How much does it cost to self-publish a book in India?

The short answer: it depends.

The long answer is here. This post helps you understand the costs involved with self-publishing in India.

In order to have a published book, the book must go through any number of steps. This number depends (you’ll hear this word many times, so brace yourself) on the contents of the book. At a minimum, any book goes through the following steps:

a. Pre-publishing (before the book is ready for printing):
Editing
Cover Design
Book Layout (or Typesetting)

b. Post-publishing (after the book is reading for printing)
Printing (and/or ebook development)
Marketing and Distribution

There could be more steps depending on what you want for your book. For instance, you might want some illustrations included in the book. Or you might want to have the book indexed. Or you might wish to have some contents of the book fact-checked.

Let us go through each process and understand the costs that each of them incur. Let me state here, that this is the process that we at CinnamonTeal Publishing follow. Other self-publishing service providers follow their own processes and it may be wise to ask them how they base their charges.

Editing: There are three levels of editing, each level an improvement over the previous – a) Proofreading, where basic errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation are identified and corrected, b) Copy Editing, where the editor, besides checking for spellings and grammar, also makes sure that the narrative flows properly, that important details aren’t missing, that sentences and paragraphs are uncomplicated and of adequate length, and that the consistency of characters and plots is maintained, and c) Substantive Editing, sometimes called structural editing, which focuses on the content, organization, and presentation of the entire text, viewed wholly, from the title through to the ending.

As you can imagine, substantive editing is the most expensive service of the three, while proofreading is the least. When we receive your manuscript we read it to determine the level of editing your book needs. We write back to you with our suggested level of editing, with enough examples to show why that level of editing must be considered. And then we charge you for that level of editing. Charges are levied per page, of A4 size, after all unnecessary blank spaces are removed.

So the charges for editing depend on a) the number of pages that need to be edited and b) the level of editing that the manuscript needs.

We have always been asked why we insist on a round of editing. We do that because no matter how good the author, a mistake here or an error there, is bound to escape the author’s eye. The author, who has read and reread the text many times, can miss vital details, that a fresh, trained, pair of eyes can immediately notice. But we aren’t the only ones who believe this. The best publishing houses spend their most vital resources on editing. This is because a well-edited book (and a well-presented book) speaks for itself and makes an instant impression on the buyer.

the cost of self-publishingPage Design (or Page Layout or Typesetting): This is the process by which the interior of the book is laid out. It involves deciding on the dimensions of the book, the choice of fonts, the position (and contents) of the header and footer, the way chapter numbers and titles are designed, the position and design of pages such as the preface, foreword, afterword, prologue, epilogue, etc., and other such matters related to the interior of the book.

After the edited manuscript is received, in A4 format, the book must be “shrunk” to the desired dimensions. Our preferred dimensions for most books are the A5 format (210 mm x 148mm) and the Demy (216mm x 138mm). But the actual dimensions of your book depends on the subject your book covers and on the preferred dimensions for other books in that genre. When the book dimensions change, the number of pages that will constitute the book in its final form will also change. We charge for typesetting based on the final page count. Charges per page increase when the book contains graphical elements, such as photographs, illustrations, images, tables, flowcharts, etc..

The costs for interior page design depend on a) the final number of pages in the book and b) the presence of graphical elements.

Cover Design: The costs for cover design depend on the degree of complexity required in the images used for the cover. For example, an author may provide an illustration and ask that it be incorporated into the cover. Or she might want us to draw an image for the cover. Or the author might ask us to buy an image or a photograph or a special font, and incorporate that into the cover. In each of these cases the costs will vary.

Our cover design costs include the costs for designing the spine and the back cover. If there is also an e-book for which a cover has to be designed, there are other important factors that need to be considered. Like the fact that the cover has to have an image that stands out even when reduced to a thumbnail. Please note that the cover design processes for printed books and e-books are separate, and, in the case of CinnamonTeal Publishing, are charged separately.

At CinnamonTeal we do not distinguish between “basic covers” and “premier covers”. We believe that the cover design process is an equally important part of the book development process and needs a lot of attention to detail. The cover is the book’s way of putting forward its best first impression. We therefore make sure every book gets the best cover it deserves.

Cover Design costs depend upon a) degree of complexity and b) additional materials such as images and fonts that need to be especially purchased (on request by the author).

At this point the book is published. What it needs is to be given a form – whether as a printed book or an electronic copy. An author could request other bells and whistles such as illustrations, photographs, indexes, etc. that add to the cost of the book.

Illustrations: The cost of an illustration also depends on the complexity that is requested. An author might ask for a simple line drawing or an incredibly detailed image, in colour or in pencil shades. Depending on the author’s requests a quote is provided for illustrations.

