possibly have been just a matter of luck as different castes often share the same DNA. But he is also rather indignant that some Hindu Saraswats do not acknowledge the common caste ancestry they share with Catholic Brahmins!

Souza’s book raises as many questions as it answers. Who were Goa’s first settlers? Could they be modern day Mhars or Kharvis? What implications does it have for our perennial ‘insider-outsider’ controversies?  Perhaps further DNA research is needed, as the data that Souza uses is confined mainly to a few Saraswat Brahmin converts to Christianity who come from the Bardez and Tiswadi talukas in Goa.

Edila Gaitonde’s In Search of Tomorrow (Rajhauns Vitaran, 2009) is a reprint of a fascinating autobiography of the first Portuguese woman who married a Hindu, the late freedom fighter Dr. Pundalik Gaitonde.First published by Allied Publishers it quickly went out of print and has been freshly reissued by Rajhauns Vitaran, Goa.

The book tells of her eventful social and political life first in Portugal  and later in Goa. In Goa, her Hindu in-laws and the society around her were quite bewildered as to how to deal with a firanghee bride. The Catholics were equally scandalised.

The book recounts the arrest of Dr. Pundalik Gaitonde after he impetuously burst out,”I protest!” when he heard a Portuguese apple polisher rapturously describe Goa as,“Here too is Portugal!”  After being subsequently deported to Portugal, the Gaitondes moved on to England.

Now Edila has come out with a new book of stories, The Tulsi (Goa 1556, 2011) where she once more dwells upon her cross cultural experiences. The stories are very easy to read and they mock at the barriers of culture and religion. The  book has an Introduction by Selma Carvalho which succinctly introduces the reader to Edila and her times.

All the tales have an anecdotal feel. Dressed as fiction they sidestep the problems of hurting real life people or their relatives as an autobiography might.

The title story, The Tulsi, poignantly  shows how an American daughter-in-law who is eager to please her Hindu in-laws cleans up the overgrown weeds in her house’s courtyard. But in doing so, to the horror of her mother-in-law, she also chops off the sacred tulsi plant!

Author Ray Bradbury wrote,”You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” In spite of the onslaught of  new technologies it is a good thing that the book culture is alive and well in Goa.

This article was first published in the November 2011 issue of Goa Today and has been reproduced here with the author’s permission.

While attending the Goa Art and Literature Festival, I found myself, quite unexpectedly, invited to a panel discussion on the future of publishing. The panel’s brief was to examine if the publishing boom, that is currently being experienced, can be sustained. Others on the panel included Chiki Sarkar, publisher of Penguin Books India, Nirmal Kanti Banerjee, Director of K K Birla Foundation, New Delhi, Frederick Noronha, publisher of Goa 1556 and S. Anand, publisher of Navayana.

Chiki Sarkar was the moderator and she began by asking whether there was credence to the belief that there is currently a boom in publishing. Most answers to that question were in the affirmative but came with riders, that referred to the abysmal state of distribution as a major factor that dampened growth. So while sales were increasing and there seemed to be a visible increase in the number of people reading, many more readers could be had if there was indeed a well developed distribution system. Frederick, who publishes books that appeal to a relatively small audience, hastened to say that sales were not a benchmark, rather the variety of titles he published. Similarly, Anand and Nirmal pointed that although readers were buying more books, books bought per capita was a low, abysmal, figure of 1 book per person per year and then too this figure was even lower among some languages.

What was most interesting, though, was Chiki Sarkar’s answer to her own question. She said that while books were indeed selling in large numbers, they belonged to a few categories. So the best sellers included diet books, cookery books, books that documented success stories like Rashmi Bansal’s Connect the Dots, self-help books and maybe books that belonged to a few other such categories. Among fiction, the books that have captured the readers’ imagination are books that are not necessarily well written but those that “connect with the reader”, now often collectively called the “Chetan Bhagats”. Suffice to say that the publishing boom did not point to an increase in readership over all kinds of books, or lead to an increase in literary output, but led to mounting sales of just a few kinds of books. These categories are now considered safe bets and publishers bet on them because they seem to reflect contemporary readers’ tastes.

The implications of this fact are many. For one, the sales of such books might lead publishers to concentrate on them alone much to the detriment of other types of books. At best, it might cross-subsidize the publication of these other types but a publisher would have to justify his/her decision to publish such a book. Moreover, the success of these diet and cookery books might lead publishers of books in the languages to mimic their English counterparts and concentrate on such books alone. This could indeed be harmful as these “language publishers” have so far been doing an excellent job giving expression to disparate voices and offering insights into the lives of a large percentage of the population.

Secondly, like Anand pointed out, the huge bookstore chains are concentrating on these “bestsellers”. Under pressure to improve their margins and increase returns on large real-estate investments, many of these stores have begun reducing the inventory they hold. More often than not, this reduction manifests itself as fewer titles being stocked. This while large numbers of the bestselling titles are kept in inventory for fear of stocking out in the face of large demand. On this blog we have often argued that the fact that online book stores have unlimited inventories mean little to publishers in terms of revenues since in most cases books are used as loss leaders.

The third implication leads directly to the surge we have seen in recent days, of authors increasingly interested in self-publishing. The ease that technology provides to allow easy self-publishing notwithstanding, we at CinnamonTeal have ourselves witnessed an increase in the numbers who have come to us with a wish to self-publish. While some may argue that these are not books that would have been taken seriously by publishers anyway, we have seen trends that show otherwise. Among our books, we have had a lot of poetry, sci-fi, paranormal thrillers and studies of mythology and oral traditions. Perhaps, this surge in self-publishing, and in subjects as varied as these, is because mainstream publishers just aren’t interested in some kinds of books anymore. Self-publishing aside, the increase in the number of independent publishers and a glance at their lists paints a different picture, of the need for platforms that will allow different voices to express themselves.

Surely a measure of the publishing boom would be a discussion on what is being written rather than what is being read.

Before we celebrated the boom in publishing, therefore, there certainly seems to be a need to introspect on the quality of our literary output and the means available to us to improve it.

Update: In related posts, Shobit Arya, founder and publisher of Wisdom Tree, argues for a balanced and nuanced approach to bookselling while predicting an increase in what he calls “paisa-wasool” (money’s worth) literature. David Davidar, founder of Aleph Book Company, sounds very optimistic when he states that Indian writers are charting their own course and are spoilt for choice with many genres yet to be fully exploited.

This Christmas gift your someone special a special something. We have developed Classics that you can personalize with a note and have delivered before Christmas. These paperbacks come in unique, specially designed covers. The note you choose to insert will be printed after the title page.

 

 

Besides the aforementioned titles, the other titles available are:

a. The Cricket on the Hearth – A Fairy Tale of Home by Charles Dickens

b. The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain by Charles Dickens

c. Some Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens

d. The Chimes by Charles Dickens

e. More Jataka Tales by Ellen C. Babbitt

f. The Song of Sixpence by Walter Crane

For more details, email us at contactus@ cinnamonteal.in