Indexes: This depends on whether a) a subject index, b) a topic index or c) both a subject and topic index is requested.

After the book is completed, we proceed to give it a form. That means printing the book, or giving it an electronic form, or doing both.

Printing: An author might wish to print in bulk and provide copies for sale as required or she might wish to have them printed after a sale is made (printed on demand). The costs in each case vary, depending on the number of copies printed at one time. The cost per copy, in turn, depends on a) the number of pages in the book, b) the number of colour pages in the book, c) the kind of binding requested for the book and d) any embellishments requested for the cover of the book.

The book can be bound in various ways, the common ones being the hardcover and the softcover (paperback). The hardcover, in turn, could have its title printed on the hard cover itself, or on a paper jacket, called the dust jacket, or on both. The book itself could be bound in other ways. It could be spiral bound or have a wir-o-binding. The cost of printing a single copy is influenced to a large extent by the choice of binding.

Embellishments to the cover can enhance its look and feel. If you want areas of your cover to show in relief, for example, you can use what is called a Spot Gloss, or Spot Varnish or Spot UV. These embellishments are very expensive and should be considered only when print runs of a thousand copies or more are considered. Embellishments do not include cover laminations. A gloss or matte lamination is provided automatically.

So, the cost of printing depends on a) number of copies printed and b) transportation costs for the printed books.

E-book Development: The development of the e-book runs parallel to the printing process. If the book is requested in both, the printed and electronic form, the ebook development process occurs parallel to the typesetting process. If the book is requested only in electronic form, the typesetting process, after which the book is printed, is not required.

Ebooks are primarily developed in three ways, or in three formats: a) PDF/A (for use on mobile handsets or computer screens), MOBI (for use on the Amazon Kindle™) and EPUB (for use on most devices including the Sony eReader™, the Kobo™, Nook™ and the Apple iPad™). Because EPUB formats do not read on the Amazon Kindle, an author should consider developing in all three formats. It is however left up to the author to decide which formats to develop. Each format costs money, and caters to a different readership, and it is therefore an important decision for authors to make. While deciding a format, the author should also make sure that he/she possesses a reader for that format. Fortunately there are many android- and iOS-based appls available for all three formats.

Should an author opt for both the print and electronic options, i.e. to have both, the book printed as well as developed as e-books (in one or more formats), we, at CinnamonTeal, take all measures to ensure that the electronic formats mirror the print editions to the extent possible, while also exploiting the potential of the electronic medium. We do this to ensure that the reader is exposed to a consistent image of the book, whether in print or in electronic format.

The price of e-book development, for each format, is a function of the number of pages of the print version (if a print option was exercised, to ensure that the print and electronic versions mirror each other to the extent possible) or of the number of pages of the edited manuscript (if the author decided not to have the book printed).  Further, the costs also depend on the number of formats developed.

Marketing: Not to be confused with distribution and sales of the book, marketing encompasses several activities undertaken to make the readership aware of the presence of the book. This could take the form of digital marketing where social media tools are used to distribute information about the book, or physical marketing that may take the form of a book launch or a newspaper article or a book review. We offer all these options, including bespoke digital marketing options, and the cost in each case really depends on what options are exercised by the author.

Distribution: This means making the book available for sales. While we have tied up with several networks around the world for online distribution of books, both printed books as well as e-books, we also make physical copies available for sale at bookstores within India, if the author so desires.

We charge for our online distribution service, whether the book is made available within India alone, or internationally also. This charge includes a one-time charge to list and disseminate book information and an annual fee to maintain the records on all networks. This charge also covers our activities when we have to pack and ship books after a sale has occurred.

Distribution charges thus depend on whether the author has chosen to distribute your book within India alone, or abroad too.

So, like you can see, it is not only difficult for the service provider, but also unfair to the author, to have a single charge for self-publishing services. We are the only providers within the Indian market who do not offer packages and often we have been ridiculed for that. But when there are so many variables influencing the cost of self-publishing, we believe it is unethical to offer the author a single charge because such a charge will invariably cover the costs of all services, and that too their most expensive variants, whether or not the author has chosen, or wishes to avail of, those services. More importantly, it assumes that the author is incapable of choosing those services that she/he knows is best for her/his book, and deciding among the variants within each type of service. Moreover, in many cases, the author is able to get certain parts of the publishing process done pro bono, through a friend or acquaintance. Like the cover design, for example. The package approach simply does not work for such authors.

However, we hope that, after reading this, you will appreciate why we do not give you a quote without knowing a few details of your manuscript. And why we, as a matter of principle, do not offer packages. We also hope you will get a clearer picture of the processes that go into a self-published book.

But coming back to the question: what does it cost to self-publish a book in India? Well, like we’ve seen above, it depends.

picture credits: https://stocksnap.io/

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.